Question: "Why did God use a locust swarm to punish Israel (Joel 1:4)?"
Answer: Ancient Israel was predominantly an agricultural society. As such, threats to the nation’s crops were one of the main concerns of its citizens. God used an invasion of locusts as a judgment to call Israel to repent of their sins (Joel 1:4).
The following verses detail the extent of this locust invasion:
-Loss of grapes for making wine: “The sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth” (Joel 1:5).
-Destruction of figs: “It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree” (Joel 1:7).
-No grain or wine for offerings at the temple: “The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the LORD” (Joel 1:9).
-Destruction of grain, which would result in no bread: “The fields are destroyed, the ground mourns, because the grain is destroyed” (Joel 1:10).
-Destruction of wheat and barley: “The wheat and the barley . . . has perished” (Joel 1:11).
-Loss of the fruit from trees: “Pomegranate, palm, and apple, all the trees of the field are dried up” (Joel 1:12).
-Loss of olives: “The oil languishes” (Joel 1:13).
-No food for the livestock (Joel 1:18).
Every major food source except meat and seafood had been destroyed for the year. As a result, Joel called the priests to repent (Joel 1:13) and urged them to call the people to fast and pray (Joel 1:14).
Insightful readers, especially the priests addressed in Joel 1:13, would have been aware that the invasion of locusts was a fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 28:36-38: “The LORD will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the LORD will lead you away. You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it.”
While such tragedies are not always a sign of God’s judgment on a community, Joel said that, in Israel’s case, the invasion of locusts was a call for God’s people to repent in fasting and sackcloth.
Still today, when tragedy strikes, it can be a reminder to turn to God. God can use tragedies and the loss of material things to cause people to seek Him.