Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Blow ye 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 cometh, for it is nigh at hand;II.
(1) Blow ye the trumpet.—The preaching of the prophet increases in its intensity. Behind the locusts, exemplified by them, there is a still more terrible visitation. He sees on the horizon a mustering of the nations hostile to his people, bent on destroying them. Let the priests stir up the people for a fast, and for the defence of their land by the trumpet. The locusts have done their symbolical work, they have left their mark on the country. Now the day of Jehovah, the manifestation of His power, is approaching—it is imminent.
A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.(2) The morning spread upon the mountains.—The Hebrew word here used for morning is derived from a verb, Shachar, which has for one meaning “to be or become black,” for the second “to break forth” as light. From this latter signification is derived the word for morning—dawn; from the former comes the word “blackness,” which gives the name Sihor to the Nile (Isaiah 23:3). It seems accordingly more in harmony with the present context to take the sense of the word in its reference to blackness, and to understand it as indicating a thick, dark, rolling cloud settled upon the mountain top. The description following comprehends equally the natural and political locusts.
A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.(3) Before them . . . behind them.—As with the locusts, so with the invading hosts of enemies: the country is found a paradise, and left a desert.
The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run.(4) As the appearance of horses.—So also are locusts described in the Revelation: “And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle” (from this likeness the Italians call a locust cavalletta) . . . “and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots, of many horses running to battle” (Revelation 9:7; Revelation 9:9).
Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness.(6) All faces shall gather blackness.—There are different explanations of this Hebrew phrase, which expresses the result of terror. Some translate it “withdraw their ruddiness,” i.e., grow pale; others, “draw into themselves their colour;” others, “contract a livid character.” The alternative rendering in the margin, “pot,” which is that of the LXX., the Vulg., and of Luther’s translation, is obtained from the similarity of the Hebrew words for “ruddiness” and “pot.” The comparison is in this case between the faces growing black under the influence of fear, and of pots under the action of fire. The prophet Nahum uses the same expression (Joel 2:10).
They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks:(7-9) They shall run lite mighty men.—The onward irresistible march of the invaders is graphically described by the illustration of the advance of locusts. They appear on the mountains which environ the city, they mount the walls, they rush through the streets, they enter the houses, they are in possession of Jerusalem. Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book, p. 416) describes the movements of a locust army in the following terms:—“Their number was astounding; the whole face of the mountain was black with them. On they came, like a living deluge. We dug trenches, and kindled fires, and beat and burned to death heaps upon heaps; but the effort was utterly useless. Wave after wave rolled up the mountain-side, and poured over rocks, walls, ditches, hedges—those behind covering up and bridging over the masses already killed.”
The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining:(10) The earth shall quake before them.—Some commentators call this description “a specimen of the highly-wrought hyperbolical features of Hebrew poetry,” but it is the presence and judgment, the voice of the Lord in the thunder, which causes this trepidation. The signs in the heavens will be manifested at the judgment day.
And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?(11) His army.—“In every stage of their existence these locusts give a most impressive view of the power of God to punish a wicked world” (The Land and the Book, p. 417).
Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:(12) Saith the Lord.—The word saith is here no common word in the Hebrew. It implies an authoritative and most weighty utterance, as in Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said unto my Lord.” “The word is used in almost every instance of the immediate utterance of God Himself; more rarely of that of the prophet or inspired organ of the Divine revelations” (Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, vol. ii., p. 300).
Turn ye even to me.—The question, “Who can abide it?” is left unanswered. But the only possible reply is inferred in the touching appeal which the prophet is inspired by Jehovah to make, that His righteous anger may be averted.
And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.(13) Repenteth him of the evil—i.e., in the sense that of His own will He would not the death of a sinner. The judgments of God, like His mercies, are conditional. As the “Lord repented (i.e., grieved) that He had made Saul king over Israel,” and revoked the appointment, so now He repenteth Him of the evil which will fall on His people if impenitent. If they will repent, it may be He will do it not.
Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?(14) Even a meat offering.—The returning favour of the Lord will enable the daily sacrifices to be restored, which had failed through the visitation (Joel 1:9).
Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly:(15, 16) Sanctify a fast.—The prophet renews, therefore, his summons to the priests to proclaim a day of humiliation, on which all, without distinction of age or circumstances, are to be required to present themselves before the Lord. There was no room for the plea, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”
Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?(17) That the heathen should rule over them.—All mention of the locusts is dropped. The lesser calamity is swallowed up in the apprehension of the greater.
Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen:(19) I will no more make you.—The reply of the Lord is directed to remove the fear that by reason of the destruction of the fruits of the land the people would be at the mercy of the invading nations.
