Joel warns the nation that God is about to bring a sweeping disaster upon them as a judgment for their spiritual adultery. Having recently experienced a devastating locust plague the nation was well aware of that concept. But the “locusts” that were to come now were not literal locusts, but the army of Assyria. The soldiers would devour everything before them like a locust plague. With that in mind, Joel calls the people to do three things. Joel 1:5 says, “Awake, you drunkards, and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth.” They are to wake, weep, and wail.

The call to wake up is to come from their inebriated state and open their eyes to reality. It’s a call to sober up! Many commentators put Joel’s prophecy during the evil reign of Athaliah in Judah. She was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel who reigned over Israel in the north. She instituted all the vile practices of Baal worship she had learned from her mother. Patterson observed, “The ready availability of wine in the northern kingdom during the eighth century is illustrated in the Samaria Ostraca, many of which deal with receipts for wine. It is likely Judah was no different. Whatever the precise emphasis on wine here, God’s people are pictured as pursuing their own pleasure, oblivious to the great danger to which their spiritual lethargy had exposed them.”[1] Just as the locust plague was used by Joel to impress upon the nation the depth of the destruction to come, the drunkenness associated with the sweet wines of the day was used to illustrate the blind stupor of the entire nation concerning God. The wealth and abundance of life can sometimes blind us to the real world. We should not let the pleasures of the world distract us from the reality of our mortal nature.

The second and third things are similar, weep and wail. He calls the people to “weep.” The weeping is associated with the reality that with the locust plague all the ingredients for their “sweet wine” will be gone.  They were to weep over the loss of their abundance, but they were to mourn over the coming judgment. Julian of Eclanum was a 5th-century Pelagian, yet his aberrant theology did not prevent him from seeing this passage correctly. He wrote, “The patience of the eternal judge has been conquered by the shamelessness and obstinacy of sinners. He has decreed to subject you to the flogging that you deserve and to remove those chief instruments of your delights, which you were abusing. Of course, although the progression of this destitution reaches even the ordinary people and those without wealth, even the very commencement of it will torment you. You, then, whom instruction in justice has taught nothing, begin at least to experience the goads of fear, and shed some tears for your vices, which you did not give to your duties. All of you who never felt pain over your wounded innocence, weep at last for your destitute drunkenness.”[2] Isaiah tells of the coming judgment of God upon a people who refuse to face reality but double down on their drunkenness. Isaiah 22:12-13 says, “And in that day the Lord God of hosts called for weeping and for mourning, for baldness and for girding with sackcloth. But instead, joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating meat and drinking wine.” Then Isaiah quotes the frequently repeated motto in every culture. It might be worded a bit differently, but the philosophy is the same. The Miller beer commercial captures the idea for us, “Go for all the gusto you can, for you only go around once in life.” Isaiah puts it this way, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

[1] Patterson, Richard D., and Andrew E. Hill. 2008. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 10: Minor Prophets, Hosea–Malachi. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

[2] Julian of Eclanum. 2021. Commentaries on Job, Hosea, Joel, and Amos. Edited by Thomas P. Scheck, Gerald L. Bray, Michael Glerup, and Thomas C. Oden. Translated by Thomas P. Scheck. Ancient Christian Texts. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press.