World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel:
Lament over the Ruin of the Country
Hear this, O elders,
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children another generation.
What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten.
Wake up, you drunkards, and weep;
and wail, all you wine-drinkers,
over the sweet wine,
for it is cut off from your mouth.
For a nation has invaded my land,
powerful and innumerable;
its teeth are lions’ teeth,
and it has the fangs of a lioness.
It has laid waste my vines,
and splintered my fig trees;
it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down;
their branches have turned white.
Lament like a virgin dressed in sackcloth
for the husband of her youth.
The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off
from the house of the Lord.
The priests mourn,
the ministers of the Lord.
The fields are devastated,
the ground mourns;
for the grain is destroyed,
the wine dries up,
the oil fails.
Be dismayed, you farmers,
wail, you vinedressers,
over the wheat and the barley;
for the crops of the field are ruined.
The vine withers,
the fig tree droops.
Pomegranate, palm, and apple—
all the trees of the field are dried up;
surely, joy withers away
among the people.
A Call to Repentance and Prayer
Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests;
wail, you ministers of the altar.
Come, pass the night in sackcloth,
you ministers of my God!
Grain offering and drink offering
are withheld from the house of your God.
Sanctify a fast,
call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
and cry out to the Lord.
Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near,
and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.
Is not the food cut off
before our eyes,
joy and gladness
from the house of our God?
The seed shrivels under the clods,
the storehouses are desolate;
the granaries are ruined
because the grain has failed.
How the animals groan!
The herds of cattle wander about
because there is no pasture for them;
even the flocks of sheep are dazed.
To you, O Lord, I cry.
For fire has devoured
the pastures of the wilderness,
and flames have burned
all the trees of the field.
Even the wild animals cry to you
because the watercourses are dried up,
and fire has devoured
the pastures of the wilderness.
The word of Jehovah which came to Joel, the son of Pethuel. He names here his father; it is hence probable that he was a man well known and of some celebrity. But who this Pethuel was, all now are ignorant. And what the Hebrews hold as a general rule, that a prophet is designated, whenever his father’s name is added, appears to me frivolous; and we see how bold they are in devising such comments. When no reason for any thing appears to them, they invent some fable, and allege it as a divine truth. When, therefore, they are wont thus to trifle, I have no regard for what is held by them as a rule. But yet it is probable, that when the Prophets are mentioned as having sprung from this or that father, their fathers were men of some note.
Now what he declared by saying, that he delivered the word of the Lord, is worthy of being observed; for he shows that he claimed nothing for himself, as an individual, as though he wished to rule by his own judgment, and to subject others to his own fancies; but that he relates only what he had received from the Lord. And since the Prophets claimed no authority for themselves, except as far as they faithfully executed the office divinely committed to them, and delivered, as it were from hand to hand, what the Lord commanded, we may hence feel assured that no human doctrines ought to be admitted into the Church. Why? Because as much as men trust in themselves, so much they take away from the authority of God. This preface then ought to be noticed, which almost all the Prophets use, namely, that they brought nothing of their own or according to their own judgment, but that they were faithful dispensers of the truth intrusted to them by God.
And the word is said to have been to Joel; not that God intended that he alone should be his disciple, but because he deposited this treasure with him, that he might be his minister to the whole people. Paul also says the same thing, — that to the ministers of the Gospel was committed a message for Christ, or in Christ’s name, to reconcile men to God, (2 Corinthians 5:20;) and in another place he says, ‘He has deposited with us this treasure as in earthen vessels,’ (2 Corinthians 4:7.) We now understand why Joel says, that the word of the Lord was delivered to him, it was not that he might be the only disciple; but as some teacher was necessary, Joel was chosen to whom the Lord committed this office. Then the word of God belongs indeed indiscriminately to all; and yet it is committed to Prophets and other teachers; for they are, so to speak, as it were trustees (depositarii — depositories.)
As to the verb היהeie, there is no need of philosophizing so acutely as Jerome does: “How was the word of the Lord made?” For he feared lest Christ should be said to be made, as he is the word of the Lord. These are trifles, the most puerile. He could not, however, in any other way get rid of the difficulty but by saying that the word is said to be made with respect to man whom God addresses, and not with respect to God himself. All this, as ye must see, is childish; for the Prophet says here only, that the word of the Lord was sent to him, that is, that the Lord employed him as his messenger to the whole people. But after having shown that he was a fit minister of God, being furnished with his word, he speaks authoritatively, for he represented the person of God.
We now see what is the lawful authority which ought to be in force in the Church, and which we ought to obey without dispute, and to which all ought to submit. It is then only that this authority exists, when God himself speaks by men, and the Holy Spirit employs them as his instruments. For the Prophet brings not forward any empty title; he does not say that he is a high priest of the tribe of Levi, or of the first order, or of the family of Aaron. He alleges no such thing, but says that the word of God was deposited with him. Whosoever then demands to be heard in the Church, must of necessity really prove that he is a preacher of God’s word; and he must not bring his own devices, nor blend with the word any thing that proceeds from the judgment of his own flesh.
But first the Prophet reproves the Jews for being so stupid as not to consider that they were chastised by the hand of God, though this was quite evident. Hence they pervert, in my judgment, the meaning of the Prophet, who think that punishments are here denounced which were as yet suspended; for they transfer all these things to a future time. But I distinguish between this reproof and the denunciations which afterwards follow. Here then the Prophet reproaches the Jews, that having been so severely smitten, they did not gain wisdom; and yet even fools, when the rod is applied to their backs, know that they are punished. Since then the Jews were so stupid, that when even chastised they did not understand that they had to do with God, the Prophet justly reproves this madness. “Hear”, he says, “ye old men; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land, and declare this to your children”. But the consideration of this passage I shall put off till tomorrow.
Grant, Almighty God that as almost the whole world give such loose reins to their licentiousness, that they hesitate not either to despise or to regard as of no value thy sacred word — Grant, O Lord that we may always retain such reverence as is justly due to it and to thy holy oracles and be so moved whenever thou deignest to address us that being truly humbled, we may be raised up by faith to heaven, and by hope gradually attain that glory which is as yet hid from us. And may we at the same time so submissively restrain ourselves, as to make it our whole wisdom to obey thee and to do thee service, until thou gatherest us into thy kingdom, where we shall be partakers of thy glory, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Hear this, ye old men; and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land: has this been in your days, and in the days of your fathers? This declare to your children and your children to their children, and their children to the next generation: the residue of the locust has the chafer eaten, and the residue of the chafer has the cankerworm eaten, and the residue of the cankerworm has the caterpillar eaten 22 All these are different kinds of locusts. There are in Hebrew ten names for them, designative probably of so many kinds. There are four here: גזם, gizam, the young locust; ארבה, arebe, so called from their number, one on the wing; ילק, ilak, one of the hairy bristly kind; and λψσ᾿, chesil, one unfledged. Following the probable ideal meaning of the words, we may give them these names, —the cutter, the multiplier, the licker, and the devourer. — Ed. I have in the last Lecture already mentioned what I think of this passage of the Prophet. Some think that a future punishment is denounced; but the context sufficiently proves that they mistake and pervert the real meaning of the Prophet; for, on the contrary, he reproves here the hardness of the people, — that they fell not their plagues. And as men are not easily moved by God’s judgments, the Prophet here declares that God had executed such a vengeance as could not be regarded otherwise than miraculous; as though he said, “God often punishes men, and it behooves them to be attentive as soon as he raises up his finger. But common punishments are wont to be unheeded; men soon forget those punishments to which they have been accustomed. God has, however, treated you in an unusual manner, having openly as it were put forth his hand from heaven, and brought on you punishments nothing less than miraculous. Ye must then be more than stupid, if ye perceive not that you are smitten by God’s hand.” This is the true meaning of the Prophet, and may be easily gathered from the words.
Hear, ye old men, he says. He expressly addresses the old, because experience teaches men much; and the old, when they see any thing new or unusual, must know, that it is not according to the ordinary course of things. He who has past his fiftieth or sixtieth year, and sees something new happening which he had never thought of, doubtless acknowledges it as the unusual work of God. This is the reason why the Prophet directs here his discourse to the old; as though he said, “I will not terrify you about nothing; but let the old hear, who have been accustomed for many years to many revolutions; let them now answer me, whether in their whole life, which has been an age on the earth, have they seen any such thing ” We now perceive the design of the Prophet; for he intended to awaken the Jews that they might understand that God had put forth his hand from heaven, and that it was impossible to ascribe what they had seen with their eyes to chance or to earthly causes, but that it was a miracle. And his object was to make the Jews at length ashamed of their folly in not having hitherto been attentive to God’s punishments, and in having always flattered themselves, as though God slept in heaven, when yet he so violently thundered against them, and intended by an extraordinary course to move them, that they might at last perceive that they were summoned to judgment.
He afterwards adds, And all ye inhabitants of the land. Had the Prophet addressed only the old, some might seize on some pretext for their ignorance; hence he addressed and from the least to the greatest; and this he did, that the young might not exempt themselves from blame in proceeding in their obstinacy and in thus mocking God, when he called them to repentance. Hear, he says, all ye inhabitants of the land; has this been in your days or in the days of your fathers? He says first, has such a thing been in your days, for doubtless what happens rarely deserves a greater consideration. It is indeed true that foolish men are blind to the daily works of God; as the favor of God in making his sun to rise daily is but little thought of by us. This happens through our ingratitude; but our ingratitude is doubled, and is much more base and less excusable, when the Lord works in an unwonted manner, and we yet with closed eves overlook what ought to be deemed a miracle. This dullness the Prophet now reproves, Has such a thing, he says, “happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Ye can recall to mind what your fathers have told you. It is certain that for two ages no such thing has happened. Your torpidity then is extreme, since ye neglect this judgment of God, which from its very rareness ought to have awakened your minds.”
He then adds, Tell it to your children, your children to their children, their children to the next generation. In this verse the Prophet shows that the matter deserved to be remembered, and was not to be despised by posterity, even for many generations. It appears now quite clear that the Prophet threatens not what was to be, as some interpreters think; it would have been puerile: but, on the contrary, he expostulates here with the Jews, because they were so slothful and tardy in considering God’s judgments; and especially as it was a remarkable instance, when God employed not usual means, but roused, and, as it were, terrified men by prodigies. Of this then tell: for עליה olie means no other thing than ‘tell or declare this thing to your children;’ and further, your children to their children. When any thing new happens, it may be, that we are at first moved with some wonder; but our feeling soon vanishes with the novelty, and we disregard what at first caused great astonishment. But the Prophet here showed, that such was the judgment of God of which he speaks, that it ought not to have been overlooked, no, not even by posterity. Let your children, he says, declare it to those after them, and their children to the fourth generation: it was to be always remembered.
He adds what that judgment was, — that the hope of food had for many years disappointed them. It often happened, we know, that locusts devoured the standing corn; and then the chafers and the palmer worms did the same: these were ordinary events. But when one devastation happened, and another followed, and there was no end; when there had been four barren years, suddenly produced by insects, which devoured the growth of the earth; — this was certainly unusual. Hence the Prophet says, that this could not have been chance; for God intended to show to the Jews some extraordinary portent, that even against their will they might observe his hand. When any thing trifling happens, if it be rare, it will strike the attention of men; for we often see that the world makes a great noise about frivolous things. But this wonder, says the Prophet, “ought to have produced effect on you. What then will ye do, since ye are starving, and the causes are evident; for God has cursed your land, and brought these insects, which have consumed your food before your eyes. Since it is so, it is surely the time for you to repent; and you have been hitherto very regardless having overlooked God’s judgments, which have been so remarkable and so memorable.” Let us now proceed.
The Prophet adds this verse for the sake of amplifying; for when God sees men either contemptuously laughing at or disregarding his judgments, he derides them; and this mode the Prophet now adopts. ‘Ye drunkards,’ he says, ‘awake, and weep and howl.’ In these words he addresses, on the subject in hand, those who had willfully closed their eyes to judgments so manifest. The Jews had become torpid, and had covered themselves over as it were with hardness; it was then necessary to draw them forth as by force into the light. But the Prophet accosts the drunkards by name; and it is probable that this vice was then very common among the people. However that might be, the Prophet by mentioning this instance shows more convincingly, that there was no pretense for passing by things, and that the Jews could not excuse their indifference if they took no notice; for the very drunkards, who had degenerated from the state of men, did themselves feel the calamity, for the wine had been cut off from their mouth. And this expression of the Prophet, “Awake”, ought to be noticed; for the drunkards, even while awake, are asleep, and also spend a great portion of time in sleep. The Prophet had this in view, that men, though not endued with great knowledge, but even void of common sense, could no longer flatter themselves; for the very drunkards, who had wholly suffocated their senses, and had become thus estranged in their minds, did yet perceive the judgment of God; though drowsiness held them bound, they were yet constrained to awake at such a manifest punishment. What then does this ignorance mean, when ye see not that you are smitten by God’s hand?
To the same purpose are the words, Weep and howl. Drunkards, on the contrary, give themselves up to mirth, and intemperately indulge themselves; and there is nothing more difficult than to make them to feel sorrow; for wine so infatuates their senses, that they continue to laugh in the greatest calamities. But the Prophet says, Weep and howl, ye drunkards! What then ought sober men to do? He then adds, Cut off is the wine from your mouth. He says not, “The use of wine is taken away from you;” but he says, from your mouth. Though no one should think of vineyards or of winecellars or of cups, yet they shall be forced, willing or unwilling, to feel the judgment of God in their mouth and in their lips. This is what the Prophet means. We then see how much he aggravates what he had said before: and we must remember that his object was to strike shame into the people, who had become thus torpid with regard to God’s judgments.
As to the word עסיס osis, some render it new wine. עסס osas is to press; and hence עסיס osis is properly the wine that is pressed in the wine-vat. New wine is not what is drawn out of the bottle, but what is pressed out as it were by force. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, includes here under one kind every sort of wine. Let us go on.
Of what some think, that punishment, not yet inflicted, is denounced here on the people, I again repeat, I do not approve; but, on the contrary, the Prophet, according to my view, records another judgment of God, in order to show that God had not only in one way warned the Jews of their sins, that he might restore them to a right mind; but that he had tried all means to bring them to the right way, though they proved to have been irreclaimable. After having then spoke of the sterility of the fields and of other calamities, he now adds that the Jews had been visited with war. 33 But most commentators consider these two verses as containing a more particular description of the devastations produced by the locusts mentioned before. That they are called “a nation” is according to prophetic style, and what has been done by heathen poets: the wasting of the vine and the barking of the fig-tree seem more suitable to this view. It is true that נוי, nation, and not וזם people, as in Proverbs 30:25, is here used; but, as Dr. Henderson observes, it seems to have been selected on purpose “to prepare the minds of the Jews for the allegorical use made of these insects in chapter 2.” — Ed. Surely famine ought to have touched them, especially when they saw that evils, succeeding evils, had happened for several years contrary to the usual course of things, so that they could not be imputed to chance. But when God brought war upon them, when they were already worn out with famine, must they not have been more than insane in mind, to have continued astonied at God’s judgments and not to repent? Then the meaning of the Prophet is, that God had tried, by every means possible, to find out whether the Jews were healable, and had given them every opportunity to repent, but that they were wholly perverse and untamable.
Then he says, Verily a nation came up. The particle כי ki is not to be taken as a causative, but only as explanatory, Verily, or surely, he says, a nation came up; though an inference also is not amiss, if it be drawn from the beginning of the verse: ‘Hear, ye old men, and tell your children;’ what shall we tell? even this, that a nation, etc. But in this form also כי ki would be exegetical, and the sense would be the same. This much as to the meaning of the passage.
A nation, then, came up over my land. God here justly claims the land of Canaan as his own heritage, and does so designedly, that the Jews might more clearly know that he was angry with them; for their condition would not have been worse than that of other nations, had not God resolved to punish them for their sins. There is here then an implied comparison between Judea and other countries, as though the Prophet said, “How comes it, that your land is wasted by wars and many other calamities, while other countries are at rest? This land is no doubt sacred to God, for he has chosen it for himself, that he might rule in it; he has here his own habitation: it then must be that there is some cause for God’s wrath, as your land is so miserably wasted, when other lands enjoy tranquillity.” We now perceive what the Prophet means. A nation, he says, came up upon my land, and what then? God could surely have prevented this; he could have defended his own land, of which he was the keeper, and which was under his protection: how then had it happened that enemies with impunity inundated this land, having marched into it and utterly laid it waste, except that it had been forsaken by the Lord himself?
A nation, he says, came up upon my land, strong and without number; and further, who had the teeth of a lion, the jaw-bones of a young lion. The nations had no strength which God could not in an instant have broken down, nor had he need of mighty auxiliaries, for he could by a nod only have reduced to nothing whatever men might have attempted: when, therefore, the Assyrians so impetuously assailed the Jews they were necessarily exposed to the wantonness of their enemies, for they were unworthy of being protected, as hitherto, by the hand of God.
He afterwards adds, that his vine had been exposed to desolation and waste, his fig-tree to the stripping of the bark. God speaks not here of his own vine, as in some other places, in which he designates his Church by this term; but he calls everything on earth his own, as he calls the whole race of Abraham his children: and he thus reproaches the Jews for having reduced themselves to such wretchedness through their own fault; for they would have never been spoiled by their enemies, had not God, who was wont to defend then, previously rejected them; for there was nothing in their land which he did not claim as his own; as he had chosen the people, so he had consecrated the land to himself. Whatsoever, then, enlisted in Judea, was, as it were, sacred to God. Now when both the vines and the fig-trees were exposed to the depredations of the unbelieving, it was certain that God no longer ruled there. How so? Even because the Jews had expelled him. He afterwards enlarges on the same subject; for what follows, By denuding he has denuded it and cast it away, is not a mere narrative; the Prophet here declares not simply what had taken place; but as we have already said, adduces more proof, and tries to awaken the drowsy senses of the people, yea, to arouse them from that lethargy by which the minds of all had been seized; hence it is that he uses in his teaching so many expressions. This is the reason why he says that the vine and the fig-tree had been denuded, and also that the leaves had been taken away, that the branches had been made bare and white; so that there remained neither produce nor growth.
Many interpreters join these three verses with the former, as if the Prophet now expressed what he had said before of the palmer worm, the chafer, and the locust; for they think that he spake allegorically when he said that all the fruits of the land had been consumed by the locusts and the chafers. They therefore add, that these locusts, or chafers, or the palmer worms, were the Assyrians, as well as the Persian and the Greeks, that is, Alexander of Macedon and the Romans: but this is wholly a strained views so that there is no need of a long argument; for any one may easily perceive that the Prophet mentions another kind of punishments that he might in every way render the Jews inexcusable who were not roused by judgments so multiplied, but remained still obstinate in their vices. Let us now proceed.
The Prophet now addresses the whole land. Lament, he says; not in an ordinary way, but like a widow, whose husband is dead, whom she had married when young. The love, we know, of a young man towards a young woman, and so of a young woman towards a young man, is more tender than when a person in years marries an elderly woman. This is the reason that the Prophet here mentions the husband of her youth; he wished to set forth the heaviest lamentation, and hence he says “The Jews ought not surely to be otherwise affected by so many calamities, than a widow who has lost her husband while young, and not arrived at maturity, but in the flower of his age.” As then such widows feel bitterly their loss, so the Prophet has adduced their case.
The Hebrews often call a husband בעל bol, because he is the lord of his wife and has her under his protection. Literally it is, “For the lord of her youth;” and hence it is, that they also called their idols בעלים bolim, as though they were as we have often said in our comment on the Prophet Hosea, their patrons.
