on Joel 2 :2
A day of darkness, etc - The depredations of the locusts are described from the second to the eleventh verse, and their destruction in the twentieth. Dr. Shaw, who saw locusts in Barbary in 1724 and 1725, thus describes them: -
"I never observed the mantes, bald locusts, to be gregarious. But the locusts, properly so called, which are so frequently mentioned by sacred as well as profane writers, are sometimes so beyond expression. Those which I saw in 1724 and 1725 were much bigger than our common grasshopper; and had brown spotted wings, with legs and bodies of a bright yellow. Their first appearance was toward the latter end of March, the wind having been for some time south. In the middle of April their numbers were so vastly increased that, in the heat of the day, they formed themselves into large and numerous swarms; flew in the air like a succession of clouds; and, as the prophet Joel expresses it, (Joel 2:10) they darkened the sun. When the wind blew briskly, so that these swarms were crowded by others, or thrown one upon another, we had a lively idea of that comparison of the psalmist, (Psalm 109:23), of being 'tossed up and down as the locust.' In the month of May, when the ovaries of those insects were ripe and turgid, each of these swarms began gradually to disappear; and retired into the Mettijiah, and other adjacent plains, where they deposited their eggs. These were no sooner hatched in June, than each of these broods collected itself into a compact body of a furlong or more in square; and, marching immediately forward in the direction of the sea, they let nothing escape them; eating up every thing that was green and juicy, not only the lesser kinds of vegetables, but the vine likewise; the fig tree, the pomegranate, the palm, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, Joel 1:12; in doing which they kept their ranks like men of war; climbing over, as they advanced, every tree or wall that was in their way. Nay, they entered into our very houses and bedchambers, like so many thieves. The inhabitants, to stop their progress, made a variety of pits and trenches all over their fields and gardens, which they filled with water; or else they heaped up in them heath, stubble, and such like combustible matter, which were severally set on fire upon the approach of the locusts. But this was all to no purpose, for the trenches were quickly filled up, and the fires extinguished, by infinite swarms succeeding one another; while the front was regardless of danger, and the rear pressed on so close, that a retreat was altogether impossible. A day or two after one of these broods was in motion, others were already hatched to march and glean after them; gnawing off the very bark, and the young branches, of such trees as had before escaped with the loss only of their fruit and foliage. So justly have they been compared by the prophet Joel (Joel 2:3) to a great army; who further observes, that 'the land is as the garden of Eden before them and behind them a desolate wilderness.'
"Having lived near a month in this manner (like a μυριοστομον ξιφος, or sword with ten thousand edges, to which they have been compared), upon the ruin and destruction of every vegetable substance which came in their way, they arrived at their full growth, and threw old their nympha state by casting their outward skin. To prepare themselves for this change, they clung by their hinder feet to some bush, twig, or corner of a stone; and immediately, by using an undulating motion, their heads would first break out, and then the rest of their bodies. The whole transformation was performed in seven or eight minutes, after which they lay for a short time in a torpid and seemingly languishing condition; but as soon ad the sun and air had hardened their wings, by drying up the moisture which remained upon them, after casting their sloughs, they reassumed their former voracity, with an addition both of strength and agility. Yet they did not continue long in this state before they were entirely dispersed, as their parents were before, after they had laid their eggs; and as the direction of the marches and flights of them both was always to the northward, and not having strength, as they have sometimes had, to reach the opposite shores of Italy France, or Spain, it is probable they perished in the sea, a grave which, according to these people, they have in common with other winged creatures." - Travels, 4to. edition pp. 187, 188.
A day of darkness - They sometimes obscure the sun. And Thuanus observes of an immense crowd, that "they darkened the sun at mid-day."
