27 January 2020

Joel 1:1-10

“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.” (vs. .2-3)

Psalm: Psalm 121


We are told nothing about the prophet Joel except his father’s name (v. 1) and we have no references to the man or the events he describes in any other writings. Therefore we can only speculate as to when in the history of God’s people Joel delivered this message; fortunately this does not significantly affect its meaning and relevance.

Joel begins by calling on the elders and the general population to reflect on the unprecedented nature of what they are experiencing. And then we learn in verse 4 that the incident is a plague of locusts, described graphically in a way that suggests wave after wave of them descending on the land till every growing thing has been devoured.

From verse 5 (and continuing to verse 14) the prophet calls on various groups within society to mourn, though in reality he is largely describing the sorrow they are already expressing. He begins with those whose pleasures focus on alcohol, because the vines have been obliterated by the locusts and wine in those days was not laid down to mature, so the absence of new wine would be noticed perhaps even quicker than the shortage of food from grain, although the prophet will turn his attention to the farmers from verse 11.

Vines and fig trees, mentioned together in verse 7, often grew in the same fields and together were see as a sign of Israel’s God-given prosperity (eg 1 Kings 4:25, Micah 4:4).

Verse 8 is addressed to the whole nation, calling for solemn mourning, because apart from food shortages, there will be no grain or wine for the daily offerings, a theme which will be picked up in verse 11.

It will also become clear later in this chapter that, like all prophets, Joel sees God as the author of this calamity, as a judgement on the people’s failure to live in God’s ways.


To Ponder:

  •  In what senses, if any, is it right to believe God is sending us a message through natural disasters?
  • Quite often in Scripture, God’s people are instructed to tell their children about the good things God has done. In verse 3 the command is to pass down the generations the memory of this exceptional tragedy. How do you feel about the repeated marking of tragic events from history within public ceremonies and school curricula?
  • In what ways, if any, might this passage have resonance with today as Holocaust Memorial Day?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a retired Methodist minister living near Exeter, enjoying walking, gardening, and membership of a vegetable-growing co-op. He fulfils responsibilities for ministerial candidates, local preachers and worship leaders, and as a school governor. He has a particular interest in the natural world and its significance to faith, especially in the context of climate crisis. A former New Testament tutor at Cliff College, he has a passion for helping others use the Bible as our main way of knowing what God has to say to us in the world of today.

Share this