|9th Century Prophets||8th Century Prophets||7th Century Prophets||Exilic Prophets||Post-exilic Prophets|
The book is named after its prophetic author, Joel, whose name means “Yahweh is God.”
The value and importance of repentance.[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 641.[/footnote] Yahweh thunders at the head of His army.[footnote]D Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 273.[/footnote]
To call God’s people to repentance so they could escape judgment and enjoy blessings on the approaching day of the Lord.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1425.[/footnote]
4. Key Verses
And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil (Joel 2:21)
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call (Joel 2:32).
5. Key Truths
• Temporary, historical judgments call for repentance.
• Temporary judgments indicate the importance of repentance for the great day of the Lord.
• God promises his repentant people salvation from judgment and unending blessings in the future.[footnote]Ibid.,1425.[/footnote]
This book is attributed in its superscription to Joel son of Pethuel (Joel 1:1). Although there are another 12 Joel’s mentioned in the Old Testament, there is no conclusive evidence that one of them is the prophetic writer of this book. Joel’s ministry was based in the South and was concerned only with Judah and Jerusalem. His knowledge of and respect for the priests (Joel 1:13,14; Joel 2:17) would also suggest that he lived in or near Jerusalem. He has been called “the prophet of Pentecost,” “the prophet of hopefulness,” and “the prophet of the Spirit.”[footnote]J E Smith, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]
The most reasonable estimate is that Joel ministered in the minority of King Joash (c. 837–800 BC), during the regency of Jehoiada, the high priest, about 837-820 BC (2 Ki. 11:12). Supporting evidence for this is as follows:
1. An operating Temple
The book presumes the existence and routine operation of the temple (Joel 1:9,13-16; Joel 2:15-17), which rules out a date between 586 and 516 BC.
2. The type of Government
The type of government suggested by Joel’s prophecies seems to be a regency. There is no mention of a king, and the elders and priests seem to be the national leaders. This would fit the ninth century BC, when King Joash was a minor and the regents ruled in his name (2 Kings 11:4f). The absence of condemnations for idolatry may reflect Jehoiada’s godly influence on the young king.
3. Judah’s enemies
The enemies of Judah which are mentioned are not those of the immediate pre-exilic and exilic period, such as the Assyrians and Babylonians, but rather the Philistines, Phoenicians (Joel 3:4), Egypt and Edom (Joel 3:19). This would suggest a time when Assyria and Babylon posed no threat, but Egypt and the surrounding neighbours of Israel were still a danger.
Although it is of course an argument from silence, it suggests that the book was prior to the hegemony of Assyria along the Mediterranean coast (mid-eighth century) or after the rule of Babylon (late sixth century).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 365.[/footnote]
Both the Edomites and Philistines made incursions into Judah in the years immediately before Joash was made king. The Philistines plundered the temple in 845 BC. At no time after the reign of Joash was the kingdom of Judah faced by this mixture of enemies.
The mention of the Greeks in Joel 3:6 implies that they were a far distant people. It does not require the conclusion of a post-exilic date. Indeed, the Greeks were in control from 333 BC and so were near rather than far off.
The captivity in Joel 3:2 does not need to be taken as a reference to a past Babylonian captivity. The reference is in an eschatological context, and it is the re-gathering of the nations at the end that is being described.
The book is the second minor prophet in the Hebrew and the fourth in the Septuagint. This would also suggest that the Jewish scholars and Greek translators regarded this as an early book.
To sum up, then, the internal evidence agrees more closely with the period of 835 B.C. for the composition of this prophecy than with any other. The lack of reference to any reigning king on the throne of Judah, the implication that the responsibility of government rests upon the priests and elders, the allusion to the neighbouring nations as the current foes of Judah (rather than Assyria, Babylonia, or Persia)—all these factors point quite conclusively to the period of Joash’s minority. The linguistic evidence perfectly accords with this early date and makes a theory of post-exilic composition quite untenable. It is fair to say that the arguments for a late date are largely based upon humanistic philosophical assumptions rather than upon reasonable deduction from the data of the text itself.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]
III. Historical Analysis
In our discussion of the date of the prophecy above, we proposed that the prophecy be located in the time of Joash’s minority. The main events around this time were.
|Date (BC)||Event||Scripture reference|
|849-843||Jehoram, King of Judah reigned over Judah||2 Ki. 8:16-24
2 Chron. 21:18,19
|845||Arabs and Philistines invaded Judah and plundered the temple to the Edomite’s delight||2 Ki. 8:20-22|
|843||Jehoram died and Ahaziah, son of Jehoram reined over Judah||2 Ki. 8:25-29|
|843||Ahaziah murdered by Jehu
Athaliah, Jehoram’s wife and Ahaziah’s mother seized throne of Judah
Athaliah killed all her grandchildren to give her clear title to the throne
Only Joash saved, by Jehoiada and his wife
|2 Ki. 11:1-16,
2 Chron. 22:10-23:15
|837||Jehoiada made Joash King, aged 7
|2 Ki. 11:21|
|837||Under influence of Jehoiada, Joash removed false worship and renewed true worship||2 Chron. 24:7|
|820||Jehoiada died and King Joash listened more to Baal sympathisers||2 Chron. 24:17,18|
|800||Joash died and Amaziah reigned over Judah||2 Ki. 14:1-22|
IV. Literary Analysis
1. Comparative Outlines
he Day of the Lord in Retrospect
The Past Day of the Locust (Joel 1:1-12)
The Day of the Lord in Prospect
The Imminent Day of the Lord (Joel 2:1-27)
Present Announcements of Invasion and Destruction
Future Announcements of Hope and restoration
God requires repentance
God responds to repentance
a. God requires repentance (Joel 1:2-2:17)
Recent locust devastation Joel (1:1-20)
Future divine devastation (Joel 2:1-17)
b. God responds to repentance (Joel 2:18-3:21)
Divine renewal of God’s land and God’s people (Joel 2:18-32)
Divine judgment on the nations (Joel 3:1-16)
Divine blessings for God’s people (Joel 3:17-21)
2. Liturgical Lament
Several features suggest that the book of Joel is either a liturgical text intended for repeated use on occasions of national lament or at least a historical example of one such lament. This is perhaps why specific historical references are not used in reference to particular enemies or sins.
If the book of Joel was intended to serve as part of a liturgy at the temple, the difficulty in dating the book is all the more easily understood. Repeated liturgical use would call for a composition that could be used on many different occasions whether natural or military disaster threatened. Specific historical references would narrow the range of events to which the text could be applied or for which it could be used liturgically. Note also how the text is “dehistoricized” in reference to the confession of sin: although the text calls for repentance (Joel 1:13-14; Joel 2:13-14), no particular sin is mentioned as causing the plight of the people. The less specific a liturgical text is, the wider the range of its applicability. This feature of the book may help explain not only why it is so difficult to date, but also how it achieves the kind of timelessness that makes it such powerful literature in our own day.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 368.[/footnote]
The impact of Joel’s literary style is further seen in the numerous imperatives with which his book is punctuated. Some forty-five occurrences of the imperative mood declare the urgency of his message. Perhaps that feature also implies that the time differential between the speaking of the oracles and their written form was insignificant, because the urgency remains clearly woven into the fabric of the oracles.
V. Thematic Analysis
1. The Locusts
In chapter 1 Joel described a locust plague in his own lifetime. He urged his hearers to search the past to see if anything like it had happened before, and he directs them to tell future generations about it also. The plague had affected all people from all walks of life: the drunkards had no drink (Joel 1:5-7), the people of Zion had no bread (Joel 1:8-10), the farmers had no crops (Joel 1:11-12), and the priests had no offerings (Joel 1:13-18).
In Joel 2 a plague of locusts is described again. It is the relationship between these “two locust plagues” which has been the subject of much debate. While there is general agreement that Joel 1 describes a literal locust plague in the past, there are three different views regarding the plague in Joel 2.
a. Literal Plague
The plague of Joel 2 is simply another description of the plague in Joel 1, or else a description of another locust plague in the season after Joel 1. This denies a metaphorical character to Joel 2 and argues that “God’s army” is simply a description of the locusts. However, it is hard to see how locusts could achieve what is described. Gentile armies fit the wider context better.
