(Calvin, Commentary on Joel, Part 2)

Lecture Thirty-ninth. 
    "Hear this, ye old men; and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the 
land: has this been in your days, and in the days of your fathers? 
This declare to your children and your children to their children, 
and their children to the next generation: the residue of the locust 
has the chafer eaten, and the residue of the chafer has the 
cankerworm eaten, and the residue of the cankerworm has the 
caterpillar eaten." I have in the last Lecture already mentioned 
what I think of this passage of the Prophet. Some think that a 
future punishment is denounced; but the context sufficiently proves 
that they mistake and pervert the real meaning of the Prophet; for, 
on the contrary, he reproves here the hardness of the people, - that 
they fell not their plagues. And as men are not easily moved by 
God's judgments, the Prophet here declares that God had executed 
such a vengeance as could not be regarded otherwise than miraculous; 
as though he said, "God often punishes men, and it behaves them to 
be attentive as soon as he raises up his finger. But common 
punishments are wont to be unheeded; men soon forget those 
punishments to which they have been accustomed. God has, however, 
treated you in an unusual manner, having openly as it were put forth 
his hand from heaven, and brought on you punishments nothing less 
than miraculous. Ye must then be more than stupid, if ye perceive 
not that you are smitten by God's hand." This is the true meaning of 
the Prophet, and may be easily gathered from the words. 
    "Hear, ye old men", he says. He expressly addresses the old, 
because experience teaches men much; and the old, when they see any 
thing new or unusual, must know, that it is not according to the 
ordinary course of things. He who has past his fiftieth or sixtieth 
year, and sees something new happening which he had never thought 
of, doubtless acknowledges it as the unusual work of God. This is 
the reason why the Prophet directs here his discourse to the old; as 
though he said, "I will not terrify you about nothing; but let the 
old hear, who have been accustomed for many years to many 
revolutions; let them now answer me, whether in their whole life, 
which has been an age on the earth, have they seen any such thing." 
We now perceive the design of the Prophet; for he intended to awaken 
the Jews that they might understand that God had put forth his hand 
from heaven, and that it was impossible to ascribe what they had 
seen with their eyes to chance or to earthly causes, but that it was 
a miracle. And his object was to make the Jews at length ashamed of 
their folly in not having hitherto been attentive to God's 
punishments, and in having always flattered themselves, as though 
God slept in heaven, when yet he so violently thundered against 
them, and intended by an extraordinary course to move them, that 
they might at last perceive that they were summoned to judgment. 
    He afterwards adds, "And an ye inhabitants of the land". Had 
the Prophet addressed only the old, some might seize on some pretext 
for their ignorance; hence he addressed and from the least to the 
greatest; and this he did, that the young might not exempt 
themselves from blame in proceeding in their obstinacy and in thus 
mocking God, when he called them to repentance. "Hear, he says, all 
ye inhabitants of the land; has this been in your days or in the 
days of your fathers?" He says first, has such a thing been in your 
days, for doubtless what happens rarely deserves a greater 
consideration. It is indeed true that foolish men are blind to the 
daily works of God; as the favor of God in making his sun to rise 
daily is but little thought of by us. This happens through our 
ingratitude; but our ingratitude is doubled, and is much more base 
and less excusable, when the Lord works in an unwonted manner, and 
we yet with closed eves overlook what ought to be deemed a miracle. 
This dullness the Prophet now reproves, "Has such a thing," he says, 
"happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Ye can 
recall to mind what your fathers have told you. It is certain that 
for two ages no such thing has happened. Your torpidity then is 
extreme, since ye neglect this judgment of God, which from its very 
rareness ought to have awakened your minds." 
