We have observed abundance of tears shed for the destruction of the fruits of the earth by the locusts; now here we have those tears turned into the right channel, that of repentance and humiliation before God. The judgment was very heavy, and here they are directed to own the hand of God in it, his mighty hand, and to humble themselves under it. Here is,
I. A proclamation issued out for a general fast. The priests are ordered to appoint one; they must not only mourn themselves, but they must call upon others to mourn too: “Sanctify a fast; let some time be set apart from all worldly business to be spent in the exercises of religion, in the expressions of repentance and other extraordinary instances of devotion.” Note, Under public judgments there ought to be public humiliations; for by them the Lord God calls to weeping and mourning. With all the marks of sorrow and shame sin must be confessed and bewailed, the righteous of God must be acknowledged, and his favour implored. Observe what is to be done by a nation at such a time. 1. A day is to be appointed for this purpose, a day of restraint (so the margin reads it), a day in which people must be restrained from their other ordinary business (that they may more closely attend God’s service), and from all bodily refreshments; for, 2. It must be a fast, a religious abstaining from meat and drink, further than is of absolute necessity. The king of Nineveh appointed a fast, in which they were to taste nothing, Jonah 3:7. Hereby we own ourselves unworthy of our necessary food, and that we have forfeited it and deserve to be wholly deprived of it, we punish ourselves and mortify the body, which has been the occasion of sin, we keep it in a frame fit to serve the soul in serving God, and, by the appetite’s craving food, the desires of the soul towards that which is better than life, and all the supports of it, are excited. This was in a special manner seasonable now that God was depriving them of their meat and drink; for hereby they accommodated themselves to the affliction they were under. When God says, You shall fast, it is time to say, We will fast. 3. There must be a solemn assembly. The elders and the people, magistrates and subjects, must be gathered together, even all the inhabitants of the land, that God might be honoured by their public humiliations, that they might thereby take the more shame to themselves, and that they might excite and stir up one another to the religious duties of the day. All had contributed to the national guilt, all shared in the national calamity, and therefore they must all join in the professions of repentance. 4. They must come together in the temple, the house of the Lord their God, because that was the house of prayer, and there they might be hope to meet with God because it was the place which he had chosen to put his name there, there they might hope to speed because it was a type of Christ and his mediation. Thus they interested themselves in Solomon’s prayer for the acceptance of all the requests that should be put up in or towards this house, in which their present case was particularly mentioned. 1 Kgs. 7:37; If there be locust, if there be caterpillar. 5. They must sanctify this fast, must observe it in a religious manner, with sincere devotion. What is a fast worth if it be not sanctified? 6. They must cry unto the Lord. To him they must make their complaint and offer up their supplication. When we cry in our affliction we must cry to the Lord; this is fasting to him, Zech. 7:5.
II. Some considerations suggested to induce them to proclaim this fast and to observe it strictly.
1. God was beginning a controversy with them. It is time to cry unto the Lord, for the day of the Lord is at hand, Joel 1:15. Either they mean the continuance and consequences of this present judgment which they now saw but breaking in upon them, or some greater judgments which this was but a preface to. However it be, this they are taught to make the matter of their lamentation: Alas, for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand. Therefore cry to God. For, (1.) “The day of his judgment is very near, it is at hand; it will not slumber, and therefore you should not. It is time to fast and pray, for you have but a little time to turn yourselves in.” (2.) It will be very terrible; there is no escaping it, no resisting it: As a destruction from the Almighty shall it come. See Isa. 13:6. It is not a correction, but a destruction; and it comes from the hand, not of a weak creature, but of the Almighty; and who knows (nay, who does not know) the power of his anger? Whither should we go with our cries but to him from whom the judgment we dread comes? There is no fleeing from him but by fleeing to him, no escaping destruction from the Almighty but by making our submission and supplication to the Almighty; this is taking hold on his strength, that we may make peace, Isa. 27:5.
2. They saw themselves already under the tokens of his displeasure. It is time to fast and pray, for their distress is very great, Joel 1:16. (1.) Let them look into their own houses, and was no plenty there, as used to be. Those who kept a good table were now obliged to retrench: Isa. not the meat cut off before our eyes? If, when God’s hand is lifted up, men will not see, when his hand is laid on they shall see. Isa. not the meat many a time cut off before our eyes? Let us then labour for that spiritual meat which is not before our eyes, and which cannot be cut off. (2.) Let them look into God’s house, and see the effects of the judgment there; joy and gladness were 17e1 cut off from the house of God. Note, The house of our God is the proper place of joy and gladness; when David goes to the altar of God, it is to God my exceeding joy; but when joy and gladness are cut off from God’s house, either by corruption of holy things or the persecution of holy persons, when serious godly decays and love waxes cold, then it time to cry to the Lord, time to cry, Alas!
3. The prophet returns to describe the grievousness of the calamity, in some particulars of it. Corn and cattle are the husbandman’s staple commodities; now here he is deprived of both. (1.) The caterpillars have devoured the corn, Joel 1:17. The garners, which they used to fill with corn, are laid desolate, and the barns broken down, because the corn has withered, and the owners think it not worth while to be at the charge of repairing them when they have nothing to put in them, nor are likely to have any thing; for the seed it rotten under the clods, either through too much rain or (which was the more common case in Canaan) for want of rain, or perhaps some insects under ground ate it up. When one crop fails the husband man hopes the next may make it up; but here they despair of that, the seedness being as bad as the harvest. (2.) The cattle perish too for want of grass (Joel 1:18): How do the beasts groan! This the prophet takes notice of, that the people might be affected with it and lay to heart the judgment. The groans of the cattle should soften their hard and impenitent hearts. The herds of cattle, the large cattle (black cattle we call them), are perplexed; nay, even the flocks of sheep, which will live upon a common and be content with very short grass, are made desolate. See here the inferior creatures suffering for our transgression, and groaning under the double burden of being serviceable to the sin of man and subject to the curse of God for it. Cursed is the ground for thy sake.
III. The prophet stirs them up to cry to God, with the consideration of the examples given them for it.
1. His own example (Joel 1:19): O Lord! to thee will I cry. He would not put them upon doing that which he would not resolve to do himself; nay, whether they would do it or no, he would. Note, If God’s ministers cannot prevail to affect others with the discoveries of divine wrath, yet they ought to be themselves affected with them; if they cannot bring others to cry to God, yet they themselves be much in prayer. In time of trouble we must not only pray, but cry, must be fervent and importunate in prayer; and to God, from whom both the destruction is and the salvation must be, ought our cry to be always directed. That which engaged him to cry to God was, not so much any personal affliction, as the national calamity: The fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, which seems to be meant of some parching scorching heat of the sun, which was as fire to the fruits of the earth; it consumed them all. Note, When God calls to contend by fire it concerns those that have any interest in heaven to cry mightily to him for relief. See Num. 11:2; Amos 7:4, 5.
2. The example of the inferior creatures: “The beasts of the field do not only groan, but cry unto thee, Joel 1:20. They appeal to thy pity, according to their capacity, and as if, though they are not capable of a rational and revealed religion, yet they had something of dependence upon God by natural instinct.” At least, when they groan by reason of their calamity, he is pleased to interpret it as if they cried to him; much more will he put a favourable construction upon the groanings of his own children, though sometimes so feeble that they cannot be uttered, Rom. 8:26. The beasts are here said to cry unto God, as from him the lions seek their meat (Ps. 104:21) and the young ravens, Job 38:41. The complaints of the brute-creatures here are for want of water (The rivers are dried up, through the excessive heat), and for want of grass, for the fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness. And what better are those than beasts who never cry to God but for corn and wine, and complain of nothing but the want of delight of sense? Yet their crying to God in those cases shames the stupidity of those who cry not to God in any case.