Joel 2:25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten”
Probably writing in the fifth century BC, the prophet Joel is using a real-life event, a terrible plague of locusts, as a metaphor for the situation of Israel. Maybe you don’t have locusts where you live, but especially in agricultural areas in and around deserts, a plague of locusts is devastating. An average locust swarm consumes enough food for 2,500 people per day. Famine generally follows in their wake. In chapter 1 verse 11-12 Joel cries, “Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed. The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered; the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree—all the trees of the field—are dried up.” And so it was to be for Israel when Babylon came knocking on Jerusalem’s door.
Plagues of locusts also ravage our individual lives. Of course there are still actual locust plagues today—the last big one was in 2004. But there are also the metaphorical locusts that plague us. I don’t know why disasters can’t seem to arrive at manageable intervals, but they rarely do. They mount up, trial after trial, hardship after hardship until we look at our lives and say like Joel in 2:3 “Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste—nothing escapes them.”
But Joel doesn’t quit with his pronouncements of despair, and neither should we. The promise of God in Joel is consistent with themes from Genesis to Revelation. However bad it gets, God will restore the years that the locusts have eaten. Mind you, they eat a lot. And the acknowledgement in the passage is that it can go on for quite some time. It’s the “years” the locusts have eaten and not the “moments” or “weekends.” But it will get better and even though years may have been spent in anguish and difficulty, God will provide a restoration that we can hardly imagine, once all is said and done.
Often in my prayer time I suggest to God that I would be fine with just my initial blessings…no need to take them all away and restore them several times over. I could do without the locust plague quite nicely and be content with the smaller gifts. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. There is something to be learned in the plague times—maybe a reminder that we are not as all-powerful as we suppose; maybe a way to enforce our dependence on God—and we have the choice, as Israel did, of casting our lot with God or giving ourselves over to the locusts.
If you choose the locusts…well, good luck. But if you stick it out with God, there will come a day when streams flow in the desert, and the trees again hang low with fruit. God will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten.
They come hard and fast, God, and I can hardly stand. But I will trust in your promise. Amen.
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