Summary: A promise of restoration to the repentant. A prophecy of the outpouring of the Spirit. A warning of the judgment to come.
THE YEARS THAT THE LOCUST HAS EATEN
A very old elder once said to me that his only regret was “the years that the locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25). However, there is no point in bemoaning what may have been, but rather our eyes should be on the here and now, and in the prospects beyond. In Christ Jesus our wasted, pre-conversion years are restored; and our failures, even as Christians, are forgiven.
The locusts, and their like, had eaten away many years of Israel’s history (Joel 1:4), with devastating results. Not only was the land wasted for the farmers and winemakers, but also the offerings of the LORD were cut off (Joel 1:9-12). Joy was ‘withered away from the sons of men’ (Joel 1:12)!
Joel’s reaction to all this was to speak into the ear of government and church leadership, calling for a national fast and a public day of prayer and humiliation before the LORD (Joel 1:14; Joel 2:15). The LORD Himself called for nothing less than national repentance, rending of hearts, fasting, weeping and mourning (Joel 2:12-14). The ministers of the LORD were enjoined to join Joel in this initiative by weeping and saying, ‘Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: why should they say among the people, Where is their God?’ (Joel 2:17).
When they thus humbled themselves and fasted and wept and mourned and cried to the LORD, ‘then would the LORD be jealous for His land and pity His people’ (Joel 2:18). The LORD would ‘no more make you a reproach among the heathen’ (Joel 2:19). The locust has done his ‘great things’ (end of Joel 2:20); now the LORD would do His ‘great things’ (Joel 2:21b).
Israel is called to rejoice in the LORD their God (Joel 2:23a). We pray for seasonable weather, and that is just what the children of Zion had restored to them: “the former rain moderately, the rain, the former rain and the latter rain” (Joel 2:23b). In the words of Elijah, ‘I hear the sound of an abundance of rain’ (cf. 1 Kings 18:41).
Now the pastures of the wilderness would spring, and the trees and the vines would be fruitful (Joel 2:22). The floors would be full of wheat, and the vats overflowing with wine and oil (Joel 2:24). The LORD would restore the years that the locust had eaten: “my great army which I sent among you” (Joel 2:25).
Now the people of the LORD were vindicated, along with His great name (Joel 2:26-27). With the twice repeated “My people shall never be ashamed”, even the groaning of creation (cf. Romans 8:22) was abated.
As they stood in amazement at what God had done - the pouring out of an abundance of rain - the prophet spoke of a future date, when He would pour out His Spirit upon “all flesh”, and when their descendants would prophesy (Joel 2:28-29).
It is arguable whether Joel understood that his prophecy of the coming of the Spirit hinted at the inclusion of the Gentiles. It is doubtful whether even the Apostle Peter grasped that at first when it was fulfilled at Pentecost: he needed a trip into a centurion’s house before he would figure that one out (Acts 10:34; Acts 10:47). But there is a strong indication of changes in the social structure, anticipating the Apostle Paul’s ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).
The idea of prophets’ dreams and visions was explained to Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ siblings, by the LORD Himself (Numbers 12:6). Moses himself was content that the Spirit had been poured upon the seventy (plus two) elders in their day, counselling Joshua not to forbid the two from prophesying in the camp. ‘Would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them,’ he longed (Numbers 11:29).
After all the promised blessings of these few paragraphs, it is a little startling to be confronted with the apocalyptic words of Joel 2:30-31. These, among others, are portents of the ‘coming of the Son of man’ (Matthew 24:29-30). The age of the Spirit (which began at Pentecost) has thrust all true believers into a position of spiritual leadership in the world, prophesying to our own generation of the ‘judgment to come’ (cf. Acts 24:25a).
It is perhaps significant that Peter broke off his quotation of Joel 2:32 at “whoever calls on the LORD shall be saved” (cf. Acts 2:16-21). When interrupted, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ (Acts 2:37), he quoted “as many as the Lord our God shall call” at the end of his recorded speech (cf. Acts 2:38-39). Anyway, Peter was perfectly clear that ‘this’ outpouring of the Spirit was ‘that spoken by the prophet Joel’ (Acts 2:16).