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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Joel 1

 

 

Verse 1

1. The title.

The word of Jehovah — A title similar to that in Hosea 1:1; Micah 1:1; Zephaniah 1:1 (see on Hosea 1:1). Brevity and simplicity are in favor of authenticity, but that its “simplicity testifies to its great antiquity” (Hitzig) cannot be maintained (compare Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Malachi 1:1). For names see Introduction, p. 125.


Verse 2

2. Hear this — A solemn summons to give attention to the words about to be uttered (Amos 3:1; Amos 4:1; Amos 5:1).

Inhabitants of the land — With Joel, Judah, since all his interest seems to center there (see Joel 1:14; Joel 2:1; Joel 2:32; Joel 3:1; Joel 3:17, etc.).

Old men — Not “elders” in an official sense, for, if mentioned at all by Joel, these do not appear until Joel 1:14; but those who have lived longest, who have experienced most, whose memories run back farthest, and whose testimony, therefore, will be of greatest weight in a case where appeal to past experiences is made.

This — That is, a calamity such as the one described in Joel 1:4. The witnesses are asked whether such a calamity had been in their days, or whether the present generation had been told that there had ever been one like it.

In the days of your fathers — “Among the people of the East memories of past times were handed down from generation to generation for periods which to us would seem incredible.” 3. The reply is not stated; the prophet continues, well aware that the answer could only be an emphatic No! He requests his hearers to hand down the story of the calamity from one generation to another as an event unique and unparalleled.

Tell — The Hebrew verb comes from the same root from which is derived the word “book.” Here the verb is in the intensive form; it means more, therefore, than ordinary telling; it means the giving of careful, detailed information. This verse may be compared with Psalms 78:5-7; Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Deuteronomy 6:20-24; Deuteronomy 11:19, etc. The memory of the wonders of Jehovah’s love, his deliverances, his laws and statutes were to be handed down from father to son; here the memory of unparalleled woe and judgment; such story would not be without its lessons.


Verses 2-20

THE SCOURGE OF LOCUSTS, DROUGHT, AND FIRE, Joel 1:2-20.

Out of the midst of a terrible calamity (Joel 1:2-4) the prophet summons the people to universal lamentation (5-12). He sees in the present disaster the harbinger of the day of Jehovah. To avert its terrors he exhorts all to turn to Jehovah in penitent supplication (13-15). He calls attention once more to the present awful condition, and closes with a prayer for deliverance (16-20).


Verse 4

4. Description of the calamity to which Joel 1:2-3 point. “The land is bare, swarm after swarm of destructive locusts have devoured the crops and the foliage.” What are we to understand by the four classes of locusts mentioned: (1) gazam, (2) arbeh, (3) yeleq, (4) hasil; The first may be rendered “shearer,” the second “swarmer,” the third “licker,” the fourth “devourer.” Of these four names arbeh seems to be the generic term for locust; it is the one used most frequently in the Old Testament. Gazam occurs again only in Joel 2:25, and Amos 4:9; in Amos the name is selected in the place of the common one because it suggests in itself destructiveness. Yeleq seems to be used in Psalms 105:34, as equivalent to arbeh, and in Nahum 3:15, the two are used apparently as synonyms. In a similar way hasil is used as equivalent to arbeh in Deuteronomy 28:38; Isaiah 33:4, etc. From these facts it may be safe to infer that gazam, yeleq, and hasil are all epithets applied to arbeh. The prophet piles up these names simply for rhetorical purposes, “to picture the work of destruction as complete and final.” So Wellhausen and Nowack, “The names are heaped up to exhaust the genus even to its last individual.” This is a more probable interpretation than that which makes the four names designations of four different kinds of locusts, or of locusts in four successive stages of development. The latter view is advocated by Credner, Wuensche, and others, but it is made impossible by Joel 2:25, where the four names occur in different order; again, the stage designated by arbeh would be an undeveloped state, which is improbable, since it is the most common term for locust; besides, it would be difficult to distinguish between four separate stages in the life of the locust. That four different kinds of locusts are meant cannot be shown from the context, and the use of the names in other passages speaks against this view. Driver’s view, also, which regards the four names in part as synonymous designations of the same species, in part as designations of different species and in part as designating the ordinary locust in different stages of development is improbable.


Verses 5-12

5-12. The prophet calls upon all to lament, because all luxuries are cut off (Joel 1:5-7); the worship of Jehovah has suffered through the interruption, or at least threatened interruption, of the meal offerings and the drink offerings (8-10); and the means for the sustenance of life are destroyed and cut off by the locusts (Joel 1:11-12). Joel 1:5.

Wine — Frequently spoken of as a blessing from God (Hosea 2:8, etc.), which was often abused. One of the results of abuse is the blinding of the spiritual faculties. One of the six woes in Isaiah 5:8 ff., is against the dissipating nobles who, as a result of their revelries, “regard not the work of Jehovah, neither have they considered the operation of his hand.” Though the judgment has fallen, the stupefied drunkards are not yet aware of it.

Awake — It is high time to awake from the sleep of intoxication (Genesis 9:24; Proverbs 23:35).

Weep — If no other and higher motives appeal to them, at least the loss of the wine should arouse them; the supply will soon be exhausted, the luxurious living, the revelries, must cease.

New [“sweet”] wine — Hebrews ‘asis, “that which is pressed out”; therefore, “the newly pressed wine,” “sweet wine,” “must.” In Joel 3:18, it is regarded as a blessing from God (Amos 9:13). In Isaiah 49:26, it is referred to in a way that would indicate its intoxicating character (compare Song of Solomon 8:2). The exhortation was very appropriate if the vintage was near at hand when the locusts appeared and laid waste the vineyards (Joel 1:7; Joel 1:12).

The drunkards, startled from their slumber, might inquire for the cause of it all. Joel 1:6-7 furnish the answer. First the prophet calls attention to the immense numbers of the enemies, then to their terrible weapons, finally to the awful results of their attack.

Nation — Hebrews goy. The locusts devastate the land like a hostile army. The use of goy furnishes no support to the allegorical view; it is synonymous with ‘am (Joel 2:27), which is used of animals (Proverbs 30:25-26; Zephaniah 2:14); here specially appropriate, because the figure of a hostile army is continued.

Come up upon — A military term used of the approach of an enemy (1 Kings 20:22; Isaiah 21:2; Nahum 2:2).

My land — A comparison with Joel 2:1, “my holy mountain,” might justify the explanation that the prophet means Jehovah’s land (Pusey, Von Orelli, and others), but it is better to interpret the pronoun as referring to the prophet, who identifies himself with and speaks in the name of the people (Joel 1:7; Joel 1:13; Joel 1:19, etc.).

Strong — Not easily tired, able to take a long journey, and to persevere until the destruction is complete.

Without number — No exaggeration, if we accept the testimony of those who have experienced calamities of this sort. “Myriads upon myriads of locusts were about us, covering the ground and shutting out the view in all directions.”

Teeth — These are the weapons of the enemy. “The locusts’ teeth are edged like a saw and very powerful; hence, though infinitely smaller, they may for destructiveness be compared with those of a lion.” It is said by Morier that the teeth of the locust “appear to have been created for a scourge; since to strength incredible for so small a creature they add saw-like teeth admirably calculated to eat up all the herbs in the land.” An interesting parallel to “a lion’s teeth” is Sirach 21:2, where the teeth of sin are likened to the “teeth of a lion slaying the souls of men.”

Cheek teeth — Better, jaw teeth — the sharp and prominent eyeteeth.

Lion,… great lion — Or, lioness — The second line is not a useless repetition, but an advance over the first. It is generally thought that the lioness is even fiercer than the lion in attack, especially when she tries to defend her whelps (see on Hosea 13:8). An early writer, AElianus (Historia, 12:39), says, “Not only among the Greeks, but also among the barbarians, the lioness is thought to be the strongest animal and the one hardest to be fought.”

Joel 1:7 deals with the destruction wrought. Literally, He has made my vine to waste, and my fig tree to splinter. The Hebrew for the last word occurs only here; its meaning is, therefore, somewhat uncertain. The same word in its masculine form is found in Hosea 10:7, where it is translated (in R.V. margin) “twigs,” so here, “twigs” or “splinters.” The interpretation implied in the rendering of A.V. is undoubtedly correct, for the prophet has in mind the “gnawing and eating away” of the bark. The vine and the fig tree are the principal fruit trees of Palestine, the pride of the land; their destruction would be the greatest possible calamity.

Clean bare — Literally, making bare he has made it bare. Through constant gnawing the locust has made the tree entirely bare; the blossoms, the foliage, the bark, everything that can be gnawed off he has taken away. “It is sufficient if these terrible columns stop half an hour on a spot for everything growing on it, vines, olive trees, corn, to be entirely destroyed. After they have passed nothing remains but the large branches and the roots, which, being underground, have escaped their voracity.” (From an account of the devastation caused by locusts, in Spain in 1841.) “The bushes were eaten quite bare, though the animals could not have been long on the spot.… They sat by hundreds on a bush gnawing the rind and the woody fibers” (Lichtenstein, Travels in South Africa, p. 251).

And cast it away — R.V. margin, “down” — to the ground. As the italics indicate, there is in the original no pronominal suffix to indicate what is cast down. Hardly the trees themselves (Keil); more probably, that “which is not green and contains no sap, that which is uneatable”; it the locust flings away with anger and contempt. And the branches thereof are made white —Literally, they make white, show whiteness. Branches, as the etymology of the word, something intertwined, indicates, are the branches of the vine only; through the gnawing off of the bark the white of the vine becomes visible. “The country did not seem to be burned, but to be covered with snow on account of the whiteness of the trees” (Fr. Alvarez, das Indias, quoted by Pusey in loco). H. Ludolf, in History of AEthiopia, speaking of locusts, says: “Neither herbs, nor shrubs, nor trees remain unhurt. Whatever is either grassy or covered with leaves is injured as if it had been burned with fire; even the bark of the trees is nibbled with their teeth, so that the injury is not confined to one year alone” (Joel 2:25).

