The destruction caused by the locusts, type of an enemy nation, is described by the prophet as very grievous. This enemy is strong, without number, with teeth and fangs like those of fierce lions, the most destructive wild animal known in the Middle East in those days.
The lion is the symbol of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9); the devil is compared to a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), and the Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God, is also called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). The vine and the fig tree are mentioned: both are types of the nation of Israel (Isaiah 5:7, Jeremiah 11:16 and Romans 11:24).
It was said earlier that the drunkards no longer have wine to satisfy their cravings, a type of those who senselessly indulge in the addictions. But all will share in the sorrow, because the consequences of this invasion with affect the whole population, which will be deprived of their necessary subsistence.
They are called to lament (v.8), as a virgin laments the death of the young man to whom she was engaged to be married. This may not be understood as bad a circumstance today as it was in those days, when marriage and childbearing bought great honour to the woman: to lose a man to whom she was betrothed for honourable marriage was a shattering blow to the hopes and plans of any young girl.
The more we are tied down to our creature-comforts the harder it is to part with them. We take much for granted, if we have never lacked these things. It takes a great calamity, like a war or a devastation such as the locusts were bringing, for us to realise the value of the comforts we enjoy.
The Israelites were required to make offerings, or oblations, under distinctive names in acts of worship and thanksgiving to the LORD. Under the Levitical system different kinds of offerings are specified, and laws laid down as to their presentation.
The meat-offering was originally a gift of any kind. It eventually came to denote an "unbloody" sacrifice, as opposed to a "bloody" sacrifice, i.e., no animal flesh was involved, but it consisted of flour or of cakes prepared in a special way with oil and frankincense (Leviticus 2, and 6:14-23). It was a recognition of the sovereignty of God and of His bounty in giving all earthly blessings (1 Chronicles 29:10-14; Deuteronomy 26:5-11).
A drink-offering consisted of wine (Numbers 15:5; Hosea 9:4) poured around the altar (Exodus 30:9). It was joined with meat-offerings (Numbers 6:15, 17; 2 Kings 16:13) and was presented daily (Exodus 29:40), on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9), and feast-days (Exodus 28:14).
The burnt-offering was the earliest kind of sacrifice, since Abel (Genesis 4:3,4), Noah (Genesis 8:20), Abraham (Genesis 22:2, 7, 8, 13), and by the Hebrews in Egypt (Exodus 10:25). The Hebrew word for it means "ascending," the whole being consumed by fire, and regarded as ascending to God while being consumed. Whilst part of every offering was burnt at the altar, this was wholly burnt, a "whole burnt offering."
The law of Moses afterwards prescribed the occasions and the manner in which burnt sacrifices were to be offered.
Freewill burnt offerings were also permitted (Leviticus 1:23), and were offered at the accession of Solomon to the throne (1 Chronicles 29:21), and at the reformation brought about by Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:31-35). These offerings signified the complete dedication of the offerers unto God. This is referred to in Romans 12:1.
The priests, also called ministers of God, used to rejoice and sing before the LORD, and to bring to Him the sacrifices and offerings of the people in abundance; but now the must gird themselves, lament, lie all night in sackcloth, howl, for the meat-offering and drink-offering were cut off from the house of the LORD their God: the corn had finished, the new wine had dried up, the oil languished, there was no harvest of wheat and barley because all had perished.
Even the trees hadn't escaped: the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate tree, the palm tree, the apple tree (Actually the orange tree which is indigenous to that land), all the trees of the field were withered: like them, joy had withered away from all people.
When people had the fruits of the earth produced in their season, they presented to the LORD His dues out of them, and brought the offerings to the altar and tithes to those that served at the altar. But when the cereals for the meat and the grapes for the drink failed, the meat-offering and drink-offering failed also, and this brought the sense of the calamity to the fullest, for the priests didn't have the means to carry out their office: God couldn't have His sacrifices, nor could the priests have their maintenance.
Although the law of Moses only required a national fast on the great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32), public national fasts on account of sin or to supplicate divine favour were occasionally held at that time (e.g. 1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Chronicles 20:3). These were "dedicated fasts" one of which Joel is now recommending as an emergency measure because of the calamity which has come upon the people: the priests are to call a solemn assembly, gathering the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD their God, to cry unto Him.
To call to the LORD in His house enhanced the very serious nature of the circumstances in which they found themselves.
At the time of the dedication of the temple, Solomon had prayed: "When there is famine in the land, pestilence or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers; when their enemy besieges them in the land of their cities; whatever plague or whatever sickness there is; whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all Your people Israel, when each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands toward this temple: then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart You know (for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men), that they may fear You all the days that they live in the land which You gave to our fathers." 1 Kings 8:37-40. They were now to cry unto the LORD because He is merciful, gracious and wants to forgive. They were to come to Him in this time of difficulty, and He would hear and answer their prayer.
A solemn assembly, or solemn meeting, was the name given to the convocation held on the seventh day of the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:8). It was also a closing festival (Isaiah 1:13), on the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:36; Numbers 29:35).
Locusts came, in most cases, as a judgement from God, but this plague was a warning from God. Later Joel will move ahead to that which is still future, the Day of the Lord which will be just like a locust plague upon the earth. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are yet to ride.
The expression day of the Lord appears in many of the books of the prophets - however, considering this to be the first to be written, this is the first time it was heard. It implies judgement upon the proud and lofty, destruction, vengeance, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, destruction of sinners and recompenses for the controversy of Zion, a cloudy day, the time of the heathen, darkness, the LORD's sacrifice. In the New Testament it is mentioned a number of times, and the Book of Revelation concerns mostly this day.
6 For a nation has come up against My land, strong, and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he has the fangs of a fierce lion.
7 He has laid waste My vine, and ruined My fig tree; he has stripped it bare and thrown it away; its branches are made white.
8 Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.
9 The grain offering and the drink offering have been cut off from the house of the LORD; the priests mourn, who minister to the LORD.
10 The field is wasted, the land mourns; for the grain is ruined, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails.
11 Be ashamed, you farmers, wail, you vine dressers, for the wheat and the barley; because the harvest of the field has perished.
12 The vine has dried up, and the fig tree has withered; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree - all the trees of the field are withered; surely joy has withered away from the sons of men.
13 Gird yourselves and lament, you priests; wail, you who minister before the altar; come, lie all night in sackcloth, you who minister to my God; for the grain offering and the drink offering are withheld from the house of your God.
14 Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.
15 Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty.
16 Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God?
17 The seed shrivels under the clods, storehouses are in shambles; barns are broken down, for the grain has withered.
18 How the animals groan! The herds of cattle are restless, because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep suffer punishment.
19 O LORD, to You I cry out; for fire has devoured the open pastures, and a flame has burned all the trees of the field.
20 The beasts of the field also cry out to You, for the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the open pastures.