Harry Whittaker
The Time Of The End

8) The Locusts Of The Lord

Joel 1, 2

The greater part of the first fifty verses of the prophecy of Joel is taken up with an awe-inspiring prophecy of doom and of Israel’s ultimate rescue from disaster. The symbolism takes the form of a description, powerful and portentous, of a locust invasion. Some go so far as to say that nothing more than a plague of locusts is being described and that to see anything else in the prophecy is to go beyond what the language warrants. Not improbably the basis in the prophet’s own day may have been some national calamity of that character, but it is blameworthy carelessness to overlook such phrases as: “a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number” (1: 6); “spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them” (2: 17); “I will remove far off from you the northern army” (2: 20) — in the days when locusts used to make their inroads into Palestine they certainly did not come from the north!

A fair amount of Bible evidence can be assembled to support the conclusion that the original “locust” invasion described by Joel was the Assyrian invasion under Sennacherib. The verbal contacts with the early chapters of Isaiah and with the history of Hezekiah’s reign are very striking. Just as Isaiah so frequently ranges forward from the calamity and deliverance of his own days to the time of Messiah’s kingdom, so also, undoubtedly, does Joel. It is this latter aspect of the prophecy that now engages attention.


This mighty invasion is described as “the day of the Lord ... a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness ... there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it.” These words suggest — indeed, require — equation with Daniel’s “time of trouble such as never was,” and the Lord’s “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”1[6] “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.” In other words, it is “as it was in the days of Sodom,” for Sodom was “as the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13: 10), but it ended in a sea of flame.

The picture builds up through a long vivid paragraph (2: 4-11). This is an army countless in its numbers, remorseless and eager in its pressing forward for conquest, irresistible in its power. All attempts to withstand the unceasing pressure and to stem the onward rush are as futile as King Canute with the tide at his feet.

Mention of “the northern army” (v. 20) has led many to equate this prophecy with the Gog-Magog invasion, “from the uttermost parts of the north,” described in Ezekiel 38. But in chapter 18 hereof reasons are advanced for setting the fulfilment of that Scripture after the coming of the Lord, whereas this in Joel must necessarily be before his return. Also, if the figure of a locust army is to be given its due force, it must be remembered that locusts never come “from the uttermost part of the north” but (in Palestine) from the desert. With an obviousness, which almost shouts, the figure of locusts describes an Arab invasion. The interpretation, once popular, which takes Joel 2 as a description of immortal saints advancing remorselessly against the enemies of the Lord, is fairly clearly disallowed by Nahum 3: 15-17.


The northern invader of Ezekiel 38 goes into Israel because he sees something desirable to be appropriated — “to take a spoil and to take a prey” — but with these locusts “the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness.” Today every one knows that when the Arabs do overrun Israel, they will go in to smash and to destroy, for the sheer joy of doing this to the long-hated enemy. That which now blossoms as a rose they will turn into desert.

But if this prophecy describes Arab desolation of the Land, why is the attacker described as “the northern army” (v. 20)? Probably, it is suggested, because the inspiration and real strength of the attack is northern. The whole world knows that without Russian arms and technical skill, Russian
encouragement and Russian chess-playing subtlety, the Arabs could never mount a successful onslaught on Israel.

One result of the complete military defeat suffered by Israel will be a wave of utter despair and wretchedness through all the survivors of that time of horror. There will be no powerful friend to come to their aid. Britain, now bereft of all real influence in world affairs, will not dare to interfere. America will wish to do so, but will write off Israel as expendable in face of the risk of escalation to nuclear war.

In such dire circumstances Israeli survivors will be called upon to endure such horrors of implacable remorseless Arab savagery as will make them sigh for the comforts and kindnesses of Auschwitz and Belsen. The only thing, which might ameliorate the terrors of this time of trouble, will be the prayers of those with the Hope of Israel in their souls who intercede as Abraham did for Sodom. In the hearts of all

who read these words should be the earnest inclination to pray without ceasing that Jerusalem and its people may be at peace with their God. This is the real meaning of the words of Psalm 122.


Accordingly, in Joel 2 there follows a long-sustained appeal to Israel to manifest a repentance long overdue:

Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: 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. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him (Joel 2:12-14).

The moving five-fold appeal is matched by an even more moving five-fold reason emphasizing the graciousness of the God they have acknowledged with centuries-long indifference. This appeal is most probably the call to repentance to be made by the Elijah-prophet whom God has promised to raise up in the Last Days.[7] His name ( = “The Lord my God”) has its counterpart in Joel’s repeated: “Turn unto the Lord your God.”

Another detail of special interest comes in here. The call to repentance becomes peremptory: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly.” This is the language of the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement (the only God-appointed fast in the Jewish year: Leviticus 16: 31). Then can it be inferred that this appeal to call in the aid and forgiveness of God will be made at that time of the year — in other words, that the final defeat of Israel will take place in late September? In an earlier study of the prophetic periods of Daniel[8] it was pointed out that if, applying them literally, and not on the year-for-a-day principle, they are made to begin at the Feast of Trumpets, they conclude at Passover and Pentecost — the times of deliverance (Joel 2: 32) and of outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2: 28).


The heavenly response to this change of heart in the Chosen People will be immediate and drastic: “Then will the Lord be jealous for his land, and pity his people ... Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith (what connection here with the Third Seal?): and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.” Such language can only mean that this is the final desolation of the Land of Israel (compare the even more emphatic language of Ezekiel 36: 12-15). “And my people shall never be ashamed” (Joel 2: 27).

The divine intervention is even more drastic against Israel’s enemy: “I will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the eastern sea (the Dead Sea), and his hinder part toward the western sea (the Mediterranean).” This intimates, as plainly as anything can, a flight of invaders from Jerusalem, the city newly wrested from Jews who themselves proudly celebrated in June 1967 that Jerusalem was nevermore to be “trodden down of the Gentiles” (an irony of history, this, which has deceived many a Christadelphian also).

The prophet does not indicate what will bring about this rout of a triumphant enemy, but the most obvious explanation available is: the manifestation of the Shekinah Glory of God in His Messiah, suddenly appearing at Jerusalem. Zechariah 14: 1-4 explains: All nations (round about) are gathered against Jerusalem, the city is taken, then the Lord goes forth, his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives — “and the earth shines with his glory” (Ezekiel 43: 2). It will be the Glory of God, more than the earthquakes, which will rid Jerusalem of its enemies.


However, it is not to be assumed that this great deliverance will take place as soon as Jerusalem comes under the heel of the invader. The mission of Elijah is significantly mentioned as being three and a half years (Luke 4:25; James 5: 17; but where in the O.T.?). During that period, “I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars (literally: palm trees) of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.”

Here, by any scheme of interpretation, is a picture of drastic dramatic happenings to terrify the hearts of the bravest. Of course the words cannot be taken literally, but it seems not at all unlikely that they describe some mysterious phenomena in that time of chaos. The symbolism of Bible prophecy has a marvellous knack of taking on something approaching literal fulfilment as well. These, then, are the “fearful sights and great signs from heaven” which Jesus spoke about along with “wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes” on a scale never known before. That phrase “palm trees of smoke” is especially ominous, for who can read it without conjuring up in the mind the grim picture of a radioactive mushroom cloud filling the sky? And since, in Scripture, palm trees appear to have symbolic association with Gentiles, there is perhaps added reason here for regarding this section of the prophecy as a description of God’s retribution on the Gentiles also.

The repentance of Israel will bring immediately the lifting up of God’s countenance upon them: “I will pour out of 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.” In the Law of Moses it was specifically prohibited that “upon man’s flesh (i.e. a layman, one not consecrated to the priesthood) shall the holy anointing oil not be poured” (Exodus 30:32). But now such distinction will be swept away when Israel at last begins to fulfil its true destiny by becoming “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19: 6). This will also be the fulfilment of the great Elijah prophecy in Malachi 4. The hearts of the fathers shall become as little children, and the hearts of the children shall be changed to be like that of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (an impressive contrast with Isaiah 3: 5).

This “calling on the name of the Lord” will bring spiritual and physical deliverance, “for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be those that escape, as the Lord hath said (when Joel wrote, it already stood written in Isaiah 4:3), and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.”

[6] Comparison of Joel 2:2 with Exodus 10:14 provides another clear proof that Joel is not describing literal locusts.
[7] It is a serious error, surely, to apply Malachi 4 to the conversion of the Gentiles. Every phrase in the context shouts for application to Israel. And John the Baptist the prototype of this Elijah-prophet, certainly preached to none but Jews, Edomite Herod being the dishonourable exception.
[8] “The Last Days” chapter 6.

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