Texas has experienced a great amount of rain this year. So much rain that cities like Austin, Dallas, and Houston have experienced severe flooding. Those who experienced it on a personal level will never forget it.
The prophet Joel used a natural disaster of its own to gain the attention of his audience. Not a flood of water but a swarm of locust.
Joel speaks of a large swarm of locust that ruined fields, dried up grounds, destroyed grain, caused the new wine to dry up. Over time there has been much discussion about the locust swarm mentioned in Joel. I’m going to oversimplify the discussion and provide you with three (oversimplified) options often discussed. Commentators often interpret the locust swarm as:
- A literal locust swarm
- An invading army
- An eschatological (end times) prophecy
I personally would say “yes” to all three. I think the LORD used a literal locust swarm to communicate a message to his people through the prophet Joel. The message spoke of both a future invading army and a future end times judgment. The locust swarm moves us into the message of Joel. The focus should not be on the locust but on the message being communicated.
The name Joel means “Yaweh is God.” At two crucial points in the book of Joel it is asserted that the people will come to know that the LORD is God (Joel 2:27 and Joel 3:17). Just as we witnessed in Hosea, Joel’s audience had been unfaithful to the God that created them and sustained them. They devoted themselves to false gods. The locust swarm is sending the message: things better change.
Which leads us to the two major themes of Joel.
The Day of the LORD (1:15, 2:1, 2:11, 2:3, 3:14)
The day of the LORD is a time when God will intervene decisively for judgment and salvation. The people of Israel often assumed that salvation would come to them and judgment would come to everyone else. Yet, Joel speaks of judgment to those who sin – period. Salvation comes to those who turn to God.
Joel speaks of a need for repentance. Here are two key verses to see this theme:
“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
– Joel 2:12-13
The ancient Israelites had a tradition of ripping clothing as an outward sign of grief. Yet, this passage communicates, “Don’t rip your clothes! Let your hearts be broken!”
In our brokenness we find God’s grace, compassion, and love.