The Israelites are told to prepare for the devastating invasion of the Assyrian armies. Their children will be taken as slaves, the temple will be destroyed, and the civilization that they had built under Solomon will be destroyed. Joel 1:8-9 says, “Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth.  The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord.” During the invasion, the young men of Israel will be killed in the battle or taken away as prisoners into a foreign land. Pete Seger wrote a song back in the early 60s that was covered by many during that era. He asks, “Where have all the flowers gone?” He answers his own question, “The girls have picked everyone.” He then asks, “Where have all the young girls gone?” He answers that “They’ve taken husbands, everyone” The next question is, “Where have all the young men gone?” His answer: “Gone to Soldiers, everyone.” The frequent refrain in the song is “When will they ever learn.”

The grain offerings and drink offerings were the symbols of great celebrations for the Jewish people. They were offered at their communal gatherings. Part of their offerings were given to the priests and Levites. The rest was consumed by the family in a banquet-type setting. This served as one of the main livelihood sources for the religious leaders in Israel. Just a few verses earlier, Joel condemned the priests for their gluttony and drunkenness. They now will mourn because there will be no more offerings for them to abuse. The offerings were a picture of prosperity, celebration, and happiness in the land. That would all come to an end. Israel’s defeat by Assyria brought the good times to an end for Israel. But the grievous part of their destruction was the people themselves.

You would think that such events would teach us something, and we would learn how to live on the planet in peace. But that has never been the case. We can’t even get along with each other. One source reports that “The American Civil War created an unprecedented number of young white widows, many married for a short amount of time, like Hetty Cary. Between 1861 and 1865, approximately three million husbands, fathers, sons, uncles, and brothers left for war. Approximately 750,000 American families would never see their loved one’s faces again as the men died, often far from home. As a result, some 200,000 white women became widows within these four years.”[1] The women are all in mourning for their lost mates. Busenitz says, “The young woman has exchanged the silky fabric of a wedding dress for the scratchy, coarse clothing of goat’s hair! She has traded the music and gaiety of the wedding feast for the reverberating cry of the funeral dirge! In the ancient world, the donning of sackcloth was a customary rite used to visibly express one’s state of mourning.”[2]

The moral foundation of the nation had collapsed. They had turned to the habits and practices of the people around them and had rejected the morals and values instituted by God for people to live healthy, happy, and purposeful lives. The deterioration of moral values signals the end of any society, as history has taught us. Like Israel, America has had its dramatic origin. It was called from the slavery of an unjust rule to make a long journey to an unknown land to start again. Being one nation under God, we have established the greatest nation on earth. I hope we know enough to learn from the history of Israel. But, I’m afraid we’ve lost our bearing. The question Peter Seger asked, “When will we ever learn?” pointed at the uselessness of war and was a protest song primarily against the Vietnam War. I would say that the real question we need to ask is when we will learn that without God and the moral foundation the Judeo-Christian ethic provides, we are doomed to the same fate as Israel.

[1] Civil War Widows – Essential Civil War Curriculum

[2] Busenitz, Irvin A. 2003. Commentary on Joel and Obadiah. Mentor Commentaries. Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor.