The judgment is here described as very lamentable, and such as all sorts of people should share in; it shall not only rob the drunkards of their pleasure (if that were the worst of it, it might be the better borne), but it shall deprive others of their necessary subsistence, who are therefore called to lament (Joel 1:8), as a virgin laments the death of her lover to whom she was espoused, but not completely married, yet so that he was in effect her husband, or as a young woman lately married, from whom the husband of her youth, her young husband, or the husband to whom she was married when she was young, is suddenly taken away by death. Between a new-married couple that are young, that married for love, and that are every way amiable and agreeable to each other, there is great fondness, and consequently great grief if either be taken away. Such lamentation shall there be for the loss of their corn and wine. Note, The more we are wedded to our creature-comforts that harder it is to part with them. See that parallel place, Isa. 32:10-12. Two sorts of people are here brought in, as concerned to lament this devastation, countrymen and clergymen.
I. Let the husbandmen and vine-dressers lament, Joel 1:11. Let them be ashamed of the care and pains they have taken about their vineyards, for it will be all labour lost, and they shall gain no advantage by it; they shall see the fruit of their labour eaten up before their eyes, and shall not be able to save any of it. Note, Those who labour only for the meat that perishes will, sooner or later, be ashamed of their labour. The vine-dressers will then express their extreme grief by howling, when they see their vineyards stripped of leaves and fruit, and the vines withered, so that nothing is to be had or hoped for from them, wherewith they might pay their rent and maintain their families. The destruction is particularly described here: The field is laid waste (Joel 1:10).; all is consumed that is produced; the land mourns; the ground has a melancholy aspect, and looks ruefully; all the inhabitants of the land are in tears for what they have lost, are in fear of perishing for want, Isa. 24:4; Jer. 4:28. “The corn, the bread-corn, which is the staff of life, is wasted; the new wine, which should be brought into the cellars for a supply when the old is drunk, is dried up, is ashamed of having promised so fair what it is not now able to perform; the oil languishes, or is diminished, because (as the Chaldee renders it) the olives have fallen off.” The people were not thankful to God as they should have been for the bread that strengthens man’s heart, the wine that makes glad the heart, and the oil that makes the face to shine (Ps. 104:14, 15); and therefore they are justly brought to lament the loss and want of them, of all the products of the earth, which God had given either for necessity or for delight (this is repeated, Joel 1:11, 12)-- the wheat and barley, the two principal grains bread was then made of, wheat for the rich and barley for the poor, so that the rich and poor meet together in the calamity. The trees are destroyed, not only the vine and the fig-tree (as before, Joel 1:7), which were more useful and necessary, but other trees also that were for delight—the pomegranate, palm-tree, and apple-tree, yea, all the trees of the field, as well as those of the orchard, timber-trees as well as fruit-trees. In short, all the harvest of the field has perished, Joel 1:11. And by this means joy has withered away from the children of men (Joel 1:11); the joy of harvest, which is used to express great and general joy, has come to nothing, is turned into shame, is turned into lamentation. Note, The perishing of the harvest is the withering of the joy of the children of men. Those that place their happiness in the delights of the sense, when they are deprived of them, or in any way disturbed in the enjoyment of them, lose all their joy; whereas the children of God, who look upon the pleasures of sense with holy indifference and contempt, and know what it is to make God their hearts’ delight, can rejoice in him as the God of their salvation even when the fig-tree does not blossom; spiritual joy is so far from withering then, that it flourishes more than ever, Hab. 3:17, 18. Let us see here, 1. What perishing uncertain things all our creature-comforts are. We can never be sure of the continuance of them. Here the heavens had given their rains in due season, the earth had yielded her strength, and, when the appointed weeks of harvest were at hand, they saw no reason to doubt but that they should have a very plentiful crop; yet then they are invaded by these unthought-of enemies, that lay all waste, and not by fire and sword. It is our wisdom not to lay up our treasure in those things which are liable to so many untoward accidents. 2. See what need we have to live in continual dependence upon God and his providence, for our own hands are not sufficient for us. When we see the full corn in the ear, and think we are sure of it—nay, when we have brought it home, if he blow upon it, nay, if he do not bless it, we are not likely to have any good of it. 3. See what ruinous work sin makes. A paradise is turned into a wilderness, a fruitful land, the most fruitful land upon earth, into barrenness, for the iniquity of those that dwelt therein.
II. Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, lament, for they share deeply in the calamity: Gird yourselves with sackcloth (Joel 1:13); nay, they do mourn, Joel 1:9. Observe, The priests are called the ministers of the altar, for on that they attended, and the ministers of the Lord (of my God, says the prophet), for in attending on the altar they served him, did is work, and did him honour. Note, Those that are employed in holy things are therein God’s ministers, and on him they attend. The ministers of the altar used to rejoice before the Lord, and to spend their time very much in singing; but now they must lament and howl, for the meat-offering and drink-offering were cut off from the house of the Lord (Joel 1:9), and the same again (Joel 1:13), from the house of your God. “He is your God in a particular manner; you are in a nearer relation to him than other Israelites are; and therefore it is expected that you should be more concerned than others for that which is a hindrance to the service of his sanctuary.” It is intimated, 1. That the people, as long as they had the fruits of the earth brought in in their season, presented to the Lord his dues out of them, and brought the offerings to the altar and tithes to those that served at the altar. Note, A people may be filling up the measure of their iniquity apace, and yet may keep up a course of external performances in religion. 2. That, when the meat and drink failed, the meat-offering and drink-offering failed of course; and this was the sorest instance of the calamity. Note, As far as any public trouble is an obstruction to the course of religion it is to be upon that account, more than any other, sadly lamented, especially by the priests, the Lord’s ministers. As far as poverty occasions the decay of piety and the neglect of divine offices, and starves the cause of religion among a people, it is indeed a sore judgment. When the famine prevailed God could not have his sacrifices, nor could the priests have their maintenance; and therefore let the Lord’s ministers mourn.