The sum of the whole is, That the Jews could not have continued in an unconcerned state, without being void of all reason and discernment; for they were forced, willing or unwilling, to feel a most grievous calamity. It is a monstrous thing, when a widow, losing her husband when yet young, refrains from mourning. Now then, since God had afflicted his land with so many evils, he wished to bring on them, as it were, the grief of widowhood. It follows —
Here, in other words, the Prophet paints the calamity; for, as it has been said, we see how great is the slowness of men to discern God’s judgments; and the Jews, we know, were not more attentive to them than we are now. It was, therefore, needful to prick them with various goads, as the Prophet now does, as though he said, “If ye are not now concerned for want of food, if ye consider not even what the very drunkards are constrained to feel, who perceive not the evil at a distance, but taste it in their lips — if all these things are of no account with you, do at least look on the temple of God, which is now destitute of its ordinary services; for through the sterility of your fields, through so great a scarcity, neither bread nor wine is offered. Since then ye see that the worship of God has ceased, how is it ye yourselves still remain? Why is it that ye perceive not that God’s fury is kindled against you? For surely except God had been most grievously offended, he would at least have had some regard for his own worship; he would not have suffered his temple to remain without sacrifices.”
The Jews, we know, daily poured their libations, and offered meat-offerings. When, therefore, Joel mentions מנחה meneche and libation, he doubtless meant to show that the worship of God was nearly abolished. But God would have never permitted such a thing, had he not been grievously offended by the sins of men. Hence the indifference, or rather the stupidity of the people, is more clearly proved, inasmuch as they perceived not the signs of God’s wrath made evident even in the very temple. It follows —
The Prophet goes on here with the same subject, and uses these many words to give more effect to what he said; for he knew that he addressed the deaf, who, by long habit, had so hardened themselves that God could effect nothing, at least very little, by his word. This is the reason why the Prophet so earnestly presses a subject so evident. Should any one ask what need there was of so many expressions, as it seems to be a needless use of words; I do indeed allow that all that the Prophet wished to say might have been expressed in one sentence, as there is here nothing intricate: but it was not enough that what he said should be understood, except the Jews applied it to themselves, and perceived that they had to do with God; and to make this application they were not disposed. It is not then without reason that the Prophet labors here, and enforces the same thing in many words.
Hence he says, The field is wasted, and the land mourns; for the corn has perished, for dried up has the wine, for destroyed has been the oil. And by these words he intimates that they seeing saw nothing; as though he said, “Let necessity extort mourning from you; ye are indeed starving, all complain of want, all deplore the need of bread and wine; and yet no one of you thinks whence this want is, that it is from the hand of God. Ye feel it in your mouth, ye feel it in your palate, ye feel it in your throat, ye feel it in your stomach; but ye feel it not in your heart.” In short, the Prophet intimates that the Jews were void of right understanding; they indeed deplored their famine, but they were like brute beasts, who, when hungry, show signs of impatience. So the Jews mourned, because their stomach disquieted them; but they knew not that the cause of their want and famine was their sins. It afterwards follows —
The Prophet says nothing new here, but only strengthens what he had said before, and is not wordy without reason; for he intends here not merely to teach, but also to produce an effect: And this is the design of heavenly teaching; for God not only wishes that what he says may be understood, but intends also to penetrate into our hearts: and the word of God, we know, consists not of doctrine only, but also of exhortations, and threatenings, and reproofs. This plan then the Prophet now pursues: Ye husband men, he says, be ashamed, and ye vinedressers, howl; for perished has the harvest of the field. The sum of the whole is, that the Jews, as we have already said, could by no excuse cover their indifference; for their clamor was everywhere heard, their complaints everywhere resounded, that the land had become a waste, that they were themselves famished that they were afflicted with many calamities; and yet no one acknowledged that God, who visited them for their sins, was the author. But what remains I shall put off until to-morrow.
The Prophet now concludes his subjects which was, that as God executed judgments so severe on the people, it was a wonder that they remained stupefied, when thus reduces to extremities. The vine, he says, has dried up, and every
kind of fruit; he adds the fig-tree, afterwards the רמון remun, the pomegranate, (for so they render it,) the
palm, the apple-tree,
Of the three foregoing trees we may add this account:
The pomegranate, רמון, grows about 20 feet high, has a straight stem and spreading branches, and bears large red blossoms. Its fruit is about the size of an orange, and is delicious and cooling.
The palm or date-tree, תמר, is sometimes as high as 100 feet, and remarkably straight. Its fruit grows in clusters under its leaves, and is in taste very sweet. Palm branches were emblems of victory.
What is called here the apple-tree, תפוח, was no doubt the citron-tree. The word is derived from נפה, to breathe, on account of the extreme fragrance it emits. — Ed. and all trees. And this sterility was a clear sign of God’s wrath; and it would have been so regarded, had not men either wholly deceived themselves, or had become hardened against all punishments. Now this αναὶσθησὶα (insensibility) is as it were the very summit of evils; that is, when men feel not their own calamities, or at least understand not that they are inflicted by the hand of God. Let us now proceed —
Now the Prophet begins to exhort the people to repentance. Having represented them as grievously afflicted by the hand of God, he now adds that a remedy was at hand, provided they solicited the favor of God; and at the same tine he denounces a more grievous punishment in future; for it would not have been enough that they had been reminded of their calamities and evils, except they also feared in time to come. Hence the Prophet, that he might the more move them, says, that the hand of God was still stretched out, and that there was something worse nigh at hand, except they of themselves anticipated it. This is the purport of the whole. I now come to the words.
