See how ready God is to succour and relieve his people, how he waits to be gracious; as soon as ever they humble themselves under this hand, and pray, and seek his face, he immediately meets them with his favours. They prayed that God would spare them, and see here with what good words and comfortable words he answered them; for God’s promises are real answers to the prayers of faith, because with him saying and doing are not two things. Now observe,
I. Whence this mercy promised shall take rise (Joel 2:18): God will be jealous for his land and pity his people. He will have an eye, 1. To his own honour, and the reputation of his covenant with Israel, by which he had conveyed to them that good land and had given in the value of it very high; now he will not suffer it to be despised nor disparaged, but will be jealous for the credit of his land, and the inhabitants of it, who had been praised as a happy people and therefore must not lie open to reproach as a miserable people. 2. To their distress: He will pity his people, and, in pity to them, he will restore them their forfeited comforts. God’s compassion is a great encouragement to those that come humbly to him as penitents and as petitioners.
II. What his mercy shall be, in several instances:—1. The destroying army shall be dispersed and defeated (Joel 2:20): “I will remove far off from you the northern army, that army of locusts and caterpillars that invaded you from the north, brought in upon the wings of a north wind, an army which you could put no stop to the progress of; but, when you have made your peace with God, he will ease you of these soldiers that are quartered upon you and will drive them into a land barren and desolate, into that vast howling wilderness that Israel wandered in, where, after having surfeited upon the plenty of Canaan, they shall perish for want of sustenance. Those that have their face to the east sea (the Dead Sea, which lay east of Judea) shall perish in that, and the rear of the army shall be lost in the Great Sea,” called here the utmost sea. They had made the land barren and desolate, and now God will cast them into a land barren and desolate. Thus those whom God employs for the correction of his people come afterwards to be themselves reckoned with; and the rod is thrown into the fire. Nothing shall remain of these swarms of insects but the ill savour of them. When Egypt was eased of the plague of locusts they were carried away to the Red Sea, Exod. 10:19. Note, When an affliction has done its work it shall be removed in mercy, as the locusts of Canaan were from a penitent people, not as the locusts of Egypt were removed, in wrath, from an impenitent prince, only to make room for another plague. Many interpreters, by this northern army, understand that of Sennacherib, which was dispersed when God by it had accomplished his whole work upon Mount Zion and upon Jerusalem, Isa. 10:12. This enemy shall be driven away, because he has done great things, has done a great deal of mischief, and has magnified to do it, has done it in the pride of his heart; therefore it follows (Joel 2:21), The Lord will do great things for his people, as the enemy has done great things against them, to convince them that wherein they deal proudly he is, and will be, above them, that, what great things soever they did, they did no more than God commissioned them to do; and as, when he said to them, Go, they went, so, when he said to them, Come, they came, to show that they were soldiers under him. 2. The destroyed land shall be watered and made fruitful. When the army is scattered, yet what shall we do if the desolation they have made continue? It is therefore promised (Joel 2:22) that the pastures of the wilderness, the pastures which the locusts had left as bare as the wilderness, shall again spring and the trees shall again bear their fruit, particularly the fig-tree and the vine. But, when we see how the country is wasted, we are tempted to say, Can these dry bones live? If the Lord should make windows in heaven, it cannot be; but it shall be, for (Joel 2:23) the Lord has given and will give you the former rain and the latter rain, and, if he give them in mercy, he will give them moderately, so that the rain shall not turn into a judgment, and he will give them in due season, the latter rain in the first month, when it was wanted and expected. It would make it comfortable to them to see it coming from the hand of God, and ordered by his wisdom, for then we are sure it is well ordered. He has given you a teacher of righteousness, (so the margin reads it, for the same word that signifies the rain signifies a teacher. and that which we translate moderately is according to righteousness), and this teacher of righteousness, says one of the rabbin, is the King Messias, and of him many others understand this; for he is a teacher come from God, and he shows us the way of righteousness. But others understand it of any prophet that instructs unto righteousness, and some of Hezekiah particularly, others of Isaiah. Note, It is a good sign that God has mercy in store for a people when he sends them teachers of righteousness, pastors after his own heart. 3. All their losses shall be repaired (Joel 2:25): “I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten; you shall be comforted according to the time that you have been afflicted, and shall have years of plenty to balance the years of famine.” Thus does it repent the Lord concerning his servants, when they repent, and, to show how perfectly he is reconciled to them, he makes good the damage they have sustained by his judgments, and, like the jailer, washes their stripes. Though, in justice, he distrained upon them, and did them no wrong, yet, in compassion, he makes restitution; as the father of the prodigal, upon his return, made up all he had lost by his sin and folly, and took him into his family, as in his former estate. The locusts and caterpillars are here called God’s great army which he sent among them, and he will repair what they had devoured because they were his army. 4. They shall have great abundance of all good things. The earth shall yield her increase, and they shall enjoy it. Look into the stores where they lay up, and you shall find the floors full of wheat, and the fats overflowing with wine and oil (Joel 2:24), whereas, in the day of their distress, the wine and oil languished and the barns were broken down, Joel 1:10, 17. Look upon their tables, where they lay out what they have laid up, and you shall find that they eat in plenty and are satisfied, Joel 2:26. They do not eat to excess, nor are surfeited; we hope the drunkards are cured by the late affliction of their inordinate love of wine and strong drink, for, though they were brought in howling for their scarcity (Joel 1:5), they are now brought in again here singing for the plenty of it; but now all shall have enough, and shall known when they have enough, for God will make their food nourishing and give them to be content with it.