    He then adds, "Tell it to your children, your children to their 
children, their children to the next generation". In this verse the 
Prophet shows that the matter deserved to be remembered, and was not 
to be despised by posterity, even for many generations. It appears 
now quite clear that the Prophet threatens not what was to be, as 
some interpreters think; it would have been puerile: but, on the 
contrary, he expostulates here with the Jews, because they were so 
slothful and tardy in considering God's judgments; and especially as 
it was a remarkable instance, when God employed not usual means, but 
roused, and, as it were, terrified men by prodigies. Of this then 
tell: for "'aleyha" means no other thing than 'tell or declare this 
thing to your children;' and further, your children to their 
children. When any thing new happens, it may be, that we are at 
first moved with some wonder; but our feeling soon vanishes with the 
novelty, and we disregard what at first caused great astonishment. 
But the Prophet here showed, that such was the judgment of God of 
which he speaks, that it ought not to have been overlooked, no, not 
even by posterity. Let your children, he says, declare it to those 
after them, and their children to the fourth generation: it was to 
be always remembered. 
    He adds what that judgment was, - that the hope of food had for 
many years disappointed them. It often happened, we know, that 
locusts devoured the standing corn; and then the chafers and the 
palmer worms did the same: these were ordinary events. But when one 
devastation happened, and another followed, and there was no end; 
when there had been four barren years, suddenly produced by insects, 
which devoured the growth of the earth; - this was certainly 
unusual. Hence the Prophet says, that this could not have been 
chance; for God intended to show to the Jews some extraordinary 
portent, that even against their will they might observe his hand. 
When any thing trifling happens, if it be rare, it will strike the 
attention of men; for we often see that the world makes a great 
noise about frivolous things. "But this wonder," says the Prophet, 
"ought to have produced effect on you. What then will ye do, since 
ye are starving, and the causes are evident; for God has cursed your 
land, and brought these insects, which have consumed your food 
before your eyes. Since it is so, it is surely the time for you to 
repent; and you have been hitherto very regardless having overlooked 
God's judgments, which have been so remarkable and so memorable." 
Let us now proceed. 
Joel 1:5 
Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, 
because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth. 
    The Prophet adds this verse for the sake of amplifying; for 
when God sees men either contemptuously laughing at or disregarding 
his judgments, he derides them; and this mode the Prophet now 
adopts. 'Ye drunkards,' he says, 'awake, and weep and howl.' In 
these words he addresses, on the subject in hand, those who had 
willfully closed their eyes to judgments so manifest. The Jews had 
become torpid, and had covered themselves over as it were with 
hardness; it was then necessary to draw them forth as by force into 
the light. But the Prophet accosts the drunkards by name; and it is 
probable that this vice was then very common among the people. 
However that might be, the Prophet by mentioning this instance shows 
more convincingly, that there was no pretence for passing by things, 
and that the Jews could not excuse their indifference if they took 
no notice; for the very drunkards, who had degenerated from the 
state of men, did themselves feel the calamity, for the wine had 
been cut off from their mouth. And this expression of the Prophet, 
"Awake", ought to be noticed; for the drunkards, even while awake, 
are asleep, and also spend a great portion of time in sleep. The 
Prophet had this in view, that men, though not endued with great 
knowledge, but even void of common sense, could no longer flatter 
themselves; for the very drunkards, who had wholly suffocated their 
senses, and had become thus estranged in their minds, did yet 
perceive the judgment of God; though drowsiness held them bound, 
they were yet constrained to awake at such a manifest punishment. 
"What then does this ignorance mean, when ye see not that you are 
smitten by God's hand?" 
