“A nation has come up into my land.”—JOEL 1:6.
SONG 95 The Light Gets Brighter
1. What study method was followed by Brother Russell and his associates, and why was it effective?
MORE than a century ago, Brother C. T. Russell and his associates, a small group of other students of God’s Word, began to meet together. They wanted to see if they could learn what the Bible really teaches about Jehovah God, Jesus Christ, the condition of the dead, and the ransom. Their method of study was simple. Someone would raise a question, and then the group would examine every scripture text related to the subject. Finally, they would make a record of their findings. With Jehovah’s blessing, those sincere Christian men discovered many fundamental Bible truths that we cherish to this day.
2. What might sometimes lead to wrong conclusions when we are trying to understand Bible prophecy?
2 As those Bible students soon found out, however, it can be one thing to learn what the Bible teaches about a certain doctrinal subject but quite another to discern correctly the meaning of a Bible prophecy. Why is that so? For one thing, Bible prophecies are often best understood when they are undergoing fulfillment or after they have been fulfilled. But there is another factor. To understand a prophecy correctly, we generally have to consider its context. If we focus on only one aspect of the prophecy and ignore the rest, we may draw the wrong conclusion. In hindsight, it seems that this has been the case with a prophecy in the book of Joel. Let us review that prophecy and discuss why an adjustment in our present understanding is needed.
3-4. Until now, how have we applied the prophecy found at Joel 2:7-9?
3 Read Joel 2:7-9. Joel foretells that a plague of locusts will devastate the land of Israel. With teeth and jaws like those of lions, the greedy insects will devour everything in sight! (Joel 1:4, 6) For many years, we have applied that prophecy symbolically to the way in which Jehovah’s people, like an unstoppable swarm of locusts, engage in their preaching activity. We understood that this activity has devastating effects on the “land,” or the people who are under the control of the religious leaders.*
4 If we restricted ourselves to a reading of Joel 2:7-9, a case could be made for that explanation. However, when we consider the prophecy in its context, we see that a different understanding is appropriate. Let us examine four reasons why this is so.
FOUR REASONS FOR AN ADJUSTMENT
5 First of all, notice Jehovah’s promise with regard to the plague of locusts: “I will drive the northerner [the locusts] far away from you.” (Joel 2:20) If the locusts represent Jehovah’s Witnesses as they obey Jesus’ command to preach and make disciples, why would Jehovah promise to drive them away? (Ezek. 33:7-9; Matt. 28:19, 20) Clearly, Jehovah is driving away, not his faithful servants, but something or someone who is hostile to his people.
6 As a second reason, consider what is written at Joel 2:25. There, Jehovah says: “I will make compensation to you for the years that the swarming locust, the unwinged locust, the voracious locust, and the devouring locust have eaten, my great army that I sent among you.” Notice that Jehovah promises to “make compensation” for the damage the locusts have caused. If the locusts picture Kingdom evangelizers, this would suggest that the message they proclaim causes damage. Yet, that lifesaving message can actually move some of the wicked to repent. (Ezek. 33:8, 19) What a blessing that could be for them!
7. At Joel 2:28, 29, what is the significance of the words “after that”?
7 Read Joel 2:28, 29. Consider a third reason—the sequence of events outlined by the prophecy. Did you notice that Jehovah says: “After that I will pour out my spirit”; that is, after the locusts have completed their assigned task? If the locusts are preachers of God’s Kingdom, why would Jehovah pour out his spirit on them after they finish their witnessing? The reality is that without the help of God’s powerful holy spirit, they could never have kept preaching for decades despite opposition and even bans on their work.
8. Whom do the locusts described at Revelation 9:1-11 represent? (See cover picture.)
8 Read Revelation 9:1-11. Now let us look at the fourth reason. We previously connected the plague of locusts described by Joel with our preaching work because of a similar prophecy found in the book of Revelation. This prophecy describes a swarm of locusts that have human faces and ‘what seem to be crowns of gold’ on their heads. (Rev. 9:7) They torment “those people [God’s enemies] who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” for a period of five months, the average life span of a locust. (Rev. 9:4, 5) This does indeed appear to be a description of Jehovah’s anointed servants. They boldly proclaim God’s judgments against this wicked system of things and, as a result, make its supporters very uncomfortable.
9. What significant differences are there between the locusts Joel saw and those described by John?
9 Admittedly, there are similarities between the prophecy in Revelation and the one Joel recorded. However, there are significant differences. Consider: In Joel’s prophecy, the locusts devastate the vegetation. (Joel 1:4, 6, 7) In John’s vision, the locusts are “told not to harm the vegetation of the earth.” (Rev. 9:4) The locusts Joel saw came from the north. (Joel 2:20) Those John saw came out of an abyss. (Rev. 9:2, 3) The locusts Joel described are driven away. In Revelation, the locusts are not driven away but are allowed to finish their work. There is no indication that they deserve Jehovah’s disapproval.—See the box “Prophecies About Locusts—Similar But Different.”
