Why should Joel be so forceful in his admonition to the people that they should never forget the story of the great locust plague and God's response to the laments and repentance of the people? People ask similar questions in our day when some "agitators" continue to talk about the Nazi holocaust, or the tragedy of the great depression, or the sacrifices of World War II, or the rejection of Vietnam soldiers, or the U.S. experience with race relations. Why keep ruminating about terrible things that happened in the past? Should we not be concentrating on the present and future rather than digging up the pain and sorrow of a past that cannot be changed? One can only imagine the response of young people to Joel's exhortation. If they are anything like the youth of today, they would probably think of history as boring and irrelevant.
The Bible says that the major source of information about who God is and how God relates to humanity is to look at events in history. When trouble comes, the immediate question that comes to mind is, "What is God's part in this? What is God trying to say?" Then the interpreters go to work to try to answer those questions. Joel saw the locust plague as a sign that God was punishing the people for their sins, though the sins are never listed as they are in many other prophetic books. Joel also believed that there is a chance that God will forgive and call off the terrors if the people genuinely repent and follow up with appropriate rituals.
The story of the locust plague in the book of Joel teaches a number of things about God and human sin. It is important to remember for its words of warning and promise. God is at work in the world. Sin is serious and its consequences can be severe. But God will respond to our pleas for help and our honest repentance to bring deliverance and hope. God will not leave the faithful forever in misery.
2 Hear this, O elders,
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your ancestors?
3 Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children another generation.
4 What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011