Harry Whittaker

Joel 1: Israel in the Last Days

There can be little doubt that, apart from reference to Joel’s own day, the main intention of this Scripture is to forewarn God’s Israel concerning their last and greatest tribulation, and to declare how, if only they give good heed to the godly wisdom written here, they will yet emerge to rejoice in the greatest glory of their nation—Messiah’s Kingdom. But let not the New Israel blithely assume that this prophecy is not for them. If they have their sights set on the same Messiah and the same Kingdom, they too must heed the warnings and exhortations with which these three chapters of crisis and horror are well equipped.

1:2,3 "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."

The quite unique character of the national tribulation to be depicted here is made especially impressive by an appeal to the experience of five generations. Looking back, was there ever the like? And in days to come will there be anything to compare with such a horror?

The remembering of the outstanding acts of God on behalf of His people, or in furthering their discipline, must be carried on faithfully from generation to generation. From earliest days Moses had striven to establish this tradition:

"Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons; specially the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb" (Dt. 4:9,10).

If these exhortations of Joel and Moses had been heeded, would the day of Babylonian invasion some five generations later have ever happened?

The opening exhortation of that long historical Psalm 78 - is even more repetitious and emphatic:

"Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.

For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:

That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:

That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:

And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation;" (Ps. 78:3-8a).

Here, what follows is not only a catalogue of the breath-taking experience of Israel in Egypt and the wilderness, but also the even more breath-taking disloyalties of this people in those wilderness years and after—they who had such a God as other nations did not know, and so nigh to them!

"Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy...for the time is at hand" (Rev. 1:3).

You are to establish a tradition in your families, urges the prophet. From father to son to grandson this cherished message must be faithfully handed on. How many generations are involved here? Is it five or six? And how many generations of the Truth faithfully preserved are there in these Last Days, all of them scanning the horizon eagerly for the dawn yet to be seen rising over the Mount of Olives?

In modern times the five generations of the New Israel, having such a Word, as others do not know and with its fulfilment so nigh unto them are yet content to set their children and their grandchildren a mediocre characterless example of dilute enthusiasm.

Remember! Remember! Teach! Teach! These should be welcome duties. Yet Moses had learned that neglect might overtake them. Specially pointed and valuable is this precept: "Teach them thy sons and thy sons’ sons"!

Yet how often it happens that grandparents treat "their sons’ sons" as though they were a box of chocolates—a luxury to be enjoyed now and then—and not at all as a holy commission entrusted to their care; caskets to be filled with precious jewels of Truth.

Alas, it is so much more comfortable to write Joel off as out-of-date and incomprehensible, and to bequeath that tradition to those whose future is one’s own special responsibility!

1:4 "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 caterpillar eaten."

What does this remorseless inexorable repetition describe? The certainty of such a "locust" invasion in the Last Days is emphasized by the tenses. There is no "might be" here. This last and worst time of Jacob’s trouble will certainly happen. One marvels at the blithe way in which some interpreters talk as though the modern state of Israel, idolised more than it deserves to be, will go successfully onward to merge into Messiah’s glorious Kingdom.

Then what is this locust invasion a figure of? There are two hints in the text. (a) The close similarity between the Hebrew words for "locust" and for "Arab" (written differently but sounding almost the same). (b) The indications, already mentioned in p.5 that the lurid picture presented here in fact describes a hostile army (1:6,19; 2:20). Nor is it irrelevant that in the time of Gideon a marauding army of Arabs is said to be "as grasshoppers for multitude" (Jdg. 6:5; same word as here).

But why are four different terms used? As already mentioned, attempts have been made by kabbalists to arrive at a sequence of four numbers (by turning the Hebrew letters into their numerical equivalents). It is then claimed that these are the durations of the four empires foretold in Dan. 2 and 7. So far as one can judge, a skilful but injudicious fiddling of history can only arrive at this result.

More likely, the four kinds of locust listed here are four Arab invaders of Israel, determined to let in the desert. The names mentioned later in the prophecy suggest Tyre and Zidon (Lebanon); Philistia (the Gaza strip); Egypt; and Edom (Jordan or Saudi Arabia).

1:5 "Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine, for it is cut off from your mouth."

The corruption of western society has found its way into modern Israel. There is the same inequality between rich and poor, the same decadent indulgence in drink and sex and drugs; and the same corruptness of religion. Isaiah 28 inveighs with blunt reprobation against the priests (see the interpretation of "drunkards of Samaria" in "Isaiah", HAW, p.283ff). As a religion Judaism is in a sorry state.

1:6,7 "For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a Don, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great Don. He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white."

