“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Joel 2:12 (NIV).
When I was a boy in South Africa I was caught in a plague of locusts. It was simultaneously horrifying and awesome. In the distance the swarm looked like a black cloud. As they approached, the distinction between the sky and land was gradually blurred out. Before they arrived they sounded like the sea heard at a distance. When they landed, the whirr of their wings was like the roar of a gigantic dynamo revolving at high speed.
The farmers and labourers did everything in their power to stop the locusts landing. They ran around the fields yelling and crashing steel pots together, hoping that the noise would scare them away. But it was all to no avail. Before long there were 10-20 locusts on every stalk of grass and in less than a minute it was completely consumed. Within 5-10 minutes, as the locusts rose into the air to continue their advance, there was no vegetation for as far as I could see. The look of grief and utter defeat on the faces of the farmers is still etched in my mind.
The prophet Joel’s description of an army of locusts in Joel 2:1-11 opens and closes with a warning about the coming “day of the Lord” (Joel 2:1, 11). This inclusio (a literary device known as bracketing which consists of creating a frame by placing similar material at the beginning and end of a section) is used to stress the gravity of the situation and prompt the reader/listener to take action.
True prophets demonstrate both insight and foresight. Their words both foretell and tell forth. They not only predict the future, they also reveal God’s will for the present. Joel sounded the trumpet in his day because he saw how the “day of the Lord” had come in the form of a locust plague to punish the sins of the Israelites. He also saw how the “day of the Lord” is yet to come when everyone who persists in sinning will have to face the consequences of their rebellion (Matthew 7:21-29).
Do you hear the alarm?