The vine dries up
And the fig tree fails;
The pomegranate, the palm also, and the apple tree,
All the trees of the field dry up.
Indeed, rejoicing dries up
From the sons of men. (Joel 1:12)
What’s eating you? What is devouring your substance, destroying your soul, and sucking the juice right out of you? If we could identify what consumes us, we might be able to identify with the plight of the people in the Book of Joel.
We live in a consumer culture. We consume for a living. We consume at a rate that is both astonishing and alarming. But we are also afflicted by consumers. We are under attack from the locusts of life.
The vivid imagery of Joel’s prophecy allows the reader to both see and hear the locusts in their destructive advance. What is left behind is destroyed, consumed, and stripped bare. The basic toolsfor living and rejoicing, grain and wine, have been devoured.
Joel presents a story in which God is able both to take away the basic blessings of life, and he is able to pour them out again in abundance. Blessing does not depend upon excellent agricultural practices, at least immediately. This does not excuse sloppiness or laziness on the part of the farmer. But blessing depends primarily upon God. God controls the weather, and commands the locusts. It all has to do with God. And God responds somewhat predictably. When the people do evil, God sends evil. When the people do good, God sends good. We don’t know why God waits to send evil until he does, or if he will ever relent and send good again. But we find a basic pattern.
It is interesting that the people are called to come together several times in the prophecy. But they do not come together to make a plan to deal with the locusts. They come and say, “What are we going to do about God?” It’s not the system, and the players in the system, that must be addressed. Our problem with God must be addressed. We are led into repentance.
Why does God act this way? Why does he send the pestilence that disrupts our worship and upsets our family life, that brings our employment to a standstill and removes gladness and pleasure from experience? Because God knows that we are consumers, and if he withholds (1:13) from us the goods of our consumption, then we will have to pause and look up. And if his people will not be consumed with their God, then they will surely not consume his blessing.
What Israel experienced agriculturally, affecting every other aspect of their life, we experience spiritually, affecting every other aspect of our lives. We tend, however, to portray our afflictions psychologically instead of spiritually. For instance, we feel “burned out” rather than “burned up” (Joel 1:19). But because of being trained toward therapy, we want advice in adjusting ourselves toward ourselves. But if we would understand these concepts spiritually, then we would know that what we need is not adjustment toward self, but adjustment toward God. The text gives clear advice on how to do this, but that is for another time.