WHEN LOCUSTS SWARM…

By Angela Johnson | March 31, 2020

The other day, my husband and I were discussing fasting and what that looks like. He had been reading in the book, “A Hunger for God,” by John Piper and came across this phrase:

“Fasting awakens a hunger for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all people.  Fasting proves the presence, and fans the flame, of that hunger.  It is an intensifier of spiritual desire.  It is a faithful enemy of fatal bondage to innocent things.”

I ruminated over that last line the entire day. So, the next morning during my quiet time with the Lord, I began looking up all the scriptural references to fasting. Then I read the story of Joel and I knew the context of his message was an on-time, rhema word for this very moment in our history.

You see, the book of Joel is a prophetic message to the people of Israel.

We don’t know much about who this minor prophet was, but scholars have surmised that the time period was 830 BC, during the time of the second temple of Jerusalem. The book’s central theme is a concept that salvation will come to the people of Israel only when they turn back to God. 

The 4-chapter book contains the message that there is always hope in God and He will defeat evil but there is a call to action — a call to repentance. That while we will face the judgement of God, we need to know that God is gracious and loving, and He will also bring a promised restoration, but He is waiting for the people to repent.

The book of Joel begins with the message he received from the Lord and he cries out:

“Hear this, you leaders of the people! Everyone listen! In all your history, has anything like this ever happened before? Tell your children about it in the years to come. Pass the awful story down from generation to generation.”

Joel 1:2-3, NLT

The people of Israel were suffering. They were in the midst of a massive enemy attack. A vast army of locusts had invaded the land of Judah and they had rendered the people and the land destitute; The crops, livestock, and people were perishing.

Take note that this was not the first time we’ve seen a plague of locusts mentioned in Scripture. In Exodus 10:1-20 we read about the plague that was sent as a response to Pharaoh’s hardened heart and his refusal to let the people of Israel free. But this was, however, the first time the plague was not set upon an enemy nation — but rather, God’s chosen people.

This is when I began to ask — why the locust? What is the symbolism of this chosen enemy invader? So through this questioning, I began to research; What exactly is a locust and how do they have the capacity to wreak such immense havoc on an entire nation?

In chapter 1 verse 4, Joel mentions 4 types of locusts: Cutting, Swarming, Hopping, and Stripping. 

I am by no means an entomologist, but I do appreciate the science of the insect world and believe there can be applicable life lessons learned from even the simplest of creatures. As I studied, I found these facts about locusts:

  • Locusts are related to grasshoppers and the two insects look similar. Individually, they are no bigger than a paperclip.  
  • Locusts are sometimes solitary insects with lifestyles much like grasshoppers. However, they can behave entirely different from that of a grasshopper, in that locusts have another behavioral phase called the: gregarious phase. This is when environmental conditions produce many green plants and promote breeding, locusts begin to congregate into thick, mobile, ravenous swarms. They even change colors — or mutate, if you will — when they enter this gregarious phase.
  • Swarming behavior is a response to overcrowding. Increased tactile stimulation of the hind legs causes an increase in levels of serotonin.{1} This causes the locust to change color, eat much more, and breed much more easily.
  • A large swarm can consist of billions of locusts spread out over an area of thousands of miles, with a population of up to 200 million per square mile. {2} Each locust can eat its weight in plants each day, so a swarm of such size would eat 423 million pounds of plants every day.
  • And finally, the initial bands of gregarious hoppers are known as “outbreaks“, and when these join together into larger groups, the event is known as an “upsurge“. Continuing upsurges on a regional level originating from a number of entirely separate breeding locations are known as “plagues”.{3}

When I look at this information through the lens of a public health professional and compare it to what we are experiencing right now in our modern day, I see an exact parallel to this natural phenomena.

This gregarious phase is a  MUTATION of species, which leads to an OUTBREAK — Just like our exposure to the novel virus – COVID-19. We have never seen or been exposed to something like this before. (Joel 2:2b) We have no immunity to this specific strand of corona virus, and because of this, we’ve had an “upsurge” or an EPIDEMIC which has now led to a “plague” or world-wide PANDEMIC!

I am amazed that I can read this text, written in 830 BC, in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and it still applies today. I’ve never doubted it, but this is undeniable evidence that …“The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, NIV)

In order to allow The Word to penetrate and pierce our souls, we have to apply it. 

So what does that look like? 

What did they do?

Then I turn to Joel 1:14 and read this:

“Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting. Bring the leaders and all the people into the Temple of the Lord your God, and cry out to him there.”

This was a clarion call. A call to action.

I now implore YOU, to fast and pray. This is a clarion call not only to our nation, but to our world.