The invaders are described as an army on the march; the consequence of their invasion is that the Gentiles rule over Jerusalem (Joel 2:17). It is Gentile armies that are judged in Joel 3:4-14,19 and Judah is promised that she will no longer be humiliated before the Gentiles (Joel 2:19,26-27).[footnote]Ibid., 369.[/footnote]
b. Metaphorical plague
(i) Foreign armies
The denial of a literal locust plague in Joel 2 is founded upon the exceptional language used to describe the locusts. It is thought that the language is too excessive to simply refer to locusts and must, therefore, be a metaphorical description of Israel’s foreign enemies. So, the literal plague of Joel 1 is taken up as a metaphor for invading Gentile armies in Joel 2.
(ii) God’s armies
Many scholars today take the metaphor a step further and argue that Joel 2 describes something much more than a human army. The argument is that the locusts of Joel 1 foreshadowed an approaching divine invasion to judge Israel (Joel 2).
The first half of the Book of Joel deals with what is best understood as an actual plague of locusts, pictured in the form of an approaching army. Presented as a literal plague in Joel 1:2-14, it is then seen in Joel 1:15-20 and Joel 2:1-11 as indicative of a much deeper reality than the opening description seems to suggest. In short, we are faced with a natural evil in Joel 1, which is then theologized in Joel 2:1-11, in terms of “the Day of the Lord.”[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 186.[/footnote]
Israel had viewed the Day of the Lord as a day when God and His glorious retinue of winged cherubim would destroy her enemies. However, Joel reverses that hope. The Lord would bring winged warriors all right, but they would come to bring judgment on Israel as a cloud of locusts.
The prophet uses the recent plague as a harbinger of the impending Day of the Lord, the day of judgment when the Lord himself would come at the head of his own heavenly army in Holy War against evil. The threat in this case would not be coming from some particular historical foe, but rather from the Lord’s own army (Joel 2:11). This approach is favoured by the extensive use of language in Joel 2:1-11 that is most often reserved to describe theophanies. It also preserves the metaphorical character of the language: God’s army is often likened to human armies. Allen describes the earlier motifs of the locust plague as “taken up and transposed into a higher key, a more strident setting and a faster pace” in Joel 2:1-11, such that they cannot be reduced to another description of an encounter between Judah and a mass of insects. Further, in the concluding section of the book, the Lord promises Judah not only relief from the effects of the recent locust outbreak but also freedom from the eschatological day of judgment. All in Israel who call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:28), and the Lord will be a refuge for his people (Joel 3:16), whereas the nations will then face the divine army (Joel 3:1-3,9-15).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 369.[/footnote]
(iii) Foreign armies and God’s armies
It is probably best to combine (i) and (ii). The locusts of Joel 1 foreshadowed an approaching crisis involving the invasion of foreign powers (Joel 2) which, in turn, ultimately foreshadowed the greater final day of judgment.
2. The Day of the Lord
We have already referred to the Day of the Lord, which Joel mentions five times (Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1,11,31; Joel 3:14). The main characteristic of the Day of the Lord was the Lord’s presence. In the first part of the book, the Day of the Lord is presented as a day of judgment on unrepentant Israel. In the second part of the book, the Day of the Lord is presented as both a day of judgment against Israel’s enemies, and a day of blessing and protection for God’s people. This assumes the repentance of God’s people.
The Day of the Lord, not the locusts, is the true message of Joel. This “two-sided” day would bring terrible judgment on the unrepentant in Israel and the nations, and great compassion and mercy to those who were repentant and who called on the name of the Lord (Joel 2:32).
The doctrine of the day of Yahweh is the centrepiece of Joel’s theology. Joel’s outline of this event is expanded by later prophets, but these eight elements are part of the picture in this book: (1) the signs and wonders in heaven; (2) the day of Yahweh is eschatological as well as historical; (3) great judgment is associated with that day; (4) the final defeat and punishment of God’s enemies; (5) the ultimate redemption of the remnant of believers; (6) the prominence of Zion; (7) Yahweh’s triumphant and peaceful reign; and (8) the finality of this consummation.[footnote]J E Smith, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition[/footnote]
3. Call to Repentance
In between descriptions of the tragedy are repeated calls for lamentations of repentance (Joel 1:2-3,5,8,11,13,14), which brings the hope that the disaster can be averted, and that it is not too late to turn to God and avert further disaster. He says: “Therefore also now [even now], saith the Lord, Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.” This appeal is based upon God’s previous revelation of Himself to Moses, “… for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (cf. Ex. 34:6)
Tied together by the repetition of masculine plural imperatives calling for repentance (return, rend, return, blow, consecrate, call, assemble, consecrate, gather, assemble), this unit alternates between exhortations to repent (Joel 2:12-13; Joel 2:15-17c) and rhetorical questions providing the rationale for repentance (‘who knows? he may relent” [Joel 2:14]; “why should they say…?” [Joel 2:17d]).[footnote]D Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 274.[/footnote]
The highlighted central position of the call for repentance underscores the central importance of repentance in the author’s thinking. Repentance is crucial for the reversal of Judah’s fortunes. The negative-positive layout of the book, beginning with words of warning and judgment and ending with words of hope and future restoration, indicates that the book is intended to uplift and motivate the audience to a positive response by leading them from despair to hope. The placement of the promise of restoration after the call to repentance emphasizes the point that Judah’s repentance must precede restoration.[footnote]Ibid., 276.[/footnote]
The call to repentance was to all people, not just to some, and was to involve the whole person, not just the externals.
He called for repentance in light of the locust plague (Joel 1:13-14) and the still future day of judgment (Joel 2:15-17). However, external or ritual manifestations of repentance were inadequate, and the Lord summoned the people to demonstrate the sincerity of their repentance by returning to him with all their heart (Joel 2:12-13). Joel also reminded God’s people that the proper motivation for repentance lies firmly in the nature of God: “He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Joel 2:13). At the same time Joel stressed that the possibility of repentance lies not with the people but with God, who is free to exercise his sovereign freedom and grace in granting forgiveness to his people.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1425.[/footnote]
4. Who knows?
Why should they repent? Answer is “Who knows? He may turn and have pity…” (Joel 2:14). Joel has predicted the invasion of a locust-like army, but does not say that they should just sit back and wait for it to take place. Rather, he calls them to repent and call for mercy from God. Joel does not know for certain that God will relent if they repent? So, his message discourages both fatalism and complacency. God’s reaction to repentance is not mechanical. He may carry through with his threat of judgment. He may reverse it, delay it, soften it or rescue penitent individuals from it.
5. Promise of renewal
God responds to the people’s repentance and the priest’s intercession in Joel 2:17 with promises of renewal of God’s land and God’s people. The “hinge of the prophecy is, “Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people” (Joel 2:18).
The people of Judah will be exiled, ‘scattered among the nations’, but the Lord will gather them together and restore them. ‘The Prophet confirms in these words what he had before taught respecting the restoration … for it was a thing difficult to be believed: when the body of the people was so mutilated, when their name was obliterated, when all power was abolished, when the worship of God also, together with the temple, was subverted, when there was no more any form of a kingdom, or even of any civil government — who could have thought that God had any concern for a people in such a wretched condition? It is then no wonder that the Prophet speaks so much at large of the restoration … he did so, that he might more fully confirm what would have otherwise been incredible.[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 648.[/footnote]
God’s blessings for his people are described in Joel 3:18-21. They include the restoration of natural bounty (Joel 3:18), the punishment of hostile nations (Joel 3:19), divine pardon and presence (Joel 3:20-21).
Joel describes the beauty of the New Jerusalem. It is safe, holy, undefiled by “strangers,” watered by the river of life and filled with the presence of Yahweh. Just as Obadiah concludes with the wonderful climax “The kingdom shall be the Lord’s,” so Joel concludes on a similarly wonderful climax, “for the LORD dwelleth in Zion” (Joel 3:21). From mourning over desolation to rejoicing over deliverance. Covenant curses have been replaced by covenant blessings, both physical and spiritual. After judgment, the covenant has been renewed.
VI. New Testament Analysis
1. The Day of the Lord
The New Testament takes up the language and concepts of Joel to further develop the Bible’s teaching about the Day of the Lord being a day of military devastation and judgment on sinners before righteousness can reign.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? (2 Pet. 3:10-12)
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be (Matt. 24:21).
And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle (Rev. 9:6-9).
Ultimately, then, the Day of the Lord is the day of Christ’s return. It will be a day of judgment for the unrepentant and a day of inheritance for His people.
The church has continued to find Joel’s teaching on the day of the Lord to be an important source of hope and comfort on the one hand and a word of warning on the other. In times of distress and trouble Christians have found the promises regarding the ultimate blessing, protection and vindication of the Lord’s covenant community to be consoling and inspiring. At the same time Joel’s vivid depiction of the dreadful aspects of the day of the Lord has served as a reminder of God’s holiness and judgment and as a continuing call to wholehearted repentance and holiness of life.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1426.[/footnote]
2. Cosmic upheaval (Joel 2:30,31)
Cosmic upheaval is used to symbolize great spiritual upheaval associated with God’s awesome presence, as at Sinai.
And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst (Lk. 23:44-45).
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken (Matt. 24:29)
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory (Lk. 21:25-27).
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood (Rev. 6:12).
3. The Spirit poured out (Joel 2:28)
Joel envisaged a day when all Israel from every rank, age and gender would be open and responsive to God’s word. Peter sees this begin to be fulfilled in the day of Pentecost.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:17-21: cf Rom. 10:13).
With inexpressible elation the apostle Peter announced that the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost had fulfilled Joel’s prophecy. The age had dawned when all men and women would join the prophetic ranks, when all would hear the voice of God and render obeisance to His Name. Joel’s day of universal prophecy was nothing short of Jeremiah’s day when the Law of God would be written in human hearts, and no person would say, “Know the Lord,” for the universalization of that knowledge would eliminate the need for its interpersonal communication (Jer. 31:31–34). It would exude from every transformed heart and fill the world with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]
The “prophethood” of all believers, resulting from the outpouring of the Spirit, would expand the church to include and unite all nations.
Joel’s reference to “all people” in Joel 2:28 was to the citizens of Judah, but inasmuch as the new Israel, the church, consists of Jew and Gentile, even this barrier would fall. Paul may well have this passage in mind when he says that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for von are all one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28). In Romans 10:12 Paul cites Joel 2:28 in his argument that “there is no difference between Jew and Gentile”; the “all who call” must include both. Although in Joel this section is addressed to Israel alone, Paul interprets it as applying to the true Israel rather than simply Israel according to the flesh (Rom. 9:6ff). Those who call on the Lord are those whom he has called (Rom. 9:24; cf. Joel 2:32), both Jew and Gentile.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 371.[/footnote]
Spirit and flesh (divine nature and potential; human limitation) bring opposites together in a great anticipation of the new creation. Like the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), all flesh become partakers of the life-giving Spirit. What is natural gives way to what is thereafter spiritual. As an immediate consequence of this transformation, and with all social divisions and social barriers removed, all become recipients of the divine mind through the Spirit. All will be in immediate communication with Yahweh, and all will directly reflect the Word (i.e., will prophesy). This complete renewal, this regeneration of the people of God, brings into force Moses’ wish for Israel (Num. 11:29), and fits her vocationally to become the community she has been marked out to be (Exod. 19:3-6).[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 188.[/footnote]
4. The water of blessing (Joel 3:18)
Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14).
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:1-2).
VII. The Message of Joel
Original Message: Judahites should learn of the need to repent because of fear of judgment and in hope of future restoration
Present Message: The Church should repent because of the fear of judgment and in hope of future restoration