It is perhaps appropriate here to catalogue the striking correspondences between Joel 1,2 and Revelation 8,9:

1. Locusts.
2. Symbolic of a nation
3. Teeth like lions.
4. Trees and pasture withered and burnt up.
5. Destruction from the Almighty.
6. Fire.
1:19; 2:3,5
8:7; 9:17
7. Rivers of waters dried up.
8:10; 9:14
8. Blowing of trumpets.
9. Darkness.
10. Horses.
11. Chariots.
12. Torment.
13. Earthquake.
14. Sun, moon, and stars darkened.
2:10,31; 3:15
8:12; 9:2
15. "Turn ye to me"
16. The locust army goes back into the abyss.
17. Deliverance for the faithful remnant.
18. Darkness.
19. Day of Atonement.

Those who are satisfied that Joel is prophesying about the Last Days may be led to wonder why these similarities exist at all if the Trumpets 1-6 are about Goths, Huns and Vandals, Saracens and Turks; a sequence which becomes all the more puzzling when it is observed that the 7th Trumpet is undeniably about the Second Coming and the bringing in of Christ’s Kingdom. A much more reasonable conclusion is, surely, that Joel and this part of Revelation are both prophecies of the same exciting epoch still to come. See "Revelation", HAW, chapter 21.

Here, in v.6, it is worthwhile to note the words: "a nation is come up upon my Land. " The word "nation" interprets the locust plague. "Come up" reinforces this idea, for the same expression is used (in 3:12) about a military invasion of Israel. And isn’t "my Land" the right kind of phrase to use about Gentiles, rather than locusts, invading the Holy Land? The same argument is even more pointed when centred on "my vine" and "my fig tree". For the fig tree as a symbol of national Israel, see "Bible Studies", HAW, ch.6.02, and for the vine as meaning God’s covenant people, see Is. 5:1-7; Ps. 80:8-16; Ezek. 15.

1:8 "Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth."

The figure is an easy and obvious one—a young woman betrothed to a husband and looking forward to a full and satisfying married life, finds herself bereft of the joyous prospect. Within a short while her husband-to-be wilts and dies, and she is left alone, pathetic and helpless. But the reader can hardly help wondering if there is not a special aptness about this simile: just as at the time of the Assyrian invasion the nation was left without the leadership of its king on whom so much depended (because of Hezekiah’s grievous sickness; Is. 38:1), so also in the final crisis, soon to come, help against Arab invaders will come too late. For a good while, the sympathy and material aid so lavishly provided for Israel by USA and American Jewry has shown signs of drying up. This trend will go further. How long before Israel finds herself friendless?

1:9 "The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn."

This picture of dire shortage affecting the offerings in the temple is easy to understand; but in its Last Day reference there is something of a problem here, for whatever transformations may transpire when Messiah comes, prior to that time there will be no temple, no priest, no sacrifices.

The problem is not as considerable as might appear on the surface; for once the dual fulfilment of prophecy (contemporary and Messianic) is taken into account it is easy to understand how it comes about that the Last Day prophecies come to be couched in terminology appropriate to ancient days rather than the 20th century. A few examples of this are the following: Ez. 39:3,9; much of Ps. 72 and Is. 60.

1:11,12 "Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley, because the harvest of the field is perished.

The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men."
Here, again, the language is obvious in its general meaning. Yet it succeeds in presenting a problem of a different sort, for these words are quite explicit that barley and wheat and vines and figs and all other fruit trees will be destroyed together. How can this be, for there is a gap of as much as five months between the barley and fruit harvests. ("B.S." 4.08). Yet is it not true that a locust invasion comes and goes within a week or two, or even less than that?

There is here a further indication that this picture of locust plague is not to be taken literally. The primary reference, already expounded, comes to the rescue. It is easy to infer that the destruction of Sennacherib’s army took place at Passover time (barley harvest). But that was certainly the culmination of quite a long campaign. The destruction of Hezekiah’s "46 fenced cities" would not be accomplished in a week or two; and it is known that the siege of Lachish, the biggest task in the entire campaign, dragged on for a long while. There was also an interim campaign against the massive Egyptian army which the Assyrians totally defeated at El-tekeh.

Thus, in the primary reference, the effects described in v. 11,12 would be spread over a period of months, maybe a year. In the course of that time Assyrian foraging parties would please their generals with their efficiency not only in gathering food supplies but also in completely destroying all that they did not require.

In the books of Daniel and Revelation there are no less than eight places where the final desolation of Israel is foretold as lasting 3 ~/: years ("5 minutes to Midnight", HAW, Ch.9). So these words of Joel’s will find an even more thorough fulfilment then. By contrast with Ezekiel 38, the Arabs will not drive through Israel to gather "silver and gold, cattle and goods", but to destroy utterly.

