Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Study of the Prophets #28: Joel (Cont.)
The opening verses repeatedly warn the people to share the catastrophic event of the locust scourge of the past, resulting in a devastating famine. This was decreed by G-d for the sins of the Israelites. Joel is beseeching the people to repent and bring about a possible annulment of the decree for what is to come in the future. He emphasizes the unique scale of the plague to come. Abarbanel contends that the prophecy concerning the locusts is really a parable for the invading armies that will conquer the Holy Land.
“Hear this, O elders, and give ear, all inhabitants of the Land!” “hear” implies from a distance; “give ear” implies nearby. The elders who keep their distance were encouraged to hear what Joel was about to say. Because they had witnessed and experienced so much in their lifetimes, they seemed to be unmoved by the news of the impending disaster, therefore, they were not enthusiastic or even interested in approaching Joel to hear what he was about to say. However, he tells them that what he is about to describe is unparalleled beyond anything they had ever witnessed. Joel tells those who are younger to come close and listen nearby about the scope of the impending invasion that will be of an unimaginable scope and magnitude (Alshich).
“Was there such a thing in your days or in the days of your forefathers?” This would seem to contradicts the statement in the Torah (Ex. 10:14) that there will never be a plague of locusts like that which was inflicted upon the Egyptians. Here is where it gets very interesting when we look at the Hebrew. The swarm used in Egypt consisted of one species, arbeh, the scope of which was unequaled by a single swarm. The plague described here includes four different waves, each of a different species, which followed one after the other (Radak; Rashi to Exodus). The total scale of these swarms exceeded even the Egyptian plague (Ramban to Exodus).
Verse 4 describes the different types of locusts, four species in all that will overrun the land of Israel consecutively in one year, consuming every vestige of vegetation (Rashi). Contrary to their natural tendencies, the gazam, arbeh, and yelek will leave over substantial quantities of growth to allow for the subsequent waves of invading locusts, with the chasil finishing it all at the end. With this unusual occurrence and cooperation between species, it will be evident that the destruction is clearly the result of a Divine decree and not merely a natural disaster (Alshich). The people living during the time of Joel must have been as likely to try and explain away disasters as “natural” rather than a possible call to attention from G-d, just as we experience today with each unprecedented “natural” disaster. All we need do is look back at some of the most recent, frequent events such as Hurricane Ike, Katrina, Sandy; and the frequent number of devastating earthquakes and tsunamis around the world to validate this general disregard for G-d’s commands and punishment for disobedience. We see the same type of situation in our study of the prophets. Sadly, some things will not change until the Great Tribulation and Yahshua’s return to the Millennial throne.
Alternatively, this plague will have a duration of four years rather than a single year. Each year, one of the species will descend upon the land and devour all its crops (Radak). Let’s take a brief look at some of what the book of Joel has to say about the invasion in general:
the whole book of Joel is about the events of the Great Tribulation period, when the northern army invades the Middle East.
Joel 1:6 For a nation has invaded My land…. Joel 1:9 The grain offering and the libation are cut off from the house of the Lord…. Joel 1:15 Alas for the day! For the Day of the Lord is near, and it will come as destruction from the Almighty. Joel 2:20 But I will remove the northern army far from you, and I will drive it into a parched and desolate land, and its vanguard into the eastern sea, and its rear guard into the western sea. And its stench will arise and its foul smell will come up, for it has done great things.
That’s the short version of the book of Joel, but it delineates that the northern army invades after the sacrifices and grain offerings are stopped, which occurs in the middle of the end-times 7year period at the time of the abomination of desolation. The timing of this invasion into the land of Israel is further explained as occurring before the Day of the L-rd begins, when it is near. This is the explanation for the time of the Great Tribulation period. In the middle of the end-times 7-year period, the Antimessiah will sit down in the most holy place of the soon to be built Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and declare falsely that he is G-d. This is called throughout scriptures, the abomination of desolation. It is also called the beginning of the Great Tribulation period.
Almost immediately after the abomination of desolation, Egypt will lead an alliance of Arab nations in attacking Israel to achieve their long-time objective of ridding the Middle East of Jews and creating a Palestinian nation in what is now Israel. In the Arab alliance with Egypt are Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan, all the nations which surround Israel; four nations. Actually, the scriptures tell us that Jordan will attempt to remain neutral, but will enter the war as Israelis flee the invading armies and try to cross the Jordan River and also a route south of the Dead Sea. The Jordanians attack the fleeing Jewish refugees. Egypt and her Arab allies are called the King of the South in Daniel 11:40, and they will start the war because they have an ironclad treaty with Russia to join in the war once Egypt starts it. Russia and her allies are called the King of the North. This powerful coalition will have a single purpose in mind, to forever eliminate the Jewish problem. I will not elaborate further at this point as I want to focus on the correlation between the four nations mentioned above and the four species of locusts mentioned in the prophecy of Joel.
According to some, the names assigned to the different species of locusts are actually descriptions of their characteristics. Gazam derives its name from the word meaning “to cut,” because it cuts the produce. Arbeh comes from the word to mean “many,” because it is the most numerous species. Yelek is derived from the word meaning “to lick,” because it nibbles and licks up vegetation from the ground. The chasil finishes off the final vestiges of any remaining produce. A similar usage of the word is found in the phrase (Deut. 28:38) the arbeh will totally destroy it (Radak). Perhaps these levels of destruction also refer to the types of weapons that will be used during this war (WWIII); chemical, conventional, biological, nuclear.
Abarbanel interprets the four species of locusts as symbolizing the four kingdoms that subsequently conquered the Land of Israel. Gazam refers to Babylonia, whose king, Nebuchadnezzar, was so noteworthy in his power and wickedness, that his description sounds like an exaggeration. Alternatively, it relates to the word used for “to cut”, as he cut away all of the nations in existence. Arbeh -meaning “many,” represents the kingdom of Persia, which consisted of a great multitude of people, since it included the nations of Persia and Medea. Yelek are the people of Greece, who lapped with their tongues like dogs. (Abarbanel does not elaborate on this point; perhaps referring to the hedonistic self-indulgence practiced by the Greeks). Chasil, the finishing locust, symbolizes the Roman Empire, which reeked the final destruction on the Jewish nation, destroying the Temple and exiling the inhabitants of the land.
Joel now depicts in vivid detail the destruction that the plague will cause and the sadness and mourning that will follow. He uses the past tense rather than the future which is a common practice in prophecy. Interestingly and of course intentionally, the number 4 in Gematria represents all that has been created. It is emphatically the number of Creation. Here are just a few examples:
- The number of great elements: earth, air, fire, water
- The regions of the earth: north, south, east, west
- The divisions of the day: morning, noon, evening, midnight
- Seasons of the year: spring, summer, autumn, winter
- The great variations of the lunar phases
- The great prophetic world powers: one stands out in great contrast to the first three that are described as animals; lion, bear, and leopard; the fourth only described and not named. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, three are described as metals and the fourth a combination of metal and clay (Daniel:2)
- The Dream 2,500+ Years Later The first four kingdoms have been identified as the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman Empires. This identification has come from the workings of history matching further prophecies. Daniel already said that Babylon, specifically Nebuchadnezzar, was the head of gold (Daniel 2:38). Babylon fell to the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 5:26-31). Greece became the successor to the Medo-Persian Empire (Daniel 8:20-21; 10:20-11:14). The “iron” empire can only be Rome. Some believe that the clay/iron empire is yet to come: the kingdom of the Antimessiah will be a “revived Roman Empire.” We know, according to Revelation 17:12-13, that the Antimessiah will lead a coalition of ten nations. And we know that Yahshua will defeat the forces of the Antimessiah (Revelation 17:14). After that, Yahshua will set up His kingdom—the rock smashes the image—and the kingdoms of this world will “become the kingdom of our L-rd and He will reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15).
I present this somewhat detailed information on the number 4 used in this prophecy to illustrate the importance of prayerful study and examination of the prophecies in the Torah, if we are to comprehend the depth of what G-d is trying to tell us through His prophets and prophetesses when they were being used of G-d.
Verse 5 refers to the fact that this will be a time when there will be no more crushing of grapes to make wine for those who drink heavily or those who drink in moderation. Awake, the prophet cries, from the sottish slumber of your drunkenness; awake to weep and howl, at least when your feverish enjoyments are dashed from your lips. Weeping for things temporal may awaken to the fear of losing things eternal. The general destruction of vegetation by these devouring creatures has totally prevented both harvest and vintage; so that there shall not be wine even for necessary uses, much less for the purposes of debauchery. It is well known that the ruin among the vines by locusts prevents the vintage for several years after.
Verse 6-7 describe the profound destruction: He hath laid my vine waste – The locusts have eaten off both leaves and bark. חשפה חשף chasoph chasaphah, he hath made it clean bare; שדה שדד suddad sadeh, the field is laid waste, Joel 1:10; and משדי כשד kesod mishshaddai, a destruction from the Almighty, Joel 1:15; are all paronomasias in which this prophet uses often and reflects his gift of writing. Perhaps G-d provided him this gift through a good education for this purpose.
He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree – This describes an extremity of desolation. The locusts at first attack all which is green and succulent; when this has been consumed, then they attack the bark of trees.: “When they have devoured all other vegetables, they attack the trees, consuming first the leaves, then the bark.”: “A day or two after one of these bodies were in motion, others were already hatched to glean after them, gnawing off the young branches and the very bark of such trees as had escaped before with the loss only of their fruit and foliage.”: “They carried desolation wherever they passed. After having consumed herbage, fruit, leaves of trees, they attacked even their young shoots and their bark. Even the reeds, wherewith the huts were thatched, though quite dry, were not spared.”: “Everything in the country was devoured; the bark of figs, pomegranates, and oranges, bitter hard and corrosive, escaped not their voracity.” The effects of this wasting last on for many years.
He hath made it clean bare – “It is sufficient, if these terrible columns stop half an hour on a spot, for everything growing on it, vines, olive trees, and grain, to be entirely destroyed. After they have passed, nothing remains but the large branches, and the roots which, being underground, have escaped their voracity.”: “After eating up the corn, they fell upon the vines, the pulse, the willows and even the hemp, notwithstanding its great bitterness.”: “They are particularly injurious to the palm trees; these they strip of every leaf and green particle, the trees remaining like skeletons with bare branches.”: “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 fibres.”
The branches thereof are made white – “The country did not seem to be burnt, but to be much covered with snow, through the whiteness of the trees and the dryness of the herbs. It pleased God that the fresh crops were already gathered in.”
The “vine” is the well-known symbol of G-d’s people (Psalm 80:8, Psalm 80:14; Hosea 10:1; Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 27:2); the fig too, by reason of its sweetness, is an emblem of His people and of each soul in her, bringing forth the fruit of grace (Hosea 9:10; Matthew 21:19; Luke 13:6-7). When then G-d says, “he hath laid My vine waste,” He suggests to us, that He is not speaking chiefly of the visible tree, but of that which it represents. The locusts, accordingly, are not chiefly the insects, which bark the actual trees, but every enemy which wastes the heritage of G-d, which He calls by those names. His vineyard, the Jewish people, was outwardly and repeatedly desolated by the Chaldeans, Antiochus Epiphanes, and afterward by the Romans; to be attacked in the future as described by Joel’s prophecy.
“The nation which cometh up against the soul, is the Prince of this world and of darkness and spiritual wickedness in high places, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, of whom the Apostle Peter saith, “Our adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If we give way to this spiritual “nation”, so that they should come up in us, immediately they will make our vineyard where we were accustomed to make “wine to gladden the heart of man” (Psalm 104:15), a desert, and bark or break our fig tree, that we should no more have in us those most sweet gifts of the Holy Spirit. Nor is it enough for that nation to destroy the vineyard and break the fig tree, unless it also destroy whatever there is of life in it, so that, its whole freshness being consumed. The switches remain white and dead, and that be fulfilled in us, “If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31). Spiritual Israel, at least a part of it, is turned into a desert, deprived of spiritual goods, when the faithful are led, by consent to sin, to forsake G-d. “The fig tree is barked,” when the soul which once abounded with sweetest goods and fruits of the Holy Spirit, hath those goods lessened or cut off. Such are they who, having “begun in the Spirit” Galatians 3:3, are perfected by the flesh.” The references are to both the physical nations that have and will attack Israel in hopes of annihilating “Israel” (the physical land and people), and the spiritual enemies of G-d’s people who work through the human nations. (Some of this commentary was taken from Albert Barnes Notes on the Whole Bible with the addition of Messianic Jewish modifications/ additions/ where appropriate).
Next week we will continue with Chapter 1:8.
Rabbi Tamah Davis