Joel 2 – The Coming Day of the Lord & Locusts in the Ancient Near East

I prefer the KGV because I believe it is the closest to the original Bible.  The KGV mentions four different insects (palmerworm, locust, cankerworm, and caterpillar), while the others speak of stages of insect growth.

The Bible doesn’t mention these insect growths and it’s not like God has to wait for the insect to grow up or anything, He does things in mere seconds.

The subject at hand is what God did and why He did it.  To understand God is the purpose of reading the Bible, not just to say you read it, that’s not the key to heaven. 

I read only the KJV because there are other areas throughout the Bible where other versions, like the NIV, use different words and one single word can change what a sentence means.

Almost the entire Old Testament was written in Hebrew during the thousand years of its composition. But a few chapters in the prophecies of Ezra and Daniel and one verse in Jeremiah were written in Aramaic.

Yet, there can be other complications, such as…

Joel 2
The Coming Day of the Lord

For centuries, the bulk of the people in the West regarded the Bible as the Word of God. They saw it as the inerrant and inspired revelation of God to His creation.

Beginning in the mid-1800s, some academicians began rejecting the inspiration of the Bible. This came, in part, after the discovery of ancient mythological texts. Upon examining the textual evidence, skeptics highlighted the Bible’s similarities with other literature and claimed it to be only one sacred book among a larger body of myth.

After studying the Bible’s differences from ancient mythology, other scholars viewed these discoveries as confirmations of the Bible’s uniqueness.

1 Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand;

“Trumpet” – made of a ram’s or bull’s horn, it was used to signal approaching danger.  Its sound brought trembling (from fear) to the people.

“Zion” – here, parallel to God’s “holy mountain” it refers to Jerusalem as the capital of the nation.

2 A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.

“Day of darkness” – darkness is a common prophetic figure used of the day of the Lord and is generally a metaphor for distress and suffering, but not always.

“Morning” – usually suggests relief from sorrow or gloom, the end of darkness.  Here it is used as bitter irony, describing the locust infestation that spreads across the land like the light of dawn, which first lights up eastern horizon and then spreads across the whole countryside.

3 A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.

“Before them” – Joel creates a special impact by using this phrase four times (twice in v. 3, once in v. 6 and once in v. 10) and “behind them” twice (v. 3).

“Eden” – the garden before the falls (Gen 2:8, 15); the Jordan Valley before the destruction of Sodom (Gen 13:10); and that describe a desert that has become a desert (Isa 51:3; Eze 28:13, 31:8-9, 16, 36:35).

4 The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run.

5 Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array.

6 Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness.

A general view of the excavation site west of Jerusalem, called Tel Motza, where the cache of sacred vessels and a temple was found by Israeli archaeologists.

“Much pained” – because of the famine that the locusts will cause.

7 They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march everyone on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks:

8 Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk everyone in his path: and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded.

9 They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief.

“Climb up upon the houses” – as in the Egyptian plague of locusts (Ex 10:6).  Latticed windows with no glass would not stop them.

10 The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining:

“Be dark” – Joel links God’s judgment through the locusts to the cosmic phenomena of the day of the Lord.

11 And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?

Just as Isaiah saw the Assyrians and Jerusalem the Babylonians as the Lord’s instruments, so Joel sees the locusts as the Lord’s army – the army of the Lord with which He will come against His enemies in the day of the Lord.  This passage parallels Zeph 1:14 (cf. v. 31, 3:14; Mal 4:1, 5).

“Who can abide it?” –  see Nah 1:6; Mal 3:2; Rev 6:17.  There is no escape except in turning to God.

12 Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:

Stone Idol, female, Ancient Near East, 3rd millennium B.C.

13 And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.

“Gracious…great kindness” – recalls the great self-characterization of God in Ex 34:6-7, which runs like a golden thread through the Old Testament.

14 Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly:

“Trumpet” – not an alarm as in v. 1, but a call so religious assembly.

16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.

17 Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?

“Thine heritage” – Israel is God’s special possession.  Judah is to plead, not her innocence, but that God’s honor is at stake before the world.  This does not mean He loves them more than anyone else, but He might expect more from them, not meaning that others can get away with sins that they cannot.

18 Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people.

Joel begins a new section by turning from the destruction caused by the locusts to the blessings God will give to a repentant people.

“Jealous” – the Lord will respond to the prayer of v. 17 and arouse Himself to defend His honor and have pity on His people when they repent.

Gold sandals Dynasty 18 reign of Thutmose III 1479-1425 BCE from the tomb of the three minor wives in the Wady Gabbanat el-Qurud Thebes.

19 Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen:

20 But I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savor shall come up, because he hath done great things.

“Northern army” – since enemies in ancient times did not invade from the sea or across the desert, Canaan’s geographical location made her vulnerable only from the south (Egypt) and from the north (Assyria and Babylon).  The hordes of locusts are pictured here as a vast army of Israel’s most feared enemies.

“Stink” – because the locusts are now dead.

21 Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things.

22 Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength.

23 Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month.

24 And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil.

Mother goddess, Ancient Near East. 5th millenium B.C.E. Marble.

25 And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.

26 And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.

“Dealt wondrously” – God worked wonders for the people when they were n Egypt and now will work wonders in restoring the devasted land.

27 And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.

“Israel” – probably refers to all God’s people with no distinction between the northern and southern kingdoms.

28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

2:28-32 – quoted by Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21), but with a few variations from both the Hebrew text and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament).

“Afterward” – in the Messianic period, beyond the restoration just spoken of.

“All flesh” – all will participate without regard to sex, age or rank; and then Moses’ wish (Num 11:29) will be realized (cf. Gal 3:28).  Peter extends the “all” of this verse and the “whoever” of v. 32 to the Gentiles (“all that are afar off,” Acts 2:329), who will not be excluded from the Spirit’s outpouring or deliverance.

29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.

An ancient crown depicting the Greek and Egyptian god Serapis, Cairo Egypt.

2:30-31 – these cosmic events are often associated with the day of the Lord.

“Fire…smoke” – sings of God’s presence.

31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

“Call on the name of the Lord” – worship God (cf. Gen 4:26; 12:8) and pray to Him (see Ps 116:4) or spend eternity in hell.  No one is exempt.

Locusts in the Ancient Near East

The book of Joel describes a calamity that befell ancient Judah when it was struck by a locust plague.

Archaeologists may have discovered evidence of a dire famine that gripped Jerusalem during a Roman siege nearly 2,000 years ago.
Cooking pots and a ceramic lamp were found in an ancient cistern near the Western Wall, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced. Excavators believe these artifacts were left in the underground chamber by Jewish residents who were trying to eat what little food they had in secret during the war.

Locusts in fact can do an astonishing amount of damage to agriculture. Over the past few hundred years, a number of observers have left accounts of the sudden and complete devastation of crops produced by a swarm of locusts in Africa, the Near East and the American Mid-west.

The situation in the ancient world was exacerbated by the fact that almost all farming was subsistence farming.  Catastrophic crop failure within a single year meant starvation or near starvation, as importation of food in sufficient quantities to make a difference was not feasible.

Joel 1:4 uses four different Hebrew words to describe the locusts. Translators struggle to distinguish among them. For example, the New American Standard Bible says (NASB):

What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; And what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten; And what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten (emphases added).

The Famine Stela is an inscription written in hieroglyphs located on Sehel Island in the Nile near Aswan in Egypt, which speaks of a seven-year period of drought and famine during the reign of the 3rd dynasty king Djoser. It is thought that the stela was inscribed during the Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled 332–31 B.C.

The NIV puts it this way:

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten (emphases added).

The KGV put it this way:

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.

One translation is not necessarily better than another; all are trying to bring out the fact that four different Hebrew words for “locust”—the original meanings of which have been lost—appear in the original.

What do these four words represent? Are four different species of locust implied? This is possible, but it may be that the reference is to the four different instars (stages of insect growth) of a single species.

The small pots recently discovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority during excavations in a drainage channel near the Western Wall are more significant than you might think.
Not only are the three cooking pots and one small oil lamp found in an ancient cistern amazingly intact after 2,000 years, they are the first archaeological evidence to confirm writings about a famine that occurred during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

According to Eli Shukron, the excavations director for the Antiquities Authority, the discovery is unprecedented.

“The complete cooking pots and ceramic oil lamp indicate that the people went down into the cistern where they secretly ate the food that was contained in the pots, without anyone seeing them,” he said. “This is consistent with the account provided by Josephus.

Under this scenario, it would appear that the first term (NASB gnawing locust; NIV great locusts) is the fourth stage of growth. The second term swarming locust (NASB swarming locust; NIV great locusts) is the fourth and final instar—an adult locust.

The third term (NASB creeping locust; NIV young locusts) is the larval stage, representing the offspring of the previous generation of locusts as the first instar of the insect.

The fourth term (NASB stripping locust; NIV other locusts) is the nymph, the second, instar of the locust.

This suggests that a swarm of moved in, devastated the land and laid their eggs. The eggs then hatched, and then voracious larvae and nymphs devoured every green thing that remained. The repetition seen in 1:4 clearly makes the point that nothing was left by the time the last stage of locusts had eaten its fill.

…what people say about the Greek.