As the morning spread upon the mountains - They appeared suddenly: as the sun, in rising behind the mountains, shoots his rays over them. Adanson, in his voyage to Senegal, says: "Suddenly there came over our heads a thick cloud which darkened the air, and deprived us or the rays of the sun. We soon found that it was owing to a cloud of locusts." Some clouds of them are said to have darkened the sun for a mile, and others for the space of twelve miles! See the note on Joel 2:10 (note).
on Joel 2 :2
A day of darkness and of gloominess - o: "A day full of miseries; wherefore he accumulates so many names of terrors. There was inner darkness in the heart, and the darkness of tribulation without. They hid themselves in dark places. There was the cloud between God and them; so that they were not protected nor heard by Him, of which Jeremiah saith, "Thou hast covered Thyself with a cloud, that our prayers should not pass through" Lamentations 3:44. There was the whirlwind of tempest within and without, taking away all rest, tranquility and peace. Whence Jeremiah hath, "A whirlwind of the Lord is gone forth injury, it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the Lord shall not return, until He have executed it" Jeremiah 23:19. "The Day of the Lord too shall come as a thief in the night" 1 Thessalonians 5:2. "Clouds and darkness are round about Him" Psalm 97:2.
A day of clouds and of thick darkness - The locusts are but the faint shadow of the coming evils, yet as the first harbingers of God's successive judgments, the imagery, even in tills picture is probably taken from them. At least there is nothing in which writers, of every character, are so agreed, as in speaking of locusts as clouds darkening the sun. : "These creatures do not come in legions, but in whole clouds, 5 or 6 leagues in length and 2 or 3 in breadth. All the air is full and darkened when they fly. Though the sun shine ever so bright, it is no brighter than when most clouded." : "In Senegal we have seen a vast multitude of locusts shadowing the air, for they come almost every three years, and darken the sky." : "About 8 o'clock there arose above us a thick cloud, which darkened the air, depriving us of the rays of the sun. Every one was astonished at so sudden a change in the air, which is so seldom clouded at this season; but we soon saw that it was owing to a cloud of locusts. It was about 20 or 30 toises from the ground (120-180 feet) and covered several leagues of the country, when it discharged a shower of locusts, who fed there while they rested, and then resumed their flight. This cloud was brought by a pretty strong wind, it was all the morning passing the neighborhood, and the same wind, it was thought, precipitated it in the sea." : "They take off from the place the light of day, and a sort of eclipse is formed." : "In the middle of April their numbers were so vastly increased, that in the heat of the day they formed themselves into large bodies, appeared like a succession of clouds and darkened the sun." : "On looking up we perceived an immense cloud, here and there semi-transparent, in other parts quite black, that spread itself all over the sky, and at intervals shadowed the sun."
The most unimaginative writers have said the same ; "When they first appear, a thick dark cloud is seen very high in the air, which, as it passes, obscures the sun. Their swarms were so astonishing in all the steppes over which we passed in this part of our journey (the Crimea,) that the whole face of nature might have been described as concealed by a living veil." : "When these clouds of locusts take their flight to surmount some obstacle, or traverse more rapidly a desert soil, one may say, to the letter, that the heaven is darkened by them."
As the morning spread upon the mountains - Some have thought this too to allude to the appearance which the inhabitants of Abyssinia too well knew, as preceding the coming of the locusts (see the note at Joel 2:6). A sombre yellow light is cast on the ground, from the reflection, it was thought, of their yellow wings. But that appearance itself seems to be unique to that country, or perhaps to certain flights of locusts. The image naturally describes, the suddenness, universality of the darkness, when people looked for light. As the mountain-tops first catch the gladdening rays of the sun, ere yet it riseth on the plains, and the light spreads from height to height, until the whole earth is arrayed in light, so wide and universal shall the outspreading be, but it shall be of darkness, not of light; the light itself shall be turned into darkness.