Be girded, lament and howl, he says, ye priests, the ministers of the altar The verb חגרו chegeru may be explained in two ways. Some understand it thus “Gird yourselves with sackcloth;” for shortly after he says with sackcloth, or in sackcloth. But we may take it as simply meaning, gird yourselves, that is, Hasten; for this metaphorical expression often occurs. As to the drift of the passage, there is but little difference, whether we read, “Gird yourselves with sackcloth,” or, “Hasten.” And he addresses the priests, though a common and general exhortation to the whole people afterwards follows. But as God made them the leaders of his people, it behaved them to afford others an example. It is the common duty of all the godly to pray for and to further the salvation of their brethren; but it is a duty especially enjoined on the ministers of the word and on pastors. So also, when God calls those to repentance who preside over others, they ought to lead the way, and for two reasons; — first, because they have not been in vain chosen by the Lord for this end, that they might outshine others, and be as luminaries; — secondly, because they who bear any public office ought to feel a double guilty when the Lord visits public sins with judgment. Private men indeed sin; but in pastors there is the blame of negligence, and still more, when they deviate even the least from the right way, a greater offense is given. Rightly then does the Prophet begin with the priests, when he bids the whole people to repent. And he not only bids them to put on sackcloth, but commands them also, as we shall see, to proclaim a fast, and then to call an assembly: ye priests, he says, be girded, and put on sackcloth, wail, howl, and pass the night in sackcloth; and then he calls them the ministers of the altar and the ministers of God, but in a different sense; for the Prophet does not substitute the altar for God, as he would thus have formed an idol; but they are called the ministers of the altar, because they offered there sacrifices to God. They are indeed with strict propriety the ministers of God; but as the priests, when they sacrificed, stood in the presence of God, and as the altar was to them as it were the way of access to him, they are called the ministers of the altar. He calls them, at the same time, the ministers of God, and, as it has been stated, they are properly so called.
But he says here אלהי alei (my God.) The iod, my, is by some omitted, as if it were a servile letter, but redundant. I, however, doubt not but that the Prophet here mentions Him as his God; for he thus intended to claim more authority for his doctrine. His concern or his contest was with the whole people; and they, no doubt, in their usual ways proudly opposed against him the name of God as their shield. “What! are we not the very people of God?” Hence the Prophet, in order to prove this presumption false, sets forth God as being on his side. He therefore says, ‘The ministers of my God.’ Had any one objected and said, that he was in common the God of the whole people, the Prophet had a ready answer, — “I am specially sent by Him, and sustain his person, and plead the cause which he has committed to me: He is then my God and not yours.” We now then see the Prophet’s meaning in this expression. He now adds, for cut off is offering and libation from the house of our God. He confesses Him at the same time to be their God with reference to the priesthood; for nothing, we know, was presumptuously invented by the Jews, as the temple was built by Godly command, and sacrifices were offered according to the rule of the law. He then ascribes to the priesthood this honor, that God ruled in the temple; for God, as we have already said, approved of that worship as having proceeded from his word: and to this purpose is that saying of Christ, ‘We know what we worship.’ But yet the priests did not rightly worship God; for though their external rites were according to the command of God, yet as their hearts were polluted, it is certain that whatever they did was repudiated by God, until, being touched with the fear of his judgment, they fled to his mercy, as the Prophet now exhorts them to do.
He afterwards adds, sanctify a fast, call an assembly, gather the old, all the inhabitants of the land. קדש kodash means to sanctify and to prepare; but I have retained its proper meaning, sanctify a fast; for the command had regard to the end, that is, sanctification. Then a fast proclaim — for what purpose? That the people might purge themselves from all their pollutions, and present themselves pure and clean before God. Call an assembly. It appears that there was a solemn convocation whenever a fast was proclaimed among the people: for it was not enough for each one privately at home to abstain from food, except all confessed openly, with one mouth and one consent, that they were guilty before God. Hence with a fast was connected a solemn profession of repentance. The uses and ends of a fast, we know, are various: but when the Prophet here speaks of a solemn fast, he doubtless bids the people to come to it suppliantly, as the guilty are wont to do, who would deprecate punishment before a judge, that they may obtain mercy from him. In the second chapter there will be much to say on fasting: I only wish now briefly to touch on the subject.
He afterwards bids the old to be gathered, and then adds, All the inhabitants of the land. But he begins with the old, and justly so, for the guilt of the old is always the heaviest. But this word relates not to age as in a former instance. When he said yesterday, ‘Hear ye, the aged,’ he addressed those who by long experience had learnt in the world many things unknown to the young or to men of middle age. But now the Prophet means by the old those to whom was intrusted the public government; and as through their slothfulness they had suffered the worship of God and all integrity to fall into decay, rightly does the Prophet wish them to be leaders and precursors to the people in their confession of repentance; and further, it behaved them, on account of their office, as we have said of the priests, to lead the way. Joel at the same time shows that the whole people were implicated in guilt, so that none could be excepted, for he bids them all to come with the elders.
