STUDY BOOK OF JOEL FROM INTRODUCTION TO BIBLE
TITLE AND AUTHOR
“Joel, the son of Pethuel,” whose name means “Yahweh is God,” gives the book its title. Little is known of Joel except what is learned from the book itself. His references to Judah (3:1, 6, 8, 18, 19, 20) and Jerusalem (2:32; 3:1, 6, 16, 17, 20), along with his knowledge of the activities of priest and temple (1:9, 13–14, 16; 2:14–17), suggest that he was from Judah or perhaps even Jerusalem. His address to priests (1:9, 13; 2:17) and elders (1:2, 14; 2:16) likely eliminates him as a member of either group.
Estimates for dating the book of Joel range from the ninth to the fourth centuries b.c. While no consensus has been reached, most scholars hold to a date after the exile (586 b.c.) for the following reasons: (1) the exile is treated as a past event (3:2–3); (2) the conquest of Jerusalem is mentioned (3:17); (3) no king is mentioned; (4) the temple plays a positive role, while there is no prophetic denunciation against the idolatry and syncretism mentioned in Hosea and Amos; and (5) the anger expressed toward Edom is best explained by its treatment of Judeans during the Babylonian conquest (Joel 3:19; Obad. 1–21).
The “day of the Lord” is the dominant theme of the book of Joel. Both the nations (3:2–3) and Israel (1:15; 2:1–2) experience this judgment. However, for the repentant community, the “day” also holds out the hope of restoration (2:12–14). Ultimately, the Lord’s covenant faithfulness is expressed in his promises of abundance and protection (2:23–26; 3:1), which evidence his dwelling in the midst of his people (2:27; 3:17, 21). This is epitomized in the great promise of “my Spirit” that would be poured out on “all flesh” (2:28, 29; cf. Acts 2:17–21).
PURPOSE, OCCASION, AND BACKGROUND
Joel calls all the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem to lament and return to the Lord during a time of national calamity. This crisis is precipitated in the first instance by a locust plague that has destroyed both wine (1:5, 7, 12) and grain (1:10) and therefore threatens the ability of the people of God to present offerings in the temple (1:9, 13, 16). Given this background, Joel may have served as a lament in the ongoing life of God’s people during other times of national tragedy.
1. Day of the Lord. This is the major theme of Joel. The exact expression, yom yhwh (Hb., “day of theLord”), is found five times in Joel (1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14) and 13 times in seven other prophetic books (Isa. 13:6, 9; Jer. 46:10; Ezek. 13:5; 30:3; Amos 5:18–20; Obad. 15; Zeph. 1:7, 14; Mal. 4:5; see note onAmos 5:18–20). Other ways of referring to the “day” found throughout prophetic literature (e.g., “a day,” “those days,” “that day”) are used by Joel as well (Joel 2:2; 3:1, 18). Within Joel, the “day” refers not only to a final day of judgment upon the nations (3:2) but also to God’s ongoing judgment of Israel, both past and future (1:15; 2:2, 11), and instances of his intervention between Israel and the nations (3:1–2, 12, 14, 16). In each case, the “day of the Lord” indicates a time when the presence of the Lord brings judgment and/or deliverance and blessing, depending on the circumstances (see note on 1:15). Therefore, although the “day” heralds destruction for the nations, it also functions as a time of salvation for God’s people; the Lord remains a refuge amid the chaos of judgment (3:15–16).
2. Repentance. If the whole community would cry out to the Lord (1:13–20) and look to him—not merely with external actions but in sincerity with their whole persons (2:12–13)—then judgment may be averted. However, the Lord is not bound by the acts of the community (2:14); it is his prerogative to send or withhold the destruction by the locusts (1:15), just as the army is his to command (2:11).
3. The Lord in their midst. It is, of course, crucial that the people have a living faith and repentance; however, the reason the Lord will turn from judgment to blessing is to express his covenant-keeping character (2:13, 18–26; 3:18). His promise to dwell in the midst of his people is prominent not only in Joel (2:27; 3:17, 21) but also throughout the OT (Num. 35:34; Deut. 6:15; 7:21; Isa. 12:6; Hos. 11:9;Zeph. 3:15, 17; Hag. 2:5; Zech. 2:10–11; 8:3). God’s restoration of what the locusts have destroyed (Joel 2:27) and his protection of Israel as the cosmos crumbles (3:16–17) both have the same goal: knowledge of his presence. This theme concludes the book (3:21), highlighting its importance for Joel.
4. These themes—the day of the Lord, repentance, and God dwelling amid his people—converge in the promise of the future outpouring of the Spirit (2:28–32). This outpouring is associated with the day of the Lord (2:31) in both its judgmental (2:30–31; cf. 2:10; 3:15) and its saving (2:32) manifestations. It is related to repentance in that those who are saved are those who call “on the name of the Lord” (2:32). Finally, the giving of the Spirit, crossing all boundaries of gender, generation, social class, or nationality (2:28–29), is the ultimate evidence of God “in the midst of them” (Isa. 63:11; see Hag. 2:5).
