The herds of cattle wander aimlessly
Because there is no pasture for them;
Even the flocks of sheep suffer.
19To You, O LORD, I cry;
For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness
And the flame has burned up all the trees of the field.
20Even the beasts of the field pant for You;
For the water brooks are dried up
And fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
"Even the flocks of sheep suffer." You can easily see how flocks of sheep can be a metaphor for the people. The KJV uses "are desolate" instead of suffer, and Strong's has some vibrant definitions attached to that phrasing--"to be guilty...by implication, to be punished or perish." That's clear enough!
Verse 19, "To you, O Lord, I cry." We need to remember who is speaking here. It's Joel, the prophet. This is a current event, and Joel is among the people. Not only did the priests need to take the lead, but for Joel to be faithful to God in representing His Word, he also needed to take the lead in seeking repentance. Not as a matter of lip service before the people--'cause I'm guessing prophets may have been looked at in that way by some--but as a true devoted follower of the Lord! Think of the overwhelming number of spokespeople we do not care for because they are not genuine to their cause.
The passage closes with the comparison between fire and water. The fire has devoured, the flame burned up.... Reminds me of this:
"Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you.... For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God."--Deuteronomy 4:23-24
What happens when Judah falls away and forgets who the Lord is? He consumes.
"The water brooks are dried up." Didn't think that there was much to explore here, but I'm glad I looked through some of the Hebrew wording. The KJV says "the rivers of waters are dried up." The Hebrew for 'rivers' more specifically refers to the channel or conduit that brings the water, or a "strong thing or hero." [Strong's] And though I thought "dried up" was to be only a literal translation, Strong's offers another interpretation--"to be ashamed, confused or disappointed." Could He who brings forth the water be ashamed, confused or disappointed in those who would receive it? He who had been a "hero" to the people had a withering reputation and place in their hearts.
The water is gone and the beasts not only groan, but pant. The famine has surely left them weakened. But, let's look at 'pant' in another sense, that of intense longing and an eagerness. They pant for water, yes, but the verse says "pant for You." The nation hugely needed restoration of their relationship with God.
"The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name."
--Psalm 119:130-132 (NIV)
I love how verse 132 closes, "as you always do to those who love your name." If they would only turn and recognize the God that they loved once more. "To You, O Lord, I cry out!" He is waiting to offer His people mercy and forgiveness, even as He has brought wrath. Joel starts the cry. The priests lament and prepare for prayerful, repentant fasting. A nation is called together.
Current event in the time of Joel? Yes. Are we, in 2010, not called to remember with our entire being Who we worship? Who brings us life?
"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire.'"--Hebrews 12:28-29
in securing for those who believe a kingdom that cannot be shaken!
'Til next Wednesday!
* * *
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.
I also use Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).