This passage clearly concerns a future occasion, the Day of the Lord, to which the word "then" refers, appearing twice here. The Lord Jesus uses the word "then' twenty one times in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25), which is exactly three times seven, a truthful and perfect number (see annex). It concerns the time of the Great Tribulation.
The Day of the Lord, will begin with darkness and move on into the dawn of the Millennium, past man's rebellion that breaks out on the earth, and on to the beginning of the eternal Kingdom. From here on we are concerned with that particular period.
At the end of the Great Tribulation period, just before the Lord returns to this earth, He will be zealous for His land and will pity His people, satisfy all their needs, and no longer will they be a reproach among the heathen.
"I will remove far off from you the northern army": not locusts, but an army coming from the north. There was something like this years later, when Assyria invaded and took the northern kingdom, but God miraculously delivered the southern kingdom from them. Only one hundred years later did the Babylonians, not the Assyrians, invade the kingdom of Judah and take most of the people into captivity.
The future fulfilment of this prophecy concerning the removal of the northern army is given in more detail in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Russia and its allies will come from the north against Israel, but God will save them. The description here of the destruction of the invading army fits that of the battle of Armageddon.
The battle of Armageddon will take place in the Valley of Esdraelon, situated between the Mediterranean Sea on the West and the Sea of Galilee on the East. Here God will destroy this enemy of His people in order to glorify His name.
The nation of Israel's God has been considered as useless because of the way the nation has been scattered and it has lost its national identity through thousands of years - even though the people themselves have not lost their identity, and have been subject of horrendous persecution.
God the Lord of Israel will vindicate His name by miraculously destroying this most powerful army, and His name will be glorified again among the nations. The Day of the Lord is the time of judgement: His name has always been glorified by His people for His redemption, but it will then be glorified by all people because of His righteous judgement and punishment of evil.
It is in God's nature to be gracious and merciful and slow to anger, but He is also righteous and holy, and judgement is a consequence of man's rebellion and sin.
The Tribulation period will lead to the coming of Christ to earth to establish His Kingdom. The church is no longer on earth during this period - it isn't found in the Olivet Discourse nor in the Book of Revelation after chapter 4. The reason is that all those belonging to it have been justified in Christ, which means being declared innocent by God, and therefore exempt from his judgement.
The believers then living will be raptured before the Tribulation commences, so there will no longer be a member of the church of Christ on earth. When the church gets to heaven, to include all believers dead and alive since its beginning, it is no longer called the church (ekklesia, meaning "called out"), but the figure changes and it will be called the Bride of Christ.
The "children of Zion" mentioned here are the inhabitants of Jerusalem at the time of the God's deliverance from their enemies. The rain will again come in the proper seasons, the former rain and the latter rain, both essential for the sprouting and nurturing of crops. The former rain came in October, and the latter rain came in April.
There are other passages in the Bible that also speak of the former and the latter rains, which were quite literal rains in the land of Israel (see Leviticus 26:3-4; Deuteronomy 11:14-17; 1 Kings 8:35-36; Jeremiah 3:3; Hosea 6:3).
In former days the land of Israel was covered with trees and the rains came regularly. The enemies came in and denuded the land, and it remained a semi-desert land for thousands of years. Today they are planting trees again, but with great difficulty because there is not enough of the latter rain. Each tree has to be irrigated at great expense by means of a network of plastic pipes. God is promising that the land will again receive plentiful latter rain.
The phrase "I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten" although quite literal here, has become a common saying for the restoration of blessings which were enjoyed in the past.
A similar thought is found in the Book of Revelation where God says, ". . . Behold, I make all things new . . ." (Rev. 21:5). Revelation 21 and 22 are reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, but glorified by the presence of the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, which is described in all its magnificence, also called the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.
Those of the church, the sinners who have trusted Christ, are going to be there. These two chapters tell us how wonderful it will be and about the fact that He will wipe away all tears from our eyes. What a change that will be!
In this world we never really accomplish our goals, we are frustrated, limited, fighting against that old sinful nature. But God is going to make all things new, a new opportunity to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish, able to do the things and to be the person that we have wanted to be down here. To be free from the hindrances of circumstances, of sin, of the environment, and even of heredity. He will make all things new. He will restore the years that the locusts have eaten.
This prophecy will take place when the Lord is "in the midst of Israel"; that is, when Christ has come to the earth and has established His Kingdom.
At that time there will be a fulfilment of all the physical blessings which God has promised to the nation Israel: in fact all the blessings in the Old Testament were largely physical blessings. God promised to bless the land so that they would have bumper crops and their cattle would thrive and multiply. Spiritual blessings seem to be almost secondary there.
In contrast to this, the blessings God has promised the church are spiritual blessings only. We have all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus.
However, even though the primary blessings to Israel were physical blessings, the next passage speaks of spiritual blessing to Israel and has become rather controversial for this reason.
18 Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, And pity His people.
19 The LORD will answer and say to His people, "Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, And you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.
20 "But I will remove far from you the northern army, And will drive him away into a barren and desolate land, With his face toward the eastern sea And his back toward the western sea; His stench will come up, And his foul odor will rise, Because he has done monstrous things."
21 Fear not, O land; Be glad and rejoice, For the LORD has done marvelous things!
22 Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field; For the open pastures are springing up, And the tree bears its fruit; The fig tree and the vine yield their strength.
23 Be glad then, you children of Zion, And rejoice in the LORD your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, And He will cause the rain to come down for you--The former rain, And the latter rain in the first month.
24 The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, And the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil.
25 "So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you.
26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, And praise the name of the LORD your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; And My people shall never be put to shame.
27 Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the LORD your God And there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame.