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An Introduction to the Book of Joel

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I. TITLE OF THE BOOK

A. In Hebrew the title comes of the prophetic author, lway , the combination of two names of God--Yahweh & Elohim. The affirmation is probably “Yahweh is God.” This is the reverse of Elijah (“God is Yahweh”)

B. In Greek the title is simply a transliteration of the Hebrew IWHL

II. AUTHOR: Joel

A. Nothing is know about Joel other than his being the son of Pethuel (who is also unknown) 1:1

B. He was from Judah

C. Perhaps references to Jerusalem indicate that he was from Jerusalem

III. CANONICAL PLACEMENT

A. In the Hebrew Canon Joel is placed among the minor prophets after Ezekiel & Hosea and before Amos

B. In the Greek canon Joel is placed after Daniel and Hosea and before Amos. Our English order matches the Greek placement of the book.

IV. DATE: Although it is not possible for one to be certain, it seems that a late preexilic date is the best choice for the time of Joel (609-586 B.C.)

A. Early Preexilic (Ninth Century, 835 B.C.):1

1. The early placement of Joel in the Hebrew Canon (second minor prophet after Hosea); but this is inconclusive to chronology--especially since the LXX places the book in a different place (e.g., after Daniel).

2. The enemies of Judah are her earlier enemies of Tyre, Sidon, Philistia, Egypt, and Edom (Joel 3:4, 19); but this is inconclusive since even a prophet like Ezekiel pronounces prophecies against these life long enemies of Judah (Ezek 25--32; cf. also Jer 46--49; Zeph 2:4-7).

3. The type of government described in the prophecy (the rule of elders [1:2; 2:16] and priests [1:9, 13; 2:17]) supports the time when Joash became king at age seven; but these arguments will also be used to support a late date for the book (when there was no king).

B. Late Preexilic (Seventh-Sixth Century, 609-586 B.C.):2

1. Joel 2 seems to picture the Babylonians vividly enough that he did not need to specifically identify them in the chapter; their presence is imposing.

2. Joel 3:2b which speaks of Judah having been “scattered,” and “divided” may have reference to the deportation of 597 B.C. (2 Kings 24:10-16); this also allows for Joel’s reference to the temple (1:9, 13; 2:17) which stood until 586 (cf. 2 Ki 25:9)

3. Joel 1:15 and 2:1-11 are anticipating the final destruction of Judah in 586 B.C. (2 Ki 25:1-21)

4. Joel’s “Day of the Lord” is referring to the coming destruction in 586 B.C. (cf. Jer 5:17)

5. The slave trade between the Phoenicians and Greeks fits with this historical period (cf. Ezk 27:13)

6. Chisholm argues that 2:18-19 “seems to recorded God’s mercy to Joel’s generation, implying they truly repented .... If so, such a sequence of events is difficult to harmonize with the historical record of Judah’s final days.”3
But need one conclude from 2:18-19 that Judah did repent, or that they were being exhorted to repent. If the latter is the case, and Judah did not repent, there would be no problem with the historical fall of Jerusalem which followed.
Moreover, if one understands chapter two to be still describing the same historical plague as chapter one as a “local” Day of the Lord which then jumbs into the eschaton, the mercy experienced in 2:18-19 would not have to refer to the fall of Jerusalem.

C. Postexilic (Sixth to Fourth Century, 515-350 B.C.):4

1. The references to the temple in 1:9, 13; and 2:17 must refer to the second temple since Joel 3:1-2, 17 refer to the destruction of Jerusalem; but this could refer to the late preexilic period (see above)

2. The king is not the leader of the community, but the elders are which matches a postexilic period (cf. Ezra 10:14); but this is an argument from silence. Elders were prominent before the fall of Jerusalem (cf. 2 Ki 23:1; Jer 26:17; Lam 5:12, 14)5

3. Joel seems to quote other prophets like Ezekiel (cf. Joel 2:3 with Ezek 36:35; Joel 2:10 with Ezek 32:7; Joel 2:27 with Ezek 39:28-29); but it is difficult to determine who is referring to whom. In addition Ezekiel would be a contemporary of Joel if he wrote during the late preexilic period

4. The reference to Greek slave trade in 3:6 more closely aligns with the postexilic period, but this also existed during the late preexilic period6

D. Conclusion:

1. Therefore, while the early preexilic and postexilic periods are both possible, the evidence seems to align itself more favorably with the late preexilic period than the other two possibilities

2. Thankfully, the answer to this question is one of “historicity,” and does not determine the “meaning” of the book, even though the referent is affect by historical setting.

V. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND7

A. Josiah brought about the final spiritual revival for Judah when he came to the throne in 622 B.C.

B. The Assyrian Empire Fell

1. The Assyrian power rose with Ashurnasirpal II (884-859 B.C.) and Shalmaneser II (859-824 B.C.)

2. Tiglath-pileser III (Pul in the Scriptures) began a group of conquerors who took Syria and Palestine including Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C. who began the deportation of Samaria), Sargon II (722-705 B.C. who completed the deportation of Samaria), Sennacherib (704-581 B.C. who attacked king of Judah, Hezekiah [Josiah’s father]), and Esarhaddon (681-669 B.C. who led campaigns against Egypt)

3. Esarhaddon’s son, Ashurbanipal (669-631) ruled much of the upper Egyptian city of Thebes, but his decline and that of Assyria’s soon followed

4. Nineveh, the capital, was destroyed in 612 B.C.

5. Assyria’s army was defeated in 609 B.C. at Haran

6. What was left of Assyria’s army went to Carchemish (just west of the Euphrates River and north of Aram)

C. The Neo-Babylonian Empire Arose

1. Merodach Baladan was a Chaldean and father of Nabopolassar and grandfather of Nebuchadnezzar. Merodach Baladan sent ambassadors to Hezekiah (Isa 39; 2 Ki 20:12-19)

2. In October 626 B.C. Nabopolassar defeated the Assyrians outside of Babylon

3. In 616 B.C. Nabopolassar expanded his kingdom, and in 612 B.C. he joined with the Medes and destroyed Nineveh

D. A Realignment of Power in 609 B.C. and later

1. Judah: When Assyria fell and Babylon arose Judah, under Josiah, removed itself from Assyria’s control and existed as an autonomous state until 609 B.C. when it lost a battle with Egypt on the plain of Megiddo

2. Egypt:

a. Attempted to expand its presence into Palestine with Assyria’s troubles

b. Egypt joined with Assyria to fight the Babylonians at Haran

1) Judah tried to stop Egypt’s (Pharaoh Neco II) alliance but was defeated on the plain of Megiddo with the loss of their king, Josiah (cf. 2 Chron 35:20-24)

2) The Assyrians lost their battle with Babylon (even with the help of Egypt) and disappeared as a power in the world, and Egypt retreated to Carchemish as the dividing line between Egypt and Babylonian

3) Egypt ruled Judah:

a) Egypt (Necho) replaced Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, after three months with Jehoiakim (who was another son of Josiah) as a vassal king (2 Ki 23:34-35)

b) Egypt (Necho) plundered Judah’s treasuries

c) Egypt (Necho) took Jehoahaz into captivity in Egypt

E. In 605 B.C. other changes of power occurred:

1. Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish

2. Judah’s king, Jehoiakim, changed his loyalty to the Babylonians rather than the Egyptians and became Nebuchadnezzar’s vassal king (2 Ki. 24:1)

3. Nebuchadnezzar had to return to Babylon with the death of his father, Nebopolassar

4. Nebuchadnezzar solidified his rule by appointing vassal kings and taking hostages; Daniel was taken as a part of this deportation (Dan 1:1-6)

F. In 601 Egypt defeated the Babylonians

1. Judah’s king, Jehoiakim, switched loyalty from Babylonia to the Egyptians (2 Ki 24:1)

2. On December of 598 Babylonia made an attack on Jerusalem leading to Jehoiakim’s death and the surrender of the city by his successor, Jehoiachin, in March of 597

3. Nebuchadnezzar, replaced Jehoiachin after only three months of reign, deported him and 10,000 other leaders8 from the city, looted the city, and placed Zedekiah Judah’s vassal king (cf. 2 Ki 24:12-16)

G. Zedekiah was a weak king who repeated the errors of those before him; he was convinced by Egypt to revolt with a coalition of other states (Tyre and Ammon) against Babylon (588 B.C. against the advise of Jeremiah) and Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

VI. AUDIENCE FOR THE BOOK: The southern nation of Judah

VII. PURPOSES FOR THE BOOK:

A. To warn Judah of the coming Day of the Lord when judgment will get worse for Judah and the nations of the world

B. To urge Judah to repent of their sins

C. To proclaim a future time when complete restoration will come to the nation


1 Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 311-14; John A Martin, An Outline of Joel, unpublished class notes in 304 preexlic and exilic prophets, (Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1983), 1.

2 Homer Heater, Jr., Notes on the Book of Joel, unpublished class notes in seminar in the preexilic Old Testament prophets [Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1990], 163; Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 438-39; Arvid S. Kapelrud, Joel Studies, 19ff, 154-58.

3 Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., Joel, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: Old Testament, 1410. See also Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., Interpreting the Minor Prophets, 53-54.

4 Leslie C. Allen, Joel, Obadiah, Johan, and Micah, 19-25; Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., Joel, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: Old Testament, 1410; Interpreting the Minor Prophets, 51; Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 365-55; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 876-79.

5 See Arvid S. Kapelrud, Joel Studies, 19ff, 187-89.

6 Arvid S. Kapelrud, Joel Studies, 154-58.

7 This was adapted from Charles H. Dyer, Jeremiah, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: Old Testament, 1125-27, and Homer Heater, Jr., Notes on the Book of Jeremiah, unpublished class notes in seminar in the preexilic Old Testament prophets (Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1990), 101-105.

8 Perhaps Ezekiel was one of those deported during this second deportation. He would have begun his prophetic ministry five years later.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines