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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Joel 1

 

 

Verses 1-20

Prophet of Judgment

Joel 1

Joel wrote his prophecy eight hundred years before Jesus Christ came into the world. It is a prophecy of judgment. If we liken ourselves to travellers through this Bible land we shall feel that we have come suddenly upon a volcano. "Joel" is a word which means, The Lord is God; "Pethuel" is a word which means, Persuaded of God. Names were characters in the olden time; now they are mere lines in a directory. Men were souls in Bible times; to-day they are "hands." We know nothing of Joel. He comes as suddenly and tearingly into the history as did Elijah. His father"s name is given, but there was no need to give it, for nobody ever heard of it; it is an unknown name, and therefore it stands for nothing in the history. It is well for a man now and then to come who has no father, no mother, no ancestry, no relations that can be traced in so many genealogical lines; a man who stands out in his own personality, and is all or is nothing according to what he himself can be and say and do. Such a man is Joel; he has lips of fire, he has jaws of iron, he has a throat of brass; a fearless, resolute, denunciatory Prayer of Manasseh , with a gift of righteous damnation.

"The word of the Lord that came to Joel" ( Joel 1:1).

Not the word that came to Hosea or to Amos , but the word that came to Joel ,—intimating that there is a word that comes to every man. "The gospel according to Matthew ,"—not the gospel according to John. Matthew could not write with John"s pen; John probably scarcely had patience to read what Matthew had written. They were men of a different spiritual genius, their gifts were contrastive; yet each man told what he saw of the Life, the Truth, the Way. It was the gospel according to—then must be filled in all that is personal, temperamental, educational, experimental, so that every man shall tell his own tale, preach his own gospel. The apostle was not ashamed to say "my gospel,"—old, yet new; coming from eternity, yet accepting the accent of individuality. Each man has his own view of God, his own kingdom of heaven, his own way of telling what God has done for him; and the mischief is that we expect every man to speak in the same tone, to deliver the same words, and to subject himself to the same literary yoke or spiritual discipline. The Bible sets itself against all this monotony. Every man must speak the word that God has given to him through the instrumentality of his own characteristics. But we have judges who say they know what they hear. They are not judges of themselves. We cannot hear all the truth until we have heard all the truth-speakers; we cannot know man until we know humanity; we must know the all before we can know the part. So the Bible is not to be read in patches and portions, but is to be read in its entirety, until part allies itself to part, and Strain follows strain, the whole constituting one massive structure, or, changing the figure, one noble song.

A man cannot say what word has to come to him. A man cannot be both the message carrier and the message originator. We are errand-runners; we have to receive our message and repeat it; we have not first to create it, then to modify it, then to deliver it. The prophets assumed the position of being instruments, mediums for communications which the Lord wished to make with his children near and far, and with the world at large and through all time. Many of the prophets could not have chosen to say what they did; their message burned their lips, their tongues were scorched with the hard hot words the Lord gave them to utter; but they could not forbear, they must be faithful; every word that was told them in secret they had to proclaim on the housetop of history. A man cannot say he will sing his gospel; the Lord has only sent a certain number of singers, and we cannot increase the multitude. No man can say, I will go forth and thunder the word of the Lord in the ear of the age; the Lord hath not given his thunder to that tongue; it was meant to speak peacefully, soothingly, kindly, and when it tries to thunder creation would smile at the feebleness of the effort and the palpableness of the irony. So we have in the Bible all kinds of ministry. There are thunders and judgments in the book, and there are voices like lutes; there are whispers which you can only hear when you incline your ear with all the intensity of attention. There are words that roll down the mountains like splintered rocks, granites that have been ripped in two by the lightning; and there are words that fall from another mountain as flowers, beatitudes, tender speeches: "Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire; ye are come unto Mount Zion,"—the green mount, the pastoral hill, where God"s beauty smiles in God"s own sunlight But do not let one prophet criticise another, and declare that he is not in the prophetic office, because he does not speak in this man"s tone. Criticism is folly and injustice when it would make all men talk alike and be alike; let the Lord have some space in his own universe, let him have some rights in his own household. We have no voice in our own official election. One man cannot be like another Prayer of Manasseh , though he may desire very much to be like some other teacher. When Joel hears David sing, would he not gladly throw away his judgment burden and ask the old minstrel for a harp, that he might accompany him in the utterance of his pleading, pleasing, grateful strain of thanksgiving and of joy? But men cannot change places.

