The Book of Joel
The Locust Invasion – The Call to Lament
As Winston Churchill was working to form the United Nations after WWII, he famously
said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Churchill was correct. A crisis is a terrible thing
to waste, and God doesn’t waste any of them. Today we begin a five-part series on the book
of Joel and if we can learn anything from this small prophetic book of the Old Testament it
is that God uses crisis to draw us closer to Him. The book of Joel gives divine instruction to
God’s people on how to respond righteously to a devastating locust infestation that had
gone on for several years. Even though locusts are common to that region of the world, it
seems that this particular plague of locust was more severe than anything anyone had ever
We know little about the Prophet Joel beyond the fact that he is the son of Pethuel and that
he preached to the people of Judah.
As I have shared in the past Old Testament prophecy has both particular significance for
the people of that day and prophetic significance for God’s people in the future. Joel’s
prophecy is special because we don’t know anything about the author, no kings are
mentioned, no sin is rebuked, and no historical information is given. Some have concluded
that the lack of information is divinely intentional so that God’s people throughout the ages
will apply the five biblical truths gleaned from this little book. This morning we will look at
the first lesson given in chapter one.
Hear now the Word of God. Joel chapter one verses one through twenty:
1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel: 2 Hear this, you elders; give ear, all
inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your
fathers? 3 Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to
another generation. 4 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. 5 Awake, you drunkards, and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of
wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth.
6 For a nation has come up against my land, powerful and beyond number; its teeth are lions’
teeth, and it has the fangs of a lioness. 7 It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree; it
has stripped off their bark and thrown it down; their branches are made white. 8 Cry like a
virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth. 9 The grain offering and the drink
offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord.
10 The fields are destroyed, the ground mourns, because the grain is destroyed, the wine dries
up, the oil languishes. 11 Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil; wail, O vinedressers, for the wheat
and the barley, because the harvest of the field has perished. 12 The vine dries up; the fig tree
languishes. Pomegranate, palm, and apple, all the trees of the field are dried up, and gladness
dries up from the children of man. 13 Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers
of the altar. Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God! Because grain offering
and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. 14 Consecrate 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. 15 Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as
destruction from the Almighty it comes. 16 Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and
gladness from the house of our God? 17 The seed shrivels under the clods; the storehouses are
desolate; the granaries are torn down because the grain has dried up. 18 How the beasts groan!
The herds of cattle are perplexed because there is no pasture for them; even the flocks of
sheep suffer. 19 To you, O Lord, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and
flame has burned all the trees of the field. 20 Even the beasts of the field pant for you because
the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
The Locust Invasion
The first chapter of Joel focuses on a locust invasion that had a devastating effect on the
land, the animals, and the people. The Word of the Lord came to Prophet Joel for all the
inhabitance of the land. Nothing like this locust invasion had ever happened before so the
Prophet asked the obvious question, “Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days
of your fathers?” (1.1-2) Sounds like what we have been going through the last couple of
years with the pandemic. Can you believe it? A worldwide pandemic only happens every
one-hundred years and it happened to us! Stories about COVID will be shared for
generations to come. You will tell the stories to your children, who will tell the stories to
their children, and their children will tell it to the next generation. (1.3) But for the people
in Joel’s day they will share their stories about a locust invasion that caused massive
destruction like never before.
In 1915 a devastating plague of locusts covered what is modern-day Israel and Syria. It was
recorded that the first swarms came in March, in clouds so thick they blocked out the sun.
The female locusts immediately began to lay eggs. Witnesses say that in one square yard,
which is small area like where I am standing, there were as many as 65,000 to 75,000 eggs.
And this was just one of the hatching areas. In a few weeks the eggs hatched. The young
locusts couldn’t fly yet so they got along by hopping. They marched 400 to 600 feet a day,
that’s up to two football fields per day, devouring every speck of vegetation along the way.
When the locust became adults, they could fly allowing the locust to consume the higher
Joel records, “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.” (1.4) The point is that the devastation went on and on and on. Some
believe that Joel isn’t identifying four types of locusts but rather he is indicating that the
ravaging had been going on for four years.
The Prophet’s describes the infestation of locust like an army marching through the land.