Call them, he says, to the house of Jehovah your God, and cry ye to Jehovah. We hence learn why he had spoken of fasting and of sackcloth, even that they might humbly deprecate God’s wrath; for fasting of itself would have been useless, and to put on sackcloth, we know, is in itself but an empty sign: but prayer is what the Prophet sets here in the highest rank, and fasting is only an appendage, and so is sackcloth. Whosoever then puts on sackcloth and withholds prayer, is guilty of mockery; and no one can derive any good from mere fasting; but when fasting and sackcloth are added to prayer, and are as it were handmaids, then they are not uselessly practiced. We may then observe, that the end of fasting and sackcloth was no other, than that the priests together with the whole people, might present themselves suppliantly before God, and confess themselves worthy of destruction, and that they had no hope except from his gratuitous mercy. This is the meaning.
It now follows, Alas the day! for nigh is the day of Jehovah. Here the Prophet, as it was at first stated, threatens something worse in future than what they had experienced. He has hitherto been showing their torpidity; now he declares that they had not yet suffered all their punishments, but that there was something worse to be feared, except they turned seasonably to God. And he now exclaims, as though the day of Jehovah was before his eyes, and he calls it the day of Jehovah, because in that day God would stretch-forth his hand to execute judgment; for while he tolerates men or bears with their sins, he seems not to rule in the world. And though this mode of speaking is common enough in Scripture, it ought yet to be carefully noticed; for all seem not to understand that God calls that his own day, when he will openly shine forth and appear as the judge of the world: but as long as he spares us, his face seems to be hidden from us; yea, he seems not to govern the world. The Prophet therefore declares here that the day of the Lord was at hand; for it cannot be, but that the Lord must at length rise up and ascend his throne to punish men, though for a time he may connive at them. But the interjection, expressive of grief, intimates that the judgment, of which the Prophet speaks, was not to be despised, for it would be dreadful; and he wished to strike terror into the Jews, for they were too secure. And he says, The day is nigh, that they might not procrastinate, as they were wont to do, from day to day: for though men be touched by God’s judgments they yet even desire time to be prolonged to them, and they come very tardily to God. Hence the Prophet, that he might correct this their great slothfulness, says that the day was nigh.
He adds, כשד משדי יבוא kashed meshadi ibu ‘as a desolation from the Almighty will it come.’ The word שדי shadi signifies a conqueror; but it proceeds from the verb שדד shadad; and this in Hebrew means “to desolate,” or “to destroy.” The powerful and the conqueror is called שדי shadi; and hence they call God שדי shadi, on account of his power. Some derive it from udder: then they call God שדי shadi as though Scripture gave him this name, because from him flows all abundance of good things as from a fountain. But I rather refer this name to his strength and power, for the Jews, we know, gloried in the name of God as one armed to defend their safety. Whenever then the Prophets said that God was שדי shadi, the people laid hold on this as a ground for false confidence, “God is almighty, we are then secure from all evils.” But yet this confidence was not founded on the promises: and it was, we know, an absurd and profane presumption to have thus abused the name of God. Since then the Jews foolishly pricked themselves on this, that God had adopted them for his people, the prophet says here, “There will come a desolation from the Almighty;” that is, “God is Almighty, but ye are greatly deceived in thinking that your safety is secured by his power; for he will, on the contrary, be opposed to you, inasmuch as ye have provoked his wrath.” It follows —
He repeats the same thing as before, for he reproaches the Jews for being so slow to consider that the hand of God was against them. Has not the meat, he says, been cut off before our eyes? joy and exultation from the house of our God? Here he chides the madness of the Jews, that they perceived not things set before their eyes. He therefore says that they were blind in the midst of light, and that their sight was such, that seeing they saw nothing: they surely ought to have felt distressed, when want reached the temple. For since God had commanded the first-fruits to be offered to him, the temple ought not by any means to have been without its sacrifices; and though mortals perish a hundred times through famine and want, yet God ought not to be defrauded of his right. When, therefore, there was now no offering nor libation, how great was the stupidity of the people not to feel this curse, which ought to have wounded them more than if they had been consumed a hundred times by famine? We see then the design of the Prophet’s words, that is, to condemn the Jews for their stupidity; for they considered not that a most grievous judgment was brought on them, when the temple was deprived of its usual sacrifices.
He afterwards adds, that joy and gladness were taken away: for God commanded the Jews to come to the temple to give thanks and to acknowledge themselves blessed, because he had chosen his habitation among them. Hence this expression is so often repeated by Moses, ‘Thou shalt rejoice before thy God;’ for by saying this, God intended to encourage the people the more to come cheerfully to the temple; as though he said, “I certainly want not your presence, but I wish by my presence to make you glad.” But now when the worship of God ceased, the Prophet says, that joy had been also abolished; for the Jews could not cheerfully give thanks to God when his curse was before their eyes, when they saw that he was their adversary, and also when they were deprived of the ordinances of religion. We now then perceive why the Prophet joins joy and gladness with oblations: they were the symbols of thanksgiving.
He shows the cause of the evil, Rotted have the grains in the very furrows. For they call seeds פרדות peredut from the act of scattering. He then calls grains by this name, because they are scattered; and he says that they rotted in the fields when they ought to have germinated. He then adds, The granaries halve become desolated and the barns have been pulled down; for there was no use for them. Hence we conclude, that sterility had become most grievousand perpetual; for if the people had been only afflicted by famine for a few harvests or for one year, the Prophet would not have spoken thus. The famine must then have been, as it has been already stated for a long time. Let us now proceed —
The Prophet amplifies his reproof, that even oxen as well as other animals felt the judgment of God. There is then here an implied comparison between the feeling of brute animals and the insensibility of the people, as though he said, “There is certainly more intelligence and reason in oxen and other brute animals than in you; for the herds groan, the flocks groan, but ye remain stupid and confounded. What does this mean?” We then see that the Prophet here compares the stupidity of the people with the feeling of animals, to make them more ashamed.
How, he says, has the beast groaned? The question serves to show vehemence; for if he had said in the form of a narrative, that the animals groaned, that the cattle were confounded, and that the flocks perished, the Jews would have been less affected; but when he exclaims and, moved with astonishment, speaks interrogatively, How does the beast groan? He, no doubt, wished to produce an effect on the Jews, that they might perceive the judgment of God, which they had before passed by with their eyes closed, though it was quite manifest. It follows —
When the Prophet saw that he succeeded less than he expected, leaving the people, he speaks of what he would do himself, I will cry to thee, Jehovah. He had before bidden others to cry, and why does he not now press the same thing? Because he saw that the Jews were so deaf and listless as to make no account of all his exhortations: he therefore says, “I will cry to thee, Jehovah; for they are touched neither by shame nor by fear. Since they throw aside every regard for their own safety, since they account as nothing my exhortations I will leave them, and will cry to thee;” which means this, — “I see, Lord, that all these calamities proceed from thy hand; I will not howl as profane men do, but I will ascribe them to thee; for I perceive thee to be acting as a judge in all the evils which we suffer.” Having then before declared that the Jews were more tardy than brute animals and having reproached them for feeling less acutely than oxen and sheep, the Prophet now says, that though they all remained obstinate, he would yet do what a pious man and a worshipper of God ought to do, I will cry to thee — Why? Because the fire has consumed the pastures, or the dwellings, of the wilderness.
He here again gives an awful record of God’s judgments. Though the heat may burn up whole regions, yet we know that pasture-lands do not soon wither, especially on mountains; and of such cold pastures he speaks here. We know that however great may be the fertility of mountains, yet coolness prevails there, and that, in the greatest drought, the mountainous regions are ever green. But the Prophet tells us here of an unusual thing, that the dwellings of the wilderness were burnt up. Some render נאות naut pastures; others, dwellings: but as to the meaning, we may read either; for the Prophet refers here to cold and humid regions, which never want moisture in the greatest heats. Some render the word, the beautiful or fair spots of the wilderness, but improperly. He doubtless means pastures, or dwellings, or folds. The fire then has consumed the dwellings, or pastures of the wilderness. This was not usual; it did not happen according to the ordinary course of nature: it then follows that it was a miracle. This is the reason why the Prophet says, that it was now time to cry to God; for it did not appear to be fortuitous, that the heat had burnt up regions which were moist and well watered. The flame, he says hath burnt up all the trees of the field.
He afterwards adds The beasts of the field will also cry (for the verb is in the plural number;) the beasts then will cry. The Prophet expresses here more clearly what he had said before that though the brute animals were void of reasons they yet felt God’s judgment, so that they constrained men by their example to feel ashamed, for they cried to God: the beasts then of the field cry. He ascribes crying to them, as it is elsewhere ascribed to the young ravens. The young ravens, properly speaking, do not indeed call on God; and yet the Psalmist says so, and that, because they confess, by raising up their bills, that there is no supply for their want except God supports them. So also the Prophet mentions here the beasts as crying to God. It is indeed a figure of speech, called personification; for this could not be properly said of beasts. But when the beasts made a noise under the pressure of famine, was it not such a calling on God as their nature admitted? As much then as the nature of brute animals allows, they may be said to seek their food from the Lord, when they send forth lamentable cries and noises, and show that they are oppressed with famine and want. When, therefore, the Prophet attributes crying to beasts, he at the same time reproaches the Jews with their stupidity, that they did not call on God. “What do you mean,” he says. “See the brute animals; they show to you what ought to be done; it is at least a teaching that ought to have effect on you. If I and the other prophets have lost all our labor, if God has in vain performed the office of a teacher among you, let the very oxen at least be your teachers; to whom indeed it is a shame to be disciples, but it is a greater shame not to attend to what they teach you; for the oxen by their example lead you to God.”
We now perceive how much vehemence there is in the Prophet’s words, when he says, Even the beasts of the field will cry to God; for the streams of waters have dried up, and the fire has consumed the dwellings, or the pastures of the wilderness. He again teaches what I have lately stated, that sterility proceeded from the evident judgment of God, and that it ought to have struck dread into men, for it was a sort of miracle. When, therefore the courses of waters dried up on the mountains, how could it be deemed natural? אפיקים aphikim mean courses of waters or valleys through which the waters run. The Prophet here refers, no doubt, to those regions which, through the abundance of water, always retain their fertility. When, therefore, the very valleys were burnt up, they ought surely to own that something wonderful had happened. On this account, he ascribes crying to herds and brute animals, and not any sort of crying, but that by which they called on God. What remains we shall defer till to-morrow.