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 mountaintops 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 color. 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. 11 The LORD gives voice before His army, for His camp is very great; for strong is the One who executes His word. For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; who can endure it?
Joel 1:1-11 describes the devastation which the locusts bring. It is an UNSTOPPABLE CALAMITY. This is the judgment of YHVH. Next time you watch a war movie, I want you to notice something. You will see men throw grenades, you will see bombs going off. Tanks will deliver their payloads. Go back even to movies about wars in ancient times. The Romans and the Greeks. They used catapults, trebuchets, fireballs. But in combat, whether in ancient Israel or in the modernized warfare of our day, how are wars won and lost? Hand to hand. Man vs. man. Plane vs. plane. It matters not a whit. Wars are won and lost by individuals. Thus our lack of success in Korea and Vietnam. We had the weapons. We had all the big explosive things. but the VC and the North Koreans were trained, almost from birth, in hand-to-hand combat. They let us come to them, and they knew they had the advantage. It does not matter how large and how powerful a nation is, they can be defeated by a smaller, less technologically advanced people who are determined to prevail. Ask the USSR about their success in Afghanistan.
In our text, the kingdom of Judah has been enjoying economic prosperity. But they will be overrun and conquered by an army that does not have a shekel to its name. They have no weapons. They do not even have a home. They do not know where their next meal will come from, and they only go where the wind carries them. This kingdom with all of its wealth and power and military strength was about to be conquered—by a bunch of bugs. Bugs. Locusts. You could squash them under your feet. One or two or a dozen is no big thing. But this was not something that could be handled with a fly swatter. There was nothing the Orkin® Man could do about it. How are you going to fight against an army that forms companies that are miles wide? You don’t. You just hope they don’t do too much damage. This is the Day of the LORD.
Verse 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. Water droplets are small. Real small, tiny. Can barely be seen. Get billions of them together, hang them in the sky and you have a cloud. Locusts are small. The largest are, maybe, 3 inches in length. Get billions of them together, with a good tailwind, and you have a swarm. But this was not just any swarm. In an average swarm there may be upwards of 120 million locusts—per square mile. And these swarms were many, many miles wide. You don’t need to be a genius to know that from this wording, this was no regular swarm. This would be large enough to cause thick darkness, like the morning clouds spread over the mountains. If you’ve ever been to the Smoky Mountains, you would understand how they got their name. Wake up in the morning, or go outside after a rainstorm, and you would see the hills covered with a dense fog—a fog that resembles smoke. If you stand in that fog, you can actually see it move around you. Now, imagine you are looking at this “fog,” but it is not made up of water droplets—it’s made up of bugs.
God tells the prophet to warn the people that this cloud, this thick darkness, like the dew or the fog of the morning, this cloud that would cover the kingdom of Judah—was just a symbol. It was only a taste of the greater destruction to come. These locusts represented A people come, great and strong, the like of whom has never been. And remember, this was not to be just one wave—there were to be four waves in total. Joel 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. Just as one wave of locusts after another will devastate the land, so will four successive waves of marauders—the likes of which have never been seen before. …nor will there ever be any such after them, even for many successive generations. Notice the wording here. He does not say that there will never be a swarm like this again. He says that there will not be another plague like this even for many successive generations. He doesn’t say there will never be a day like this again, as God promised Joshua (Joshua 10:13-14). There will be another invasion like this, but the saints won’t be here to see it. Revelation 9:1-4—1 Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. 2 And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. 3 Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4 They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. Thus will be the fate of those who live during the seven-year tribulation—those who are not sealed to God.
Verse 3. …the land is like the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; surely nothing shall escape them. Nothing. Nothing will be left when they are done. Think about the Garden of Eden. Everything was there. It was perfect, it was lush, it grew and grew, it supplied every need. But just as Adam’s sin caused the ground to be cursed, the rebellion of these people brought swift, certain, complete destruction upon their own heads and upon the crops which they loved and adored so much. The works of their hands were consumed by an enemy commanded by God (Joel 2:25). Thus will our works be consumed, destroyed if they are not done for the glory of God. We live in this world that at one time, for a very brief time at its inception, provided all we would ever need. All we would have needed to do was reach out and grasp it. But by one man’s sin, because of that sin, we now work and toil and till and mulch and mow and weed-eat and spray. We work, and commute, and climb the ladder, and seek and strive for material goods. And when we are done it won’t mean a thing. Ecclesiastes 5:13-16—13 There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun: riches kept for their owner to his hurt. 14 But those riches perish through misfortune; when he begets a son, there is nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb, naked shall he return, to go as he came; and he shall take nothing from his labor which he may carry away in his hand. 16 And this also is a severe evil—just exactly as he came, so shall he go. And what profit has he who has labored for the wind? And how many people have never considered that? They work hard, they go without sleep, they spend years away from their family. They spend long hours after the sun has gone down, only to rise again a few hours later and do it all over again. For what? So they can spend one or two weeks a year with their family? Here’s an idea: let go of the need for material stuff—which isn't really a need, but rather a desire—leave your children a legacy that tells them they don’t need stuff. These people make it sound as though stuff is the Garden of Eden—but it will be destroyed one day. Riches kept to their owners hurt.
