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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Joel Overview



Introduction to Joel

The prophet Joel relates nothing of himself. He gives no hints as to himself, except the one fact which was necessary to authenticate his prophecy, that the word of the Lord came to him, and that the book to which that statement is prefixed is that “word of the Lord.” “The word of the Lord, which came to Joel, son of Pethuel.” Like Hosea, he distinguished himself from others of the same name, by the mention of the name of his unknown father. But his whole book bears evidence, that he was a prophet of Jerusalem. He was living in the center of the public worship of God: he speaks to the priests as though present, “Come ye, lie all night in sackcloth” Joel 1:13-14; he was, where the “solemn assembly Joel 2:15-17, which he bids them “proclaim,” would be held; “the house of the Lord Joel 1:9, from which “meat-offering and drink-offering” were “cut off,” was before his eyes. Whether for alarm Joel 2:1, or for prayer Joel 2:15, he bids, “blow ye the trumpet in Zion. The city Joel 2:9, which he sees the enemy approaching to beleaguer and enter, is Jerusalem. He adresses the “children of Zion” Joel 2:23; he reproaches Tyre, Zidon, and Philistia, with selling to the Greeks the “children of Zion and Jerusalem” Joel 3:4, Joel 3:6.

God promises by him to “bring back the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem Joel 3:1. Of Israel, in its separated existence, he takes no more notice, than if it were not. They may be included in the three places in which he uses the name; “Ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel; I will plead for My people and My heritage, Israel; the Lord will be the strength of Israel Joel 2:27; Joel 3:2, Joel 3:16; but, (as the context shows) only as included, together with Judah, in the one people of God. The promises to Judah, Jerusalem, Zion, with which he closes his book, being simply prophetic, must, so far, remain the same, whomsoever he addressed. He foretells that those blessings were to issue from Zion, and that the Church was to be founded there. Yet the absence of any direct promise of the extension of those blessings to the ten tribes, (such as occur in Hosea and Amos) implies that he had no office in regard to them.

Although a prophet of Jerusalem, and calling, in the name of God, to a solemn and strict fast and supplication, he was no priest. He mentions the priests as a class to which he did not belong Joel 1:9, Joel 1:12; Joel 2:17, the priests, the Lord‘s ministers; ye priests; ye ministers of the altar; ye ministers of my God; let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, the place where they officiated. He calls upon them to proclaim the fast, which he enjoined in the name of God. “Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly Joel 1:14, he says to those, whom be had just called to mourn, “ye priests, ye ministers of the altar.” As entrusted with a revelation from God, he had an authority superior to that of the priests. While using this, he interfered not with their own special office.

Joel must have completed his prophecy in its present form, before Amos collected his prophecies into one whole. For Amos takes as the key-note of his prophecy, words with which Joel almost closes his; “The Lord shall roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem” Joel 3:16. Nor only so, but Amos inserts at the end of his own prophecy some of Joel‘s closing words of promise. Amos thus identified his own prophecy with that of Joel. In the threatening with which he opens it, he retains each word of Joel, in the self-same order, although the words admit equally of several different collocations, each of which would have had an emphasis of its own. The symbolic blessing, which Amos takes from Joel at the close of his prophecy “the mountains shall drop with new wine, is found in these two prophets alone; and the language is the bolder and more peculiar, because the word “drop” is used of dropping from above, not of flowing down.

It seems as if the picture were, that the mountains of Judaea, “the” mountains, instead of mist or vapor, should “distill” that which is the symbol of joy, “wine which maketh glad the heart of man” Psalm 104:15. The reason why Amos, in this marked way, joined on his own book of prophecy to the book of Joel, must remain uncertain, since he did not explain it. It may have been, that, being called in an unusual way to the prophetic office, he would in this way identify himself with the rest of those whom God called to it. A prophet, out of Judah but for Israel, Amos identified himself with the one prophet of Judah, whose prophecy was committed to writing. Certainly those first words of Amos, “The Lord shall roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem,” pointed out to the ten tribes, that Zion and Jerusalem were the place “which God had chosen to place His Name there,” the visible center of His government, whence proceeded His judgments and His revelation. Others have supposed that bad men thought that the evil which Joel had foretold would not come, and that the good may have looked anxiously for the fulfillment of God‘s promises; and that on that ground, Amos renewed, by way of allusion, both God‘s threats and promises, thereby impressing on men‘s minds, what Habakkuk says in plain terms, Habakkuk 2:3, “The vision is for the appointed time, and it hasteth to the end: though it tarry, wait for it, for it will come, it will not tarry, or be behindhand.

However this may have been, such marked renewal of threatenings and promises of Joel by Amos, attests two things:

(1) that Joel‘s prophecy must, at the time when Amos wrote, have become part of Holy Scripture, and its authority must have been acknowledged;

(2) that its authority must have been acknowledged by, and it must have been in circulation among, those to whom Amos prophesied; otherwise he would not have prefixed to his book those words of Joel.

For the whole force of the words, as employed by Amos, depends upon their being recognized by his hearers, as a renewal of the prophecy of Joel. Certainly bad men jeered at Amos, as though his threatenings would not be fulfilled Amos 5:18; Amos 6:3; Amos 9:10.

Since, then, Amos prophesied during the time, when Azariah and Jeroboam II reigned together, the book of Joel must have been at that time written, and known in Israel also. Beyond this, the brief, although full, prophecy of Joel affords no clue as to its own date. Yet probably it was not far removed from that of Amos. For Amos, as well as Joel, speaks of the sin of Tyre and Zidon and of the Philistines in selling the children of Judah into captivity Joel 3:4-6; Amos 1:6, Amos 1:9. And since Amos speaks of this, as the crowning sin of both, it is perhaps likely that some signal instance of it had taken place, to which both prophets refer. To this, the fact that both prophets speak of the scourge of locusts and drought, (if this were so) would not add any further evidence. For Joel was prophesying to Judah; Amos, to Israel. The prophecy of Joel may indeed subordinately, although very subordinately at the most, “include” real locusts; and such locusts, if he meant to include them, could have been no local plague, and so could hardly have passed over Israel. But Amos does not speak of the ravages of the locusts, by which, in addition to drought, mildew, pestilence, God had, when he prophesied, recently chastened Israel, as distinguished above others which God had sent upon this land. There is nothing therefore to identify the locusts spoken of by Amos with those which Joel speaks of as an image of the terrible, successive, judgments of God. Rather Amos enumerates, one after the other, God‘s ordinary plagues in those countries, and says that all had failed in the object for which God sent them, the turning of His people to Himself.

Nor, again, does anything in Joel‘s own prophecy suggest any particular date, beyond what is already assigned through the relation which the book of Amos bears to his book. On the contrary, in correspondence, perhaps, with the wide extent of his prophecy, Joel says next to nothing of what was temporary or local. He mentions, incidentally, in one place the “drunkards” Joel 1:5 of his people; yet in this case too, he speaks of the sin as especially affected and touched by the chastisement, not of the chastisement, as brought upon the sinner or upon the sinful people by that sin. Beyond this one case, the prophet names neither sins nor sinners among his own people. He foretells chastisement, and exhorts to repentance as the means of averting it, but does not specify any sins. His prophecy is one declaration of the displeasure of God against all sin, and of His judgments consequent thereon, one promise of pardon upon earnest repentance; and so, perhaps, what is individual has, for the most part been purposely suppressed.

The notices in the book of Joel, which have been employed to fix more precisely the date of the prophet, relate:

(1) to the proclamation of the solemn assembly, which, it is supposed, would be enjoined thus authoritatively in a time when that injunction would be obeyed;

(2) to the mention of certain nations, and the supposed omission of certain other nations, as enemies of Judah.

Both arguments have been overstated and misstated.

(1) the call to public humiliation implies, so far, times in which the king would not interfere to prevent it. But ordinarily, in Judah, even bad and irreligious kings did not interfere with extraordinary fasts in times of public distress. Jehoiakim did not; the king, who hesitated not to cut in shreds the roll of Jeremiah‘s prophecies when three or four columns or chapters Jeremiah 36:23 had been read before him, and burned it on the hearth by which he was sitting. The fast-day, upon which that roll had been read in the ears of all the people, was an extraordinary “fast before the Lord, proclaimed to all the people in Jerusalem, and to all the people that came from the cities of Judah unto Jerusalem” Jeremiah 36:9. This fasting day was not their annual fast, the day of atonement. For the day of atonement was in the seventh month; this Jeremiah tells us, “was in the ninth month” Jeremiah 36:9.

When such a king as Jehoiakim tolerated the appointment of an extraordinary fast, not for Jerusalem only, but for “all the people who came from the cities of Judah,” we may well think that no king of ordinary impiety would, in a time of such distress as Joel foretells, have interfered to hinder it. There were at most, after Athaliah‘s death, two periods only of decided antagonism to God. The first was at the close of the reign of Joash, after the death of Johoiada, when Joash with the princes gave himself to the idolatry of Ashtaroth and put to death Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, upon whom “the Spirit of God came” and he foretold their destruction; “Because ye have forsaken the Lord, He had also forsaken you” 2 Chronicles 24:17-21. The period after the murder of Zechariah was very short. “As the year came round,” the Syrians came against them; and “when they departed, his own servants slew him” 2 Chronicles 24:23, 2 Chronicles 24:25. The only space, left uncertain, is the length of time, during which the idolatry lasted, before the murder of Zechariah. The second period, that in which Amaziah fell away to the idolatry of the Edomites, silenced the prophet of God, and was abandoned by him to his destruction 2 Chronicles 25:14-16, 2 Chronicles 25:23, was also brief, lasting probably some 16 years.

(2) the argument from the prophet‘s of some enemies of God‘s people and the supposed omission of other later enemies, rests partly on a wrong conception of prophecy, partly on wrong interpretation of the prophet. On the assumption that the prophets did not speak of nations, as instruments of God‘s chastisements on His people, until they had risen above the political horizon of Judah, it has been inferred that Joel lived before the time when Assyria became an object of dread, because, mentioning other enemies of God‘s people, he does not mention Assyria. The assumption, which originated in unbelief, is untrue in fact. Balaam prophesied the captivity through Assyria Numbers 24:22, when Israel was entering on the promised land; he foretold also the destruction of Assyria or the great empire of the East through a power who should come from Europe Numbers 24:24. The prophet Ahijah foretold to Jeroboam I that the Lord would “root up Israel out of the good land which He gave to their fathers, and would scatter them beyond the river 1 Kings 14:15. Neither in temporal nor spiritual prophecy can we discern the rules, by which, “at sundry times and in diver‘s manners, God” revealed Himself “through the prophets,” so that we should be able to reduce to one strict method “the manifold wisdom” of God, and infer the age of a prophet from the tenor of the prophecy which God put into his mouth.