These are the mercies promised, and in these God does great things (Joel 2:21), He deals wondrously with his people, Joel 2:26. Herein he glorifies his power, and shows that he can relieve his people though their distress be ever so great, and glorifies his goodness, that he will do it upon their repentance though their provocations were ever so great. Note, When God deals graciously with poor sinners that return to him it must be acknowledged that he deals wondrously and does great things. Some expositors understand these promises figuratively, as pointing at gospel-grace, and having their accomplishment in the abundant comforts that are treasured up for believers in the covenant of grace and the satisfaction of soul they have therein. When God sends us his promises to be the matter of our comfort, his graces to be the grounds of it, and his Spirit to be the author of it, we may well own that he has sent us (according to his promise here, Joel 2:19) corn, and wine, and oil, or that which is unspeakably better, and we have reason to be satisfied therewith.
III. What use shall be made of these returns of God’s mercy to them and the good account they shall turn to.
1. God shall have the glory thereof, for they shall rejoice in the Lord their God (Joel 2:23), and what is the matter of their rejoicing shall be the matter of their thanksgiving; they shall praise the name of the Lord their God (Joel 2:26) and not praise their idols, nor call their corn and wine the rewards that their lovers had given them. Note, The plenty of our creature-comforts is a mercy indeed to us when by them our hearts are enlarged in love and thankfulness to God, who gives us all things richly to enjoy, though we serve him but poorly. When God restores to us plenty after we have known scarcity, as it is doubly pleasant to us, so it should make us the more thankful to God. When Israel comes out of a wilderness into a Canaan, and there eats and is full, surely he will then bless the Lord, with a very sensible pleasure, for that good land which he has given him, Deut. 8:10.
2. They shall have the credit, and comfort, and spiritual benefit, thereof. When God gives them plenty again, and gives them to be satisfied with it, (1.) Their reputation shall be retrieved; they and their God shall be no more reflected upon as unfaithful to one another when they have returned to him in a way of duty and he to them in a way of mercy (Joel 2:19): “I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen, that triumphed in your calamities and insulted over you;” and Joel 2:26, 27, “My people shall never be ashamed, as they have been, of their good land which they used to boast of, but shall again and ever have the same occasion to boast of it.” Note, It redounds much to the honour of God when he does that which saves the honour of his people; and those that are his people indeed, though they may be for a time, shall not be always, a reproach among the heathens; if we be rightly ashamed of our sins against God, we shall never be ashamed of our glorying in God. (2.) Their joys shall be revived (Joel 2:23): Be glad and rejoice, O land! and all the inhabitants of it. Times of plenty are commonly times of joy; yet the favour of God puts gladness into the heart more than those who have corn, and wine, and oil increase. But especially be glad them, you children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, Joel 2:23. They mourned in Zion (Joel 2:15), and therefore there in a particular manner they shall rejoice; for those that sow in penitential tears shall certainly reap in thankful joys. The children of Zion, who led the rest in fasting, must lead the rest in rejoicing. But observe, They shall rejoice in the Lord their God, not so much in the good themselves that are given them as in the good hand that gives them and in the return of his favour to them, as theirs in covenant, which these good things are the tokens and pledges of. The joy of harvest and the joy of a feast must both terminate in God, whose love we should taste in all the gifts of his bounty, that we may make him our chief joy, as he is our chief good, and the fountain of all good to us. (3.) Their faith in God shall be confirmed and increased. When temporal mercies are made by the grace of God to be of spiritual advantage to us, and plenty for the body is so far from being an enemy (as with many it proves) that it becomes a friend to the prosperity of the soul, then they are mercies indeed to us. This is promised here (Joel 2:27): You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, the Holy One in the midst of thee (Hos. 11:9), and that I am the Lord your God, and none else. As it proves that the Lord is God, and there is none other, because he wounds and he heals, he forms light and darkness, he does good and evil (Isa. 45:7; Deut. 32:39), so it proves him to be God of Israel, a God in covenant with his people and a father to them, that as a father he both corrects them when they offend and comforts them when they repent. It was the burden of the threatenings in Ezekiel’s prophecy, Such and such evils I will bring upon you, and you shall know that I am the Lord; and the same is here made the crown of the promises: You shall eat, and be satisfied, and rejoice, and thus you shall know that I am the Lord. Note, We should labour to grow in our acquaintance with God by all providences, both merciful and afflictive. When God gives to his people plenty, and peace, and joy, upon their return to him, he thereby gives them to understand that he is pleased with their repentance, that he has pardoned their sins, and that he is theirs as much as ever—that they are taken into the same covenant with him, for he is the Lord their God, and into the same communion, for he is in the midst of them, nigh unto them in all that they call upon him for, and, as the sun in the centre of the worlds, so in the midst of them as to diffuse his benign influences to all the parts of his land.
3. Even the inferior creatures shall share therein and be made easy thereby: Fear not, O land! Joel 2:21. Be not afraid, you beasts of the field, Joel 2:22. They had suffered for the sin of man, and for God’s quarrel with him; and now they shall fare the better for man’s repentance and God’s reconciliation to him. Nay, the beasts were said to cry unto God (Joel 1:20); and now that cry is answered, and they are directed not to be afraid, for they shall have plenty of all that which their nature craves. God, in sparing Nineveh, had an eye to the cattle (Jonah 4:11), for the cattle had fasted, Joel 3:8. This may lead us to think of the restitution of all things, when the creature, that is now made subject to vanity and groans under it, shall be brought, though not into the glorious joy, yet into the glorious liberty, of the children of God, Rom. 8:21.