Rev. Fr. (Dr) Anthony Mario Ozele, PhD
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten – the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarms my great army that I sent among you” (Joel 2:25).
Not much is known about the Prophet Joel; and no one is even sure exactly when his prophecy was written. The traditional date is around 835 BC when Queen Athaliah was deposed and the 12 year old Joash was set on the throne. But no one is sure. And to add to that, I don’t think many of us are familiar with the prophecy of Joel.
But it is an important book. The apostle Peter famously refers to the prophecy of Joel to speak of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21; cf. Joel 2:28-32). The apostle Paul quotes from it to remind us that “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10: 13; cf Joel 2:32). And rather significantly, the Lord Jesus himself employs the metaphors found in this book when he speaks of the Day of the LORD (Mk 13:24; Luke 21:25; cf. Joel 2:10, 31).
This book may be roughly divided into 2 parts. Chapter 1 is about the Day of Locusts. This refers to a devastating plague of locust which swept across the land Joel would have the people know that this Day of Locust is a harbinger of the Great Day of the LORD. Chapters 2 and 3 are about the coming Day of the LORD.
This book calls upon God’s people to awake out of complacency and to live with a view of the coming Great Day of the LORD. That day will come with terror for the unrepentant; but it will be a day of great blessing for the righteous and faithful. This book shows us that the judgement and blessings of God are being revealed throughout the history of His Church in what may be known as days of Locust and the restoration following. But all these are but foreshadows of the Great Day of the LORD. And they should cause us to look forward to that Day. They are God’s appointed means to help us to live with judgement and eternity in view.
With such a challenging theme. It is not surprising that this book is filled with promises, some of them with deep theological significance. But I want to consider a promise which I believe will be comforting for those of us who have experienced what may be called days of locust, I am referring to Joel 2:25.
Let’s meditate on this promise under 3 heads. First, what are days of locust? Secondly, when will the Lord restore the years which the locust has eaten? Thirdly, how will the LORD restore the years which the locust has eaten?
1. What Are Days of Locust
The Day of Locust during Joel’s days is described in chapter 1 of the prophecy. In verse 4 (KJV) we read – “That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten.” Scholar have debated over the four Hebrew words rendered ‘palmerworm’, ‘locust’, ‘cankerworm’. Some think that they refer to different stages of development of the locust. Others think that they refer to different kinds of locust. The Hebrew language has 9 different words of locust. Does this not show us how familiar the people were with locust plagues? Locust plagues were quite common occurrences in the Near and middle Eastern lands.
We cannot imagine the scale of the locust invasion in the day of Joel. But one thing is sure, the land was invaded with wave after wave of locusts. So terrible was the destruction that a drought and famine ensued (v. 16 -20). When the vegetation is destroyed completely, not only do the animals have nothing to eat, but the water cycle is disrupted as the sun beats mercilessly upon the barren soil. It was as if the whole land had been razed by a terrible fire (v. 20). Indeed, even the crunching sound that the locusts make as they devour the land sounds like the crackling of fire. The effects of a locust plague can sometimes be worse than that of a forest fire.
But this destruction was but a harbinger of even worse calamity to come in the Day of the LORD. Verse 15 – “Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty”. The Dayof Locust is not the great day of the LORD. But it pointed to the great Day of the LORD to come. The destruction that came upon Judah was a harbinger of the judgement that will come upon the whole at the Great Day of the LORD. Nevertheless, it was a terrible devastation that resulted in great losses, massive despair and, no doubt, much sorrow and tears.
But let us remember one thing: The Locusts were sent by the LORD. Look at the last phrase of our text: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten- the great locust and the young locust, the other locust swarm’ my great army that I sent among you” It is clear that the Day of Locusts was not accidental or simply a result of the confluence of certain weather pattern and crop cycles. No, no; these days are appointed by the Lord for a purpose.
Now, there are no locust plagues in Nigeria. Some of us may not even know how a locust looks like. But let us understand that days of Locust plague produced on the church of old, – namely: the sense of loss, disappointment, discouragement and sorrow.
What may these be? For a nation, it can be a time of war; or natural disaster; or political chaos. For a church, it can be a time of spiritual drought characterized by shrinking membership and problems of disunity. For a family, it can be, years as it were, wasted because of quarrels and teenage delinquency. For an individual, it could be long illness, or a wilderness experience, of aimlessness and frustration. Whatever it may be, know that in all likelihood, the Lord sent these days of locust as part of His chastisement to mould you and prepare you for your eternal home.
Beloved, have you experienced such days? Or do you feel that you are actually going through such a time?
- Have you made wrong decisions, which you regretted?
- Have you committed a sin, which continues to haunt you today?
- Have you rushed into a relationship and marriage only to be disappointed too late?
- Have you entered into a business venture only to realize too late that it will destroy your life?
- Have you taken up a job only to regret your decision to move into it?
- Do you feel you have wasted your life away because of your sin, and carelessness?
Thank God that there is hope! “I will repay you for the years the locusts have been eaten” says the Lord. This is God’s promise. He will make up for your lost time and opportunities. But . . . .
2. When Will the LORD Restore the Years?
The answer is not found in our text itself, but it is clearly indicated in the context. You see, our text is really a summary of what the Lord promises to do for the people when they humble themselves and repent of their sin.
Consider Joel 2:12 and 13 – “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning . Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity”.
Therefore beloved, understand that while the LORD has promised restoration, you will not automatically receive His restoration. Rather, you will only receive restoration when you have understood the purpose of the Lord sending locust into your life and by his grace repent of your sin, whatever sin it may be. Is it pride and complacency in your heart that the Lord is seeking to deal with? Is it stiff-neckness and backsliding? Is it prayerlessness and worldliness? Is it covetousness and idolatry or discontentment?
The Holy Spirit speaks to us through His word spoken or brought to remembrance. So you must not neglect the means of grace. But you must pray that the Holy Spirit will work in your heart to mould you so that more and more you will die unto sin and more and more you live unto righteousness. This is why we must pray regularly that the Spirit of the Lord will work in our hearts so that the Word preached may be effectual unto our salvation and joy.
Repentance opens the key to the Lord’s promise to restore the years that the locust hast eaten. But it is the Holy Spirit who gives us repentance – usually in answer to prayer. But…