I will remove far off from you the northern army - "That is, the locusts; which might enter Judea by the north, as Circassia and Mingrelia abound with them. Or the locusts may be thus called, because they spread terror like the Assyrian armies, which entered Judea by the north. See Zephaniah 2:13." - Newcome. Syria, which was northward of Judea, was infested with them; and it must have been a northern wind that brought them into Judea, in the time of Joel; as God promises to change this wind, and carry them into a barren and desolate land, Arabia Deserta. "And his face toward the east sea," i.e., the Dead Sea, which lay eastward of Jerusalem. "His hinder part toward the utmost sea," the western sea, i.e., the Mediterranean.
And his stink shalt come up - After having been drowned by millions in the Mediterranean, the reflux of the tide has often brought them back, and thrown there in heaps upon the shore, where they putrefied in such a manner as to infect the air and produce pestilence, by which both men and cattle have died in great multitudes. See Bochart, Hieroz., vol. ii., p. 481.
Livy, and St. Augustine after him, relate that there was such an immense crowd of locusts in Africa that, having eaten up every green thing, a wind arose that carried them into the sea, where they perished; but being cast upon the shore, they putrefied, and bred such a pestilence, that eighty thousand men died of it in the kingdom of Massinissa, and thirty thousand in the garrison of Utica, in which only ten remained alive. See Calmet and Livy, lib. xc., and August. De Civitate Dei, lib. iv., c. 31. We have many testimonies of a similar kind.
Because he hath done great things - Or, כי ki, although he have done great things, or, after he has done them, i.e., in almost destroying the whole country.
And I will remove far off from you the northern army - God speaks of the human agent under the figure of the locusts, which perish in the sea; yet so as to show at once, that He did not intend the locust itself, nor to describe the mode in which He should overthrow the human oppressor. He is not speaking of the locust itself, for the Northern is no name for the locust which infested Palestine, since it came from the south; nor would the destruction of the locust be in two opposite seas, since they are uniformly driven by the wind into the sea, upon whose waves they alight and perish, but the wind would not carry them into two opposite seas; nor would the locust perish in a “barren and desolate” land, but would fly further; nor would it be said of the locust that he was destroyed, Because he had done great things. But He represents to us, how this enemy should be driven quite out of the bounds of His people, so that he should not vex them more, but perish.
The imagery is from the holy land. The “East sea” is the Dead Sea, once the fertile “vale of Siddim” Genesis 14:3,, “in which sea were formerly Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim, until God overthrew them.” This, in the Pentateuch, is called “the salt sea” Genesis 14:3; Numbers 34:3, Numbers 34:12, or “the sea of the plain,” or “desert” (Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:49; Joshua 3:16; Joshua 12:3; Joshua 15:25; Joshua 18:19; also in 2 Kings 14:25), explained in Deuteronomy and Joshua to be “the salt sea” Ezekiel 47:18, and in Numbers it is said of it, “your south border shall be the salt sea eastward” Numbers 34:3. The utmost, or rather, the “hinder sea” Deuteronomy 11:24; Deuteronomy 34:2 (i. e., that which is behind one who is looking toward the east whose Hebrew name is from “fronting” you) is the Mediterranean, “on whose shores are Gaza and Ascalon, Azotus and Joppa and Caesarea.” The “land barren and desolate,” lying between, is the desert of Arabia, the southern boundary of the holy land.
The picture then seems to be, that the “Northern” foes filled the whole of Judaea, in numbers like the locust, and that God drove them violently forth, all along the bounds of the holy land, into the desert, the Dead Sea, the Mediterranean. Jerome relates a mercy of God in his own time which illustrates the image; but he writes so much in the language of Holy Scripture, that perhaps he only means that the locusts were driven into the sea, not into both seas. “In our times too we have seen hosts of locusts cover Judaea, which afterward, by the mercy of the Lord, when the priests and people, ‹between the porch and the altar,‘ i. e., between the place of the Cross and the Resurrection prayed the Lord and said, ‹spare Thy people,‘ a wind arising, were carried headlong ‹into the Eastern sea, and the utmost sea.‘” Alvarez relates how, priests and people joining in litanies to God, He delivered them from an exceeding plague of locusts, which covered 24English miles, as He delivered Egypt of old at the prayer of Moses. “When we knew of this plague being so near, most of the clerks of the place came to me, that I should tell them some remedy against it. I answered them, that I knew of no remedy except to commend themselves to God and to pray Him to drive the plague out of the land. I went to the Embassador and told him that to me it seemed good that we should make a procession with the people of the land and that it might please our Lord God to hear us; it seemed good to the Embassador; and, in the morning of the next day, we collected the people of the place and all the Clergy; and we took our altar-stone, and those of the place theirs, and our Cross and theirs, singing our litany, we went forth from the Church, all the Portuguese and the greater part of the people of the place. I said to them that they should not keep silence, but should, as we, cry aloud saying in their tongue Zio marinos, i. e., in our‘s, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.
And with this cry and litany, we went through an open wheat-country for the space of one third of a league. It pleased our Lord to hear the sinners, and while we were turning to the place, because their (the locusts‘) road was toward the sea whence they had come, there were so many after us, that it seemed no otherwise than that they sought to break our ribs and heads with blows of stones, such were the blows they dealt us. At this time a great thunderstorm arose from toward the sea, which came in their face with rain and hail, which lasted three good hours; the river and brooks filled greatly; and when they had ceased to drive, it was matter of amazement, that the dead locusts on the bank of the great river measured two cubits high; and so for the rivulets, there was a great multitude of dead on their banks. On the next day in the morning there was not in the whole land even one live locust.”
And his stink shall come up - The image is still from the locust. It, being such a fearful scourge of God, every individual full of activity and life repeated countlessly in the innumerable host, is, at God‘s will and in His time, cast by His word into the sea, and when thrown up by the waves on the shore, becomes in a few hours one undistinguishable, putrefying, heaving mass. Such does human malice and ambition and pride become, as soon as God casts aside the sinful instrument of His chastisement. Just now, a world to conquer could not satisfy it; superior to man, independent, it deems, of God. He takes away its breath, it is a putrid carcass. Such was Sennacherib‘s army; in the evening inspiring terror; “before the morning, he is not” Isaiah 17:14. “They were all dead corpses.” Isaiah 37:36.
The likeness stops here. For the punishment is at an end. The wicked and the persecutors of God‘s people are cut off; the severance has taken place. On the one side, there is the putrefying mass; on the other, the jubilee of thanksgiving. The gulf is fixed between them. The offensive smell of the corruption ascends; as Isaiah closes his prophecy, “the carcases” of the wicked, the perpetual prey of the “worm and the fire, shall be an abhorring to all flesh.” The righteous behold it, but it reaches them not, to hurt them. In actual life, the putrid exhalations at times have, among those on the sea-shore, produced a pestilence, a second visitation of God, more destructive than the first. This, however, has been but seldom. Yet what must have been the mass of decay of creatures so slight, which could produce a wide-wasting pestilence! What an image of the numbers of those who perish, and of the fetidness of sin! Augustine, in answer to the pagan who imputed all the calamities of the later Roman Empire to the displeasure of the gods, because the world had become Christian, says, “They themselves have recorded that the multitude of locusts was, even in Africa, a sort of prodigy, while it was a Roman province. They say that, after the locusts had consumed the fruits and leaves of trees, they were cast into the sea, in a vast incalculable cloud, which having died and being cast back on the shores, and the air being infected thereby, such a pestilence arose, that in the realm of Masinissa alone 800,000 men perished, and manymore in the lands on the coasts. Then at Utica, out of 30,000 men in the prime of life who were there, they assert that 10 only remained.”
Jerome says of the locusts of Palestine; “when the shores of both seas were filled with heaps of dead locusts which the waters had cast up, their stench and putrefaction was so noxious as to corrupt the air, so that a pestilence was produced among both beasts and men.” Modern writers say, “The locusts not only produce a famine, but in districts near the sea where they had been drowned, they have occasioned a pestilence from the putrid effluvia of the immense numbers blown upon the coast or thrown up by the tides.”: “We observed, in May and June, a number of these insects coming from the south directing their course to the northern shore; they darken the sky like a thick cloud, but scarcely have they quitted the shore before they who, a moment before, ravaged and ruined the country, cover the surface of the sea with their dead bodies, to the great distress of the Franks near the harbor, on account of the stench from such a number of dead insects, driven by the winds close to the very houses.”: “All the full-grown insects were driven into the sea by a tempestuous northwest wind, and were afterward cast upon the beach, where, it is said, they formed a bank of 3 or 4 feet high, extending - a distance of near 50 English miles. It is asserted that when this mass became putrid and the wind was southeast the stench was sensibly felt in several parts of Sneuwberg. The column passed the houses of two of our party, who asserted that it continued without any interruption for more than a month.”: “The south and east winds drive the clouds of locusts with violence into the Mediterranean, and drown them in such quantities that when their dead are cast on the shore, they infect the air to a great distance.” Wonderful image of the instantaneous, ease, completeness, of the destruction of God‘s enemies; a mass of active life exchanged, in a moment, into a mass of death.
Because he hath done great things - Literally, (as in the English margin) ““because he hath magnified to do,” i. e., as used of man, “hath done proudly.” To do greatly Joel 2:21; Psalm 126:2-3; 1 Samuel 12:24, or to magnify Himself, Ezekiel 38:23, when used of God, is to display His essential greatness, in goodness to His people, or in vengeance on their enemies. Man‘s great deeds are mostly deeds of great ambition, great violence, great pride, great iniquity; and so of him, the words “he magnified himself, Isaiah 10:15; Daniel 11:36-37, he did greatly” Lamentations 1:9; Zephaniah 2:8; Daniel 8:4, Daniel 8:8, Daniel 8:11, Daniel 8:25, mean, he did ambitiously, proudly, and so offended God. In like way “great doings,” when used of God, are His great works of good; of man, his great works of evil.: “Man has great deserts, but evil.” “To speak great things” Psalm 12:3; Daniel 7:8, Daniel 7:11, Daniel 7:20, is to speak proud things: “greatness of heart” Isaiah 9:9; Isaiah 10:12 is pride of heart. He is speaking then of man who was God‘s instrument in chastening His people; since of irrational, irresponsible creatures, a term which involves moral fault, would not have been used, nor would a moral fault have been set down as the ground why God destroyed them. The destruction of Sennacherib or Holofernes have been assigned as the fulfillment of this prophecy. They were part of its fulfillment, and of the great law of God which it declares, that instruments, which He employs, and who exceed or accomplish for their own ends, the office which He assigns them, He casts away and destroys.