It is plain, moreover, from the text of Joel himself, that God had revealed to him, that other more formidable enemies than had yet invaded Judah would hereafter come against it, and that those enemies whom he speaks of, he mentions only, as specimens of hatred against God‘s people and of its punishment. There can really be no question, that by “the Northern Joel 2:20 army, he means the Assyrian. God foretells also by him the capture of Jerusalem, and the punishment of those who “scattered Israel, My heritage, among the pagan, and divided My land” Joel 3:2. Such words can only be understood of an entire removal of Judah, whereby others could come and take possession of his land. In connection with these great powers occurs the mention of Tyre, Sidon and Philistia, petty yet vexatious enemies, contrasted with the more powerful. The very formula with which that mention is introduced, shows that they are named only incidentally and as instances of a class. “And also, what are ye to Me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Philistia?” The mighty nations were to come as lions, to lay waste; these, like jackals, made their own petty merchants gain. The mighty divided the land; these were plunderers and men-stealers. In both together, he declares that nothing, either great or small, should escape the righteous judgments of God. Neither shall might save the mighty, nor shall the petty malice of the lesser enemies of God be too small to be requited. But not only is there no proof that Joel means to enumerate all the nations who had hitherto infested Judah, but there is proof that he did not.

One only has been found to place Joel so early as the reign of Jehoshaphat. But in his reign, after the death of Ahab, (897 b.c.) “Moab and Ammon and with them others, a great multitude 2 Chronicles 20:1-2, invaded Judah. Since then it is tacitly admitted, that the absence of the mention of Moab and Ammon does not imply that Joel prophesied before their invasion (897 b.c.) neither is the non-mention of the invasion of the Syrians any argument that he lived before the end of the reign of Jehoash (840 b.c.). Further, not the mere invasion of Judah, but the motives of the invasion or cruelty evinced in it, drew down the judgments of God. The invasion of Hazael was directed not against Judah, but “against Gath.” 2 Kings 12:17. But “a small company of men” 2 Chronicles 24:24 went up against Jerusalem; “and the Lord delivered a very great company into their hand, because they had forsaken the Lord God of their fathers. They executed,” we are told, “judgment against Joash.” Nor does it appear, that they, like the Assyrians, exceeded the commission for which God employed them (2 Chronicles 24:23; add 17,18). “They destroyed all the princes of the people from among the people,” the princes who had seduced Joash to idolatry and were the authors of the murder of Zechariah 2 Chronicles 24:21. “They conspired against him, and stoned him (Zechariah) with stones at the commandment of the king.” Amos mentions, as the last ground of God‘s sentence against Damascus, not this incursion, but the cruelty of Hazael to Gilead Joel 1:3. The religious aspect of the single invasion of Judah by this band of Syrians was very different from the perpetual hostility of the Philistines, or the malicious cupidity of the Phoenicians.

Still less intelligible is the assertion, that Joel would not have foretold any punishment of Edom, had he lived after the time when Amaziah smote 20,000 of them “in the valley of salt, and took Selah 2 Kings 14:7; 2 Chronicles 25:11, or Petra 838 b.c. For Amos confessedly prophesied in the reign of Azariah, the son of Amaziah. Azariah recovered Elath also from Edom; 2 Kings 14:22; 2 Chronicles 26:2 yet Amos, in his time, foretells the utter destruction of Bozra and Teman Joel 1:12. The victory of Amaziah did not humble Edom. They remained the same embittered foe. In the time of Ahaz, they again invaded Judah and “smote” it and “carried away a captivity” 2 Chronicles 28:17. Prophecy does not regard these little variations of conquest or defeat. They do not exhaust its meaning. It pronounces God‘s judgment against the abiding character of the nation; and while that continues unchanged, the sentence remains. Its fulfillment seems often to linger, but in the end, it does not fail nor remain behind God‘s appointed time. Egypt and Edom moreover, in Joel, stand also as symbols of nations or people like themselves. They stand for the people themselves, but they represent also others of the same character, as long as the struggle between “the city of God” and “the city of the devil” shall last, i. e., to the end of time.

There being then no internal indication of the date of Joel, we cannot do better than acquiesce in the tradition, by which his book is placed next to that of Hosea, and regard Joel as the prophet of Judah, during the earlier part of Hosea‘s office toward Israel, and rather earlier than Isaiah. At least, Isaiah, although he too was called to the prophetic office in the days of Uzziah, appears to have embodied in his prophecy, words of Joel, as well of Micah, bearing witness to the unity of prophecy, and, amid the richness and fullness of his own prophetic store, purposely borrowing from those, of whose ministry God did not will that such large fruit should remain. The remarkable words Isaiah 13:6, “Near is the Day of the Lord, like destruction from the Almighty shall it come,” Isaiah inserted, word for word from Joel, Joel 1:15, including the remarkable alliteration, משׁשׁדי סשׁד seshod mishshadday “like a ‹mighty‘ destruction from the ‹Almighty. ‹“

The prophecy of Joel is altogether one. It extends from his own day to the end of time. He gives the key to it in a saying, which he casts into the form of a proverb, that judgment shall follow after judgment Joel 1:4. Then he describes that first desolation, as if present, and calls to repentance Joel 1:5,ff.; yet withal he says expressly, that the day of the Lord is not come, but is at hand Joel 1:15. This he repeats at the beginning of the second chapter Joel 2:1, in which he describes the coming judgment more fully, speaks of it, as coming Joel 2:2-10, and, when, he has pictured it as just ready to break upon them, and God, as giving the command to the great camp assembled to fulfill His word Joel 2:11, he calls them, in God‘s name, yet more earnestly to repentance Joel 2:12-17, and promises, upon that repentance, plenary forgiveness and the restoration of everything which God had withdrawn from them Joel 2:18-27. These promises culminate in the first Coming of Christ, the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh, and the enlarged gift of prophecy at the same time among the sons and daughters of Judah Joel 2:28-29. Upon these mercies to His own people, follow the judgments upon His and their enemies, reaching on to the second Coming of our Lord.

An attempt has been made to sever the prophecy into two discourses, of which the first is to end at Joel 2:17, the second is to comprise the remainder of the book. That scheme severs what is closely united, God‘s call to prayer and His promise that He will answer it. According to this severance of the prophecy, the first portion is to contain the exhortation on the part of God, without any promise; the second is to contain an historical relation that God answered, without saying what He answered. The notion was grounded on unbelief, that God absolutely foretold, that He would, beyond the way of nature, bring, what He would, upon repentance, as certainly remove. It is rested upon a mere error in grammar. The grammatical form was probably chosen, in order to express how instantaneously God would hearken to real repentance, “that the Lord is jealous for His land.” The words of prayer should not yet have escaped their lips, when God answered. As He says, “And it shall be, before they shall call, I will answer; while they are yet speaking, I will hear” Isaiah 65:24. Man has to make up his mind on a petition; with God, hearing and answering are one.

The judgments upon God‘s people, described in the two first chapters of Joel, cannot be limited to a season of drought and a visitation of locusts, whether one or more.

I. The prophet includes all which he foretells, in one statement, which, both from its form and its preternatural character, has the appearance of a proverbial saying Joel 1:4. It does stand, as a summary. For he draws the attention of all to “this” Joel 1:2; “Hear” this, “ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days? etc.” He appeals to the aged, whether they had heard the like, and bids all transmit it to their posterity Joel 1:3. The summary is given in a very measured form, in three divisions, each consisting of four words, and the four words standing, in each, in the same order. The first and third words of the four are the same in each; and the fourth of the first and second four become the second of the second and third four, respectively. Next to Hebrew, its force can best be seen in Latin:

d Residuum erucae comedit loeusta;


d Residuumque locustae comedit bruchus;


d Residuumque bruchi comedit exesor.


d The structure of the words resembles God‘s words to Elijah 1 Kings 19:17, whose measured rhythm and precise order of words may again be best, because most concisely, exhibited in Latin. Each division contains five words in the same order; and here, the first, second, and fourth words of each five remain the same, and the proper name which is the fifth in the first five becomes the third in the second five.

d ProfugumgladiiHazaelisoccidetJehu;


d ProfugumquegladiiJehuoccidetElisha.


d In this case, we see that the form is proverbial, because the slaying by Elisha is different in kind from the slaying by Jehu and Hazael, and is the same of which God speaks by Hosea, “I hewed them by the prophets; I slew them by the words of my mouth” Hosea 6:5. But so also is it with regard to the locust. Except by miracle, what the prophet here describes, would not happen. He foretells, not only that a scourge should come, unknown in degree and number, before or afterward, in Palestine, but that four sorts of locusts should come successively, the latter destroying what the former left. Now this is not God‘s ordinary way in bringing this scourge. In His ordinary Providence different sorts of locusts do not succeed one another. Nor would it be any increase of the infliction, anything to record or forewarn of. At times, by a very rare chastisement, God has brought successive flights of the same insect from the same common birthplace; and generally, where the female locusts deposit their eggs and die, unless a moist winter or man‘s forethought destroy the eggs, the brood which issues from them in the next spring, being as voracious as the full grown locusts, but crawling through the land, does, in that immediate neighborhood, destroy the produce of the second year, more fatally than the parent had that of the preceding. This however is, at most, the ravage of two stages of the same insect, not four successive scourges, the three last destroying what the former had spared. What the prophet predicted, if taken literally, was altogether out of the order of nature, and yet its literal fulfillment has not the character of a miracle, for it adds nothing to the intensity of what is predicted. The form of his prediction is proverbial; and this coincides with the other indications that the prophet did not intend to speak of mere locusts.

(1) In order to bring down this summary of the prophet to the level of an ordinary event in God‘s ordinary Providence, a theory has been invented, that he is not here speaking of different sorts of locusts, but of the same locust in different stages of its growth, from the time when it leaves the egg, until it attains its full development and its wings. According to the inventor of this theory, the first, the גזם gâzâm (the “palmer-worm” of our version) was to be the migratory locust, which visits Palestine (it was said) chiefly in Autumn; the second, ארבה 'arbeh (the ordinary name of the locust) was to stand for the young locust, as it first creeps out of the shell; the ילק yeleq (translated “cankerworm”) was to be the locust, in what was supposed to be the third stage of development; the חסיל châsı̂yl (translated “caterpillar”) was to be the full-grown locust.

According to this form of the theory, the גזם gâzâm was to be the same as the חסיל châsı̂yl the first as the last; and two of the most special names of the locust, גזם gâzâm and חסיל châsı̂yl were, without any distinction, to be ascribed to the full-grown locust, of one and the same species. For, according to the theory, the גזם gâzâm was to be the full-grown locust which arrived by flight and deposited its eggs; the ארבה 'arbeh ילק yeleq חסיל châsı̂yl were to be three chief stages of development of the locusts which left those eggs. So that the חסיל châsı̂yl although not the same individual, was to be exactly the same insect as the גזם gâzâm and at the same stage of existence, the full-grown locust, the gryllus migratorius with wings. But while these two, more special, names were appropriated to the self-same species of locust, in the same, its full-grown stage (which in itself is unlikely, when they are thus distinguished from each other) one of the two names which remained to describe (as was supposed) the earlier, (so to speak) infantine or childish stages of its development, ארבה 'arbeh is the most general name of locust. This was much as if, when we wished to speak of a “colt” as such, we were to call it “horse,” or were to use the word “cow” to designate a “calf.” For, according to this theory, Joel, wishing to mark that he was speaking of the pupa, just emerged from the egg, called it ארבה 'arbeh the most common name of the locust tribe.

This theory then was tacitly modified tacitly corrects Credner. Maurer, Ewald, Umbreit, follow Gesenius; yet Ewald thinks that the גזם gâzâm ילק yeleq חסיל châsı̂yl need” not belong to the proper locust tribe ארבה 'arbeh (which is in fact an abandonment of the theory)). In the second form of the theory, which is more likely to be introduced among us, גזם gâzâm was to be the locust in its first stage; ארבה 'arbeh was to be the second, instead of the first; ילק yeleq was to be the last but one; חסיל châsı̂yl was, as before, to be the full-grown locust. This theory escaped one difficulty, that of making the גזם gâzâm and חסיל châsı̂yl full-grown locusts of the same species. It added another. The three moultings which it assumes to be represented by the ארבה 'arbeh ילק yeleq and גזם gâzâm correspond neither with the actual moults of the locust, nor with those which strike the eye. Some observers have noticed four moultings of the locust, after it had left the egg. Some write, as if there were yet more. But of marked changes which the eye of the observer can discern, there are two only, that by which it passes from the larva state into the pupa; and that by which it passes from the pupa to the full-grown locust. The “three” names, arbitrarily adapted to the natural history of the locust, correspond neither with the “four” actual, nor with the “two” noticeable changes.

But even these terms larva and pupa, if taken in their popular sense, would give a wrong idea of the moults of the locust. The changes with which we are familiar under these names, take place in the locust, before it leaves the egg.: “The pupae are equally capable of eating and moving with the larvae, which they resemble except in having rudiments of wings or of wings and elytra:” having in fact “complete wings, only folded up longitudinally and transversely, and enclosed in membranous cases.” “The pupae of the orthoptera” (to which the locust belongs) “resemble the perfect insect, both as to shape and the organs for taking their food, except in not having their wings and elytra fully developed.”

These changes regard only its outward form, not its habits. Its voracity begins almost as soon as it has left the egg. The first change takes place “a few days” after they are first in motion. “They fast, ‹for a short time,‘” before each change. But the creature continues, throughout, the same living, devouring, thing. From the first, “creeping and jumping in the same general direction, they begin their destructive march.”. The change, when it is made, takes place “in seven or eight minutes” by the creature disengaging itself from its former outward skin. All the changes are often completed in six weeks. In the Ukraine, six weeks after it has left the egg, it has wings and flies away. In the warmer climate of Palestine, the change would be yet more rapid. “They attain their natural size,” Niebuhr says of those in Mosul, “with astonishing rapidity.” “Tis three weeks,” says Le Bruyn, “before they can use their wings.”

(2) But the prophet is not writing on “natural history,” nor noticing distinctions observable only on minute inspection. He is foretelling God‘s judgments. But, as all relate, who have described the ravages of locusts, there are not three, four or five, but two stages only, in which its ravages are at all distinct, the unwinged and the winged state.

(3) Probably, only in a country which was the birthplace of locusts, and where consequently they would, in all the stages of their existence, be, year by year, before the eyes of the people, would those stages be marked by different names. Arabia was one such birthplace, and the Arabs, living a wild life of nature, have invented, probably beyond any other nation, words with very special physical meanings. The Arabs, who have above 50 names for different locusts, or locusts under different circumstances, as they distinguished the sexes of the locust by different names, so they did three of its ages.: “When it came forth out of its egg, it was called “doba;” when its wings appeared and grew, it was called “ghaugha;” and this, when they jostled one another; and when their colors appeared, the males becoming yellow, the females black, then they were called ‹jerad.‘” This is no scientific description; for the wings of the locust are not visible, until after the last moult.

But in the language of other countries, where this plague was not domestic, these different stages of the existence of the locust are not marked by a special name. The Syrians added an epithet “the flying,” “the creeping,” but designated by the “creeping” the חסיל châsı̂yl as well as the ילק yeleq creeping.” In Psalm 78:46, it renders חסיל châsı̂yl by kamtso locust,” and ארבה 'arbeh by dsochelo creeper.” In Psalm 105:34, it renders ארבה 'arbeh by kamtso only (as also in Deuteronomy 28:42. In Greek the Βροῦχος Brouchos and Ἀττέλαβος Attelabos have been thought to be two stages of the unwinged, and so, unperfected, locusts. But Cyril and Theodoret speak of the Βροῦχος Brouchos as having wings; Aristotle and Plutarch speak of the eggs of the Ἀττέλαβος Attelabos The prophet is speaking of successive ravagers, each devouring what the former left. If the theory of these writers was correct, the order in which he names them, would be the order of their development. But in the order of their development, they never destroy what they left in their former stages. From the time when they begin to move, they march right onward “creeping and jumping, all in the same general direction”. This march never stops. They creep on, eating as they creep, in the same tract of country, not in the same spot. You could not say of creatures (were we afflicted with such,) who crawled for six weeks, devouring, over two counties of England, that in their later stage they devoured what in their former they left. We should speak of the plague “spreading” over two counties. We could not use the prophet‘s description, for it would not be true.

This mere march, however destructive in its course, does not correspond with the prophet‘s words. The prophet then must mean something else. When the locust becomes winged it flies away, to ravage other countries. So far from destroying what, in its former condition, it left, its ravages in that country are at an end. Had it been ever so true, that these four names, גזם gâzâm ארבה 'arbeh ילק yeleq חסיל châsı̂yl designated four stages of being of the one locust, of which stages גזם gâzâm was the first, חסיל châsı̂yl חסיל châsı̂yl the last, then to suit this theory, it should have been said, that גזם gâzâm the young locust, devoured what the חסיל châsı̂yl by the hypothesis the full-grown locust, left, not the reverse, as it stands in the prophet. For the young, when hatched, do destroy in the same place which their parents visited, when they deposited their eggs; but the grown locust does not devastate the country which he wasted before he had wings. So then, in truth, had the prophet meant this, he would have spoken of two creatures, not of four; and of those two he would have spoken in a different order from that of this hypothesis.

(5) Palestine not being an ordinary breeding place of the locusts, the locust arrives there by flight. Accordingly, on this ground also, the first mentioned would be the winged, not the crawling, locust.

(6) The use of these names of the locust, elsewhere in Holy Scripture, contradicts the theory, that they designate different stages of growth, of the same creature.

(a) The ארבה 'arbeh is itself one of the four kinds of locust, allowed to be eaten, having subordinate species. “The locust” (ארבה 'arbeh ) “after his kind, and the bald locust” (סלעם sol‛âm “the devourer”) “after his kind, and the beetle” (חרגל chârgôl literally, “the springer”) “after his kind, and the grasshopper” (חגב châgâb ), perhaps, “the overshadower) after his kind” Leviticus 11:22. It is to the last degree unlikely, that the name ארבה 'arbeh which is the generic name of the most common sort of the “winged” locust, should be given to one imperfect, unwinged, stage of one species of locust.

(b) The creeping, unwinged, insect, which has just come forth from the ground, would more probably be called by yet another name for “locust,” גוב gôb גובי gôbay “the creeper,” than by that of גזם gâzâm But though such is probably the etymology of גוב gôb probably it too is winged Nahum 3:17.

(c) Some of these creatures here mentioned by Joel are named together in Holy Scripture as distinct and winged. The ארבה 'arbeh and חסיל châsı̂yl are mentioned together 1 Kings 8:37; 2 Chronicles 6:28; Psalm 78:46; as are also the ארבה 'arbeh and the ילק yeleqNahum 3:16-17; Psalm 105:34. The ארבה 'arbeh the ילק yeleq and the חסיל châsı̂yl are all together mentioned in regard to the plague of Egypt, and all consequently, as winged, since they were brought by the wind. The prophet Nahum also speaks of the ילק yeleq a “spoiling and fleeing away” Nahum 3:16. According to the theory, the ילק yeleq as well as the ארבה 'arbeh ought to be unwinged.

Nor, again, can it be said, that the names are merely poetic names of the locust. It is true that ארבה 'arbeh the common name of the locust, is taken from its number; the rest, גזם gâzâm ילק yeleq חסיל châsı̂yl are descriptive of the voracity of that tribe. But both the ארבה 'arbeh and the חסיל châsı̂yl occur together in the historical and so in prose books. We know of ninety sorts of locusts, and they are distinguished from one another by some epithet. It would plainly be gratuitous to assume that the Hebrew names, although epithets, describe only the genus in its largest sense, and are not names of species. If, moreover, these names were used of the same identical race, not of different species in it, the saying would the more have the character of a proverb. We could not say, for instance, “what the horse left, the steed devoured,” except in some proverbial meaning.

This furnishes a certain probability that the prophet means something more under the locust, than the creature itself, although this in itself too is a great scourge of God.

II. In the course of the description itself, the prophet gives hints, that he means, under the locust, a judgment far greater, an enemy far mightier, than the locust. These hints have been put together most fully, and supported in detail by Hengstenberg, so that here they are but re-arranged.

(1) Joel calls the scourge, whom he describes, “the Northern” or Northman. But whereas the Assyrian invaders of Palestine did pour into it from the north, the locust, almost always, by a sort of law of their being, make their inroads there from their birth-place in the south (see the note at Joel 2:20).

(2) The prophet directs the priests to pray, “O Lord give not Thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them” Joel 2:17. But there is plainly no connection between the desolation caused by locusts, and the people being given over to a pagan conqueror.

(3) The prophet speaks of, or alludes to, the agent, as one responsible. It is not likely that, of an irrational scourge of God, the prophet would have assigned as a ground of its destruction, “he hath magnified to do” (see the note at Joel 2:20); words used of human pride which exceeds the measure appointed to it by God. On the other hand, when God says, “a nation is come up upon My land Joel 1:6 then will the Lord be jealous for His land Joel 2:18, the words belong rather to a pagan invader of God‘s land, who disputed with His people the possession of the land which He had given them, than to an insect, which was simply carried, without volition of its own, by the wind. With this, falls in the use of the title “people, גוי gôy Joel 1:6, used often of pagan, not (as is עם ‛am ) of irrational creatures.

(4) After the summary which mentions simply different kinds of locusts, the prophet speaks of “fire, flame, drought Joel 1:19-20, which show that he means something beyond that plague.

(5) The imagery, even where it has some correspondence with what is known of locusts, goes beyond any mere plague of locusts.

(a) People are terrified at their approach; but Joel says not “people,” but “peoples Joel 2:6, nations. It was a scourge then, like those great conquering Empires, whom God made “the hammer of the whole earth” Jeremiah 50:23.

(b) The locusts darken the air as they come; but the darkening of the sun and moon, the withdrawing of the shining of the stars Joel 2:10 (which together are incompatible) are far beyond this, and are symbols elsewhere of the trembling of all things before the revelation of the wrath of God Isaiah 13:10.

(c) Locusts enter towns and are troublesome to their inhabitants (see the note at Joel 2:9, p. 117): but the fields are the scenes of their desolation, in towns they are destroyed.

These in Joel are represented as taking “the city,” Jerusalem Joel 2:10, symbols of countless trusts, but as mere locusts, harmless.

(6) The effects of the scourge are such as do not result from mere locusts.

(a) The quantity used for the “meat-offering and drink-offering” Joel 1:9 was so small, that even a famine could not occasion their disuse. They were continued even in the last dreadful siege of Jerusalem. Not materials for sacrifice, but sacrificers were wanting.

(b) God says, I “will restore the years which the locust hath eaten” Joel 2:25. But the locust, being a passing scourge, did not destroy the fruits of several “years,” only of that one year.

(c) The “beasts of the field” are bidden to rejoice, “because the tree beareth her fruit Joel 2:22. This must be a metaphor, for the trees are not food for cattle.

(d) The scourge is spoken of as greater than any which they or their fathers knew of, and as one to be ever remembered Joel 1:2-3; Joel 2:2; but Israel had many worse scourges than any plague of locusts, however severe. God had taught them by David, It is better to fall into the hands of God, than into the hands of men.

(7) The destruction of this scourge of God is described in a way, taken doubtless in its details from the destruction of locusts, yet, as a whole, physically impossible in a literal sense (see the note at Joel 2:20).

(8) The Day of the Lord, of which he speaks, is identical with the scourge which he describes, but is far beyond any plague of locusts. It includes the captivity of Judah Joel 3:1, the division of their land Joel 3:2, its possession by strangers, since it is promised that these are “no more to pass through her” Joel 3:17. It is a day of utter destruction, such as the Almighty alone can inflict. “It shall come like a mighty destruction from the Almighty” Joel 1:15.

I. Attempts have been made to meet some of these arguments; but these attempts for the most part only illustrate the strength of the arguments, which they try to remove.

(1) Northern has been taken in its natural sense, and it has been asserted, contrary to the fact, that locusts did come from the North into Palestine; or it has been said, that the locusts were first driven from their birthplace in Arabia Deserta through Palestine “to” the North, and then brought back again into Palestine “from” the North; or that “Northern” meant that part of the whole body of locusts which occupied the Northern parts of Palestine, Judea lying to the extreme south.

But an incidental flight of locusts, which should have entered Palestine from the North, (which they are not recorded to have done) would not have been called “the Northern.” The object of such a name would be to describe the locale of those spoken of, not a mere accident or anomaly. Still less, if this ever happened, (of which there is no proof) would a swarm of locusts be so called, which had first come from the South. The regularity, with which the winds blow in Palestine, makes such a bringing back of the locusts altogether improbable. The South wind blows chiefly in March; the East wind in Summer, the North wind mostly about the Autumnal equinox. But neither would a body so blown to and fro, be the fearful scourge predicted by the prophet, nor would it have been called “the Northern.” The “iy” of the word צפוני tsephônı̂y like our “-ern” in Northern, designates that which is spoken of, not as coming incidentally from the North, but as having an habitual relation to the North. A flight of locusts driven back, contrary to continual experience, from the North, would not have been designated as “the Northern,” anymore than a Lowlander who passes some time in the Highlands would be called a Highlander, or a Highlander, passing into the South, would be called a “Southron.” With regard to the third explanation, Joel was especially a prophet of Judah. The supposition that, in predicting the destruction of the locusts, he spoke of the Northern not of the Southern portion of them, implies that he promised on the part of God, as the reward of the humiliation of Judah, that God would remove this scourge from the separated kingdom of the ten tribes, without any promise as to that part which immediately concerned themselves. Manifestly also, “the Northern” does not, by itself, express the Northern part of a whole.

It is almost incredible that some have understood by “the Northern,” those driven toward the North, and so those actually in the South; and “I will remove far from you the Northern,” “I will remove far from “you” who are in the South, the locusts who have come to you from the South, whom I will drive to the North.”

(2) Instances have been brought “from other lands,” to which locusts have come from the North. This answer wholly misstates the point at issue. The question is not as to the direction which locusts take, “in other countries,” where God sends them, but as to the quarter from which they enter Judea. The direction which they take, varies in different countries, but is on one and the same principle. It is said by one observer, that they have power to fly against the wind. Yet this probably is said only of light airs, when they are circling round in preparation for their flight. For the most part, they are carried by the prevailing wind, sometimes, if God so wills, to their own destruction, but, mostly, to other counties as a scourge. “When they can fly, they go,” relates Beauplan of those bred in the Ukraine, “wherever the wind carries them. If the Northeast wind prevails, when they first take flight, it carries them all into the Black Sea; but if the wind blows from any other quarter, they go into some other country, to do mischief.”

Lichtenstein writes, “They never deviate from the straight line, so long as the same wind blows.” Niebuhr says,: “I saw in Cairo a yet more terrible cloud of locusts, which came by a southwest wind and so from the desert of Libya”. “In the night of Nov. 10,1762, a great cloud passed over Jidda with a West wind, consequently over the Arabian gulf which is very broad here.” Of two flights in India which Forbes witnessed, he relates, “Each of these flights were brought by an East wind; they took a Westerly direction, and, without settling in the country, probably perished in the gulf of Cambay.” Dr. Thomson who had spent 25 years in the holy land, says in illustration of David‘s words, “I am tossed up and down like the locust” Psalm 109:23.: “This refers to the flying locust. I have had frequent opportunities to notice, how these squadrons are tossed up and down, and whirled round and round by the evervarying currents of the mountain winds.”

Morier says, “The Southeast wind constantly brought with it innumerable flights of locusts,” but also “a fresh wind from the Southwest which had brought them, so completely drove them forward that not a vestige of them was to be seen two hours afterward.” These were different kinds of locusts, the first “at Bushire,” having “legs and body of a light yellow and wings spotted brown”; the second at Shiraz (which “the Persians said came from the Germesir,”) being “larger and red.”

The breeding country for the locust in Southwestern Asia, is the great desert of Arabia reaching to the Persian gulf. From this, at God‘s command, “the East wind brought the locust” Exodus 10:13 to Egypt. They are often carried by a west or southwest wind into Persia. “I have often in spring,” relates Joseph de S. Angelo, “seen the sun darkened by very thick clouds (so to say) of locusts, which cross the sea from the deserts of Arabia far into Persia.” In Western Arabia, Burckhard writes, “the locusts are known to come invariably from the East,” i. e., from the same deserts. The South wind carries them to the different countries Northward. This is so general, that Hasselquist wrote; “The locusts appear to be directed - in a direct meridian line by keeping nearly from South to North, turning very little either to the East or West. They come from the deserts of Arabia, take their course on through Palestine, Syria, Carmania, Natolia, go sometimes through Bithynia. They never turn from their course, for example, to the West, wherefore Egypt is not visited by them, though so near their usual tract.

Neither do they turn to the East, for I never heard that Mesopotamia or the confines of the Euphrates are ravaged by them.” And Volney reports, as the common observation of the natives; “The inhabitants, of Syria remarked that the locusts only came after overmild winters, and that they always came from the deserts of Arabia.” Whence Jerome, himself an inhabitant of Palestine, regarded this mention of the North as an indication that the prophet intended us to understand under the name of locusts, the great Conquerors who did invade Palestine from the North (in Joel 2:20). “According to the letter, the South wind, rather than the North, hath been wont to bring the flocks of locusts, i. e., they come not from the cold but from the heat. But since he was speaking of the Assyrians, under the image of locusts, therefore he inserted the mention of the North, that we may understand, not the actual locust, which hath been wont to come from the South, but under the locust, the Assyrians and Chaldees.”

On the same ground, that the locusts came to Palestine from the South they were brought from Tartary, (the breeding-place of the locust thence called the Tartarian locust) by an East or Southeast wind to the Ukraine.: “They generally come (to the Ukraine) from toward Tartary, which happens in a dry spring, for Tartary and the countries East of it, as Circassia, Bazza and Mingrelia, are seldom free from them. The vermin being driven by an East or Southeast wind come into the Ukraine.” To the coasts of Barbary or to Italy for the same reason they come from the South; to Upper Egypt from Arabia; and to Nubia from the North, namely, from Upper Egypt. “In the summer of 1778,” Chenier says of Mauritania, there “were seen, coming from the South, clouds of locusts which darkened the sun. Strabo states, that, “the strong Southwest or West winds of the vernal equinox drive them together into the country of Acridophagi.” To the Cape of Good Hope they come from the North, from where alone they could come; to Senegal they come with the wind from the East. “They infest Italy,” Pliny says, “chiefly from Africa;” from where of course, they come to Spain also. Shaw writes of those in Barbary; “Their first appearance was toward the latter end of March, the wind having been for some time Southerly.” “As the direction of the marches and flight of them both,” (i. e. both of the young brood and their parents, their “marches” before they had wings, and their “flight” afterward) “was always to the Northward, it is probable that they perished in the sea.”

All this, however, illustrates the one rule of their


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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Joel:4 Overview". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

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