Summary: When the smoke clears, what do we see? Locusts? Horses? People? Machines?
Creatures from Hell emerge from the Smoke...
v. 3. From the smoke, or when the smoke clears, behold, “locusts!” And the locusts are given power. Power like a scorpion has power. Painful. Dangerous. Can hurt. Can kill. And so many!
Here, Joel (2:2) talks of a great “people”, though many Bible versions use the term “army”. It is a gathering of individuals that are called locusts in Revelation and that act like locusts in Joel. But the inference is that in neither place are they little grasshoppers that suddenly went off for a trip through some fields. Remember that the locusts of Joel, the real ones, are only a backdrop, an illustration of what this end-time army will be. John calls them “locusts.” Let’s see…
Notice that they are “great and strong, the like of whom has never been” in Joel, and “power was given to them” seems to be the parallel of John.
v. 4. If I have correctly identified John’s locust army with Joel’s, verse 4 seems in contradiction to Joel’s account at this place. Joel says that a fire comes before the locusts, and a flame burns after the locusts… and nothing shall escape them. But John sees that the “locusts” are told not to hurt any green thing, and rather to focus on hurting unregenerate men.
I will offer an explanation, but do not wish to bind anyone to it. If I have called it wrong, at least I have been able to show you a close similarity in these two judgments, and hopefully inspire you to dig a little deeper.
My explanation is this. There are seven trumpets. If, as is very possible, they happen in rapid succession or nearly simultaneously, Joel’s passage and John’s could be fulfilled by looking at the trumpets immediately before and immediately after the fifth sounding:
Immediately before seem to be all four of the first trumpets. Notice the fraction 1/3 linking these four events. All at once, a huge portion of the waters, the land, the atmosphere, are destroyed, and part of this destruction is the burning of the earth. That is, “a fire devours before the locusts.” (Joel 2:3)
And then look at the trumpet right after this one. A second army comes on the scene, from the East, immediately following the first, riding on horses out of which come fire and brimstone… in other words, behind the locusts a fire burns! (Joel 2:3)
Preceded and followed by fire, the locusts themselves do not have to do that sort of damage. Their job is to bring pain to people. It looks as though they are preparing the way for the army following, by paralyzing millions of men who would normally be men of war.
In Joel’s vision he may indeed have seen fire before and fire after, and assumed it was locusts causing it, but the text of Joel cannot be forced to say that. “Nothing shall escape them” because they will paralyze men so adequately that they will be destroyed by the onslaught from the East. (Again, a topic we cannot cover here.)