For a nation has come up against my land, powerful and beyond number; its teeth are lions’
teeth, and it has the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree; it
has stripped off their bark and thrown it down; their branches are made white. (1.6-7)
The fields are destroyed, the ground mourns, because the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up,
the oil languishes. (1.10) The vine dries up; the fig tree languishes. Pomegranate, palm, and
apple, all the trees of the field are dried up. (1.12b) The seed shrivels under the clods; the
storehouses are desolate; the granaries are torn down because the grain has dried up. (1.17)
The ground is so dry that a fire . . . devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has
burned all the trees of the field. (1.19) As a result, the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are
perplexed because there is no pasture for them; even the flocks of sheep suffer. (1.18)
Everyone was Affected
The locust caused a complete and utter devastation to the crops, the trees, and the land. In
the first part of the chapter Joel uses poetic language to describe four groups of people to
represent that everyone was affected, from drunkards to the priest, from a young bride to a
group of farmers. Everyone was affected. No one was exempt from the suffering.
The first group of people Joel identifies he refers to as drunkards. Awake, you drunkards,
and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from
your mouth. (1.5) These people are not necessarily alcoholics but rather people who enjoy
the finer things of life, like sweet wine, but now there is no wine to drink. The shelves at
Total Wine are empty and won’t be restocked. Not because there are no workers or that the
supply chain is broken it’s because there are no grapes. The low hanging vines were the
first to be eaten by the locust. If there were any alcoholics there was no reason for them to
go to an AA meeting because there wasn’t any wine to tempt them to drink. There was no
way to get drunk. This was immediate sobriety. This was divine detox.
The Prophet then shifts the image to young bride sitting at the altar waiting for her groom
but instead of wearing a beautifully embroider wedding dress she is wearing sackcloth, an
itchy and ugly burlap gown. The Prophet writes, “Cry like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the
bridegroom of her youth.” (1.8) The imagery of the despondent bride is used to illustrate
how the locust invasion had ruined everyone’s plans. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Weddings, vacations, anniversary celebrations, birthdays, and holidays were all canceled
because of an unforeseen invasion upon our lives.
It was not just the loss of enjoying the finer things of life, or having plans canceled, it was
the loss of the regular worship of God in His temple. The grain offering and the drink
offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord.
(1.9) There is no more grain, no more wine, no more oil for the priest to perform their
sacred duty of presenting offerings to the Lord. The grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the
oil languishes. (1.10b) Grain, wine, and oil were used by the priests in leading worship in
the temple and because these elements were not available the priests closed temple doors.
No more gathering for worship. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Just like the food had been cut
off from the people so gladness and joy had been cut off from the house of God. (1.16)
The last group Joel identifies as being affected by this horrible invasion were farmers, the
everyday workers. Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil; wail, O vinedressers, for the wheat and
the barley, because the harvest of the field has perished. (1.11) The reason the tillers of the
soil and the vinedressers are ashamed was because they knew everyone was counting on
them to produce a crop so that things could get back to normal. But it didn’t matter how
hard they tried the ground would not produce a crop. The seed for planting was shrivel and
the ground was dry, and the farmers felt ashamed.
Do you get the picture painted by the Prophet? Those who enjoyed the finer things of life
were now sitting at the wine bar with empty glasses. A young bride whose wedding was
canceled is sitting deponently at the altar. The ministers of the Lord had locked the doors of
the temple and were sitting at home. The farmers and vinedressers were feeling ashamed
and helpless. The Lord inspired the Prophet to use these images to reinforce that fact that
everyone was affected by this natural disaster. From the greatest to the least no one could
escape. And as a result, the last part of verse twelve tells us that gladness dried up from the
children of man. (1.12b) The people had lost hope. There was nothing to enjoy. Nothing to
look forward to. Nothing the thank God for. Nothing the eat or drink. Therefore, gladness
died up from the children of man.
The Call to Lament
I want you to see that locust invasion and the devastation it brought wasn’t the only thing
these people had in common. They all shared an emotional koinonia. Notice they all were
experiencing extreme sadness. The drunkards were weeping, the virgin was crying, the
priests were mourning, and the farmers were wailing. All their gladness had dried up.
So, the Lord issues a command to all the people in the first part of verse thirteen, “Put on
sackcloth and lament.” (1.13a) The Lord calls the people to change their sadness into godly
lament. Listen, there is nothing wrong with being sad. Jesus taught us, “Blessed are those
who mourn for they shall be comfort.” (Mt.5.4) Even Jesus wept. (Jn.11.35) But it when
sadness lingers on and on and on. What is a child of God to do? Lament! Lamenting is not a
gripe session to God. Lamenting is not emotional hysteria. Lamenting is not inconsolable
anguish. Lamenting is when we confess that we can’t explain why something is happening
or why something has happened, and we admit that we don’t have the strength, the
knowledge, or the ingenuity to find relief, so we fling ourselves onto God and God alone.
The Lord, knowing our fallen tendencies, has not left it to ourselves to compose our lament.
That would be a big mistake. The Lord has given us Psalms of Lament which comprise
about one third of the book of Psalms and the entire book of Lamentations. The great
Protestant Reformer Martin Luther treasured the psalms of lament. This is what he wrote,
“What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid the storm winds of
every kind? . . . Where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness
than in the psalms of lamentations? There again you look into the hearts of the saints, as
into death, as into hell itself . . . When they speak of fear and hope, they use such words that
no painter could depict for your fear and hope, and no Cicero or other orator has so
portrayed them. And that they speak these words of God with God, this I repeat, is the best
thing of all. This gives the words double earnestness and life.” Let me give a sample of what
Martin Luther was referring to.
1 Incline Your ear, O Lord, and answer me; For I am afflicted and needy.
2 Preserve my soul, for I am a godly man; O You my God, save Your servant who trusts in You.
3 Be gracious to me, O Lord, For to You I cry all day long.
4 Make glad the soul of Your servant, For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call
6 Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; And give heed to the voice of my supplications!
7 In the day of my trouble I shall call upon You, For You will answer me. (Ps.86.1-7)
1 My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of
2 O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest.
3 Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
4 In You our fathers trusted; They trusted and You delivered them.
5 To You they cried out and were delivered; In You they trusted and were not disappointed.
This is only a tiny morsel of what the Lord was calling the people in Joel’s day to do and a
short sample of what we should do when sadness goes on and on and on. The Lord is
calling them to turn their sadness into godly lament crying out to God by praying God’s
words back to Him. The Lord is calling all the inhabitance of the land to lament.
Brothers and sisters, godly lament is the pathway to praise. Godly lament is proof of our
covenant relationship to God. Godly lament is the path that leads to intimacy with God.
Godly lament is prayer for God to act on our behalf. Godly lament is a participation in the
pain of others.
The Lord’s call to lament in verses thirteen through fifteen is for all the people. No one is
13 Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar. Go in, pass the night in
sackcloth, O ministers of my God! Because grain offering and drink offering are withheld from
the house of your God. 14 Consecrate 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. 15 Alas
for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.
And I believe Joel is referring to the four groups he mentioned in the first part of the
chapter when he issues this call to lament reinforcing once again that the call is for all of
God’s people. For those focused on the finer things of life the Lord calls to put on sackcloth.
(1.13) For those who have been canceling special events the Lord calls them to gather in
the house of the Lord. (1.14c) For those shut the temple doors the Lord calls them to
proclaim a solemn assembly. (1.14b) For those who were ashamed by their lack of
production the Lord consecrates a fast removing their shame. (1.14a)
The point is that the Lord is calling all of us to lament and as we lament the Lord will
minister to our hearts in different ways from the drunkards to the priests, from the young
bride to the farmers. The first lesson we learn from the Prophet Joel is when devastating
events come upon our lives and sadness goes on and on and on, God’s people must turn
their sadness into godly lament and seek to Lord to speak to their hearts.
Brothers and sisters, godly lament is pleading with God to pay attention to our situation
and to act on our behalf. I don’t know what you might be going through but I do know that
as God’s children we can appeal to God’s character and covenant and plead for Him to act. A
crisis is a terrible thing to waste, and God doesn’t waste any of them but uses them to draw
us closer to Himself.
As God’s covenant people through the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ let us join the
weeping Prophet Jeremiah and declare, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not
consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your
faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore, I will wait for Him.’ The LORD
is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for
the salvation of the LORD” (Lam.3.22-26)