The chapter begins heralding the Day of the Lord with trumpets. Whereas the previous chapter draws on a severe attack of locusts as a type, in this chapter we have the prophecy which the book is really concerned with. The locusts were in the present when it was written, but the prophecy is for future events.
It can be argued that, in the short term, it concerned the invasion of the land by the Chaldeans, who would take the majority of the surviving population of the kingdom of Judah captive to Babylon.
It looks much further ahead into the future, however, when the "times of the gentiles", during which Israel is subdued by Gentile nations, symbolised by the statue seen later in a dream by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2), will come to an end like the statue did when hit by a stone "not made by the hands of men".
Joel calls for a trumpet to be blown in Zion (the hill where the temple of Solomon was built in Jerusalem); the Israelites used trumpets of a great variety of shapes, made of various materials: some made of silver were used only by the priests to announce the approach of festivals and to give signals of war; others, made of rams' horns, were blown at special festivals, and to herald the arrival of special seasons. They also appear a number of times in the Book of Revelation to announce important things about to follow.
To call the Israelites to war against an enemy which oppressed them, they were to sound an alarm with trumpets, and they would be remembered before the LORD their God and would be saved from their enemies (Numbers 10:9). This no doubt is the trumpet call which the prophet demands to be blown on this occasion.
After the Lord has called His church out of the world, He will turn again to the nation of Israel, which becomes the object of world-wide anti-Semitism. This is the beginning of the Day of the Lord.
The Day of the Lord begins with darkness and gloominess. There is going to be a Great Tribulation to last for seven years. But before it starts, the people of the land will tremble in fear because they will suffer an invasion by their enemies.
The greatness and strength of these enemies of the state of Israel is such as has never existed before, nor will there ever be any after them. This in itself indicates that the occasion can only be at the end of our times.
Ezekiel 20:33-38 expands on the timing:
I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered - after 19 centuries scattered all over the world, without land or their own government, the descendants of Israel are in our own days back in the promised land, forming their own nation.
As when they were delivered from Egypt, the Israelites were brought out from the peoples with wrath poured out (through the second World War).
Who, where, why, what, how and when this invasion will take place can be found in chapters 38 and 39 of Ezekiel, which announces this event. Briefly, the most generally accepted explanation today is:
Who will be the invaders: Gog is the name of the leader of a confederacy of invaders; his land is called Magog, which is composed of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal (see Genesis 10:2), in old times inhabited by the Scythians, referred to as barbarians roaming north of the Caspian and Black Seas (Caucasus means Gog's fort). Rosh is identified with modern Russia. Persia is modern Iran. Iraq is now accepted as the modern denomination of Cush. Put is now thought to lie south or Southeast of Cush, Saudi Arabia today. Gomer is stated in the Talmud to be Germany. Togarmah, geographically has always been the land we know as Armenia, so named in the records of Assyria, possibly extending to Turkey.
Where the invasion is to take place: the mountains of Israel (v.8).
The reason why: in order to plunder and loot. In verse 13 a second group of nations are listed as protesting this invasion; from the names and description, they might even include the Western Hemisphere. But God states the real reason, given in verse 16: it is that He might be sanctified in the eyes of the nations, in light of what He is going to bring about to happen.
What will it achieve: as prophesied in ancient days, this is the punishment to be meted to these countries for their persecution of the Jews (verses 17,18), so that many nations will know that God is the LORD.
How will the invasion end: insurrection, and the forces of nature, such as earthquake (verses 19-22), pestilence, bloodshed, flood, hailstones. fire and burning sulphur will completely destroy the invading armies.
When will this take place: there are many opinions among Bible teachers, but from the circumstances attending the invasion, and its aftermath, it seems clear that it must be before the tribulation begins because:
the description of Israel fits this period, the land having been brought back from the sword (v.8),
the inhabitants live securely under the protection of the USA, having come from 80-90 nations (v.8-12)
and the continual waste places are now inhabited and the Israelis are rebuilding the ancient places and living in them (v.l2);
this view best answers the problem of the seven months and seven years to clear up the mess left by the destruction of the armies (39:9-12).
As with the locusts, who found the land green and left it desolate, so these armies will devastate the land attacking with fire and leaving fire behind to destroy all that is left.
The locusts are compared with swift steeds in the way they run. Horses are always referred to in the Bible in connection with warlike operations, with the exception of Isaiah 28:28. The war-horse is described in Job 39:19-25. Modern warfare doesn't involve horses any more, but the vehicles used are even faster than horses.
The locusts are described as producing a noise like chariots, as leaping over mountain tops and making the noise of a raging fire devouring stubble, in battle array like strong people. The prophet could use no other description for the enemy in his days. In modern warfare there would be no difficulty in comparing them with helicopters and fighter-bombers, true flying chariots pouring fire out of their guns and from the explosion of their bombs …! And they fly in formation like the soldiers of old.
Their attacks cause people to writhe in pain, the pallor of their faces indicates loss of blood, typical of bullet and shrapnel wounds.
The enemy soldiers climb walls like men of war every one marches in formation, they do not break ranks, they do not push one another, every one marches in his own column. These are well trained infantrymen.
Today's house-to-house combat by special forces is described in verse 9 and the shaking and smoke of violent explosions is described in verse 10.
1 Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand:
2 A day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, like the morning clouds spread over the mountains. A people come, great and strong, the like of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them, even for many successive generations.
3 A fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns; the land is like the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; surely nothing shall escape them.
4 Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; and like swift steeds, so they run.
5 With a noise like chariots over mountain tops they leap, like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble, like a strong people set in battle array.
6 Before them the people writhe in pain; all faces are drained of colour.
7 They run like mighty men, they climb the wall like men of war; every one marches in formation, and they do not break ranks.
8 They do not push one another; every one marches in his own column. Though they lunge between the weapons, they are not cut down.
9 They run to and fro in the city, they run on the wall; they climb into the houses, they enter at the windows like a thief.
10 The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble; the sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness.