Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 27: Joel, Amos, Obadiah, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
ADDenda to Joel
Joel 1:4, The residue of the locusts, etc. “A comparison,” says Dr. Henderson, “of the different passages in which these names occur, renders it more than probable that they are here employed by the Prophet, not with any reference to the species into which the locusts may be scientifically divided, but to designate four successive swarms, according to certain destructive qualities, by which, as a genus of insects, they are distinguished, and thereby to heighten the terror which this description was intended to produce.”
Mercerius, as quoted in Poli Syn., tells us, that almost all divines, both ancient and modern, understood this narrative of the locusts allegorically; and it appears that, according to some, they designate the four incursions of the Chaldeans into the land, that is, by Tiglathpileser, Shalmanezer, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar; or, according to Cyril, by Shalmanezer, Nebuchadnezzar, Antiochus, and the Romans; or, according to Jerome, the four empires which successively ruled over the Jews, the first locust representing the Chaldeans, — the second, the Medes and Persians, — the third, the Macedonians, — and the fourth, the Romans. But these are hallucinations and not expositions. Much more appropriate is the opinion stated and approved by Henderson, that in this chapter Joel describes a devastation of the country by natural locusts; and that in the second he predicts a devastation by the Assyrians in a language highly metaphorical, borrowed in some measure from the scene described here; and this is exactly the view of Calvin.
Joel 2:12, But even now, etc. Our version, “Therefor also now,” is not so emphatical as that of Calvin. The full meaning has been perceived by Newcome, “Yet even now,” though omitted by Henderson, whose rendering is, “Now therefore,” which comes short of our common version.
Joel 2:13, For he is propitious, etc. It is of great importance that this declaration of what God is should be correctly rendered. Newcome’s version is the same with our common translation. Henderson’s is different; it is this, —
“For he is pitiful and compassionate,
Long-suffering and of great mercy,
And repenteth of the evil.”
The first, חנון, is not “pitiful,” but gracious, benevolent, propitious, gratuitously kind, favorable to the undeserving; it comes from חן, to show favor or kindness; and the last letter being doubled, it may be rendered, very kind, or very gracious. The second is רחום, which more properly means pitiful, but rightly rendered, “compassionate,” rather than “merciful,” as in our version. The third, ארך אפים, is better expressed by “slow to anger,” or to wrath, than by “long-suffering.” The fourth is, רב-חסד, much, or abundant in goodness: the word חסד is sometimes rendered mercy, but not properly; it means overflowing goodness, or exuberant benevolence. Adam Clarke has given an accurate description of these terms: — “gracious — good and benevolent in his own nature, — merciful — pitying and forgiving, — slow to anger — not easily provoked to punish, — of great kindness — exuberant goodness to all them who return to him.”
Joel 2:14, who knows, etc. Henderson has been very felicitous in his version of this line, —
“Who knoweth? He may turn and repent.”
It is an instance of the potential or subjunctive meaning of the future tense in Hebrew; which is the case probably much oftener than what is generally thought. But not so felicitous is the rendering of חוסה, in verse 17, by “Have pity.” The meaning of the verb is, no doubt to spare, as it is rendered, I believe, uniformly in our version. It may be seen in connection with two other verbs, which include the ideas of pity and sympathy, in Jer. 13:14, Jer. 21:7
Joel 2:20, For high hath he exalted himself to do his purpose. Both Newcome and Henderson retain the common version, only the former reads, “Though,” instead of “because he hath done great things.” כי הגדיל לעשות, “For he made himself great in (or, by) doing,” or, “Became great in doing.” It is the greatness of the doer that is set forth, rather than of the things done. Henderson very justly observes, that those words “convey the idea of moral agency, and can with no propriety be interpreted of the locusts.” Exactly the same words are adopted in the next verse in reference to God.
Joel 2:25, My great army, etc. Newcome says, “We have here a key to the grand and beautiful description which runs through these two chapters.” He considered that the Prophet is to be understood throughout “as foretelling a plague of locusts.” But this can be no key to such an interpretation, for what is said in this verse coalesces much better with the other view. On the supposition that there had been locusts, as related in the first chapter, and that the Prophet threatens a heavier judgment in this, which could only be prevented by repentance, to which he exhorts them, it appears most appropriate for him to say, that not only “the Northlander,” of whose invasion he had spoken, would be driven away and destroyed, but that also the devastations already produced by the locusts would be repaired. So far then is this verse from being a key to the proposed interpretation, that it is much more suitable to the other.
Joel 2:30, And I will set prodigies, etc. Calvin extends the range of these prodigies beyond what most commentators do. They are viewed by most as those prodigies, recorded even by the historian Josephus, which preceded the overthrow of the city and the temple by the Romans, when the whole kingdom, in a civil and ecclesiastical sense, was completely abolished. The day of the Lord, as mentioned here, has therefore been regarded as the day or time when this awful calamity happened to the Jews: but Calvin regards it as the day of final judgment. There is no doubt much truth in what he says about prodigies or awful judgments ever accompanying the gospel, not as its effects, but as visitations for unbelief, and willful and malicious opposition to it. There is much in the history of the world in confirmation of what he advances. The determinate suppression of the gospel by those who had opportunity of knowing it, or the evident depravation of it either by the influence of infidelity or of superstition, have often been visited in this world with awful judgments, such as wars and political disturbances.