Joel – Chapter 1

A Plague of Locusts

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Who was the prophet Joel (Yoel)? According to the Midrash, he was the son of the prophet Samuel. (Samuel did indeed have a son by this name; see I Samuel 8:2 and I Chronicles 6:18.) This would make Joel from the Tribe of Levi. There was also a prominent Levite by that name during the reign of King Chizkiyahu (see II Chronicles 29:12), a time when some place the prophet Joel. Others place him during the reign of Yehoram, son of Ahab, king of Israel. Joel was a student of the prophet Micah and a contemporary of Nachum and Chavakuk (Habakkuk).

G-d spoke to Joel with the following message: He told the leaders and the people to listen up, because something unprecedented was about to happen. It would be something talked about for generations to come. What is it? A plague of locusts. There would be four species in this plague; what one swarm leaves over, the next will devour.

So, let the drunks snap out of their stupors because their supply is being cut off. A “nation” of locusts is coming, with teeth like those of lions. They will strip the land bare. Cry like a young widow over this calamity. The kohanim (priests) and Levites will mourn because of the lack of wine and grain for the Temple service. Farmers will lament the loss of their crops.

Joel says that they should proclaim a fast on which to cry out to G-d. The day is very near and it will arrive suddenly, from G-d. The cattle will be surprised by the sudden lack of pastures in which to graze. Even the sheep, which go places inaccessible to cattle, will waste away. Joel cries out to G-d because of the destruction. The animals will also cry out because of drought and fire.

The obvious question raised by this chapter is how the locust swarm of Joel is unprecedented when Exodus 10 says that the locust plague in Egypt was the swarm supreme. There are in fact two significant differences, making them very different phenomena indeed. First, the locusts in Egypt were of one species; Joel’s swarm was actually four species in waves. Additionally, the plague of locusts in Egypt lasted but a short, albeit unpleasant, period. The swarm in Joel’s time lasted four years.

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