Years that the Locust Hast Eaten 

    adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 3 Dec 2010

    “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you” (Joel 2:25).

    Not much is known about the Prophet Joel; and no one is even sure exactly when his prophecy was written. The traditional date is around 835 BC when Queen Athaliah  was deposed and the 12 year old Joash was set on the throne. But no one is sure. And to add to that, I don’t think many of us are familiar with the prophecy of Joel.

    But it is an important book. The apostle Peter famously refers to the prophecy of Joel to speak of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21; cf. Joel 2:28-32). The apostle Paul quotes from it to remind us that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13; cf. Joel 2:32). And rather significantly, the Lord Jesus himself employs the metaphors found in this book when he speaks of the Day of the LORD (Mk 13:24; Lk 21:25; cf. Joel 2:10, 31).

    Indeed, this book is about the Day of the LORD. O Palmer Robertson calls Joel, the prophet of the Coming Day of the LORD.

    This book may be roughly divided into 2 parts. Chapter 1 is about the Day of Locusts. This refers to a devastating plague of locust which swept across the land. Joel would have the people know that this Day of Locust is a harbinger of the Great Day of the LORD. Chapters 2 and 3 are about the coming Day of the LORD.

    This book calls upon God’s people to awake out of complacency and to live with a view of the coming Great Day of the LORD. That day will come with terror for the unrepentant; but it will be a day of great blessing for the righteous and faithful. This book shows us that the judgement and blessings of God are being revealed throughout the history of His Church in what may be known as Days of Locust and the restoration following. But all these are but foreshadows of the Great Day of the LORD. And they should cause us to look forward to that Day. They are God’s appointed means to help us to live with judgement and eternity in view.

    With such a challenging theme, it is not surprising that this book is filled with promises, some of them with deep theological significance. But for our purpose this evening (as part of our series on the great and precious promises of God), we want to consider a promise which I believe will be comforting for those of us who have experienced what may be called days of locust. I am referring to Joel 2:25 (see above).

    Let’s meditate on this promise under 3 heads. First, what are days of locust? Secondly, when will the Lord restore the years which the locust has eaten? Thirdly, how will the LORD restore the years which the locust has eaten?


    1. What Are Days of Locust?

    The Day of Locust during Joel’s days is described in chapter 1 of the prophecy. In verse 4 we read—

    “That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten.”

    Scholars have debated over the four Hebrew words rendered ‘palmerworm’, ‘locust’, ‘cankerworm’ and ‘caterpillar.’ Some think that they refer to different stages of development of the locust. Others think that they refer to different kinds of locust. The Hebrew language has 9 different words for locust. Does this not show us how familiar the people were with locust plagues? Locust plagues were quite common occurrences in the Near and Middle Eastern lands.

    It was reported that in 1889, a host of these insects covered a 5,000 square km area around the Red Sea with an estimated 300 million insects per square km. This year (2010), beginning April despite modern insect control technology, a locust plague affected more than 500,000 square km of farming land in Australia. That is about the size of Spain covered with 10 million locusts per square km.

    We cannot imagine the scale of the locust invasion in the day of Joel. But one thing is sure, the land was invaded with wave after wave of locusts. So terrible was the destruction that a drought and famine ensued (v. 16-20). When the vegetation is destroyed completely, not only do the animals have nothing to eat, but the water cycle is disrupted as the sun beats mercilessly upon the barren soil. It was as if the whole land was being razed by a terrible fire (v. 20). Indeed, even the crunching sound that the locusts make as they devour the land sounds like the crackling of fire. The effects of a locust plague can sometimes be worse than that of a forest fire.

    But this destruction was but a harbinger of even worse calamity to come in the Day of the LORD. Verse 15—

    “Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come” (Joel 1:15)

    The Day of Locust is not the great day of the LORD. But it pointed to the great Day of the LORD to come. The destruction that came upon Judah was a harbinger of the judgement that will come upon the whole world at the Great Day of the LORD.

    Nevertheless, it was a terrible devastation that resulted in great losses, massive despair and, no doubt, much sorrow and tears.

