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12. Joel

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Notes on the Book of Joel

I. The Prophet.

The prophet, Joel, is unknown outside this book. The name means Yahweh is God (the reverse form of Elijah). He is the son of Pethuel.

II. The Historical Setting.

The internal references are sufficiently vague as to make it impossible to identify the time and setting of the prophecy with certainty. Wolff says the book was placed between Hosea and Amos because of similarity of ideas rather than for any chronological reasons.1 Some kind of a devastating invasion of insects has taken place. In the midst of this devastation, the temple has been plundered (3:5). Tyre, Sidon and Philistia have sold Judeans into slavery (cf. Amos 1:6). Some would place the prophecy during the time of Joash (2 Kings 12), because the Arameans threatened Jerusalem and Joash bought them off. However, the Arameans are not mentioned in Joel. Ammon and Moab are mocking Judah in Zephaniah (2:8‑11) and Edom in Obadiah. There were probably a number of incursions against Judah that would fit this situation, but the terrible locust plague (a fairly common event in the middle east) is not mentioned elsewhere and so we are unable to date the book. However, the idea of the “Day of the Lord,” incipient in eighth century Amos (5:18-20) is well known in Joel.2 This may imply that Joel is later than Amos. It could even have taken place at the destruction of Jerusalem in the last days of the Judean monarchy (605‑586 B.C.), since the word “fortunes” (3:1) is the Hebrew word often translated captivity (שְׁבוּת shebuth). The temple is still standing in chapter 1.3 In light of these considerations, I believe Joel was somewhat contemporary with Zephaniah.

III. The Message of the Book.

The most difficult issue in the book is the significance and relationship of the locusts in chapters one and two. This is tied into the issue of the meaning of the day of Yahweh. The problem is exacerbated by the tendency of the prophets to merge the past or present with the future. The concept of the day of Yahweh is discussed briefly in the Zephaniah notes. The ultimate concept is that God will set all things right in the eschatological future, and that this will include judging Israel and the other nations and the restoration and conversion of Israel as God’s people on their land. At the same time, God’s judgment at any period can be referred to as the day of Yahweh. My approach to the book of Joel is to see both chapters one and two as the same event (one that happened sometime in the history of Judah) that is being treated as a type of what is yet to come when God judges the world. As such Joel can slide into the great eschatological outpouring of the Spirit (2:28‑32) and the complete restoration of Israel (3:1‑21).4

IV. The Outline of the Book.

A. The locust invasion (1:1‑20).

1. Joel calls the people to witness the devastation that has come about and to ask them if any such thing has ever happened before (1:1‑3).

2. Joel describes the invasion (1:4‑7).

He speaks of four kind of locusts. Each succeeding group finishes off what was left by its predecessor. This is a destruction of crops that is indescribable.5 He refers to the locusts as a nation because of their apparent organization. They have teeth and fangs like lions with which they strip the vegetation.

3. Judah is called upon to weep and beseech Yahweh for deliverance (1:8‑20).

The people are told to wail because the loss of crops has affected the temple worship (thus the priests mourn). The land mourns, the farmers are disappointed. Even rejoicing is “dried” up, the rejoicing that is characteristic of the harvest (1:8‑12).

The priests are admonished to wail and lament over the terrible devastation. They are to cry out “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near.” This seems to indicate that the locust plague was identified with the day of the Lord and would support Weiss’s arguments (set out in the Zephaniah notes) that the day of the Lord was sometimes applied in a general way to judgment and was not always the day of the Lord yet to come. At the same time, the plague as a local “day of the Lord” should warn Israel of the eschatological day of Yahweh (1:13‑20).

B. The day of the Lord and God’s deliverance (2:1‑32).

There is an integral relationship between chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 1 speaks of all that the various locusts have eaten and chapter 2 speaks of restoring what those same locusts have eaten (2:25). Consequently, if we relate the day of Yahweh in 1:14‑15 to the terrible locust invasion, we must see a similar connection in chapter 2.

1. The alarm is to be sounded because of the dreadful invasion of locusts (2:1‑17).

The day of the Lord is a time of darkness and gloom. This may be a metaphor of the attitude of the people or it may be literal due to the thick clouds of locusts. The situation is so bad, the prophet can say that nothing like it has happened or will happen (2:1‑2).

The description of the locust invasion is awe inspiring. They are like fire going through stubble. Land like the garden of Eden before them becomes like a waste desert behind them. People are pale with fear. These locusts move inexorably toward the destruction of all the crops. The sun, moon and stars grow dark (2:3‑10). 6

However, this is not happening by chance: this is Yahweh’s army, and He marches at its head. He is using this plague to call His people to Himself. He urges them to rend their hearts and repent. He had called on them to blow the trumpet of alarm in 2:1, now He urges them to blow the trumpet of assembly to beseech the Lord for mercy (2:11‑17).

