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Why did God use a locust swarm to punish Israel (Joel 1:4)?

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Question: "Why did God use a locust swarm to punish Israel (Joel 1:4)?"

A locust swarm has the potential to devastate all vegetation in its path and can cause economic disaster in a region. Ancient Israel was predominantly an agricultural society. As such, threats to the nation’s crops were one of the main concerns of its citizens. At times, God used a locust swarm as a judgment to call Israel to repent of their sins (Joel 1:4).

The following verses detail the extent of this locust swarm in Joel’s time:

– Loss of grapes for making wine: “The sweet wine . . . 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).

As a result of the locust swarm, every major food source except meat and seafood had been destroyed for the year. The prophet 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 invading locust swarm was a fulfillment of prophecy. Moses had warned Israel of the results of disobedience in Deuteronomy 28:37–38: “You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule . . . . You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it.”

While tragedies such as a locust swarm 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.

Recommended Resource: Holman Old Testament Commentary: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah by Trent Butler

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Related Topics:

Is Joel 1:4 referring to literal locusts? When was this prophecy fulfilled?

How does God restore the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25)?

What is the valley of decision (Joel 3:14)?

What does it mean that God will pour out His Spirit on all people (Joel 2:28)?

Will the sun really be turned to darkness and the moon to blood (Joel 2:31)?

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Why did God use a locust swarm to punish Israel (Joel 1:4)?

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