In 2004, large swarms of locusts descended across West Africa, causing severe devastation in countries like Nigeria, Chad, Senegal, and Niger. In fact, officials reported that over 80 percent of the crops in northern Nigeria had been consumed by the locusts. As a result, over one million people required aid.
Because locusts can eat their weight in food every day, a swarm (often millions or even billions of locusts) are capable of causing severe damage to an area’s vegetation in just a short time. For northern Nigeria, this damage required millions of dollars in assistance and several years for recovery.
In Joel 1:4, the prophet writes about a similar devastation caused by a plague of locusts in Judah: “What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten.”
Joel describes not one, but several waves of locusts that had descended upon Judah, destroying the harvest—leaving nothing behind. What is more, Joel also mentions a harsh drought that was afflicting Judah (1:10). In response to this natural disaster, what was the Lord’s message to His people?
Repent, for the “the day of the Lord is near” (1:15). The Lord used the painful destruction caused by the locusts to foreshadow the unprecedented destruction that will take place on the final Day of the Lord when Christ will return to judge the nations. Though this day will bring great rejoicing to some, it will also bring terrible wrath and punishment to others. Judah’s present crisis was only a foretaste of the greater calamities of the coming judgment—if they refused to repent of their sins.
In light of the coming Day of the Lord, Joel says, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (2:13). The Lord’s warning through His prophet is both just and merciful. Though He will bring punishment to the sinner on the final Day of the Lord, He also promises, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (2:32). What a tremendous promise from a gracious and compassionate God!
The Lord used the prophet Joel to call Judah to repentance. And it took several swarms of locusts for Him to get their attention. What circumstances has the Lord put in your life to get your attention, to cause you to return to Him with all your heart (2:12)?
I pray that we will continue to give the Lord our full attention—all of our hearts—and heed Joel’s reminder that one day we will all be held accountable to the Father. May we live lives worthy of the God who has made a way for our salvation, allowing us to stand before Him one day as recipients of His mercy and grace.