Faith Baptist Church
Interpretation of the Locust Plagues in Joel
  • The message of the prophet Joel is one of judgement, warning, repentance, and blessing. Key to understanding Joel’s message to the nation of Judah, and to a proper application to church age saints is the identification of the locust plagues. What do the locusts plagues refer to? To answer this question we will briefly overview the major viewpoints, we will examine the identity of the locusts in Joel 1, we will examine the identity of the locusts in Joel 2, and in conclusion we will briefly overview how the locust plagues fit into the overall message of the book.

    Three Views of Locusts and Time

    Allegorical / Eschatological view
    In this view both Joel 1 and 2 are interpreted to be Israel’s future enemies.
    This approach does not give much weight to a normal, historical, or literal hermeneutic and thus deserves little attention
    2. Historical / Eschatological view
    In this view Joel 1:1-2:17 is speaking of one past even of literal locusts, and 2:18 ff. is speaking of future eschatological judgement.
    3. Historical / Near future / Far Future view
    In this view Joel 1 speaks of a past event of literal locusts, Joel 2 compares the locusts plague to a near future invasion by the enemies of Judah, and the final section of Joel speaks of eschatological (far future) Day of the Lord judgments.

    The Identity of the Locusts in Joel 1

    The prophet Joel is using the recent past event of a literal locust plague to preach a message of repentance to Judah. The only view that does not understand the locusts of Joel chapter one to be literal locusts is the allegorical/eschatological view.
    There are several indications that Joel 1 is speaking of a real locusts plague.
    Joel 1:3 ESV
    3 Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation.
    How could this event be told to the future generations of the people if it is speaking allegorically of future enemies?
    Second, the descriptions given in the text most naturally point to literal locusts.
    Joel 1:4 ESV
    4 What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.
    Joel 1:7 ESV
    7 It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree; it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down; their branches are made white.
    Also, in vv. 8-20 the destruction is spoken of in agriculture terms (fields, grain, wine, oil, etc…). This would make perfect sense if the locusts were literal locusts.
    Third, a locusts plague was one of the curses of the Mosaic Covenant.
    Deuteronomy 28:38 ESV
    38 You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it.
    One of the purposes of Joel was to call the people to repentance. If the people were living in disobedience to the covenant, it would be in line with the curses of the covenant for the Lord to send a real locusts plague.

    The Identity of the Locusts in Joel 2

    The identity of the locusts in chapter two is more difficult to come to a unified understanding.
    The historical/eschatological view understands Joel 2:1-17 to refer to real locusts while 2:18-3:21 refers to far future human invaders.
    The historical/near future/far future view understands Joel 2:1-17 to speak of a near future invasion under the figure of locusts, while 2:18-27 serves as a transition from near to far future events. Finally Joel 2:28ff. looks to an eschatological end.
    It seems best to understand Joel 2:1-17 as referring to a near future invasion of a human army. Joel is using the past event of the locust plague in chapter one to warn the people of a future event that will be even more catastrophic unless the nation turns to God in repentance.
    Argument #1
    Joel 2:1 ESV
    1 Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
    The reason one sounds an alarm is warn people of a coming event that has not happened yet. If chapter 2 continues speaking of the past locust plague why would Joel warn the people for a danger that was already past?
    The idea of the text is something like, “You thought the locust plague was bad, if you don’t repent God is going to send an even worse plague—a conquering army.”
    Argument #2
    Joel 2:7 ESV
    7 Like warriors they charge; like soldiers they scale the wall. They march each on his way; they do not swerve from their paths.
    There is a definite escalation in judgement from chapter one to chapter two. In chapter one the locusts were primarily interested in the fields and crops. In chapter two the human army is primarily interested in the cities of Judah.
    Joel 2:9 ESV
    9 They leap upon the city, they run upon the walls, they climb up into the houses, they enter through the windows like a thief.
    Real locusts would have an interest in fields and crops and trees. They would have much less interest in entering people’s homes like thieves to steal their possessions. This seems to speak of a human army not grasshoppers. Also, this is the exact progression from curses in nature to curses in battle that is foretold in Deuteronomy 28:38-65
    Deuteronomy 28:47–48 ESV
    47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.
    Arguments Against a near future human army #1
    Joel 2:2 ESV
    2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations.
    One of the arguments against chapter two speaking of a human army is that the description of the great and powerful people of v. 2 is more locust like than people like. Phrases like “blackness spread upon the mountains”, “like the appearance of horses”, “leap on the tops of the mountains” are more fitting of bugs than humans.
    What is going on here? This is a powerful literary device employed by the prophet. He does not abandon the locust figure of chapter one, but instead he uses the imagery to vividly paint a picture of the invading army. When Joel looked upon the locust swarm, he saw with prophetic eyes a future mass of human soldiers swarming the lands of Judah as the army of Yahweh. It was as if he saw the locusts of chapter one morphing into soldiers and cavalry before his very eyes.
    Arguments Against a near future human army #2
    Joel 2:4 ESV
    4 Their appearance is like the appearance of horses, and like war horses they run.
    Joel 2:5 ESV
    5 As with the rumbling of chariots, they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle.
    Another objection to chapter two referring to a human army are the phrases “like a mighty army up for battle.” Joel could not have meant a human army, for how could a mighty army be like a mighty army (so also the calvary in v. 4)? However, the Hebrew preposition for “like” (ke-) can also be used as an expression to describe exactly or precisely what something is like.
    Joel 1:15 ESV
    15 Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.
    Here the Day of the Lord comes “as (ke-) devastation from the Almighty.” The preposition as or like is describing exactly what something is like. The Day of the Lord judgement is exactly like destruction from the Almighty.

    Conclusion

    The prophet Joel was calling the nation of Judah to repentance. He masterfully used a real locusts plague as pictured in chapter one to call the people to mourn and lament. Then he used that vivid imagery to warn the people of an even greater locust-like threat, a near future invasion of a human army. If the people did not repent God would send even greater judgement for their rebellion and disobedience.
    Apparently, Joel’s preaching of repentance worked (2:12-17), and God had pity on his people and restored the land from the devastation of the locust plague (2:18-27). This prompted Joel to prophesy of a future day of the Lord where God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh (2:28-29) and would judge all nations (3:1-16). In that future glorious day Judah will be fully restored to the Lord and will be holy and strangers shall never again pass through it (3:17).
      • Joel 1ESV

      • Joel 1:1–2:17ESV

      • Joel 1ESV

      • Joel 2ESV

      • Joel 1:3ESV

      • Joel 1:4ESV

      • Joel 1:7ESV

      • Deuteronomy 28:38ESV

      • Joel 2:1ESV

      • Joel 2:7ESV

      • Joel 2:9ESV

      • Deuteronomy 28:47–48ESV

      • Joel 2:2ESV

      • Joel 2:4ESV

      • Joel 2:5ESV

      • Joel 1:15ESV

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