With Joel 1:8 begins a new paragraph. The prophet turns from the winebibbers to the entire community (Joel 1:8-10), urging it to bewail the devastation of the land, as a virgin would mourn the death of the beloved of her youth. All prospects for the future are blighted; want stares them in the face. The most serious aspect of the calamity, however, is the fact that the means to maintain the legal worship have become or are about to become exhausted.


Verse 8

8. Lament — Hebrews ‘alah; only here, but the meaning is clear from the Aramaic and Syriac. The form is feminine; this and the comparison with the bereaved virgin indicate that a feminine is addressed, perhaps “my land” (Joel 1:6); at any rate, the whole community.

Like a virgin — Heb, bethulah; literally, one who is separated, that is, one who is separated from all others to cleave to one, and also one who has not “been known by any man” (Genesis 24:16); always a virgin in the strictest sense of the term.

Girded with sackcloth — Sackcloth is a coarse material woven from goats’ and camels’ hair, used for sacks, tent covers, etc. The wearing of this cloth around the loins was one of the symbols of mourning, both in cases of private bereavement (Genesis 37:34; 2 Samuel 3:31) and in lamentations over public calamities (Amos 8:10; Jeremiah 48:37). What the origin of the custom and what the form of the garment worn is uncertain. (See article “Sackcloth,” Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible.)

The husband of her youth — The word rendered “husband” means literally possessor, owner (Exodus 21:28; Isaiah 1:3), so also the verb connected with the noun (Isaiah 26:13; 1 Chronicles 4:22); but it is used very frequently in the sense of husband, the usage being due undoubtedly to the earlier conception of the marriage relation, when the wife was considered the property of the husband. But, since bethulah is apparently always used of a young woman who has not yet entered into actual marital relations, the word ba’al is used here in all probability in the sense of “betrothed” (ag. Nowack and Wellhausen whose explanations do not remove the difficulty but simply transfer it to bethulah); and in the light of the marriage customs of the ancient Hebrews such a use of the word is perfectly legitimate. The first important step in the betrothal procedure was the settlement of the amount of the mohar, the so-called dowry, and the payment or part payment of the same. The mohar was not a dowry in the modern sense of that term, that is, a portion brought by the bride into the husband’s family, but a price or ransom paid to the father or brother of the bride. (See article “Marriage,” Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible; W.R. Smith, Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia; Tristram, Eastern Customs.) “After the betrothal the bride was under the same restrictions as a wife. If unfaithful, she ranked and was punished as an adulteress (Deuteronomy 22:23-24); on the other hand, the bridegroom, if he wished to break the contract, had the same privileges, and also had to observe the same formalities, as in the case of divorce. The situation is illustrated in the history of Joseph and Mary, who were on the footing of betrothal (Matthew 1:19).” The grief of the community is to be like the intense, bitter grief of one whose brightest hopes and most joyful anticipations have been shattered by the death of her loved one before she was ever led to his home. The comparison of the land with a virgin was especially appropriate, since in Hebrew the land, or city, or their inhabitants, are often personified as daughter, or, virgin (Amos 5:2; Isaiah 1:8; Lamentations 1:1).

Joel 1:9 gives the justification for the call to universal lamentation. The meal offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of Jehovah. These offerings must of necessity cease, as a result of the general devastation described in Joel 1:10.

Meat offering — Better, R.V., “meal offering”; Hebrews minhah; literally, gift, present; therefore, perhaps, the oldest word for offerings in general. It is used in the Old Testament to designate the cereal or meal offerings, consisting of fine meal or of unleavened bread, cakes, wafers, or of ears of roasted grain, always with salt and, except in the sin offering, with olive oil (Leviticus 2:1; Leviticus 2:4; Leviticus 2:13-14; Leviticus 5:11). The meal offering might be offered by itself; if so, part might be offered upon the altar while the rest would go to the priests, or the whole might be consumed on the altar, as in the case of the burnt offering. The meal offering might also be an accompaniment of other offerings; then again it might be either wholly consumed, or part might be burned and the rest be given to the priests (Amos 5:22).

Drink offering — Heb, nesekh. Not an independent offering; a libation made with the meal offering usually accompanying a burnt offering (Numbers 15:5; Numbers 28:7-8). Wine was the common material used; sometimes oil was substituted (Genesis 35:14), in a case of necessity perhaps even water (1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Samuel 23:16). In this verse the reference is undoubtedly to the meal offering which, according to Exodus 29:38-41; Numbers 28:3-8, accompanied the daily morning and evening burnt offerings.

The house of Jehovah — The temple. According to Joel it is the only place where Jehovah is worshiped. Whether the bringing of the offerings had already ceased or was only threatened we cannot say; even the possibility of such serious calamity might call for loudest lamentation, for these daily offerings were a bond between heaven and earth; to discontinue them would be a breaking of the bond, a severing of the covenant relation between Jehovah and his people, and so would mark the utter rejection of the people by their God. This symbolic meaning of the daily sacrifice accounts for the determination of the priests, during the siege of Jerusalem by Pompey, to continue the daily sacrifice at all costs: “And anyone may hence learn how very great piety we exercise toward God,… since the priests were not at all hindered from their sacred ministrations,… but did still twice each day… offer their sacrifices on the altar; nor did they omit those sacrifices if any melancholy accident happened by the stones that were thrown among them; for although the city was taken… and the enemy then fell upon them, and cut the throats of them that were in the temple, yet could not those that offered the sacrifices be compelled to run away, neither by the fear they were in of their own lives, nor by the number that were already slain, as thinking it better to suffer whatever came upon them, at their very altars, than to omit anything that their laws required of them” (Josephus, Antiquities, xiv, 4:3). The terror of the Jews at the interruption of the daily sacrifice during the siege of the city by Titus is also described by Josephus (Wars of the Jews, vi, 2:1.)