But I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things.(20) The northern army.—Literally, him of the north. “This is an exception to the usual direction of the flight of locusts” (Stanley, Jewish Church), but it may be literally applied to the Assyrian hordes, whom the Jews generally spoke of as dwelling in the north. In Jeremiah 1:13 the symbolical caldron is represented as pouring its contents (the Chaldæan army) southwards from the face of the north. And even though the wind might be conceived as capriciously blowing the locusts from the north, yet the addition of the patronymic syllable to the Hebrew word indicates a native of the north, which excludes a reference to locusts. Under the image of the destruction of the locusts, the prophet points to the deliverance from the northern invaders.
The east sea is the Dead Sea; the utmost or hinder sea is the Mediterranean; the desolate land is the southern desert. The northern invader shall be expelled all along the coasts of Palestine. His stink shall come up. In the eighth plague of Egypt, when on the repentance of Pharaoh the locusts were removed, they were cast into the Red Sea, and there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt (Exodus 10:19). In the present instance there is the result stated in the case of the decomposition of the bodies of the locusts left on the land: the air was infected with a horrible pestilence. There are various allusions to this terrible result of their putrefaction in the writers who describe the horrors of a plague of locusts. St. Jerome tells of the awful sufferings inflicted on man and beast through this cause; and St. Augustine (De Civitate Dei, iii. 31) relates that eight hundred thousand men perished from this reason in the kingdom of Masinissa alone, besides many more near the coast. Thus Joel declares the complete destruction of the enemies of Israel, who having completed the purpose of vengeance for which they were summoned, and, like the Assyrians under the walls of Jerusalem, having exalted themselves against the Lord, perish miserably under the stroke of His power.
Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things.(21) Fear not, O land . . .—The sentence of the reversal of judgment has gone forth, and all nature—animate and inanimate, rational and irrational—which had been included in the curse is summoned to rejoice in the blessing vouchsafed by the Lord.
Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month.(23) Ye children of Zion—i.e., they were called upon to manifest their rejoicings in the place where the trumpet had been sounded for the proclamation of the fast.
The former rain moderately.—St. Paul adduces the gift of the rain as a witness to the people of Lystra of the existence and beneficence of God, who “gave us rain from heaven, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” The possibility of the interpretation of “the former rain moderately” out of the Hebrew words by a “teacher of righteousness,” as in the Vulg. and in our margin, has led to the connection of this passage with a prophetic intimation of the advent of the Messiah.
In the first month.—Better, as at first, as before.
And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.(25) I will restore to you the years—i.e., the years which would have been necessary in the ordinary course of nature for the land to recover from the ravages of the “great army.”
And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.(27) I am in the midst of Israel.—This Divine assurance, similar to that with which the book ends, prepares the way for the spiritual blessings about to be announced.
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:(28) I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.—Holy Scripture is itself the interpreter of this most weighty promise. St. Peter’s quotation and application of it in the Acts is its commentary. “Afterward “—LXX., after these things becomes in the apostle’s mouth—“in the last days”—i.e., in the Christian dispensation, when, after the punishment of the Jews by the heathen, their king came—“my Spirit”—St. Peter renders “of my spirit,” after the LXX., indicating the gifts and influences of the Holy Ghost—“upon all flesh”—i.e., without distinction of race or person—“they of the circumcision were astonished because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The outward manifestation of these gifts, as shown on the Day of Pentecost, in accordance with this prediction, was gradually withdrawn from the Church; the reality remains.
And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.(29) And also (better, even) upon the servants. . . .—The result of which promise, according to St. Peter’s interpretation, is “They shall prophesy.” “The promise is to you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39).
And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.(30, 31) The sun . . . and the moon.—These words, recalling some of the portents in the ancient history of the Jews (especially as instanced in some of the plagues of Egypt) are taken up by our Lord Himself, as ushering in the great day of judgment; and they are echoed again by St. John in the vision of the opening of the sixth seal: “For the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” (Comp. Joel 2:11 of this chapter.) The sun and moon, &c., may include the luminaries in heaven and the potentates on earth.
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.(32) Deliverance.—Or, perhaps better, those that escape. St. Paul quotes from this verse (Romans 10:13), transferring the reference to the Messianic advent, to prove the universality of the deliverance effected by our Lord, who abolished the difference between Jew and Greek. In His Church, the heavenly Jerusalem, freed from the persecutions and defilements of the world, there is salvation for all who call upon the name of the Lord, their names are inscribed upon the roll as citizens of Zion.