Living as we do in an age of plenty, it’s hard for us to understand famine. What we do know about it is a long way off and kind of unreal. We see picture of mothers with little babies with their bellies distended and being told they’re starving to death. You would believe it looking at those little twiggy limbs. We might even sit down and write a check for famine relief. Modern science and technology has not wiped out famine, but it sure has shoved it out of the center of most people’s lives. We don’t deal with it; we don’t think about it; we don’t have any experience about how it feels to be in the middle of one and to be helpless.
Not many of us know what it means to face starvation. And so, when you pick up an Old Testament prophet like Joel, it’s apt to be just words on paper to us. Now, I can assure you that it was more than just words to those who heard those words the first time Joel spoke them. For one thing, famine was a periodic and a well-known fact of life in that world. It was something people lived with. There was no giant government to move stuff back and forth. There were no great trucks and airplanes and boats and ships that could move tons of grain from one place to another. Nothing like that existed. And people knew that either they prepared or they could die.
The prophet Joel begins his work with a terrifying picture of a locust-induced famine. What we don’t know is whether to take this literally or as a metaphor or something even worse. I’ll tell you what he said, and then we can consider the implications.