The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel. 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? Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. 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 caterpiller eaten.(Joel 1:1-4)
The prophet Joel saw an actual locust invasion, and in it, the Word of the Lord came to him.
It is hard for most of us to imagine the horror of an actual locust invasion. For one thing most of us have never experienced it. Furthermore we don’t live in an arid, agrarian world of season to season, hand to mouth, crop to crop dependence.
There have been locust invasions in modern times, in North Africa, and in Australia. Witnesses have seen clouds of locusts darken the sky, covering hundreds of square miles, numbering in the hundreds of millions, devastating every living plant in their path. Locusts are voracious, eating many times their weight each day.
As our text points out, locusts do their devastating work in successive waves. I think the King James version comes short in it’s interpretation of these stages of locust infestation. The Hebrew words are much more descriptive here.
First comes the “palmerworm” (Hebrew, gazahn -”cutter off”),which descends in the terrifying cloud, ravenously cutting down stems and leaves, to eat everything they can.
Before the first wave exits, the locust females drill millions of holes in the ground to lay their eggs, which hatch anywhere from 7 to 60 days later, and out which emerge millions of “locusts” ( the Hebrew word Yelek means “Multipliers” or Swarmers”). These swarmers ravenously consume anything the first swarm of adults leaves behind.
Eventually the swarms develop into “canker worms”, (Hebrew, arbeh “Lickers”) which gnaw and lick ,utterly consuming anything green which attempts to re-emerge, leaving utter desolation.
The final stage in the KJV is called “Caterpillars”, (Hebrew chasil, the “strippers”), for they remove any bark from plants of any stalks left over as they develop wings, in this last stage. At that stage they lift off, leaving utter devastation, misery and pestilence.
Joel saw in the locust invasion the Word of the Lord for Judah. Because of their faithlessness to the covenant of God, and their refusal to listen to the preaching of Isaiah, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah, they would be subject to the Babylonian invasion.
Like Locusts, the Babylonians came in successive waves, confiscating more with each invasion. In the first wave they removed Judah’s king and installed his brother. They also took the finest young people, noble and intelligent and healthy youth, the cream of Judah’s crop, including Daniel,and his three friends.(Babylon always wants our youth).
During Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. ( 2 kings 24:1)
In the second wave the Babylonians removed the best soldiers, (the Kings guard) artisans, priests (including the prophet Ezekiel), establishing a colony of displaced Jews on the Cheddar river.He also took the King and his family, replacing him with a more pliable uncle.
At that time the officers of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon advanced on Jerusalem and laid siege to it,11 and Nebuchadnezzar himself came up to the city while his officers were besieging it. 12 Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his attendants, his nobles and his officials all surrendered to him.
15 Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. He also took from Jerusalem to Babylon the king’s mother, his wives, his officials and the prominent people of the land. 16 The king of Babylon also deported to Babylon the entire force of seven thousand fighting men, strong and fit for war, and a thousand skilled workers and artisans. 17 He made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place and changed his name to Zedekiah.(2 Kings 24:12-17)
In the third wave, after the insistence on Judah of resisting Babylon in spite of Jeremiah’s warnings to submit, Babylon came in force, besieged the city and killed thousands of people. Then they removed all but the most destitute of the Jewish people, taking them on the four hundred mile forced march to Babylon, just as Jeremiah, Joel, Habakkuk, and Isaiah had predicted.
Babylon also captured, Zedekiah, the final King of Judah (the Son of David) and his family as they sought to escape the siege. Nebuchadnezzar brought the King and his sons before him and slew the sons before the King’s eyes, then blinded the King, so that the last sight he would have would be the extinguishing of his own line.
He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where sentence was pronounced on him. 7 They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.( 2 kings 25:6-7)
Finally the Babylonians destroyed the temple of God, burning what could be burnt, plundering holy utensils, hauling off the glorious majestic sea, killing, capturing and dishonoring holy priests, and crushing the nation into the dirt!
The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars, the movable stands and the bronze Sea that were at the temple of the LORD and they carried the bronze to Babylon. 14 They also took away the pots, shovels, wick trimmers, dishes and all the bronze articles used in the temple service. 15 The commander of the imperial guard took away the censers and sprinkling bowls—all that were made of pure gold or silver.
16 The bronze from the two pillars, the Sea and the movable stands, which Solomon had made for the temple of the LORD, was more than could be weighed. 17 Each pillar was eighteen cubits[e] high. The bronze capital on top of one pillar was three cubits[f] high and was decorated with a network and pomegranates of bronze all around. The other pillar, with its network, was similar.
18 The commander of the guard took as prisoners Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the priest next in rank and the three doorkeepers. 19 Of those still in the city, he took the officer in charge of the fighting men, and five royal advisers. He also took the secretary who was chief officer in charge of conscripting the people of the land and sixty of the conscripts who were found in the city. 20 Nebuzaradan the commander took them all and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. 21 There at Riblah, in the land of Hamath, the king had them executed.
So Judah went into captivity, away from her land.( 2 Kings 25:13-21)
The locusts had taken everything there was to take, just as Joel had seen they would in his day. And all was according to the just judgment of God.
We know that this is how God judged Israel, but could this be what He has allowed to happen to the formerly Judeo Christian West? Are we being systematically stripped of all of our former glory, denuded, debased, humiliated as a consequence of our departure from Him?
How else can we explain the removal of the Christian presence in our public square? How else do we explain the stripping away of the public trappings such as the Ten commandments, prayer in school, and the multitude of other public testimonies to all that one made this nation great?
O that God would turn our hearts towards Him again, as a nation, in lowly repentance and grant us another chance to be a light for Him.