    But let us remember one thing: The locusts were sent by the LORD. Look at the last phrase of our text:

    And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.

    It is clear that the Day of Locust was not accidental or simply a result of the confluence of certain weather pattern and crop cycles. No, no; these days are appointed by the Lord for a purpose.

    Now, there are no locust plagues in Singapore. Some of us may not even know how a locust looks like. But let us understand that days of Locust need not involve actual locusts. Days of Locusts are days that produce the same effect as the locust plague produced on the church of old,—namely, the sense of loss, disappointment, discouragement and sorrow.

    What may these be? For a nation, it can be a time of war; or natural disaster; or political chaos. For a church, it can be a time of spiritual drought characterised by shrinking membership and problems of disunity. For a family, it can be, years as it were, wasted because of quarrels and teenage delinquency. For an individual, it could be long illness, or a wilderness experience, of aimlessness and frustration.

    Whatever it may be, know that in all likelihood, the Lord sent these days of locust as part of His chastisement to mould you and prepare you for your eternal home.

    Beloved brethren and youths, have you experienced such days? Or do you feel that you are actually going through such a time?

    ·   Have you made wrong decisions, which you regretted?

    ·   Have you committed a sin, which continues to haunt you today?

    ·   Have you rushed into a relationship and marriage only to be disappointed too late?

    ·   Have you entered into a business venture only to realise too late that it will destroy your life?

    ·   Have you taken up a job only to regret your decision to move into it?

    ·   Do you feel you have wasted your life away because of your sin, and prayerlessness and rash?

    Thank God that there is hope! “I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten” says the Lord. This is God’s promise. He will make up for your lost time and opportunities.

    But…


    2.  When Will the LORD Restore the Years?

    The answer is not found in our text itself, but it is clearly indicated in the context. You see, our text is really a summary of what the Lord promises to do for the people when they humble themselves and repent of their sin.

    Look at verse 12—

    12 Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: 13 And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (Joel 2:12-13)

    Therefore beloved brethren and youths, understand that while the LORD has promised restoration, you will not automatically receive His restoration. Rather, you will only receive restoration when you have understood the purpose of the Lord sending locust into your life and by his grace repent of your sin, whatever sin it may be.

    Is it pride and complacency in your heart that the Lord is seeking to deal with? Is it stiffneckness and backsliding? Is it prayerlessness and worldliness? Is it covetousness and idolatry or discontentment?

    You do not know my heart and I do not know yours. I cannot tell you what is the issue in your heart that the Lord is dealing with. Sometimes as a pastor I can make a good guess. But unless the Spirit of the Lord has convicted you of the same sin, my telling you my guess will only make me an enemy of yours. I have made too many enemies already. I have learnt that unless I am very sure and the danger of blindness is great, I must pray and leave it to the Lord to speak and convict.

    Now, the Holy Spirit speaks to us through His Word spoken or brought to remembrance. So you must not neglect the means of grace. But you must pray that the Holy Spirit will work in your heart to mould you so that more and more you will die unto sin, and more and more you will live unto righteousness.

    This is what we must pray regularly, beloved brethren and children. We must pray that the Spirit of the Lord will work in our hearts so that the Word preached sabbath by sabbath and on occasions such as this may be effectual unto our salvation and joy.

    Repentance opens the key to the Lord’s promise to restore the years that the locust hast eaten. But it is the Holy Spirit who gives us repentance —usually in answer to prayer.

    But…


    3.  How Will the LORD Restore the Years?

    If you will repent of your sin, God promises to “restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten.” But how would the Lord restore you? What should we expect when He restores the years that the Locust hast eaten?

    Well, again our text does not spell it out, but the context does.

    The first effect of LORD’s restoration of the years is that gloom will turn to joy dramatically. Now, in the case of the locust invasion, the LORD’s restoration affected the land and the animals. So Joel, in a figurative way, calls upon the land and the animals to be glad and to rejoice (v. 21-22). The LORD’s restoration will be so dramatic that it is unthinkable that anything touched would not rejoice. Even the land and the animals will, as it were, rejoice!