The priests — The priests received a part of the meal offerings as a means of support; their grief might be due to the fear that their income would be cut off (Wuensche); but the additional thought seems to be in the mind of the prophet, that as the religious leaders they would feel more intensely the disaster and understand more fully its significance.

Jehovah’s ministers — Not the ordinary word for servant, but meshareth, the word commonly used in later times for a minister at the sanctuary; in New Hebrew the term for priestly service is derived from the same root. The ancient translations of this verse differ from the Hebrew, the Septuagint reads “the servants of the altar,” and one manuscript (B) adds, “of Jehovah.” It also takes the first two words of Joel 1:10 to Joel 1:9, connecting them with what precedes by “because.” The Arabic reads, “Grieve, ye priests, who minister at the altar, for it (the altar) is in need”; the Syriac, “the kings and princes sit in sorrow.”

Joel 1:10 explains why the daily offerings must be discontinued. The fields are wasted, the prospects for harvest gone. The real force of the original cannot be brought out in a translation; “Joel loads his clauses with the most leaden letters he can find, and drops them in quick succession, repeating the same heavy word again and again, as if he would stun the careless people into some sense of the bare, brutal weight of the calamity which has befallen them.” G.A. Smith translates the verse: —

The fields are blasted, the ground is in grief,

Blasted is the corn, abashed is the new wine, the oil pines away.

The field is wasted — A play upon words in the original.

The land mourneth Land and field are practically synonymous, but when used together a distinction may be noted: sadheh, “field,” is in a narrower sense the cornfield, as distinguished from orchards and vineyards; ‘adhamah “land,” all cultivated land, be it corn-fields, or orchards, or vineyards. The land is endowed with powers of personality (Jeremiah 12:4; Jeremiah 12:11; Jeremiah 23:10; Isaiah 33:9; in a similar way, Psalms 65:13, “The valleys… shout for joy, they also sing”). The calamity is so great that even the lifeless ground is touched by it and participates in the lamentation. The loss is complete.

Corn… new wine… oil — The three principal products of Palestine, frequently mentioned as blessings from Jehovah which he may withdraw as a punishment (Numbers 18:12; Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 11:14; Hosea 2:8). “The words, though they may be used with reference to the corn in the ears, and the juice in the grapes and in the olives, denote more particularly these products after they have been adapted partially for the food or use of man.” Corn (Hebrews daghan) signifies the grain of wheat after it has been threshed; new wine (Hebrews tirosh), the grape juice after it has passed the stage of ‘asis (Joel 1:5) and has become partly fermented (see Driver, Joel and Amos, p. 79); oil (Hebrews yishar), the freshly made juice of the olive. Along with corn and wine, oil may be regarded as one of the indispensable necessities of life to the Oriental. Oil was used for illumination (Exodus 25:6; Matthew 25:3), for food (Ezekiel 16:13), for baking (1 Kings 17:12; Leviticus 2:1-7), for medicinal purposes (Isaiah 1:6), for anointing the body, especially after a bath (2 Samuel 14:2), for the anointing of the king (1 Samuel 10:1). (See, further, Van Lennep, Bible Lands, pp. 124ff.; Nowack, Archaeologie, pp. 237ff.)

Dried up — Margin, “ashamed.” It is not quite certain whether the verb is from a root “to be ashamed,” or from one “to dry up”; as far as the form is concerned, either is possible. The latter is the meaning adopted by the ancient versions, but the former is more probable in the sense of “be frustrated,” “fail.” The verb taken with the first word of Joel 1:11 may indicate an intentional play upon words.

Languisheth — Used of plants in the sense of “to wither” (Joel 1:12; Isaiah 16:8; Isaiah 24:7); in a secondary sense of a city (Jeremiah 14:2); of a childless woman (1 Samuel 2:5; compare Jeremiah 15:9); of persons disappointed in their hopes (Isaiah 19:8; compare Hosea 4:3). The sense of the verse is clear: the locusts have wasted the grain, so that there will be no harvest; the vineyards, so that they can bear no grapes; and the olive orchards, so that they can bear no olives for oil.


Verse 11-12

11, 12. Call to the plowmen and to the vinedressers. They too have ground for lamentation, since their prospects are completely ruined. It is better to regard Joel 1:11 as an appeal and not as a declaratory sentence. The special appeal in Joel 1:5 advances to the general in Joel 1:8, then returns to the special in Joel 1:11.

Be ye ashamed — The Hebrew verb is used also in the sense of “to be disappointed” (Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 20:5); it expresses intense disappointment, which manifests itself in the terrified look, the change of color; we might render, with Keil, “turn pale.” The cause for terror is stated in the latter part of the verse, “for the wheat and for the barley, because the harvest of the field is perished.” The locusts have devastated everything.

Howl, O ye vinedressers — Since the destruction of various trees (Joel 1:12) seems to be the cause for the lamentation of the “vinedressers,” it is necessary to seek a more comprehensive term; kerem means “vineyard,” but also “garden” or “orchard” (Judges 15:5); the korem is therefore the keeper of the orchard, the gardener as well as the vinedresser.

The fig tree — Native in Western Asia; very plentiful in Palestine. It was highly prized, and is often mentioned along with the vine (Deuteronomy 8:8; Jeremiah 5:17). To “sit under one’s vine and fig tree” is a symbol of prosperity and security (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4). Figs were dried and pressed into cakes, and they formed a staple article of food (1 Samuel 25:18); they were used also as a poultice (2 Kings 20:7; Isaiah 38:21). Grapes and figs are called by Josephus (Wars, iii, 10:8) “the principal fruits of the land”; and it is said by travelers that “many houses are entirely covered with vines and are hidden almost entirely behind fig trees.”

Pomegranate tree — The Scripture references to the pomegranate are very numerous (Numbers 13:23; Numbers 20:5; Deuteronomy 8:8; 1 Samuel 14:2; Song of Solomon 4:3; Song of Solomon 4:13). It is a shrub or low tree, from ten to fifteen feet high, with small dark green foliage; the fruit is about the size of an orange, with a hard rind, yellowish or brownish, with a blush of red; it is filled with numerous seeds, each enveloped in bright red pulp, whence the Latin and English names grained apple. The fruit is of two varieties, the sweet and the acid. The pulp is most refreshing to the taste; the juice of the acid kind is sweetened as a beverage (Song of Solomon 8:2), and is also used in salads. The name “Gath-rimmon” (Joshua 21:25) signifies winepress of the pomegranate, and implies that the wine-presses of the city were used for the making of pomegranate wine. The rind and bark and outer part of the root are valued for the tannin which they contain. The pomegranate is highly prized and extensively cultivated even now. (See Van Lennep, Bible Lands, 140f.; Thomson, The Land and the Book, 2:392).

Palm tree — The palm tree has existed “since prehistoric times over a vast area in the dry warm zone which extends from Senegal to the basin of the Indus, chiefly between the fifteenth to thirtieth degrees of latitude.” It is uncertain where it was cultivated first, but there is sufficient evidence to show that it was cultivated very early in Babylonia, Egypt, and Arabia. In Syria, including Palestine, the tree seems to have been common; the name Phoenicia is thought by some to be connected with its Greek name. The coin struck at Rome to commemorate the capture of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. represented a weeping woman, the symbol of the country, sitting under a palm tree, with the inscription Judaea capta. At present palm trees are not found in great numbers in Syria except in the plain of Philistia, in the neighborhood of Beirut, and near Jericho. Tamar, the word used here, is the name of the date palm, a tree consisting of a single stem or trunk fifty to sixty feet high, without a branch, and “crowned at the summit by a cluster or tuft of leaves that droop and shape themselves somewhat in the form of an umbrella.” The uses of the palm are numerous. The leaves are useful for covering the roofs and sides of houses, for fences, mats, and baskets. The palm yields “an excellent kind of honey, not much inferior in sweetness to other honey” (Josephus, Wars, iv, 8:3). The fruit grows in large clusters which hang from the trunk, and it constitutes an important article of food. Even the stony seeds are ground and yield nourishment for the camels. Old Testament references to the palm trees are frequent. (See Van Lennep, Bible Lands, 146ff.; Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, 378ff.)

The apple tree — Heb, tappuah. Opinions vary as to the tree designated by this name. It has been identified with the quince, the citron, the orange, the apricot, and the apple. To decide the question we must examine the references to the tree in the Old Testament, that we may see which one meets all the conditions. According to Song of Solomon 2:3, it must be a majestic tree suitable to sit under; according to Song of Solomon 8:5, its branches must expand sufficiently to overshadow a tent or a house; according to Song of Solomon 2:3, its fruit must be pleasant to the taste; according to Song of Solomon 7:8, its smell must be desirable; according to Song of Solomon 2:5, it must refresh the weary. Tristram (pp. 334ff.) declares that it cannot be the apple, “for though that fruit is cultivated with success in the higher parts of Lebanon, out of the boundaries of the Holy Land, yet it barely exists in the country itself.…

The climate is far too hot for the apple tree. There is one fruit, however, that meets all the requirements of the context, and the only one which does so — the apricot.” Nevertheless, it is doubtful if the apricot would be mentioned as a fruit of special fragrance; nor is it used above others to refresh the weary. The quince cannot be meant, for its fruit is sour, never sweet. The citron was introduced into Palestine probably later than Old Testament times; so also the orange. Notwithstanding Tristram’s statement, there seems no serious objection to identifying the tappuah with the apple, for, as G.E. Post says, “The apple fulfills all the conditions perfectly; it is a fruit tree which often attains a large size, is planted in orchards and near houses, and is a special favorite of the people in Palestine and Syria. It is true that the fruit of the Syrian apple is far inferior to that of Europe, and especially to that of America; nevertheless it is a favorite with all the people, and in a few places fine varieties have been introduced and thriven well.… They have the aroma of the better kinds, and it is for this quality that they are most prized. It is very common, when visiting a friend, to have an apple handed to you just to smell” (article “Apple,” Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible; Thomson, The Land and the Book, 2:328, 329). The trees mentioned by name are the most precious, but they are not the only ones that have suffered; all the trees of the field are withered — The verb might be used of the devastation by the locusts; so Jerome, “All trees, whether fruit-bearing or not, are consumed by the destructive locusts”; but, as Credner first suggested, it may have reference to the effects of a drought accompanying the plague of locusts (Joel 1:17-20).

The last clause of Joel 1:12 is rendered better, “yea, joy is vanished from the sons of men.” It emphasizes at once the effect of the general destruction and the cause of the universal lamentation. The joy is the rejoicing in anticipation of the harvest and of the vintage, and at those seasons of the year (Hosea 9:1). There will be neither harvest nor vintage.

Is withered — Or, is vanished. The same verb is translated in Joel 1:10, “dried up”; in Joel 1:11, “be ashamed”; in Joel 1:12, “dried up”: a play upon words throughout. Literally, showeth shame. As a person whose nature it is to be running over with gladness is ashamed of his hilarity in the presence of grief and withdraws, so rejoicing, out of place in the midst of this calamity, vanishes.


Verse 13-14

13, 14. The affliction is not removed by lamentation and mourning; on the contrary, in the prophet’s mind it is but beginning. To him it is a sign of the approaching day of Jehovah, a day of terror to Israel because of the people’s rebellion against God. There is but one means to drive away the present calamity and to avert the one still in the future, namely, repentance and supplication. The prophet, therefore, proceeds to call upon the priests and the people to institute a day of fasting and prayer; in 13, 14 the weeping priests (Joel 1:9) are exhorted to put off their festal garments and clothe themselves in the garment of mourning — sackcloth — and, as the spiritual leaders, to gather the people to a solemn assembly, for prayer and penitence (compare Isaiah 32:12).

Gird yourselves — With sackcloth (8). The wearing of sackcloth by the priests, dressed ordinarily in their peculiar festal garments, would add solemnity to the occasion.

Lament — Not the common Hebrew word (8), but the verb used elsewhere especially of mourning for the dead; therefore expressive of intense grief. LXX., “smite yourselves” (Isaiah 32:12) — that is, upon the breast. Among the ancients external expressions of grief were much more common than among more highly civilized peoples, though their grief was not necessarily more real or intense. Ordinarily grief was expressed by the tearing of the outer garment (Joel 2:13), the smiting of the breast, the wringing of the hands, deep sighs and loud wailing. Certainly to the prophet these external expressions were only to symbolize the heart-sorrow (Joel 2:13).

Ministers of the altar — Parallel to “Jehovah’s ministers” (Joel 1:9; compare Ezekiel 45:4). Wearing the sackcloth the priests are to come to the temple and there lie all night — The verb means not necessarily “lie,” but also simply “remain.” That seems to be the thought here; the prophets are to wear the sackcloth and offer supplications, without interruption day or night, as long as the condition of the land calls for such service (Joel 2:17; compare 1 Kings 21:27; 2 Kings 19:1).

Ministers (or, servants) of my God — The God whom I serve, in whose name I speak, and “from whom I can promise you a hearing.” The reason for this appeal is the same as that for the lamentation in Joel 1:9 — the cessation of the daily sacrifice, which is regarded as the greatest calamity. To this personal appeal is added an earnest exhortation that the priests should arrange for a public day of penitence and prayer in order that the people might be impressed more strongly with the belief that the national calamity was a punishment from God, and that a return to him in sincerity of heart was the only means of turning it aside.

Sanctify — In the use of the verb qaddesh in this connection appears the primary meaning of the verb, to set apart, that is, from that which is profane; hence, appoint.

A fast — Fasting in a religious sense is the voluntary abstinence from food, expressive of sorrow and penitence. The origin of the custom is not quite clear from the Old Testament, though it was very widespread. It was practiced during the period of mourning (1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:12), especially on the occasion of great calamities (Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Samuel 12:16); for it was thought that in this manner the divine favor could be secured. Fasting was to symbolize a spiritual condition, the earnest yearning, of the heart which finds expression in right doing (Joel 2:13; Isaiah 58). In the later period this inner, spiritual significance was lost sight of, and it was thought that the painstaking observance of the form was sufficient to secure the desired ends. It is this overemphasis of the external which accounts for passages such as Matthew 11:18-19; Matthew 15:11; Matthew 17:21.

Call a solemn assembly — Extend the call to a public religious gathering, an hour of prayer. It is interesting to compare with this passage Isaiah 1:13; Amos 5:21. Everyone is to participate in these solemn exercises. Elders [“old men”] — Since a distinction is made between old men and all the inhabitants of the land, it is probable, if not certain, that the old men are the elders in an official sense (Genesis 50:7; Joshua 9:11, etc.; not so in Joel 1:2; Joel 2:16). The elders, while holding official positions, were in religious matters subject to the priests. Kuenen, Merx, and others give a different meaning to the passage; they regard elders as a vocative, inhabitants as the object: the elders are to gather the inhabitants. But the first interpretation is to be preferred. The purpose of it all is to cry to Jehovah from the depths of the heart, that he may have mercy, remove the present calamity, and withhold the further blow.


Verses 15-20

15-20. Not a petition which the prophet puts into the mouths of the priests, but the prophet’s own words, explaining the seriousness of the calamity and thus presenting the reason for the appeal in 13, 14. The wail turns into a supplication in Joel 1:19. The terror of the prophet is increased, because he sees in the present calamity the forerunner of the day of Jehovah — Among the Hebrews, as frequently among the Arabs, the word day is sometimes used in the definite sense day of battle (Isaiah 9:4). This is the sense of the word in the common Old Testament phrase, day of Jehovah (Amos 5:18; Isaiah 2:12-21; Zephaniah 1:7, etc.). We first meet the expression in Amos 5:18, where the prophet condemns the popular conception of it. The day of Jehovah is essentially a day of battle, on which Jehovah will manifest himself in the destruction of his foes and the exaltation of his friends; but there are differences in the statements concerning the extent of the conflict and concerning the persons who constitute the enemies of Jehovah. At the time of Amos the popular mind identified the enemies of Israel with the enemies of Jehovah; while the day of Jehovah would mark the destruction of these, to Israel it would be a day of glory and triumph. This misapprehension the prophet seeks to remove. He points out that the day would not necessarily be a day of triumph for Israel; its character would depend entirely upon their moral condition, for on his day Jehovah would vindicate his righteousness against sin, whether among foreign nations or among his own people. Sometimes Jehovah is thought of as employing human agents to strike the decisive blow, at other times he strikes the blow himself (Schultz, Old Testament Theology, 2:354ff.; Encyclopaedia Biblica, article “Eschatology,” 34ff.; Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1:735ff.). The day does not bring final destruction to all; it is followed by a period of permanent felicity for the pious; it is therefore the threshold of the Messianic age. In this verse we have the same thought that we find in Amos, that the chosen people are not necessarily excluded from the terrors of the day; they will be spared only on condition of repentance. At hand — See Joel 2:1; Joel 3:14; compare Zephaniah 1:7; Zephaniah 1:14; Obadiah 1:15; Isaiah 13:6; Ezekiel 30:3. The near approach of the great judgment was often suggested by a great political crisis; the onward sweep of the Scythians (Zephaniah 1:7), the struggles around Babylon (Isaiah 13:6), the operations of Nebuchadrezzar (Ezekiel 30:3). To Joel the suggestion came from the plague of locusts, but he does not identify this plague with the day itself.

As a destruction from the Almighty — In the original a very effective play upon words: shodh, destruction, shadday, almighty. Driver seeks to retain the play by rendering “overpowering from the overpowerer”; Rueckert gives a somewhat free rendering in German: “Graussen vom grossen Gott.”

As a destruction — Not a comparison such as is marked ordinarily by as; it is here the so-called kaph veritatis, used where the comparison is to be emphasized; equivalent to in every respect like (G.-K., 118x). The day of Jehovah will be in every respect like a blow from the Almighty, in suddenness, strength, and effect.

Almighty — A translation of the Greek παντω κρατωρ, supposed to be a translation of the Hebrew shadday, used here purposely because of its similarity in sound with shodh. The etymology of the Hebrew word is obscure. Some think that it comes from the verb shadhah, overpower, treat with violence, destroy; if so, the name would represent God as powerful, or as the destroyer. There are several other explanations; the one sure to become popular connects the word with the Assyrian shadu, mountain, and renders el shadday, “God, my mountain” (Delitzsch), or “God of the two mountains” — that is, heaven and earth (Radau). Isaiah 13:6, is almost identical with this verse, which may be dependent upon the former, or the expression may have been a popular saying, a proverb, used by both authors independently.

In justification of his fear the prophet points in Joel 1:16 ff. to the awful condition of the country. Joel 1:16 expresses two thoughts, one touching the physical, the other the religious life. Physical life is threatened because the fields are devastated, so that there can be no harvest.

Before our eyes — We have to watch the process of destruction and can do nothing to prevent it. Helplessness on the part of the observer seems always implied in the Hebrew expression (Isaiah 1:7; Deuteronomy 28:31; Psalms 23:5). The calamity has a more serious aspect because of its effect upon the religious cult: the communion between the people and Jehovah is broken; therefore he also cannot help (9).

Joy and gladness — The joy of the religious gatherings and of the presentation of the first fruits. These were to be offered at the temple with rejoicing (Deuteronomy 26:1-11). The more plentiful the harvest the greater the rejoicing; the freewill offerings can no longer be presented, and the joyful feasts accompanying them can no longer be held; the rejoicing of the feast of weeks and of the feast of tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:9-15) is made impossible; all is sadness and lamentation.

The interpretation of Joel 1:17 is made difficult by the presence of at least four uncommon words and the disagreement among the ancient versions; the general thought, however, is clear. Evidently there is reference to a drought accompanying the plague of locusts.

Is rotten — Better, shriveled. The Hebrew verb is found only here in the Old Testament. The translation of A.V. is adopted from mediaeval Jewish commentators, who compared the verb with a similar one in Arabic; but rot would presuppose excessive moisture, which is contrary to the context; another similar Arabic verb suggests the meaning to contract (the forehead), wrinkle, which would correctly describe the effects of drought upon the seed. It shrivels, and thus loses its germinating power. The Hebrew words for “seed” and “clods” also occur only here. About the meaning of the former there can be no doubt, and through comparison with the Arabic the translation “clod” seems well established, though the rendering “shovel” (Driver) is not without justification. A calamity of this character would destroy the harvest for a second year (Joel 2:25). Merx, who takes exception to all these uncommon words in a single verse, after careful consideration (pp. 101ff.) suggests the following translation of Joel 1:17 and the first clause of Joel 1:18 : “The cattle stamp at their cribs; the garners are laid desolate, the winepresses are broken down, for the grain is not, grapes and olives are lost. What should we place in them?” There does not seem to be sufficient justification for these radical emendations.

Garners — The places where the grain is stored.

Are laid desolate — Because all that has been stored there has been used, and since the grain is shriveled in the ground there will be no harvest the following year; therefore the garners are allowed to go to ruin.

Barns — The Hebrew word is used only here; a similar one meaning barn is in Haggai 2:19; probably a synonym to “garner.” Whether separate sections for the preservation of various kinds of grain or fruit are intended (Credner) is not certain.

The corn [“grain”] is withered — This gives the reason for the condition of the garners; the same word as in Joel 1:11.


Verse 18

18. Even the irrational animal world cries out in agony.

How do the beasts groan! — Or, sob. Everyone knows that the cattle do not sob, but in a style like that of Joel such highly poetic personification is perfectly permissible. The fact that the verb is used nowhere else of animals is hardly sufficient reason for doubting its genuineness; it serves its purpose well; we can almost see the agony of the cattle and hear their sobs. The reading of the Septuagint, “What shall we lay up in them?” — that is, the garners of Joel 1:17 (accepted as original by some scholars) — is a weak close of Joel 1:17, and rests upon a misunderstanding of the Hebrew.

The herds of cattle are perplexed — They look in vain for food, perplexed they huddle together, or go back and forth not knowing how to still their hunger, since the drought has withered the pastures. For “are perplexed” LXX. reads “weep,” which would make a good parallel to “sob.”

Yea, the flocks of sheep — Intended for a climax; the sheep do not require as rich pasture as the cattle, yet even their limited wants cannot be supplied.

Are made desolate — Literally, suffer punishment, or, are held guilty. In poetic style it may be permissible to speak of the animal world as suffering for sins committed by men, but the expression is peculiar. The translators have felt the difficulty, for they translate the Greek rather than the Hebrew, and most commentators follow LXX.

Overcome by the awful sight, the prophet in 19, 20 sends up to God an agonizing cry for deliverance. He seems to be prompted chiefly by the sufferings of the irrational, therefore guiltless, brute creation; the people deserve the blow.

To thee — No one else can help, but Jehovah “preserveth man and beast” (Psalms 36:6).

Will I cry — Better, do I cry.

Fire… flame — Might be two figures for the excessive heat of the sun: like fire the rays consume the meadows and even scorch the trees; or simply a poetic description of the ravages of the locusts (Joel 2:3). Modern travelers do compare the ravages of the locusts to the destruction wrought by fire: “Whatever of herb or leaf they gnaw is, as it were, scorched by fire.” “I myself have observed that the places where they had browsed were as scorched as if the fire had passed there.” “They covered a square mile so completely that it appeared, at a little distance, to have been burned and strewed over with brown ashes.” (See also Pusey, on Joel 2:3.) It is not impossible, however, that the prophet has in mind an actual fire or conflagration, for these are not uncommon in Palestine during very dry summers. “Throughout the summer the prairie and forest fires are not uncommon; the grass and thistle of the desert will blaze for miles. (G.A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, 66).

Wilderness — The English word suggests ideas that are entirely foreign to the Hebrew. The notion of a sandy waste must be banished. The Hebrew word designates a tract of land to which herds are driven, an uncultivated region, but one where pasturage, however scanty, may be found; usually without a settled population, although in certain districts there may be cities and towns occupied by nomads (Joshua 15:61-62; Isaiah 42:11). In Joel 1:18 the agony of the domestic animals is described, in Joel 1:20 that of the wild animals.

The beasts of the field — They join the prophet in his petition, for they also are about to perish.

Cry — Better, with R.V., “pant”; literally, ascend, with longing and desire, that God may turn away the affliction so that they may satisfy their hunger and their thirst. Even the wild beasts, though they can roam over a large territory, can find nothing to satisfy them. As a result of the continued drought the rivers (better, as R.V., “water brooks”) have run dry. The word really means channel, and refers to the water bed rather than to the water. During the rainy season in Palestine “every highland gorge, every lowland valley bed, is filled with a roaring torrent,” but during the dry season most of these river beds run dry; only a few of the streams are perennial. In the calamity described by Joel there are no exceptions, all are dried up. The address is rhetorically rounded off by the repetition of a clause from Joel 1:19.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Joel 1:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/joel-1.html. 1874-1909.

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