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Joel 1

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS*

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Devastation of Locusts   The Locust Plague
(1:1-2:27)
  Title
    Superscription   The Plague of Locusts
(1:1-2:27)
1:1-3 1:1 1:1 1:1  
  The Land Laid Waste   The People Mourn the Destruction of the Crops Liturgy of Mourning and Entreaty
  1:2-3 1:2-7
(2-3)
1:2-20
(2-3)
1:2-12
(2-3)
1:4-7 1:4 (4) (4-5) (4)
  1:5-7 (5-7)   (5-7)
      (6-7)  
1:8-12 1:8-12 1:8-14 
(8-10)
(8-10) (8-12)
    (11-12) (11-15)  
Starvation and Drought Mourning for the Land     A Call to Repentance and Prayer
1:13-20 1:13-20
(13-14)
(13)   1:13-20
(13-15)
    (14)    
  (15-18) 1:15-20
(15)
   
    (16) (16-20) (16-18)
    (17-18)    
  (19-20) (19-20)   (19-20)

* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.
 In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspired—readers have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.
  Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Brief Definitions of Greek Grammatical StructureTextual Criticism, and Glossary.

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. There has been much discussion about the meaning of this locust (BDB 160) invasion

1. some see it as symbolic

a.  the Targums at 2:25 use these types of locusts as metaphors for peoples, languages, rulers and kingdoms

b. the 6th Century LXX "Q" uses these as invading armies (Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman)

c. it is obvious from Amos 7 :1-3 and Rev. 9:3, 7-9 that locusts are used as a metaphor in an eschatological sense

2. others see these as literal locusts. The graphic description of these invading insects fits with historical descriptions of invading locusts (nine different Hebrew roots for locusts) in the Middle East. Those who view these as literal have taken four different interpretations:

a. stages of development of the locust (i.e., gnawing [BDB 451], swarming [BDB 916], creeping [BDB 410], stripping [BDB 340], cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 494)

b. stages of invasion (Kimchi)

c. different species of locusts (Rashi and Eben Ezra)

d. intensive literary style

3. others take the locusts in an eschatological sense following Rev. 9:3-11.

It seems to this author that because the gnawing locust is listed first and the stripping locust listed fourth, that both refer to adult locusts and that we are dealing with subsequent waves of invading insects. Although the third name, "creeping locust," can be used for an intermediate stage of a locust's life, the order of these locusts is changed in chapter 2, which seems to discredit the developmental stage theory.

B. Joel addresses four groups within society:

1. the drunkards, vv. 5-7

2. Jerusalem herself, vv. 8-9

3. farmers and agriculturists, vv. 11-12

4. the priests, vv. 9,13-14

This judgment was to affect all of the people (as in v. 2a and b).

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:1:1-3
 1The word of the Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel:
 2Hear this, O elders,
 And listen, all inhabitants of the land.
 Has anything like this happened in your days
 Or in your fathers' days?
 3Tell your sons about it,
 And let your sons tell their sons,
 And their sons the next generation.

1:1 "The word of the Lord that came" This shows that the prophecy did not come from the prophet, but from God. This is a common prophetic introduction (i.e., Jer. 1:2; Ezek. 1:3; Hosea 1:1).

▣ "to Joel" His name means "Whose God is YHWH" or "YHWH is God." See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at Obad. v. 1. This is a very similar name in meaning to Elijah. Joel is a common name in the OT. See Introduction I. C.

▣ "son of Pethuel" The Septuagint and the Peshita have "Bethuel" (a name found in Gen. 22:22,23; 24:15,24,47,50; 25:20; 28:2,5).

1:2 "Hear. . .listen" These two imperatives (BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperatives and BDB 24, KB 27, Hiphil imperative) are often used together (cf. Gen. 4:23; Num. 23:18; Isa. 1:2; 32:9). They imply a hearing that results in action. Truth demands a response!

▣ "O elders" The King James has "old men." This may, however, refer to the tribal leaders (BDB 278) known as elders. It is parallel to "all inhabitants of the land." The meaning is, "everyone listen!"

▣ "Tell your sons" This imperative (BDB 707, KB 765, Piel imperative) is used to magnify the unique thing YHWH is about to do (i.e., bring locusts). There had been many locust invasions throughout Israel's history, but this one was very severe and was symbolic of a devastating military invasion!