This verse 12 is enlightening in another respect. Clearly, here "the fig tree...and all the trees" means the entire economy of the nation and land of Israel. Jesus appears to have had this in mind in Lk. 21:29 when making his own extended prophecy about the Last Days: "Behold, the fig tree and all the trees. When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is nigh." It is easy today to interpret this symbolism with reference to the 20th-century blossoming of the State of Israel, the fig tree nation. But Jesus took his phraseology from Joel 1:12, only here the picture is of utter destruction. Luke 21:29 has often been taken to refer to Israel, the fig tree nation (right!), and ‘all the trees’ as meaning all the nations round Israel (wrong!). The usage in Joel 1:12 is plain and clear; it means ‘the entire Land of Israel and all Jewish affairs in it!

1:13,14 "Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God.

Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord."

Again, (as in v.9; see note there) the languages of the prophet’s own day needs to be read against the background of modern times. In Hezekiah’s day, the king and his ministers humbled themselves before God and in the presence of Isaiah, His representative at court (Is. 37:1,2); but that was at Passover, whereas these words must have been published near the Day of Atonement, as the language of v.14 makes evident: "a fast...a solemn assembly...the house of the Lord...all the inhabitants of the land;" and the Hebrew word for "howl" provides a highly effective parody of "Hallelujah". Evidently it was when the situation became critical, some six months later that this godly counsel was heeded.

In the Last Day crisis in Israel the need for the people to throw themselves upon God will be vastly more urgent. In that grim time there will be no alternative, save extinction. That "great and dreadful day of the Lord" is to be accompanied by the ministry of an Elijah prophet (Mal. 4: 1-6), who will doubtless have the prophecy of Joel as his oft-repeated text. And then, at last, the exhortation will be heeded.

A very considerable array of 13ible passages (both Old Testament and New Testament) make very plain that Israel will have no Messiah except they first come to repentance ("Time of the End", HAW, ch.2)—at least "seven thousand that have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal", as in the 3 ]/2 year ministry of the first Elijah.

1:15 "Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come."

Isaiah similarly described the Assyrian invasion as an act of God (Is. 10:5,6; 8:6-8). Here the assertion is made all the more effective by the inescapable pun: "like destruction (shod) shall it come from the Almighty (shaddi)." The evident meaning of this divine name occurs frequently in Job and Psalms (contrast the alternative derivation "prosperity, fruitfulness" in the Book of Genesis (see also "Bible Studies, ch.15.01). This verse is almost identical with Isaiah 13:6 (and 9). Then, which prophet quotes which? Isaiah 13 certainly describes a military invasion of Israel; and the commentary in "Isaiah" (HAW), p. 194ff, makes a strong case for referring chapter 13 first to Sennacherib’s campaign, and secondly to the Last Days.

1:16,17 "Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God?

The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered."

The picture of desolation continues to be painted in lurid colours, and with special emphasis on food and fodder scarcities. But one detail serves to reinforce the conclusion already reached that it is the devastation brought by war and not by locust plague that is being described here, for barns and granaries are not broken down by a travelling swarm of locusts. Instead, what is suggested here is the wilful destruction of farm buildings. This is underlined by the details in the next verse. "Under their clods" is little more than a translator’s guess. A cognate word appears in Jdg. 5:21 (and there is no other occurrence): "The river Kishon swept them away." This might suggest: "The seed is rotten under their sweeping advance" (another guess—by this translator). LXX adds here: "What shall we lay up for ourselves?"

1:19,20 "O Lord, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field.

The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness."

The emphasis here on fire and flame is decisive that this prophecy is about a judgment vastly more serious than a swarm of locusts, itself a fearful and destructive phenomenon of nature. The parallel to be traced in Rev. 8:7 points to a fulfilment long after the prophet’s own day and also much more horrific for Israel than Goths or Huns or Vandals ever produced; for more on this see p. 11. In the Trumpets, "the third part" most probably indicates reference to the last of three shattering judgments against Israel—"I will overturn, overturn, overturn it."

Already (in 1989) there have been ominous anticipations of the consuming irresistible frightening power in Israel of the weapon of flame. Already, with Arab insurgents setting themselves implacably against any kind of modus vivendi alongside Jews, it is easy to see what the future holds, for it needs only a box of matches in the hands of a seven year old Arab and seven minutes of instruction on how to use them in a dry spell in Israel, and hundreds of acres of forested hillside are ablaze, and Israelis helpless to cope with a wall of crackling flame.

No wonder that this clear-eyed prophet, agonizing over the prospect of what is in store for his people, appeals in wretchedness to his people’s God: "O Lord, to thee will I cry... " But will they?

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