I. Celestial phenomenon in prophetic contexts is apocalyptic language used to depict the destruction of a Government power and a great political upheaval. Jeremiah states in his prophecy that Babylon would spoil his people:
Jer. 4: 16 Make ye mention to the nations; behold, publish against Jerusalem, that watchers come from a far country, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah. 17 As keepers of a field, are they against her round about; because she hath been rebellious against me, saith the Lord. 18 Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reacheth unto thine heart. 19 My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. 20 Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled: suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment. 21 How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? 22 For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge. 23 I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. 24 I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. 25 I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. 26 I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by his fierce anger. 27 For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end. 28 For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black; because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it. 29 The whole city shall flee for the noise of the horsemen and bowmen; they shall go into thickets, and climb up upon the rocks: every city shall be forsaken, and not a man dwell therein. 30 And when thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do?
And Ezekiel in his Prophecy of the destruction of Egypt and the judgment upon Pharaoh:
Ezek. 32: 2 Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say unto him, Thou art like a young lion of the nations, and thou art as a whale in the seas: and thou camest forth with thy rivers, and troubledst the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers. 3 Thus saith the Lord God; I will therefore spread out my net over thee with a company of many people; and they shall bring thee up in my net. 4 Then will I leave thee upon the land, I will cast thee forth upon the open field, and will cause all the fowls of the heaven to remain upon thee, and I will fill the beasts of the whole earth with thee. 5 And I will lay thy flesh upon the mountains, and fill the valleys with thy height. 6 I will also water with thy blood the land wherein thou swimmest, even to the mountains; and the rivers shall be full of thee. 7 And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. 8 All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God.
When Israel fought against Sisera in the book of Judges, Elohim fighting against Sisera is depicted as stars fighting against him:
Judges 5:20 They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
These apocalyptic phrases are also mentioned in judgment passages against Babylon many centuries ago and the fulfillment was not literal. For instance Isaiah 13:10 is virtually identical to Acts 2:20:
Isa 13:10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
This type of language where stars are falling and the moon going dark refers to the fall of governments and powers. In Isa. 14 which is a judgment prophesy against the King of Babylon [vs. 4] we read this:
Isa. 14:12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! [how] art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
We read much the same in Isa 34:4. So these passages concerning the moon and the sun in Acts 2 are referring to the fall of Jerusalem and the coming fall of the pagan powers that had dominated the earth for centuries.
II. The symbology in Bible prophecy, when depicting a literal nation is based on literal realities among that nation, namely, its gross domestic product, its regional flora and its fauna, its military armaments, its coinage, the moral character of the people, etc.
The wikipedia article on the biogeography of the Mediterranean Bason states,
“Wheat is the dominant grain grown around the Mediterranean Basin. Pulses and vegetables are also grown. The characteristic tree crop is the olive. Figs are another important fruit tree, and citrus, especially lemons, are grown where irrigation is present. Grapes are an important vine crop, grown for fruit and to make wine. Rice and summer vegetables are grown in irrigated areas.”
This is the exact language the Bible uses to depict Israel:
Jer. 11: 16 The LORD called your name,
“A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form”;
With the noise of a great tumult
He has kindled fire on it,
And its branches are worthless.
Rom. 11: 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the [h]rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.
Judgment on Damascus
Isa. 17: 4 Now in that day the glory of Jacob will [f]fade,
And the fatness of his flesh will become lean.
5 It will be even like the [g]reaper gathering the standing grain,
As his arm harvests the ears,
Or it will be like one gleaning ears of grain
In the valley of Rephaim.
6 Yet gleanings will be left in it like the [h]shaking of an olive tree,
Two or three olives on the topmost bough,
Four or five on the branches of a fruitful tree,
Declares the Lord, the God of Israel.
Isaiah’s prophecy against Israel
Isa. 24:7 The new wine mourns,
The vine decays,
All the merry-hearted sigh.
8 The gaiety of tambourines ceases,
The noise of revelers stops,
The gaiety of the harp ceases.
9 They do not drink wine with song;
Strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.
10 The city of chaos is broken down;
Every house is shut up so that none may enter.
11 There is an outcry in the streets concerning the wine;
All joy [b]turns to gloom.
The gaiety of the earth is banished.
12 Desolation is left in the city
And the gate is battered to ruins.
13 For thus it will be in the midst of the earth among the peoples,
As the [c]shaking of an olive tree,
As the gleanings when the grape harvest is over.
Psa. 80:8 You removed a vine from Egypt;
The cursing of the fig tree, the parable of the landowner and how the vinegrowers killed him where Israel is depicted as a fig tree and a grape vineyard are also striking:
Mat. 21:18 Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He *said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.
And then right after he gives these signs, the cursing of the fig tree and the landowner parable he says,
42 Jesus *said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures,
‘The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief corner stone;
This came about from the Lord,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a [m]people, producing the fruit of it. 44 And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.
Egypt is referred to as a reed:
2 Kings 18: 21 Now behold, you [j]rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt; on which if a man leans, it will go into his [k]hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him.
Ezek. 29:6 “Then all the inhabitants of Egypt will know that I am the LORD,
Because they have been only a staff made of reed to the house of Israel.
Again, the Cyperus papyrus reed is one of the most famously known agricultural products from Egypt:
“Cyperus papyrus (papyrus sedge, paper reed, Indian matting plant, Nile grass) is a species of aquatic flowering plant belonging to the sedge family Cyperaceae. It is a tender herbaceous perennial, native to Africa, and forms tall stands of reed-like swamp vegetation in shallow water.
Papyrus sedge (and its close relatives) has a very long history of use by humans, notably by the Ancient Egyptians—it is the source of papyrus paper, one of the first types of paper ever made.”
Now to animal symbols:
Judah is depicted by the Lion, from the prevalence of the Asiatic lion in this region.
Genesis 49: 9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
Edom is depicted as an eagle in a high mountain region.
Jer. 49:16 “As for the terror of you,
The arrogance of your heart has deceived you,
O you who live in the clefts of [n]the rock,
Who occupy the height of the hill.
Though you make your nest as high as an eagle’s,
I will bring you down from there,” declares the LORD.
This is no doubt to to the prevalence of mountain regions in Edom such as Mount Seir and Mount Hor:
See also my article on Cessationism on Acts 2:15-21: