Last week, we began examining Joel’s prophecy and we read through 1:11. Continuing the imagine of a total devastation, in 1:11, Joel calls on the farmers and vinedressers to “be ashamed” and “wail.” The harvest is destroyed. The vine is dried up. The fig tree, pomegranate, palm, and apple trees are all dried up. Returning to the human predicament, “rejoicing dries up from the sons of men” (vs 12). This portrait “brings home the disaster in a striking, personal sort of way” (Douglas Stuart). Of course, “rejoicing drying up” is another figure of speech and is not an act that happens literally. Destruction of fruit trees was a part of the curses in the Law of Moses: Lev 26:20; Deut 28:40. It was worth mourning.
In verse 13, Joel calls on Judah to mourn, putting on sackcloth. The priests and ministers of the altar ought to lament, throughout the night. Why? Because the “grain offering and the drink offering” have ceased (cf. 1:9). In addition to the external appearance of mourning, in verse 14, Joel calls on Judah to “fast” and to “proclaim a solemn assembly.” This assembly was to include both the elders and “all the inhabitants of the land” and they were to assemble “to the house of the Lord your God.”
Joel’s Lament (1:15-20)
Judah was to see in the locust plague the “day of the Lord” (1:15; cf. 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14). Joel says the “day of the Lord” is near and it will “come as destruction from the Almighty.” Commenting on the phrase the day “is near,” Watts writes the concept suggests the event “at that moment [was] breaking upon the people. The message is typically prophetic, in the proper sense, for it speaks of what is present or in the immediate future, which demands a decision from the people now” (22).
Elaborating on the idea that this locust plague / day of the Lord is destructive, in 1:16, Joel says food has been “cut off.” “Gladness and joy” have been cut off, eradicated from the temple worship and the harvest, times of traditional celebration. Not only has the vine itself been laid waste (1:7) but even the “seeds shrivel under their clods; the storehouses are desolate, the barns are torn down for the grain is dried up” (1:17). So complete is this destruction that there is nothing in the barns for storage, for future use. Subsequently, the animals are suffering (1:18).
Joel turns his heart to Jehovah God and cries to Him in 1:19. Joel is explicit and exclusionary in his appeal to Jehovah God (“To you, Jehovah, I cry”). In this verse, Joel speaks of the locust plague metaphorically as a fire that has “devoured the pastures of the wilderness and the flame has burned up all the trees of the field.” Fire is a metaphor for God’s righteous wrath: Deut 28:22; 32:22. Again, the animals are suffering (1:20) because the water brooks are dried up and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
Joel is portraying the destruction of the locust plague / army invasion in as complete terms as possible, even using fire to suggest the utter destruction on the land. Fire, if its intensity is enough, could evaporate the water brooks. Stuart suggests a drought might have followed the invasion which would have exacerbated the destruction, or the diverting of water supplies commonly practiced by ancient armies.