    To the same purpose are the words, "Weep and howl". Drunkards, 
on the contrary, give themselves up to mirth, and intemperately 
indulge themselves; and there is nothing more difficult than to make 
them to feel sorrow; for wine so infatuates their senses, that they 
continue to laugh in the greatest calamities. But the Prophet says, 
Weep and howl, ye drunkards! What then ought sober men to do? He 
then adds, "Cut off is the wine from your mouth". He says not, "The 
use of wine is taken away frown you;" but he says, "from your 
mouth". Though no one should think of vineyards or of winecellars or 
of cups, yet they shall be forced, willing or unwilling, to feel the 
judgment of God in their mouth and in their lips. This is what the 
Prophet means. We then see how much he aggravates what he had said 
before: and we must remember that his object was to strike shame 
into the people, who had become thus torpid with regard to God's 
judgments. As to the word "'asis", some render it new wine. "'asas" 
is to press; and hence "'asis" is properly the wine that is pressed 
in the wine-vat. New wine is not what is drawn out of the bottle, 
but what is pressed out as it were by force. But the Prophet, I have 
no doubt, includes here under one kind every sort of wine. Let us go 
Joel 1:6,7 
For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, 
whose teeth [are] the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth 
of a great lion. 
He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it 
clean bare, and cast [it] away; the branches thereof are made white. 
    Of what some think, that punishment, not yet inflicted, is 
denounced here on the people, I again repeat, I do not approve; but, 
on the contrary, the Prophet, according to my view, records another 
judgment of God, in order to show that God had not only in one way 
warned the Jews of their sins, that he might restore them to a right 
mind; but that he had tried all means to bring them to the right 
way, though they proved to have been irreclaimable. After having 
then spoke of the sterility of the fields and of other calamities, 
he now adds that the Jews had been visited with war. Surely famine 
ought to have touched them, especially when they saw that evils, 
succeeding evils, had happened for several years contrary to the 
usual course of things, so that they could not be imputed to chance. 
But when God brought war upon them, when they were already worn out 
with famine, must they not have been more than insane in mind, to 
have continued astonied at God's judgments and not to repent? Then 
the meaning of the Prophet is, that God had tried, by every means 
possible, to find out whether the Jews were healable, and had given 
them every opportunity to repent, but that they were wholly perverse 
and untamable. 
    Then he says, "Verily a nation came up". The particle "ki" is 
not to be taken as a causative, but only as explanatory, "Verily, or 
surely, he says, a nation came up"; though an inference also is not 
amiss, if it be drawn from the beginning of the verse: 'Hear, ye old 
men, and tell your children;' what shall we tell? even this, that a 
nation, &c. But in this form also "ki" would be exegetical, and the 
sense would be the same. This much as to the meaning of the passage. 
    "A nation, then, came up over my land". God here justly claims 
the land of Canaan as his own heritage, and does so designedly, that 
the Jews might more clearly know that he was angry with them; for 
their condition would not have been worse than that of other 
nations, had not God resolved to punish them for their sins. There 
is here then an implied comparison between Judea and other 
countries, as though the Prophet said, "How comes it, that your land 
is wasted by wars and many other calamities, while other countries 
are at rest? This land is no doubt sacred to God, for he has chosen 
it for himself, that he might rule in it; he has here his own 
habitation: it then must be that there is some cause for God's 
wrath, as your land is so miserably wasted, when other lands enjoy 
tranquillity." We now perceive what the Prophet means. A nation, he 
says, came up upon my land, and what then? God could surely have 
prevented this; he could have defended his own land, of which he was 
the keeper, and which was under his protection: how then had it 
happened that enemies with impunity inundated this land, having 
marched into it and utterly laid it waste, except that it had been 
forsaken by the Lord himself? 
    "A nation, he says, came up upon my land, strong and without 
number"; and further, "who had the teeth of a lion, the jaw-bones of 
a young lion". The nations had no strength which God could not in an 
instant have broken down, nor had he need of mighty auxiliaries, for 
he could by a nod only have reduced to nothing whatever men might 
have attempted: when, therefore, the Assyrians so impetuously 
assailed the Jews they were necessarily exposed to the wantonness of 
their enemies, for they were unworthy of being protected, as 
hitherto, by the hand of God. 
    He afterwards adds, that "his vine had been exposed to 
desolation and waste, his fig-tree to the stripping of the bark". 
God speaks not here of his own vine, as in some other places, in 
which he designates his Church by this term; but he calls everything 
on earth his own, as he calls the whole race of Abraham his 
children: and he thus reproaches the Jews for having reduced 
themselves to such wretchedness through their own fault; for they 
would have never been spoiled by their enemies, had not God, who was 
wont to defend then, previously rejected them; for there was nothing 
in their land which he did not claim as his own; as he had chosen 
the people, so he had consecrated the land to himself. Whatsoever, 
then, enlisted in Judea, was, as it were, sacred to God. Now when 
both the vines and the fig-trees were exposed to the depredations of 
the unbelieving, it was certain that God no longer ruled there. How 
so? Even because the Jews had expelled him. He afterwards enlarges 
on the same subject; for what follows, "By denuding he has denuded 
it and cast it away", is not a mere narrative; the Prophet here 
declares not simply what had taken place; but as we have already 
said, adduces more proof, and tries to awaken the drowsy senses of 
the people, yea, to arouse them from that lethargy by which the 
minds of all had been seized; hence it is that he uses in his 
teaching so many expressions. This is the reason why he says that 
the vine and the fig-tree had been denuded, and also that the leaves 
had been taken away, that the branches had been made bare and white; 
so that there remained neither produce nor growth. 
    Many interpreters join these three verses with the former, as 
if the Prophet now expressed what he had said before of the palmer 
worm, the chafer, and the locust; for they think that he spake 
allegorically when he said that all the fruits of the land had been 
consumed by the locusts and the chafers. They therefore add, that 
these locusts, or chafers, or the palmer worms, were the Assyrians, 
as well as the Persian and the Greeks, that is, Alexander of Macedon 
and the Romans: but this is wholly a strained views so that there is 
no need of a long argument; for any one may easily perceive that the 
Prophet mentions another kind of punishments that he might in every 
way render the Jews inexcusable who were not roused by judgments so 
multiplied, but remained still obstinate in their vices. Let us now 
Joel 1:8 
Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her 
    The Prophet now addresses the whole land. "Lament", he says; 
not in an ordinary way, but like a widow, whose husband is dead, 
whom she had married when young. The love, we know, of a young man 
towards a young woman, and so of a young woman towards a young man, 
is more tender than when a person in years marries an elderly woman. 
This is the reason that the Prophet here mentions the husband of her 
youth; he wished to set forth the heaviest lamentation, and hence he 
says "The Jews ought not surely to be otherwise affected by so many 
calamities, than a widow who has lost her husband while young, and 
not arrived at maturity, but in the flower of his age." As then such 
widows feel bitterly their loss, so the Prophet has adduced their 
    The Hebrews often call a husband "ba'al", because he is the 
lord of his wife and has her under his protection. Literally it is, 
"For the lord of her youth;" and hence it is, that they also called 
their idols "ba'alim", as though they were as we have often said in 
our comment on the Prophet Hosea, their patrons. 
    The sum of the whole is, That the Jews could not have continued 
in an unconcerned state, without being void of all reason and 
discernment; for they were forced, willing or unwilling, to feel a 
most grievous calamity. It is a monstrous thing, when a widow, 
losing her husband when yet young, refrains from mourning. Now then, 
since God had afflicted his land with so many evils, he wished to 
bring on them, as it were, the grief of widowhood. It follows - 
Joel 1:9 
The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house 
of the LORD; the priests, the LORD's ministers, mourn. 
    Here, in other words, the Prophet paints the calamity; for, as 
it has been said, we see how great is the slowness of men to discern 
God's judgments; and the Jews, we know, were not more attentive to 
them than we are now. It was, therefore, needful to prick them with 
various goads, as the Prophet now does, as though he said, "If ye 
are not now concerned for want of food, if ye consider not even what 
the very drunkards are constrained to feel, who perceive not the 
evil at a distance, but taste it in their lips - if all these things 
are of no account with you, do at least look on the temple of God, 
which is now destitute of its ordinary services; for through the 
sterility of your fields, through so great a scarcity, neither bread 
nor wine is offered. Since then ye see that the worship of God has 
ceased, how is it ye yourselves still remain? Why is it that ye 
perceive not that God's fury is kindled against you? For surely 
except God had been most grievously offended, he would at least have 
had some regard for his own worship; he would not have suffered his 
temple to remain without sacrifices." 
    The Jews, we know, daily poured their libations, and offered 
meat-offerings. When, therefore, Joel mentions "minchah" and 
libation, he doubtless meant to show that the worship of God was 
nearly abolished. But God would have never permitted such a thing, 
had he not been grievously offended by the sins of men. Hence the 
indifference, or rather the stupidity of the people, is more clearly 
proved, inasmuch as they perceived not the signs of God's wrath made 
evident even in the very temple. It follows - 
Joel 1:10 
The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the 
new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth. 
    The Prophet goes on here with the same subject, and uses these 
many words to give more effect to what he said; for he knew that he 
addressed the deaf, who, by long habit, had so hardened themselves 
that God could effect nothing, at least very little, by his word. 
This is the reason why the Prophet so earnestly presses a subject so 
evident. Should any one ask what need there was of so many 
expressions, as it seems to be a needless use of words; I do indeed 
allow that all that the Prophet wished to say might have been 
expressed in one sentence, as there is here nothing intricate: but 
it was not enough that what he said should be understood, except the 
Jews applied it to themselves, and perceived that they had to do 
with God; and to make this application they were not disposed. It is 
not then without reason that the Prophet labors here, and enforces 
the same thing in many words. 
    Hence he says, "The field is wasted, and the land mourns; for 
the corn has perished, for dried up has the wine, for destroyed has 
been the oil". And by these words he intimates that they seeing saw 
nothing; as though he said, "Let necessity extort mourning from you; 
ye are indeed starving, all complain of want, all deplore the need 
of bread and wine; and yet no one of you thinks whence this want is, 
that it is from the hand of God. Ye feel it in your mouth, ye feel 
it in your palate, ye feel it in your throat, ye feel it in your 
stomach; but ye feel it not in your heart." In short, the Prophet 
intimates that the Jews were void of right understanding; they 
indeed deplored their famine, but they were like brute beasts, who, 
when hungry, show signs of impatience. So the Jews mourned, because 
their stomach disquieted them; but they knew not that the cause of 
their want and famine was their sins. It afterwards follows - 
Joel 1:11 
Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl, O ye vinedressers, for the 
wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is 
    The Prophet says nothing new here, but only strengthens what he 
had said before, and is not wordy without reason; for he intends 
here not merely to teach, but also to produce an effect: And this is 
the design of heavenly teaching; for God not only wishes that what 
he says may be understood, but intends also to penetrate into our 
hearts: and the word of God, we know, consists not of doctrine only, 
but also of exhortations, and threatenings, and reproofs. This plan 
then the Prophet now pursues: "Ye husband men, he says, be ashamed, 
and ye vinedressers, howl; for perished has the harvest of the 
field". The sum of the whole is, that the Jews, as we have already 
said, could by no excuse cover their indifference; for their clamour 
was everywhere heard, their complaints everywhere resounded, that 
the land had become a waste, that they were themselves famished that 
they were afflicted with many calamities; and yet no one 
acknowledged that God, who visited them for their sins, was the 
author. But what remains I shall put off until to-morrow. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou invites us daily by various means 
to repentance, and continues also to urge us, because thou sees our 
extreme tardiness, - O grant that we may at length be awakened from 
our indifference, and suffer us not to be inebriated by the charms 
of Satan and the world; but by thy Spirit rouse us to real groaning, 
that, being ashamed of ourselves, we may flee to thy mercy, and 
doubt not but that thou wilt be propitious to us, provided with a 
sincere heart we call on thee, and seek that reconciliation which 
thou daily offerest to us by thy Gospel in the name of thy only 
begotten Son. Amen. 

Calvin, Commentary on Joel

(Continued in part 3...)

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