INTERPRETATIVE CHALLENGE: THE LOCUST INVASION
The relationship between the locust plague and drought (1:1–20) and the onslaught of the Lord’s army (2:1–11) provides a major challenge to readers. Scholars provide a number of options, as outlined in the following chart:
|If chapter 1 …||then chapter 2 …|
|1. describes an actual locust infestation …||presents a heightened description of the same invasion.|
|2. describes an actual locust infestation …||issues a warning about a coming military offensive.|
|3. describes an actual locust infestation functioning as a prophetic forerunner …||uses that imagery to portray a human army in terms of a decisive conflict on the day of the Lord.|
|4. describes a military attack in terms of the metaphor of a locust invasion …||represents the coming of an enemy usually viewed as the Assyrians or Babylonians.|
While there are serious arguments for each of these options, the third fits best with the overall context. Joel uses the imagery of a dramatic locust plague along with military imagery (2:4–9) to describe the coming of the Lord’s army on his great day (2:11). The verbs of chapter 1 are predominantly imperative and past-tense forms, calling the people to act based on past events. The verbs in chapter 2 are in the imperfect and imperative forms, highlighting the fact that, though the judgment is approaching, a return to God is still possible. The lament of 1:15–20 is clearly concerned with the effects of the locusts, while the prayer of 2:17 focuses not upon the destruction of locusts but rather upon the depressed social status of the people of God threatened by foreign rule. Reference to the “northerner” is a typical OT description of enemies (see note on 2:20) but an unusual label if referring to a swarm of locusts. The judgment of the nations in 3:1–21 makes better sense contextually if chapter 2 portrays the threat of an army and a decisive conflict. These and other reasons support option 3.
HISTORY OF SALVATION SUMMARY
God called his ancient people in love and mercy, he preserved them to be the vehicle through which he poured out his Spirit on all kinds of people (2:28–32), and he will preserve them against all who seek to destroy them (ch. 3). In all of his care for them, he aims for “torn” hearts, and not just torn garments, from his people (2:12–14), that they might love him with their whole hearts. (For an explanation of the “History of Salvation,” see the Overview of the Bible. See also History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ.)
As a work of prophecy, the book of Joel relies on the staples of the oracle of judgment and the oracle of salvation. Poetry counts for a lot in the book of Joel, whose author is particularly adept at description. By the time Joel’s imagination amplifies the killer locusts into more-than-literal creatures, the book of Joel emerges as almost a horror story. The technique of apostrophe (direct address to entities that are literally absent but treated as though they can hear and respond) is prominent in the first two chapters. Even though the writer is a prophet rather than a nature writer, there are so many pictures of nature in the book that it does rank as nature writing, in a prophetic mode.
The most striking literary feature of the book is the way in which Joel’s imagination amplifies literal locusts into images of apocalyptic horror—pictures of God’s judgment against human sinfulness. Of course Joel’s images are a timeless and universal picture of punishment from God for human evil.
THE SETTING OF JOEL
c. 500 b.c.?
Though there is much debate about the date of Joel’s prophecies, it is likely that they occurred during a national calamity sometime after Judah returned from exile in Babylon.
- The Judgment against Judah and the Day of the Lord (1:1–2:17)
- Locust invasion: forerunner of the day of the Lord (1:1–20)
- Army invasion: the arrival of the day of the Lord (2:1–17)
- The Mercy of the Lord and Judgment against the Nations (2:18–3:21)
- Mercy: the Lord responds by restoring his people (2:18–32)
- Judgment: the Lord’s judgment against the nations and his dwelling with his people (3:1–21)
1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.
2 Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?
3 Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.
4 That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten.
5 Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth.
6 For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion.
7 He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.
8 ¶ Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.
9 The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the LORD; the priests, the LORD’S ministers, mourn.
10 The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth.
11 Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished.
12 The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men.
13 Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God.
14 ¶ Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the LORD,
15 Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.
16 Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God?
17 The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.
18 How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.
19 O LORD, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field.
20 The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
1 Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand;
2 A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.
3 A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.
4 The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run.
5 Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array.
6 Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness.
7 They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks:
8 Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path: and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded.
9 They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief.
10 The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining:
11 And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?
12 ¶ Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:
13 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.
14 Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?
15 ¶ Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly:
16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.
17 Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?
18 ¶ Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people.
19 Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen:
20 But I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things.
21 ¶ Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things.
22 Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength.
23 Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month.
24 And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil.
25 And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.
26 And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.
27 And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.
28 ¶ And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.
32 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.
1 For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem,
2 I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.
3 And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink.
4 Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? will ye render me a recompence? and if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompence upon your own head;
5 Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things:
6 The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their border.
7 Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will return your recompence upon your own head:
8 And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off: for the LORD hath spoken it.
9 ¶ Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up:
10 Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong.
11 Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O LORD.
12 Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.
13 Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great.
14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.
16 The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.
17 So shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more.
18 ¶ And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the LORD, and shall water the valley of Shittim.
19 Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence against the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land.
20 But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation.
21 For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the LORD dwelleth in Zion.