The Lord hath need of all kinds of men; he wants the fire and the whirlwind and the tempest, and the dew, and the still small voice—all are God"s ministry, God"s husbandry. When will the blue morning dawn, day of justice and of peace and love, when one man shall recognise another man"s divers gifts as being as certainly in the prophetic office as himself? When that day dawns prophecy will have expired, for there will be nothing to predict; the millennium will have dawned, and heaven and earth blended in one harmonic identity. There are others who are sent into the world to upbraid it. It is presumably providential that there should be some upbraiding voices; perhaps it is presumably providential that some of us have an intense dislike for the ministry of upbraiding. When Christ upbraids there is justice and not spitefulness in his noble accusations; when other men upbraid they are apt, under the tone of upbraiding, subtly to conceal somewhat of their own excellence, as who should say, I never could have done it; such an action could by no possibility have been done by these fingers—why did you do it? I told you how it would be. How did you come to run your neck into that noose? How was it that you went contrary to my advice? Did I not tell you? Oh, cruel tongue! That will never help a man; you never won a man by scourging him so. Do not remind him of what you, magnificent nobody, told him,—it was not worth remembering; if the thing itself was good it was borrowed, and being borrowed, it was spoiled in the delivery. If you can say anything to encourage the Prayer of Manasseh , to give him a new view of his circumstances, to inspire him to call up all his fading strength, say it. An upbraiding tongue will turn a palace into a hovel; an upbraiding tongue can never sing God"s music; an upbraiding ministry that is not instantly followed with healing, encouragement, inspiration, and ennobling assurance, is the worst of cruelty, because it adds to its own venom the hypocrisy of counterfeited religion. We need ministries of denunciation; we have too few such ministries. Society is an organised hypocrisy. The denouncer speaks inwardly, swallowing his own denunciations, and trying to look benignant where he ought to look like a thundercloud. Society was never so corrupt as at this day. Joel knew nothing about corruptness. Eight hundred years before Christ it was impossible for men to be as bad as they could be after the Cross had been set up; from the date of Calvary all things changed their relations: that which was formerly venial became henceforth iniquitous, double-dyed in all evil; that which before appeared to be great afterwards appeared to be comparatively small: so all relations underwent modification. No man can be so bad as a good man; no heart can be so cruel as the gentlest heart when it is turned in a wrong direction, poisoned and soured and stung into unwonted animosities. A Christian not faithful to his Christianity is worse than any pagan ever had it in his power to be. What can stand before the blasphemy of trampling under foot the blood of the everlasting covenant? It lies within the power of men who live in Christian days to be the worst men that ever lived.

"Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?" ( Joel 1:2.)

The prophets will attend to history; they will not have little or narrow views taken of providence. They summon councils of the old and the young and the many-minded, and they say, How stands this fact in the history of the ages? Fixing our minds upon locality, we miss the universe. It is possible for a man to be so devoted a geographer as not to know there is any other world but the earth in all the shining heavens. A man may so belittle himself by his geography as to lose all right to give a judgment on the providence of the universe. We do not understand one age until we have called in all the ages. To-day is the product of all the days. This is the advantage of studying history on large lines; this is the advantage of the true university course, that takes in all points, all influences, all factors; this is the education that attempers the mind, gives it a new judicial quality, enables it to be cool where minds that have not undergone the discipline fly off into little spasms and sparks of anger and retaliation, not knowing how one thing blends with another, and how all things work together in holy edification. So Joel will have a large council, not the young men only, for they can talk but little wisdom; and not any one class, for they only know what belongs to their own relationship; he will have old and young, he will have experience and passion, he will have sobriety and enthusiasm, and he will constitute the whole into judgment.

"Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. [And what is to be told? This:] That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten" ( Joel 1:3-4).

God hath many locusts. Only four of them are named here, but they are the greatest devourers that ever fell upon a landscape. They came but an hour ago; they are multitudinous beyond the power of arithmetic to enumerate, and in a few hours not one green thing will be left upon the land. Nay, their jaws are like stones, they will seize the bark upon the trees and tear it off, and none can hear the crunching of that gluttony; and tomorrow what will the fair landscape be like? It will be like a country smitten by sudden winter; the trees that yesterday were green and fair and lovely will be naked, and their whiteness shall resemble the whiteness of snow. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." All the fourfold locust tribe—for all mentioned here are locusts—belong to the Lord. The great providence of God is responsible for its own Acts , Man needs to be severely humbled; it does not always suffice simply to bend him a little; sometimes he must be doubled and thrown down as out of a scornful hand—not that he may be destroyed, but that he may be brought to himself. Soldiers with their sabres and bayonets cannot turn back the beetle. The Lord hath made some things so small that no bayonet can strike them; yet how they bite, how they devour, how they consume, how they plague the air, how they kill kings and make nations weak, and turn armies white with panic! It is easy for philosophers who live in highly-rented premises to tell men that all these things are not to be accounted for; whereas if a locust could alight upon the head of one of these wonderful philosophers, all his philosophy would not suffice to reconcile him to the painful event. There are no cowards so blatant, so pitiable, as those who say in sunshine, There is no God, and all things have been as they are from the beginning, and do not disturb. Let some insect fasten upon the face of these patterers of words that have no juice or wine or music in them, and they will run away from their own sermon, and beg to be forgiven for having committed the folly of philosophy. We must deal with facts. Joel knew what he was talking about, and could point to the landscape: The locusts came to this place, devoured these grapes, left their signature of death upon these fair fig-trees. We can all refer to similar events. There are parts of our life we dare not look into more than a moment. There were times when our bread was taken out of our hand whilst yet it was within reach of the lips of hunger. There have been times when our windows have suddenly been darkened: men told us it was dyspepsia, it was an affection of the liver, it was the weather, it was anything but judgment. Blessed are they who can handle all Song of Solomon -called accidents skilfully, and talk of liver and weather and disorder and passing ailments with all the eloquence that is due to such trifles. Blessed still are they, and more, who can believe that nothing happens that has not in it a moral signification, that every touch unfamiliar is a call to attention, because the Lord is going to give testimony to the soul. Rich is that man who finds in his loss a new occasion of praise; great and princely he who recognises in every passing cloud that he is not the master, but the Lord reigneth, and the Lord must manage the affairs of his own household.

"Awake, ye drunkards, and weep" ( Joel 1:5).

Why? The reference need not be specifically and exclusively to wine, though that word is mentioned here; the reference is no doubt to wine and to all narcotics and to all the base alternatives of which corrupt men avail themselves in the time of peril and distress; but the eternal lesson of the exhortation is that all sin ends in stupefaction. "Awake." Are not drunkards always awake? No; they never can be awake in the full sense of the term. Are not all bad men awake, on the qui vive, on the alert? Are they not watchful, keen-eyed, lynx-eyed? No; they may boast of being such, but all bad men are stupefied; there is an alcohol working upon them which takes out the brain force and the nerve power, and leaves them feeble indeed. Though under some vain hallucination they may believe themselves to be sane, when the mocking spirit of judgment has drawn a film across their eyes, and made them see a mirage when they thought they saw a mountain on which was spread a feast of fat things. All evil stupefies, all wrongdoing takes away brain volume, brain force. Every evil thought robs the mind; every cruel passion that surges through the blood steals not the purse, but that without which the purse is empty. "He that sinneth against me," saith Wisdom of Solomon , saith the Lord indeed, "wrongeth his own soul." Suicide is not limited to one act or to one species of madness. A man cannot plot an evil conspiracy without being less a man afterwards than he was before. No brain can bear the action of sin without going down in quality, in fire, in fine delicacy, in gift of prayer. He who sins much prays little; he who gives himself up to the captivity of the devil cares not to look aloft and face the upbraiding stars. All through these grand prophetic books men are called to awake, rouse themselves, shake off their lethargy, and be men in attention and in consecration.

We need a Joel to-day. For his wages we would award him starvation. He would not live in kings" houses. There is nothing to-day in Church or state that does not need pulling to pieces, cross-examination, analysis, that all that is good therein—and there is much good—may be brought into new cohesion, and set to new and fuller uses. Men are bribing men, and then going to the Sunday school; many are saying, If you will get this property on these terms through my hands it will be on the understanding that—And the all but silent reply Isaiah , That will, of course, be understood. And then they go to church! They say, This is public property, and is not like private property; and if I can arrange this for you, the commission will be—You understand what I mean; and then they go to some Liberal meeting and shout, "The people for ever!" or to some Tory meeting, and say, "Church and Queen!" If some Joel were to come he would be starved—he must be starved. No one ever came to do Messianic work who was not nailed and pierced and crucified. It is in vain to preach peace until we have first preached repentance; it is mischievous to say, Peace, peace, where there is no peace; it is iniquity in the sight of God to daub the wall with untempered mortar. Nothing is settled until it is settled at the foundations. A painted cheek is not a healthy one; the true colour must come up from the heart, and write itself in healthy hue on the face. Having preached repentance, we can then preach peace—we ought to preach peace. This was the method of Jesus Christ. He began to preach by saying, "Repent"; after that came all the sweet gospel of offered love, of sacrifice, of pure doctrine, of noble life, and then came the wondrous mystery of the Cross—Christ being delivered because of our offences, and raised again because of our justification: the mystery of the Atonement, the mystery of Calvary, the ineffable mystery of the Just dying for the unjust, that men might be saved. But first there must be Joel -like denunciation, criticism, exposure, and afterwards there shall come all that Christ has to say, Peace on earth, goodwill toward men—all that Christ can do by way of reconciliation, and until Christ has undertaken the case we undertake it in vain. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen cannot keep it; except the Lord build the city, the masons cannot put it up. It is the Lord that doeth all things, but he must have all his ministers at work—his denunciators, his prophets that fear no face of clay, his singers that know the subtlety and wizardry of music, and his apostles who come with great gospel speeches to heal broken hearts and dry the tears of repentance. It is in the midst of this mystery that we are set. Blessed is that servant who shall be found waiting, working, watching, when his Lord cometh!

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Joel 1:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/joel-1.html. 1885-95.

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