When I think about our lives on this side of Heaven, I feel a deep call to do something. A deep call to action that elicits both wisdom and faith — simultaneously. Wisdom tells us to implement all of the man-made mitigation strategies we can: education of viral transmission and symptoms, hand washing, surface decontamination, social distancing, self-quarantine, sheltering in place, personal protective equipment (PPE), the list goes on and on… But then there is the component of our faith; putting legs to what we believe. The component of our faith that we need to mobilize is fasting and fervent prayer.

From 830 BC to 2020 AD, our God is the same. His word says that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8, NLT) So the call to action should also transcend time.

We are living in unprecedented times. This viral pandemic has been likened to an enemy army. National leaders around the globe have called this a “war”; We are in a war against an invisible, microscopic enemy. The prophet Joel interpreted the destruction of his day as God’s judgement and declared that to the people of Israel. The admonition of Joel and the parallel of the plague of locusts to the current plague are astonishing. 

In Joel1:15, he writes, 

The day of the Lord is on the way, the day when destruction comes from the Almighty. How terrible this day will be!”(NLT)

So Joel urged the people to take action. He cried out to the people:

“Blow the trumpet in Jerusalem (Zion)! Sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let everyone tremble in fear because the day of the Lord is upon us. It is a day of darkness and gloom, a day of thick clouds and deep blackness.  Suddenly, like dawn spreading across the mountains, a might army appears!  How great and powerful they are!  The likes of them have not been seen before and never will be seen again.”

Joel 2:1-2, NLT

Then he continued with describing the emotion of the day:

“Fear grips all the people; every face grows pale with fright. The attackers march like warriors and scale city walls like trained soldiers.  Straight forward they march, never breaking rank.  They never jostle each other; each moves in exactly the right place.  They lunge through the gaps, and no weapon can stop them.  They swarm over the city and run along its walls.  They enter all the houses, climbing like thieves through the window.”

Joel 2:6-7, NLT

In all of our history we have never experienced anything like this before. Of course, our nation has endured pandemics, and our world has experienced suffering…but this generation has NEVER lived through a comparable situation in all of our lives. So many of us have had moments of fear and anxiety as our world has been upended, but we must remind ourselves that we were born for such a time as this.

Joel’s message is a stern and timely warning against a nation who has drifted from God. But this cautionary message is given with the glorious hope of revival and restoration yet to come. But we, like the nation of Israel, have to do our part. Just as John Piper wrote, “[Fasting] is a faithful enemy of fatal bondage to innocent things.” Our world has drifted so far from the things of God. So many innocent things have become idols. Our world has chosen to turn it’s back on its creator; We have sinned again and again. That is why there is a call to repentance.

Then Joel continues with:

“That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is still time! Give me your hearts. Come with Fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief; instead, tear your hearts.”  Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful.  He is not easily angered.  He is filled with kindness and eager not to punish you.”

Joel 2:12-13, NLT

You see, there is still time, but God doesn’t just want an expression of sorrow — He desires true, heart sorrow — a true desire for forgiveness and repentance. I pray, “Lord, break our hearts for what breaks yours!”

Chapter 2 verse 14 continues with…The Lord’s Promise of Restoration.

“Who knows?  Perhaps even yet he will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this terrible curse.  Perhaps he will give you so much that you will be able to offer grain and wine to the Lord your God as before!”

This message is a clarion call not only to our nation, but to our world.

We are called to make a change for our future.  I implore YOU now to fast and pray because there is a promise to be fulfilled if we can turn back to Him.

“Surely the Lord has done great things! Don’t be afraid my people! Be glad now and rejoice because the Lord has done great things”…”Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem!  Rejoice in the Lord your God!  For the rains he sends are an expression of his grace.”  

Joel 2: 20b-21; 23, NLT

Sometimes our answered prayers don’t come as we envision. The forced rains — even the social distancing — has been a forced time of rest and, I believe, it is an expression of His grace. Today, His grace is a forced time for returning back to the heart of the Father. Let us not miss, or squander, this moment.

Then, in chapter 2 verse 25, God promises to give back all that was lost to the stripping locusts, the cutting locusts, the swarming locust, and the hopping locusts. No matter what this mutated pest — or this virus — may take from us…God will restore all that was lost.

And not only will there be restoration, but there will also be an outpouring of His Spirit.

“Then after I have poured out my rains again, I will pour out my Spirit upon ALL people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams.  your young men will see visions.  In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants, men and women alike.  I will cause wonders in the heavens and on the earth.”

Joel 2:28-30, NLT

And Joel 2:32 says, 

“And ANYONE who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (NLT)

This is a message of hope and restoration but also a call to action. 

We need to be doing something in the meantime — and that means we fast and pray.

When Locusts Swarm…We Fast and Pray!

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