10. Give a Scriptural example showing that the locusts described by Joel and by John can represent different things.
10 The significant differences between the two prophecies lead us to conclude that they are not connected. Are we saying that the locusts described by Joel are not the same as the locusts presented in the book of Revelation? Yes. In the Bible, it is not unusual for a symbol to convey different meanings in different settings. For example, at Revelation 5:5, Jesus is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” whereas at 1 Peter 5:8, the Devil is described as “a roaring lion.” In view of the questions raised by our present understanding, we need to look for another explanation of Joel’s prophecy. What could it be?
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
11 A closer look at Joel’s prophecy in its context reveals that the prophet was predicting a military attack. (Joel 1:6; 2:1, 8, 11) Jehovah said that he would use his “great army” (Babylonian soldiers) to punish the disobedient Israelites. (Joel 2:25) The invading army is rightly called “the northerner” because the Babylonians would invade Israel from the north. (Joel 2:20) That army is likened to a well-organized swarm of locusts. Of them, Joel says: “Each [soldier] advances in his course. . . . Into the city they rush, on the wall they run. Onto the houses they climb, through the windows they enter like a thief.” (Joel 2:8, 9) Can you picture the scene? There are soldiers everywhere. There is nowhere to hide. No one can escape the sword of the Babylonians!
12. How was Joel’s prophecy about the locusts fulfilled?
12 Like locusts, the Babylonians (or, Chaldeans) invaded the city of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. The Bible reports: “The king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword . . . , felt no compassion for young man or virgin, old or infirm. God gave everything into his hand. He burned down the house of the true God, tore down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its fortified towers with fire, and destroyed everything of value.” (2 Chron. 36:17, 19) When the Babylonians were finished with the land, onlookers could only say: “It is a wasteland without man and beast, and it has been handed over to the Chaldeans.”—Jer. 32:43.
13 Some 200 years after Joel’s prophecy, Jehovah used Jeremiah to foretell something else about this attack. He said that a thorough search would be made for those Israelites who engaged in wicked practices—a search that would lead to their capture. “‘Here I am sending for many fishermen,’ declares Jehovah, ‘and they will fish for them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and every hill and out of the clefts of the crags. . . . I will repay the full amount due for their error and their sin.’” Neither the oceans nor the forests would be able to conceal the unrepentant Israelites from the Babylonian invaders.—Jer. 16:16, 18.
14. When was Joel 2:28, 29 fulfilled?
14 On a positive note, Joel now brings news of restoration. The land will be fruitful again. (Joel 2:23-26) Then at some point in the future, an ample supply of spiritual food will become available. “I will pour out my spirit on every sort of flesh,” says Jehovah, “and your sons and your daughters will prophesy . . . And even on my male slaves and female slaves I will pour out my spirit.” (Joel 2:28, 29) That outpouring of God’s spirit did not occur as soon as the Israelites were brought back from Babylon to their homeland. Rather, it took place centuries later, at Pentecost 33 C.E. How do we know?
15 Under inspiration, the apostle Peter applied Joel 2:28, 29 to an amazing event that took place on that day of Pentecost. About nine o’clock that morning, there was a miraculous outpouring of holy spirit that moved those who received it to begin speaking “about the magnificent things of God.” (Acts 2:11) Under inspiration, Peter used slightly different wording when quoting Joel’s prophecy. Did you notice what adjustment he made? (Read Acts 2:16, 17.) Instead of beginning the quotation with the words “after that,” Peter said: “And in the last days”—in this context, the last days of the Jewish system of things—God’s spirit would be poured out “on every sort of flesh.” This indicates that considerable time had passed before Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled.
16. What effect did God’s spirit have on the preaching work in the first century, and what about today?
16 It was after that remarkable outpouring of God’s spirit in the first century that the preaching work began to go forward to the greatest extent. By the time the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, about 61 C.E., he could describe the good news as being preached “in all creation under heaven.” (Col. 1:23) In Paul’s day, “all creation” meant the world as it was then known. With the help of Jehovah’s powerful holy spirit, the preaching work has expanded much more in our day—“to the ends of the earth”!—Acts 13:47; see the box “I Will Pour Out My Spirit.”
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
17. How has our understanding of Joel’s prophecy about the locusts changed?
17 What has changed? We now have a more accurate understanding of the prophecy found at Joel 2:7-9. Simply put, these verses refer, not to our zealous preaching work, but to the activity of the Babylonian army that invaded Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E.
18. What has not changed about Jehovah’s people?
18 What has not changed? Jehovah’s people continue to preach the good news everywhere, using every possible avenue to do so. (Matt. 24:14) No governmental restriction can prevent us from carrying out the commission to preach. And with Jehovah’s blessing, we are more active than ever, courageously preaching the good news of the Kingdom! We humbly continue to look to Jehovah for his guidance in understanding Bible prophecy, confident that when the time is right, he will lead us “into all the truth”!—John 16:13.
SONG 97 Life Depends on God’s Word
For many years we have believed that the prophecy recorded in Joel chapters 1 and 2 foretells our modern-day preaching activity. However, there are four good reasons why it appears that an adjustment should be made in our understanding of this portion of Joel’s prophecy. What are those reasons?
For example, see the article “Jehovah’s Wisdom Observed in Creation” in The Watchtower of April 15, 2009, pars. 14-16.