    How much more the children of God, when God sends the rain and restore the years that the locust hath eaten (v. 23-25).

    “Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God” (v. 23) for He hath done wondrous things for you which you do not deserve.

    This is the first thing we must do, or rather, will do, when the LORD restores us. We will rejoice and be glad. The Lord will chase away our gloom. The LORD will give us reason again to know we are blessed of Him.

    But secondly, when God restores, we shall be satisfied. Happiness has begun because we will be satisfied (v. 26). “The LORD as my shepherd, I shall not want” says David (Ps 23:1). “For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” says Paul (Phil 4:11).

    I will have all that I need. I will have more than I need. Indeed, I will have abundantly above all that I need.

    When the LORD restores, our needs and desires are fully met. The fact that we do not always feel it to be so, does not make it any less true. Today our sin prevents us from enjoying full satisfaction. But one day God will remove our sin, and we shall be perfectly satisfied.

    That notwithstanding, when the Lord restores the years that the locust has eaten, you will be enabled to feel a deep satisfaction with David and Paul and the saints throughout the ages. “The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing” (Ps 34:10).

    Thirdly, when the LORD restores, you will praise His name because you will know that He has dealt wondrously with you (v. 26). You will see His hand clearly. Your eyes will be opened to see it. It is so because when God gives contentment, it comes not only with the provision of needs, but a work of grace in the heart.

    Listen to the testimony of a person whom the LORD has restored. The testimony is always very similar. His heart overflows with praise because he realizes that the blessing could not have come but by the hand of God. And he knows deep in his heart he does not deserve the blessing.

    Have you tasted of the blessing of God? Oh beloved, do not bottle it up. Pour it out in praise unto the LORD. Pour it out that the fragrance of praise may fill the room like the fragrance of the immoral but penitent woman.

    Yes, fourthly, when the LORD restores, you will no more be ashamed. Like the unnamed woman who washed the Lord’s feet with her tears, you will no longer need to feel shame again. Notice how Joel repeats that twice: “and my people shall never be ashamed” (v. 26); “and my people shall never be ashamed” (v. 27).

    Sin makes us shameful. When we sin, we will try to cover ourselves with every means at our disposal. We will sew fig leaves, we will hide in the bushes. We will hope against hope that no one will discover our sin.

    But when God forgives and restore, we need not be ashamed ever again.

    Have you repented, dearly beloved and children? If you have truly repented, you need not feel ashamed again. Why not?

    Because, fifthly, when the LORD restores upon our repentance he gives us a fresh assurance that He is our covenant God.

    27 And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else.

    The best thing about God’s restoration is that we will know the LORD’s covenant love afresh. The LORD Jesus speaks of this blessing as eternal life.

    Eternal life is the blessing of knowing and enjoying God in Christ (John 17:3). This knowledge of God fills our hearts with awe and wonder that leaves no room for doubt, and shame and fear. It leaves us rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1Pt 1:8).

    When we harbour sin in our heart, our knowledge of God is marred. We behold Him as a God of wrath. We dare not go to Him. Like a child who has offended his father, we try to hide from Him and we think that He is going to punish us.

    But when we repent, God restores. He restores us to our former joy. He gives us again a fresh assurance of His covenant love for us. He makes us go to Him as our loving heavenly Father who is ready to bless us with all heavenly blessings. He makes us enjoy His fellowship again.


    Conclusion

    The prophecy of Joel anticipates the Great Day of the LORD. That day will be a day of judgement for the impenitent as well as a day of vindication and restoration for the children of God who fear the LORD.

    But let us remember that although perfect restoration must await the final day, we need not wait so long to experience the Lord’s restoration. We will begin to experience his restoration of the years that the locust have eaten as soon as we begin to repent of our sin for which the Lord send the locusts. For remember that the restoration is not merely a physical and temporal one, but a spiritual and eternal restoration.

    And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.

    May the Lord grant us the grace to keep from despair and cynicism when faced with a plague of locust. May He grant us the assurance of restoration, and therefore an impetus to return back to Him! Amen. Ω