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Joel 2:1-11

Context
The Locusts’ Devastation

2:1 Blow the trumpet 1  in Zion;

sound the alarm signal on my holy mountain!

Let all the inhabitants of the land shake with fear,

for the day of the Lord is about to come.

Indeed, 2  it is near! 3 

2:2 It will be 4  a day of dreadful darkness, 5 

a day of foreboding storm clouds, 6 

like blackness 7  spread over the mountains.

It is a huge and powerful army 8 

there has never been anything like it ever before,

and there will not be anything like it for many generations to come! 9 

2:3 Like fire they devour everything in their path; 10 

a flame blazes behind them.

The land looks like the Garden of Eden 11  before them,

but behind them there is only a desolate wilderness –

for nothing escapes them! 12 

2:4 They look like horses; 13 

they charge ahead like war horses.

2:5 They sound like 14  chariots rumbling 15  over mountain tops,

like the crackling 16  of blazing fire consuming stubble,

like the noise of 17  a mighty army 18  being drawn up for battle. 19 

2:6 People 20  writhe in fear when they see them. 21 

All of their faces turn pale with fright. 22 

2:7 They 23  charge 24  like warriors;

they scale walls like soldiers. 25 

Each one proceeds on his course;

they do not alter 26  their path.

2:8 They do not jostle one another; 27 

each of them marches straight ahead. 28 

They burst through 29  the city defenses 30 

and do not break ranks.

2:9 They rush into 31  the city;

they scale 32  its walls.

They climb up into the houses;

they go in through the windows like a thief.

2:10 The earth quakes 33  before them; 34 

the sky reverberates. 35 

The sun and the moon grow dark;

the stars refuse to shine. 36 

2:11 The voice of the Lord thunders 37  as he leads his army. 38 

Indeed, his warriors 39  are innumerable; 40 

Surely his command is carried out! 41 

Yes, the day of the Lord is awesome 42 

and very terrifying – who can survive 43  it?

1 tn The word translated “trumpet” here (so most English versions) is the Hebrew שׁוֹפָר (shofar). The shophar was a wind instrument made from a cow or ram’s horn and used as a military instrument for calling people to attention in the face of danger or as a religious instrument for calling people to occasions of communal celebration.

2 tn Or “for.”

3 sn The interpretation of 2:1-11 is very difficult. Four views may be mentioned here. (1) Some commentators understand this section to be describing a human invasion of Judah on the part of an ancient army. The exact identity of this army (e.g., Assyrian or Babylonian) varies among interpreters depending upon issues of dating for the book of Joel. (2) Some commentators take the section to describe an eschatological scene in which the army according to some is human, or according to others is nonhuman (i.e., angelic). (3) Some interpreters argue for taking the section to refer to the potential advent in the fall season of a severe east wind (i.e., Sirocco) that would further exacerbate the conditions of the land described in chapter one. (4) Finally, some interpreters understand the section to continue the discussion of locust invasion and drought described in chapter one, partly on the basis that there is no clear exegetical evidence in 2:1-11 to suggest a shift of referent from that of chapter one.

4 tn The phrase “It will be” does not appear in the Hebrew, but is supplied in the translation for the sake of smoothness and style.

5 tn Heb “darkness and gloom.” These two terms probably form a hendiadys here. This picture recalls the imagery of the supernatural darkness in Egypt during the judgments of the exodus (Exod 10:22). These terms are also frequently used as figures (metonymy of association) for calamity and divine judgment (Isa 8:22; 59:9; Jer 23:12; Zeph 1:15). Darkness is often a figure (metonymy of association) for death, dread, distress and judgment (BDB 365 s.v. חשֶׁךְ 3).

6 tn Heb “a day of cloud and darkness.”

7 tc The present translation here follows the proposed reading שְׁחֹר (shÿkhor, “blackness”) rather than the MT שַׁחַר (shakhar, “morning”). The change affects only the vocalization; the Hebrew consonants remain unchanged. Here the context calls for a word describing darkness. The idea of morning or dawn speaks instead of approaching light, which does not seem to fit here. The other words in the verse (e.g., “darkness,” “gloominess,” “cloud,” “heavy overcast”) all emphasize the negative aspects of the matter at hand and lead the reader to expect a word like “blackness” rather than “dawn.” However, NIrV paraphrases the MT nicely: “A huge army of locusts is coming. They will spread across the mountains like the sun when it rises.”

8 tn Heb “A huge and powerful people”; KJV, ASV “a great people and a strong.” Many interpreters understand Joel 2 to describe an invasion of human armies, either in past history (e.g., the Babylonian invasion of Palestine in the sixth century b.c.) or in an eschatological setting. More probably, however, the language of this chapter referring to “people” and “armies” is a hypocatastic description of the locusts of chapter one. Cf. TEV “The great army of locusts advances like darkness.”

9 tn Heb “it will not be repeated for years of generation and generation.”

10 tn Heb “a fire devours before it.”

11 tn Heb “like the garden of Eden, the land is before them.”

12 tn Heb “and surely a survivor there is not for it.” The antecedent of the pronoun “it” is apparently עַם (’am, “people”) of v. 2, which seems to be a figurative way of referring to the locusts. K&D 26:191-92 thought that the antecedent of this pronoun was “land,” but the masculine gender of the pronoun does not support this.

13 tn Heb “Like the appearance of horses [is] its appearance.”

sn The fact that a locust’s head resembles a miniature replica of a horse’s head has often been noticed. For example, the German word for locust (Heupferd, “hay horse”) and the Italian word as well (cavaletta, “little horse”) are based on this similarity in appearance.

14 tn Heb “like the sound of.”

sn The repetition of the word of comparison (“like”) in vv. 4-7 should not go unnoticed. The author is comparing the locust invasion to familiar aspects of human invasion. If the preposition has its normal force here, it is similarity and not identity that is intended. In other words, locusts are being likened to human armies, but human armies are not actually present. On the other hand, this Hebrew preposition is also on occasion used to indicate exactitude, a function described by grammarians as kaph veritatis.

15 tn Heb “jostling” or “leaping.” There is question whether this pictures chariots rumbling over the mountains (e.g., 2 Sam 6:14,16; 1 Chr 15:29; Nah 3:2) or the locusts flying – or “leaping” – over the mountains (e.g., Job 21:11); see BDB 955 s.v. רָקַד.

16 tn Heb “sound.”

17 tn The phrase “the noise of” does not appear in the Hebrew, but is implied by the parallelism, so it has been supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity.

18 tn Heb “people.”

19 tn Heb “being arrayed of battle.”

20 tn Or “nations.”

21 tn Heb “before it.”

22 tn Heb “all faces gather beauty”; or “all faces gather a glow.” The Hebrew word פָּארוּר (parur) is found in the OT only here and in Nah 2:11. Its meaning is very uncertain. Some scholars associate it with a root that signifies “glowing”; hence “all faces gather a glow of dread.” Others associate the word with פָּרוּר (parur, “pot”); hence “all faces gather blackness.” Still others take the root to signify “beauty”; hence “all faces gather in their beauty” in the sense of growing pale due to fear. This is the view assumed here.

23 sn Since the invaders are compared to warriors, this suggests that they are not actually human, but instead an army of locusts.

24 tn Heb “run.”

25 tn Heb “men of battle.”

26 tc The translation reads יְעַבְּתוּן (yÿabbÿtun) for MT יְעַבְּטוּן (yÿabbÿtun). The verb found in MT (עָבַט, ’avat) means “take or give a pledge” (cf. Deut 15:6, 8; 24:10) and does not fit the context. Some scholars have proposed various emendations: (1) יְעָוְּתוּן (yÿavvÿtun, “they make crooked”); (2) יָטּוּן (yattun, “they turn aside”); (3) יָעַוּוּן (yaavvun, “they err”); and (4) יְעָבְּתוּן (adopted in the present translation) from the root I עָבַת (’avat, “to twist, pervert”) or II עָבַת (’avat, “to change, abandon”). KBL adopt the latter option, but the only biblical evidence for this is the problematic reference in Joel 2:7. Another option is to view it as a variant of the root חבט (khavat, “turn aside from”), a meaning attested for the Arabic cognate. The difference in spelling would be due to the interchange of the guttural letters khet (ח) and ayin (ע). This may lay behind LXX rendering ἐκκλίνωσιν (ekklinwsin; cf. Syriac Peshitta nstwn and Vg declinabunt). See S. F. Whitley, “‘bt in Joel 2, 7,” Bib 65 (1984): 101-2.

27 tn “each one does not crowd his brother.”

28 tn Heb “each warrior walks in his own course.”

29 tn Heb “they fall upon.” This line has been interpreted in two different ways: (1) although they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded (KJV), or (2) when they “burst through” the city’s defenses, they will not break ranks (RSV, NASB, NIV, NIrV).

30 tn Heb “missile” or “javelin.” This term appears to function as a synecdoche for the city’s defenses as a whole (cf. NASB, NIV, TEV). Some scholars instead understand the reference to be an aqueduct by which the locusts (or armies) entered the city.

31 tn Heb “dart about in.”

32 tn Or “they run upon its wall.”

33 sn Witnesses of locust invasions have described the visual effect of large numbers of these creatures crawling over one another on the ground. At such times the ground is said to appear to be in motion, creating a dizzying effect on some observers. The reference in v. 10 to the darkening of the sun and moon probably has to do with the obscuring of visibility due to large numbers of locusts swarming in the sky.

34 tn Heb “before it.”

35 tn Heb “trembles.”

36 tn Heb “gather their brightness.”

37 tn Heb “the Lord gives his voice.”

38 tn Heb “before his army.”

39 tn Heb “military encampment.”

40 tn Heb “very large.”

41 tn Heb “he makes his word powerful.”

42 tn Or “powerful.” Heb “great.”

43 tn Heb “endure.” The MT and LXX read “endure,” while one of the Qumran manuscripts (4QXXIIc) has “bear.”



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