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Joel’s message opens with the pressing circumstance of a plague of locusts. It’s an outbreak of apocalyptic and catastrophic proportions. Repeated swarms (v 4) are invading and advancing across the land (vv 4-9). They’re devouring every blade of grass, every stalk of wheat, and every leaf on every tree (vv 7-12). Nothing is spared, everything is ruined; all that’s left is a bleak, desolate desert of sand and earth (v 10a).
Yet for Joel, the most serious effects of the plague aren’t physical, they’re spiritual. Verse 9 provides the first hint of enormous spiritual ramifications, and reveals that behind the actions of the locusts God is seen to be cutting himself off from his people. It’s a religious disaster second to none. The locusts are more than bringers of hunger and ruin, they’re heralds of judgment. No wonder the priests are in mourning (v 9b), for the locusts have destroyed the whole basis of the sacrificial system (v 9a).
The main theme of the book as a whole is the “Day of the Lord” – the time when God judges evil persons and nations, and establishes his reign of righteousness and grace. The sub-themes are penitence, punishment, promise and prosperity.
While the plague of locusts is a national tragedy resulting in utter despair and disappointment, Joel’s message is not all doom and gloom. He’s also the prophet of Pentecost. A time is coming when there will be an outpouring of God’s Spirit (Acts 2:18-19) and people being saved (Acts 2:38). And here we find hope. For the coming of the day of the Lord is also one that leads to Christ – the Saviour in whom we find liberation from condemnation and the corruption of sin.
Lord, this prophecy reminds us that disobedience leads to punishment and that our future is desolation if we ignore you. Help us to repent and be saved. Amen.