The Word Made Fresh
1This is the word of God that came to Joel, son of Pethuel:
2Hear this, you elders,
and listen, you who live in the land.
Has such a thing ever happened in your lives,
or even in the days your ancestors lived?
3Tell your children about it
and let them tell their children,
and let their children tell the next generation.
4What the locusts have left the swarming insects have eaten;
what the swarming insects have left the hopping insects have eaten;
what the hopping insects have left the crawling insects have eaten.
5Wake up and weep, you drunkards.
Wail over the sweet wine, you winebibbers,
for it is now taken from your lips.
6An enemy has invaded my land, so numerous they can’t be counted.
They have the teeth of lions and fangs of a lioness.
7They have destroyed my vines. My fig trees are shattered,
stripped of bark and their branches laid bare.
8Weep like a young woman wearing sackcloth,
weeping for the one betrothed to her since her youth.
9The grain and drink offerings have ceased from the LORD’s house.
The priests, the ministers of the LORD, are weeping.
10The fields are destroyed and the ground weeps.
The grain is gone. The wine has dried up. The oil fails.
11Weep, you farmers. Wail, you vinedressers,
over the wheat and barley crops, for they are ruined.
12For the vine has withered, and the fig trees have drooped.
All the cultivated trees have dried up –
pomegranates, palms, and apple trees.
Joy has passed away from among the people.
13You priests, dress in sackcloth and weep.
Wail, you who minister at the altar.
Wear the sackcloth even at night,
for grain and drink offerings have been withheld
from your God’s house.
14Call for a sacred fast among the assembly.
Gather the elders and all the people
to the house of the LORD your God
and cry out to the LORD.
15Weep for the daylight, for the LORD’s day is near,
and it will come with destruction from the Almighty.
16The food is cut off from before our eyes.
Joy and gladness are gone from our God’s house.
17The seed shrivels in the ground; the storehouses are empty.
The grain has failed, and the granaries are empty.
18The cattle are groaning. The herds wander about
looking for pasture where there is none.
Even the sheep are going hungry.
9I cry out to you, LORD!
The pastures in the countryside have burned up,
along with all the trees in the fields.
20Even the wild animals cry out to you because there is no water.
Fire has devoured the pastures in the countryside.
1: “Son of Pethuel” is the only information given about Joel’s identity. We will learn in the course of reading the book that he is likely situated in Jerusalem sometime after the return of the exiles as recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Most scholars today place the book between 500 and 350 B.C
2-20: The first chapter tells the story of an incredibly destructive insect plague that destroys everything in its path leaving no food for humans and animals alike. There is no grain or wine for consumption or for religious rituals. Verse 19 hints of wildfires sweeping forests and fields after the locusts have stripped them bare.
There is no way to tell if the insect plague is intended to describe an actual event or is instead a literary device to illustrate the coming “day of the LORD” (2:1). Many scholars, particularly those of centuries past, believe Joel dates to the last years of the kingdom of Judah (630-600 B.C.) and that the locust “army” is a metaphor for the real army of Babylon invading the land.
Joel and other prophets blame the people’s faithlessness for the problems that befall them at the hands of other nations. Faith is a community responsibility. Those who are faithful in a faithless community can be caught up in the punishment the community brings upon itself, but God always stands with the faithful and supports and upholds them in their time of trial.