Verse 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. How do bugs get into our houses? We caulk and we seal and we do all we think that we can to keep them out—yet they find a way in. why? Because that’s what bugs do. They find ways to get inside. If you have children, you will understand this sentiment. Put something out of a child’s reach. Tell them they can't have it. Tell them to not go near it. Then leave the room. How long do you think it will take that child to get at that thing that you have placed so far out of his reach he can't get at it? Why? Because that’s what children do. Ever think you were so sanctified and so strong that there is no possible way you could ever be overtaken by temptation? Don’t act like you haven’t. Do not act like you haven’t. Because you know that you have. If you did not give in, then praise Jesus! But there are many who have given in. they built all kinds of safeguards, put up all kinds of defenses, and barriers. And somehow, some way, sin managed to get in them and bring them down. Why? Because that’s what sin does.
The locusts were a picture of Judah’s enemies. The Chaldeans and the Babylonians and the Medes and the Greeks. But they are also a picture of our ultimate enemies—Satan, sin, the flesh. Just as these locusts run to and from in the streets, Satan is “going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” (Job 1:7). He is just as free to cause chaos and confusion as God allows him to be. Forget what you have heard about Satan being in charge of Hell—he ain't. He isn't even IN Hell right now. He is still walking the face of the earth. And he will be really active during the Tribulation. 2nd Thessalonians 2:9-10—9 The coming of the lawless one—THE Antichrist—the coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. If Satan is confined to Hell, how can he deceive the whole world (Revelation 12:9)? Why does it say that he will be bound in a bottomless pit for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-2) if he's already in Hell?
But that’s what Satan wants us to believe. He wants us to think that there is nothing he can do, that he is powerless, that he is just some cartoon character with a pointy tail and horns. Because if he can get people to think he is just a figment of man’s imagination, he can make himself our friend. And be careful when Satan tries to be your friend. Matthew 16:21-23 (KJV)—21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. 22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.” 23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Be careful when men who preach and teach heresies want to partner with your church to “do good things.” When the local Mormon gathering or some unbelieving group wants to partner with you for “the common good.” Or when certain liberal political figures want to come and speak at your church. 2nd Corinthians 11:13-15—13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. Satan is not our friend, and we are to have no partnership with him (2nd Corinthians 6:14-16).
Finally, verse 11. The LORD gives voice before His army, for His camp is very great; for strong is the One who executes His word. For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; who can endure it? How mighty are our enemies! How strong is the one who opposes the saints of God. But keep one thing in mind: they are all restrained by the hand of God. They can rattle their sabers and make all the noise they want. Butt they can do nothing unless God allows it. Have we ever really considered that? That these mighty beings—one of which can destroy 185,000 armed soldiers—all of these are restrained by, controlled by, and beholden to, God? That with a word, God could destroy them all? That with a snap of His fingers, He can send them all to the flaming abyss? This gives such a great illustration of that song we sing—
What a mighty God we serve!
Angels bow before Him!
Heaven and earth adore Him!
What a mighty God we serve!
Ah, but friend! There is a flipside to that restraining power of God. That grace that reserves our enemy in chains, that knowledge that, as Luther once said, “Even the Devil is God’s Devil.” Restrained as he may be, he is still somewhat free. Free as he may be, he is still at God’s command. It is true that when God tells him “Stop” he must stop. But consider this also—when God tells him “Go,” he must go. There are times when Satan wants to do something, attack us, try and make us fall. We know that God holds him back many times. But do we also consider that God tells him “Do it” other times? Do we ever consider that there are times when God tells a demon to come against is people? We don’t like to think about that. That doesn’t fit into our thinking. That God would command a demon to attack us. But He does.
In Jeremiah 22, we see that the wickedness of (Je)Coniah was so great that God sent the Chaldeans to take the nation Israel captive. 24 “As I live,” says the LORD, “though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet I would pluck you off; 25 and I will give you into the hand of those who seek your life, and into the hand of those whose face you fear—the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the hand of the Chaldeans. 26 So I will cast you out, and your mother who bore you, into another country where you were not born; and there you shall die (Jeremiah 22:24-26). In another place, Jeremiah testifies of the fate of Jerusalem. 26 Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, 27 “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me? 28 Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall take it. 29 And the Chaldeans who fight against this city shall come and set fire to this city and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs they have offered incense to Baal and poured out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke Me to anger; 30 because the children of Israel and the children of Judah have done only evil before Me from their youth (Jeremiah 32:26-30). God, on more than one occasion, gave His people Israel into the hands of their abominable, heathen enemies. What makes us think He won’t allow a similar fate to befall us.
And do we not have the witness of Scripture that this will even happen to those who belong to Christ? What did Jesus tell Simon Peter in the Upper Room the night before He was led to His death? 31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). Satan wanted Simon, and Jesus let Satan have him. The kingdom of Judah had gone after other gods—which are no gods (1st Corinthians 8:4-5). So in order to show them just who is in charge, He sends this army, this mighty army, this very great camp, which executes His word and His command, to show the people, to remind the people that the Baals they had turned to were useless, worthless, mute, deaf, etc etc. When we turn to idols, when we worship the things of earth, when we worship the creature rather then the Creator (Romans 1:25), when we turn our back on God, the Author and Sustainer and Finisher of all things, don’t think for one moment that He won’t somehow assert Himself in our lives, and command a demon to come against us. Remember, if God is with us, who can be against us? But also, if God is against us, who will be for us? That is a sword that cuts both ways.
And when God has His say, when He declares the day when His anger turns to action, He will command that Satan to come against us, to sift us as wheat, to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1st Corinthians 5:5). When God decides to let Satan loose, and removes His restraining hand, then the Day of the LORD will be upon us. Who can endure it? Who can stop it? Only repentance and confessing ourselves unworthy of His grace will cause Him to repent from allowing the evil to continue upon us. We are powerless to stop it, for it is an UNSTOPPABLE CALAMITY.