YHWH's coming judgment was to be retold and retold by succeeding generations as

1. covenant violations on the part of God's people

2. God's mercy to restore those who repent

3. a type of God's judgment on all unbelieving nations (like Obadiah)

The spiritual education of Israel's children is mandated in Deuteronomy (cf. 4:9-10; 6:7,20-25; 11:19; 31:13; 32:46; also note Exod. 10:2; 12:26; 13:8,14). This mandate is continued in later Judaism by a time of special training in the Torah (Genesis - Deuteronomy) and its interpretation (i.e., Talmud). For boys it was bar mitzvahi at age 13 and for girls, bat mitzvah at age 12. This knowledge of God's will becomes the basis of covenant rewards and punishments in the person's life. Knowledge brings responsibility!

Faith runs through families (cf. Deut. 5:10; 7:9)!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:1:4-7
 4What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten;
 And what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten;
 And what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten.
 5Awake, drunkards, and weep;
 And wail, all you wine drinkers,
 On account of the sweet wine
 That is cut off from your mouth.
 6For a nation has invaded my land,
 Mighty and without number;
 Its teeth are the teeth of a lion,
 And it has the fangs of a lioness.
 7It has made my vine a waste
 And my fig tree splinters.
 It has stripped them bare and cast them away;
 Their branches have become white.

1:4 "locusts" It must be understood that this plague of locusts is a direct result of the Covenant people rejecting their Covenant God (cf. Deut. 28:38). They are sent by YHWH! They are under His control!

1:5 "awake. . .weep. . .wail" The foolish people of the land are addressed in three imperatives (which symbolize a call to spiritual awakening):

1. "awake" - BDB 884, KB 1098, Hiphil imperative; related to drunkenness in Pro. 23:35

2. "weep: - BDB 113, KB 129, Qal imperative; related to rebellion in Jer. 22:10

3. "howl" - BDB 410, KB 413, Hiphil imperative, cf. 1:11,13; used of destruction of Babylon, Isa. 13:6; of Moab, Jer. 48:20; of Egypt, Ezek. 30:2; of God's people, Zech. 11:2 (cf. Hosea 7:14; Micah 1:8; Zeph. 1:11)

 

▣ "drunkards. . .wine drinkers" The prophetic word is not directed to alcoholics, but to God's people, drunk on the wine of covenant rebellion. The only cure is radical detoxification (i.e., judgment, cf. 1:6).

▣ "On account of the sweet wine" Many have tried to make "sweet wine" (BDB 779) a non-alcoholic beverage, but this verse and Isa. 49:26 show that this refers to an alcoholic beverage. The Bible says that God gives wine as a gift to humans (cf. Gen. 27:28 [BDB 440]; Psalm 104:14-15[BDB 406]). Wine is not evil, but like all physical things, it can be abused! It is the drink of the eschaton (cf. 3:18; Amos 9:13).

SPECIAL TOPIC: BIBLICAL ATTITUDES TOWARD ALCOHOL AND ALCOHOLISM

1:6 "For a nation has invaded my land" In 2:4-11 the locusts are described as the army of God. This is why they are used as a metaphor for an invading foreign army of divine judgment (cf. 2:4-11, i.e., Assyria and Babylon).

▣ "invaded" The literal phrase is "come up" (BDB 748, KB 828, Qal perfect), which is used for a military invasion in Jdgs. 6:3 and I Kgs. 14:25.

They are described in several ways:

1. mighty

2. without number

3. lion's teeth

4. lioness' fangs

Numbers 1 and 2 are parallel, as are numbers 3 and 4 ("lions" and "locusts" were regularly compared in Mesopotamia; both symbolized armies).

1:7 "It has made my vine a waste, and my fig tree splinters" The prophet is speaking for YHWH, for these agriculture products were gifts from Him (cf. Hosea 2:8, 9). Covenant violations removed YHWH's blessing (i.e., "waste," BDB 1031 I, cf. Deut. 28:37). Now they are totally taken away by the locusts (i.e., an army invasion).

"It has stripped them bare" This is a Qal infinitive absolute and a Qal perfect verb from the same root (BDB 362, KB 359), which is a grammatical way of expressing intensification.

▣ "Their branches have become white" This is an agricultural allusion to the locusts destroying (by eating the green tips) the small branches of the trees. When the sun comes out it bleaches them white.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:1:8-12
 8Wail like a virgin girded with sackcloth
 For the bridegroom of her youth.
 9The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off
 From the house of the Lord.
 The priests mourn,
 The ministers of the Lord.
 10The field is ruined,
 The land mourns;
 For the grain is ruined,
 The new wine dries up,
 Fresh oil fails.
 11Be ashamed, O farmers,
 Wail, O vinedressers,
 For the wheat and the barley;
 Because the harvest of the field is destroyed.
 12The vine dries up
 And the fig tree fails;
 The pomegranate, the palm also, and the apple tree,
 All the trees of the field dry up.
 Indeed, rejoicing dries up
 From the sons of men.

1:8 "Wail like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth" The verbals in this verse are all feminine singular ("wail," BDB 46, KB 51, Qal imperative and "gird," BDB 291, KB 291, Qal passive participle used of putting on sackcloth, cf. Isa. 15:3; 22:12; Jer. 4:8; 6:26; 49:3; Lam. 2:10; Ezek. 7:18; 27:31), which may imply that Jerusalem as a whole is being addressed. The cultural setting is a betrothal in Jewish society. Apparently, betrothal was seen as marriage although unconsummated (cf. Mary and Joseph for the binding aspect of betrothal). Here the bride wears a sign of mourning (i.e., sackcloth, BDB 974) instead of a wedding garment. The social life of the people will be totally disrupted (cf. v. 12, lines 5,6; Isa. 24:8-23).

1:9 "The grain offering and the libation are cut off
 From the house of the Lord"
This seems to refer to the daily offerings. A lamb was offered in the morning (the Continual) and in the evening and was accompanied by a meal offering, wet with oil, and a wine libation. Therefore, the normal functions of the Temple were being disrupted. This was a sign of covenant violations and invasion (cf. Deut. 28:49-53).

1:10 Israel's agriculture was totally destroyed by the locusts (i.e., military invasion, cf. Isa. 16:10; 24:4,7).

▣ "the land mourns" The Prophets regularly use personification to heighten their metaphors:

1. Isaiah

a. "gates shall lament and mourn," 3:26

b. "the earth mourns," 24:4; 33:9

c. "the new wine mourns," 24:7

2. Jeremiah

a. "earth mourns," 4:28

b. "land mourns," 12:4

3. Hosea - "land mourns," 4:3

It is possible that "mourns" (BDB 5, KB 6, Qal perfect) can mean "dry up" (KB 7 II) from an Akkadian root. If so, it (the land) would parallel "the new wine," both being dried up. The verb "dried up" (BDB 386, KB 384, Hiphil perfect) is used several times in this context.

1:11 "Be ashamed, O farmers,
 Wail, O vinedressers"
These are both imperatives. The first one may come from

1. "dry up," BDB 386, KB 384, Hiphil perfect, cf. 1:10,12(thrice),17,20

2. "be ashamed," BDB 101, KB 115, Hiphil perfect, cf. 2:26,27

The repeated use of "dry up" in this chapter causes one to think that the waw has been accidentally misplaced, but most English translations prefer "be ashamed."

The second imperative, "howl," was used in v. 5 (same form).

▣ "for the wheat and the barley" Wheat (BDB 334) and barley (BDB 972) were the two major agricultural products in Palestine. The wheat was used for the bread of the wealthy and the barley for the bread of the poor.

1:12 Notice the different kinds of agricultural products from trees (or vines) mentioned as being destroyed:

1. grapes (BDB 172)

2. figs (BDB 1061)

3. pomegranates (BDB 941)

4. date palm (BDB 1071 I)

5. apple (or apricot, BDB 656 I)

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:1:13-20
 13Gird yourselves with sackcloth
 And lament, O priests;
 Wail, O ministers of the altar!
 Come, spend the night in sackcloth
 O ministers of my God,
 For the grain offering and the drink offering
 Are withheld from the house of your God.
 14Consecrate a fast,
 Proclaim a solemn assembly;
 Gather the elders
 And all the inhabitants of the land
 To the house of the Lord your God,
 And cry out to the Lord.
 15Alas for the day!
 For the day of the Lord is near,
 And it will come as destruction from the Almighty.
 16Has not food been cut off before our eyes,
 Gladness and joy from the house of our God?
 17The seeds shrivel under their clods;
 The storehouses are desolate,
 The barns are torn down,
 For the grain is dried up.
 18How the beasts groan!
 The herds of cattle wander aimlessly
 Because there is no pasture for them;
 Even the flocks of sheep suffer.
 19To You, O Lord, I cry;
 For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness
 And the flame has burned up all the trees of the field.
 20Even the beasts of the field pant for You;
 For the water brooks are dried up
 And fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.

1:13 "O priests. . .O ministers of the altar. . .O ministers of my God" The fourth group addressed are the leaders of the cultus. They are encouraged to repent and turn to God because the removal of agricultural blessings was related to Israel's spiritual problems.

Notice the imperatives related to repentance:

1. "gird" (i.e., with sackcloth) - BDB 291, KB 291, Qal imperative

2. "lament" - BDB 704, KB 763, Qal imperative

3. "wail" - this is a repeat from vv. 5 and 11!

Also in this same verse are two more imperatives, which are a call to spend the night in mourning in the temple.

1. "come" - BDB 97, KB 112, Qal imperative

2. "spend the night in sackcloth" - BDB 533, KB 529, Qal imperative

Repentance was to be initiated by the priests themselves. There was nothing to offer God! He had taken everything Himself!

1:14 "Consecrate a fast,
 Proclaim a solemn assembly;
 Gather the elders"
The priest must (three imperatives) call the people to a holy convocation of repentance:

1. "consecrate a fast," BDB 872, KB 1073, Piel imperative, cf. 2:15; Josh. 7:13

2. "proclaim a solemn assembly," BDB 894, KB 1128, Qal imperative, cf. 2:15; I Kgs. 21:9,12; Jer. 36:9; Jonah 3:5

3. "gather the elders" (i.e. all the inhabitants of the land), BDB 62, KB 74, Qal imperative, cf. v. 2

4. "cry out to the Lord, BDB 277, KB 277, Qal imperative, cf. Jdgs. 3:9,15; 6:6,7; 10:10; I Sam. 7:8,9; 12:8,10; 15:11; II Chr. 20:9; Ps. 107:13,19

Joel is calling on Israel to do what she had done again and again in the past: call out to her God. He will forgive, deliver, and restore (cf. 2:12-14). Sin is not a permanent barrier, but stubborn unbelief and intransigence is! God is waiting to act, but His people must act first in repentance and contrition. Biblical faith is a relationship. It involves initial and continuing

1. repentance

2. faith

3. obedience

4. perseverance!!

 

1:15 "Alas for the day" This interjection (BDB 13), usually translated "alas," is found

1. by itself, Jdgs. 11:35; II Kgs. 3:10; 6:5,15

2. connected to "Adon YHWH," Josh. 7:7; Jdgs. 6:22; Jer. 1:6; 4:10; 14:13; 32:17; Ezek. 4:14; 9:8; 11:13; 21:5

3. in Joel uniquely to "for the day," which denotes "the day of YHWH," which can be for blessing or judgment. The use of "also" clearly shows here it relates unexpectedly to God's judgment of His own people!

4. both Isaiah (i.e. Isa. 13:6,9) and Ezekiel (i.e. Ezek. 7:19; 13:5; 30:2) use the phrase, "the day of the Lord," but without "Alas" (cf. Joel 2:1,11,31; 3:14)

 

▣ "For the day of the Lord is near" This is the eschatological phrase which is so common in the prophets (cf. Isa. 2:12; 13:6, 9; 22:5; 34:8; Jer. 46:10; Ezek. 7:10; 13:5; 30:3; Amos 5:18-20; Zeph. 1:7, 14-18; Obad. 15; and Zech. 14:1). It denotes God's breaking into His world for judgment (i.e., temporarily and eschatologically). This allusion is found in Ezek. 30:2, 3 and Isa. 13:6, where it is addressed to Babylon and she is told to wail for the coming of this day! It is usually addressed to foreigners, but the shocking account here and in Jer. 30:7 is that it is addressed to God's people. God was not only absent from them, but actively against them!

The concept of a day on which humans meet God face to face and give an account of their actions (i.e., eschatological judgment) has been affected by progressive revelation. In the OT God's visitation could be either

1. temporal

2. at the end (eschatological)

Also it could be for blessing as well as judgment. In the NT the focus of God's judgment shifts from human performance of the covenant to personal faith (i.e., a new heart, a new mind, a new spirit, cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38) which issues in covenant obedience. The goal is still a people who reflect YHWH's character so that a world that does not know YHWH can come to know Him. Both OT and NT involve faith and repentance, but the focus has shifted from human performance to Messianic performance. Gratitude, not merit, motivates obedience! A national covenant has been universalized to an offer to all the sons and daughters of Adam! The first step is belief, not parentage (i.e., family, tribe). The national covenant of Moses has transitioned to the international covenant of the gospel!

Judgment is still an eschatological event, but the basis of that judgment has changed (i.e., Rom. 3:18-31)! And the focus is now on unbelievers vs. believers. There will still be an evaluation and reward ceremony (i.e., II Cor. 5:10).

▣ "And it will come as destruction from the Almighty" The term "Almighty" is the term Shaddai (BDB 994, first found in Gen. 17:1, but very common in Job; only twice in Psalms). The etymology of this term is uncertain, but from the Septuagint and the Vulgate tradition it seems to mean "the Omnipotent One" or "the Almighty." See Special Topic: Names for Deity at Obad. v. 1.

There is a play on the word "destruction" and the word "Almighty." In Hebrew the two words are Shod and Shaddai (cf. David Hubbard, Joel and Amos, p. 50).

1:16 "joy" This term (BDB 162 I) is often associated with worship at the central shrine (cf. Deut. 12:6,7; Ps. 43:4). YHWH has taken away His gift of fertility and, therefore, the sacrifices and offerings have ceased (cf. vv. 9,13). The Israelites came to God's temple, but not to rejoice but to cry out for forgiveness and mercy because of their covenant rebellion (cf. vv. 13-14,19-20).

1:17 There are four words in this verse that occur only here in the entire OT. This has made translation very difficult (cf. Twenty-six Translations of the Holy Bible, published by AMG, for a variety of translations).

1. "seeds," BDB 825, possibly stored seeds for the next planting

2. "shrivel," BDB 721, KB 783, Qal perfect

3. "clods" (lit. "shovels"), BDB 175

4. "barns," BDB 158

There is an interesting alternate understanding of the first two rare words. For many years the Septuagint's translation, "the heifers have leaped in their mangers," sounded so different from the MT until a similar translation of this verse was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, "the heifers decay in their mangers."

The details of many poetic texts are uncertain, but the larger context, cognate languages, ancient versions, and parallel passages from the Bible help moderns understand the main truths of the ancient inspired text. Inerrancy at the word level is problematic, but at the truth level is possible.

Verses 17-18 have five Niphal stem verbs. YHWH is bringing the consequences of covenant disobedience! We reap what we sow (in this case, there is nothing to reap).

1:18 "How the beasts groan" All life is affected by human sin (cf. Genesis 3; Rom. 8:18-25). This includes animal and plant life. Verse 18 implies that a drought preceded the locust plague (cf. v. 20; Deut. 28:22). In history these two often occur together.

NASB, TEV"flocks of sheep suffer"
NKJV"flocks of sheep suffer your punishment"
NRSV"flocks of sheep are dazed"
NJB"flocks of sheep bear punishment too"

The verb's (BDB 79, KB 95, Niphal perfect) basic meaning is "bear guilt" or "bear iniquity." It is used predominantly in the Qal stem and in the books of Leviticus and Numbers.

It appears in the Niphal stem only twice (here and Ps. 5:10), but the meaning is the same. It is possible that the land and flocks bear the guilt of their human (i.e., Israelite) inhabitants. This is reflected in Genesis 3 and Rom. 8:18-25 ("the curse," cf. Rev. 22:3). This truth is reflected in the "cursing and blessing" section of Deuteronomy 27-29. How we live affects our land!

1:19-20 This is a lament prayer formula that Joel gives to the priests to be prayed, along with the people, possibly at the called fast of vv. 13-14. YHWH is willing to forgive and restore if His people are responsive to Him (faith) and obedient (covenant).

1:19 "fire has devoured the pastures" This same allusion to fire is used in 2:5. It is either a metaphor of destruction or it refers to the redness on the underside of the wings of the locust. As they move en masse it looks like a red dawn or a coming fire.

1:20 "Even the beasts of the field pant for Thee" See Ps. 42:1 where the word "pant" means "great desire" (BDB 788, KB 881, Qal imperfect). Again Joel uses personification to heighten the picture of devastation! Humans "cry out" (v. 19), domestic beasts "groan" (v. 18), and beasts of the field "pant" (v. 20)!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. What is the date of Joel?

2. Are the locusts literal, symbolic or eschatological and why?

3. What is the theological reason for the locust invasion?

4. Explain and define the phrase "the day of the Lord" as it used in the OT and in the NT.