Read Joel 1:1-12. What is happening to the land of Judah?
The prophet, who lived in an agricultural society, calls upon the farmers to be dismayed at the loss of their grain and fruit harvests. The ecological destruction could cripple the nation’s economy for years. In addition to the loss of food, shade, and wood, there is a threat of topsoil erosion. Some fruit trees in Palestine take 20 years to grow before they become productive. In fact, agricultural devastation and deforestation were typical tactics of invading armies seeking to punish those they conquered by making impossible any prospect of a short-term recovery.
Read Deuteronomy 28:38. How does that help us to understand what is happening to Judah?
Joel uses four different terms for the locusts (Joel 1:4) in order to express the intensity and the totality of the plague. The destruction caused by the locusts was made even worse by drought. All of the crops that the farmers had expected have withered, and the farmers despair because they have nothing to eat or sell; they do not even have seed for replanting. A calamity of such proportions was unheard of by their ancestors and was something to tell future generations about. The fact that a similar disaster had never happened before heightens the importance of the situation.
The prophet also announces the destruction of the dietary staples in the land of Israel, such as grapes, grain and oil (Deut. 14:23, 18:4). Wheat and barley are the most important grains in Palestine. Vines and fig trees in the Bible symbolize peaceful living with abundance of God’s blessings in the Promised Land (1 Kings 4:25, Mic. 4:4, Zech. 3:10). The idyllic image of peace and prosperity is to be able to sit under one’s own vine and fig tree. All this now is threatened by divine judgment brought about because of their sins.
Harvest was a time of rejoicing (Ps. 4:7, Isa. 9:3). Although the land in Israel was a gift from the Lord, it still belonged to God. Israel was expected to be a faithful steward of the land. Above all, the people were expected to worship and obey God, because He was the One who had given them the land in the first place.