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The book of Joel begins with a lament. The prophet reflects on the recent devastation in Israel that led to unimaginable suffering.  

Joel 1:1-4The word of the LORD that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel: Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation. 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.


A review of chapter 1 reveals that this locust plague had resulted in. . .

  • Loss of wine and vineyards (vv. 5-7)
  • Famine in the land as all the crops are devastated (vv. 10-12, 17)
  • Widespread hunger as the people’s food is cut off (v. 16)
  • Inability to sacrifice because the grain and wine are gone (vv. 8-9, 13)
  • Death of livestock because they too have nothing to eat (vv. 18-20)
  • The devastation is so complete it looks like a wildfire has raged through the country (vv. 19-20)

But can locusts really cause that much devastation? One Bible teacher writes, “Swarming in their billions, [locusts] can blot out the sun, cover distances of several hundred miles in twenty-four hours and jump from one continent to another. Nothing can stop a swarm of locusts that can be several miles wide, interfere with land and air travel and devour an entire country’s food supply in a matter of hours. A massive plague of locusts can affect twenty per cent of the earth’s surface” (John Blanchard, Major Points from the Minor Prophets, 53).  

To make matters worse, this suffering didn’t just “happen.” Joel calls it “the day of the Lord.” He says that God is the One who sent the locusts.

To make matters worse, this suffering didn’t just “happen.” Joel calls it “the day of the Lord.” He says that God is the One who sent the locusts.  

Joel 1:16Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.  

Why? Is God just mean and petty? When the prophet Jeremiah lamented the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., he wrote this about God: “He does not afflict from His heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33).  

So what is God’s purpose in their pain? In Joel 1 you’ll find a host of commands given by the prophet to God’s people: “Hear this” (2),  “Tell your children” (3), “Awake” (5), “wail” (5), “Lament” (8), “Be ashamed” (11), “Put on sackcloth and lament” (13). One summary statement can be found in Joel 1:14, “Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.”  

Why do God’s people suffer? God uses suffering to get our attention. As C.S. Lewis writes, “Pain insists upon being attended to. . . . God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 91).