A great people and a strong - The imagery throughout these verses is taken from the flight and inroad of locusts. The allegory is so complete, that the prophet compares them to those things which are, in part, intended under them, warriors, horses and instruments of war; and this, the more, because neither locusts, nor armies are exclusively intended. The object of the allegory is to describe the order and course of the divine judgments; how they are terrific, irresistible, universal, overwhelming, penetrating everywhere, overspreading all things, excluded by nothing. The locusts are the more striking symbol of this, through their minuteness and their number. They are little miniatures of a wellordered army, unhindered by what would be physical obstacles to larger creatures, moving in order inimitable even by man, and, from their number, desolating to the uttermost. "What more countless or mightier than the locusts," asks Jerome, who had seen their inroads, "which human industry cannot resist?" "It is a thing invincible," says Cyril, "their invasion is altogether irresistible, and suffices utterly to destroy all in the fields." Yet each of these creatures is small, so that they would be powerless and contemptible, except in the Hands of Him, who brings them in numbers which can be wielded only by the Creator. Wonderful image of the judgments of God, who marshals and combines in one, causes each unavailing in itself but working together the full completion of His inscrutable Will.
There hath not been ever the like - The courses of sin and of punishment are ever recommencing anew in some part of the world and of the Church. The whole order of each, sin and punishment, will culminate once only, in the Day of Judgment. Then only will these words have their complete fulfillment. The Day of Judgment alone is that Day of terror and of woe, such as never has been before, and shall never be again. For there will be no new day or time of terror. Eternal punishment will only be the continuation of the sentence adjudged then. But, in time and in the course of God's Providential government, the sins of each soul or people or Church draw down visitations, which are God's final judgments there. Such to the Jewish people, before the captivity, was the destruction of the temple, the taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and that captivity itself. The Jewish polity was never again restored as before.
Such, to the new polity after the captivity, was the destruction by the Romans. Eighteen hundred years have seen nothing like it. The Vandals and then the Muslims swept over the Churches of North Africa, each destructive in its own way. twelve centuries have witnessed one unbroken desolation of the Church in Africa. In Constantinople, and Asia Minor, Palestine, Persia, Churches of the Redeemer became the mosques of the false prophet. Centuries have flowed by, "yet we see not our signs, neither is there any among us, that knoweth how long" Psalm 74:9. Wealthy, busy, restless, intellectual, degraded, London, sender forth of missionaries, but, save in China, the largest pagan city in the world; converter of the isles of the sea, but thyself unconverted; fullest of riches and of misery, of civilization and of savage life, of refinements and debasement; heart, whose pulses are felt in every continent, but thyself diseased and feeble, wilt thou, in this thy day, anticipate by thy conversion the Day of the Lord, or will It come upon thee, "as hath never been the like, nor shall be, for the years of many generations?" Shalt thou win thy lost ones to Christ, or be thyself the birthplace or abode of antichrist? "O Lord God, Thou knowest."
Yet the words have fulfillments short of the end. Even of successive chastisements upon the same people, each may have some aggravation unique to itself, so that of each, in turn, it may be said, in that respect, that no former visitation had been like it, none afterward should resemble it. Thus the Chaldaeans were chief in fierceness, Antiochus Epiphanes in his madness against God, the Romans in the completeness of the desolation. The fourth beast which Daniel saw "was dreadful and terrible and strong exceedingly, and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it" Daniel 7:7-19. The persecutions of the Roman Emperors were in extent and cruelty far beyond any before them. They shall be as nothing, in comparison to the deceivableness and oppression of antichrist. The prophet, however, does not say that there should be absolutely none like it, but only not "for the years of many genertions." The words "unto generation and generation" elsewhere mean "forever;" here the word "years" may limit them to length of time. God, after some signal visitation, leaves a soul or a people to the silent workings of His grace or of His Providence. The marked interpositions of His Providence, are like His extraordinary miracles, rare; else, like the ordinary miracles of His daily operations, they would cease to be interpositions.
on Joel 2 :2
2:2 A day of darkness - A time of exceeding great troubles and calamities. And this passage may well allude to the day of judgment, and the calamities which precede that day. As the morning - As the morning spreads itself over all the hemisphere and first upon the high mountains, so shall the approaching calamities overspread this people. A great people - This seems more directly to intend the Babylonians.