2. Yahweh was zealous7 for His land and had pity on His people (2:18‑27).

He will send crops to replace those that have been removed. He will destroy the “northern army” that has invaded. His people will never again (better translated “no longer”) be a reproach among the nations. This section had its fulfillment in historical days, but as God expands on His wonderful promises of restoration, He begins to telescope the distant future into the historical past. This begins at 2:26b: “Then My people will never be put to shame” (וְלאֹ יֵבשׁוּ עַמִּי לְעוֹלָם welo yeboshu ‘ammi le‘olam). In the same way the Lord Jesus jumps into the Eschaton from a historical situation in Matthew 10, so God moves from the beautiful statements of restoration in the historical past to the beautiful spiritual restoration of Israel in the future (2:18-20).

He promises them restoration of the land, the early rain and the latter rain (Fall and Spring),8 full threshing floors, and a repayment for all the destruction wrought by the locusts. This will lead them to acknowledge His presence and again “My people will never be put to shame” (2:21‑27).

3. Yahweh promises a blessed time in the future when there will be a great spiritual movement among His people (2:28‑32).

This unit is related to what precedes in that it speaks of great blessing by Yahweh upon His people. However, the complete restoration of the land will be accompanied with a pouring out of the Spirit. The Hebrew text makes a separate chapter out of this section (3:1‑5).

The introductory phrase, “And it will come about after this” (וְהָיָה אַחֲרֵי כֵן wehyah ’ahare ken), is a loose connective phrase that should not be pressed too hard. “In the future, God will bless His people by restoring to them what the locusts destroyed, and He will also pour out His Spirit upon them” seems to be its primary import.

Yahweh promises to pour out His Spirit upon all mankind (lit.: flesh). There will be prophecy, dreams and visions. Even common people will have the Spirit poured on them (2:28‑29).

Miracles will be wrought in the sky and on earth. All of this will be tied in with the “great and awesome day of the Lord.” Sections of Revelation 6‑19 seem to refer to this passage in describing events of the tribulation. During that time those who call upon the Lord will be delivered (cf. Paul’s use of this verse in Romans 10:13) (2:30‑32).

How are we to understand Peter’s use of this passage? Peter, in explaining the phenomenon of Pentecost, says “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” He then quotes this extensive passage. It is clear that not all of the prophecy was fulfilled in Acts 2. The wonders in heaven and signs on earth, blood, fire, etc., were not fulfilled. Furthermore, the simplest reading of the OT concept of the day of Yahweh would argue against the church age being its fulfillment. What then is the relationship between Joel 2 and Acts 2? Peter believed, rightly, that the messianic era could only begin with the Messiah. He was also aware that the messianic era as it affected Israel required repentance. The “times of refreshing” could not come until there was national repentance (Acts 3:19‑23). Pentecost represents the beginning of that great work of God, but the ultimate fulfillment can only come when the Messiah returns for the church and resumes His work with Israel. Peter could not perceive that there would be two thousand years between his preaching and the fulfillment of all of Joel, he could only know that God was beginning His great redemptive work after the risen Savior had returned to glory.9

C. Yahweh promises to restore Judah and to judge the nations (3:1‑21).

1. Yahweh will judge the nations at Jehoshaphat (3:1‑8).

Judah will be restored and when that happens, Yahweh will gather the nations to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat means “Yahweh will judge” and may be an ad hoc name for this task. It is usually related to the Kidron Valley. It is to be related to Matthew 25 where the nations will be judged in accordance with their treatment of Israel during the tribulation. Here Yahweh promises to restore the Jews who have been scattered and to judge those who scattered them.

2. Yahweh declares holy war against the nations (3:9‑21).

Here the day of Yahweh refers to His judgment of the Gentile nations (whereas earlier it referred to His judgment of His own people). The people are to be stirred up for war against the Divine Warrior and be brought to the valley of Jehoshaphat for judgment (3:9‑12).

Under the imagery of the harvest, He promises to thrust in the sickle, to tread the wine press, and to bring them to the valley of decision (=Jehoshaphat) (3:13‑14).

There will be changes in the heavens (here in the stellar heavens themselves; in chapter 1 it was the way the people viewed them as the locusts blotted them out) (3:15).

Yahweh roars out against the nations, but He is a refuge to His people (3:16). Then His people will know who He is and Jerusalem will be holy (3:17).

Finally, the tables will be turned in favor of God’s people. Judah will prosper. The land will be productive, but Judah’s enemies will be judged (3:18‑21).

V. The Structure of Joel as it Bears on the Argument of the Book.

The little book of Joel contains a number of issues that bear on both Old and New Testament studies. Some of the more significant ones are (1) the relation of chapter 2 to 1: do they refer to the same situation, or is one a prefigurement of the other; (2) the significance of the Day of Yahweh and whether the Day of Yahweh in 1:15 is the same as the one in 2:1ff; (3) the use of 2:28-32b by Peter in Acts 2. A critical issue in the solution of #’s 1 and 2 is the translation of the tenses in 2:18,19. The Hebrew divisions are 1:1-20; 2:1-27; 3:1-5; 4:1-21.

The Hebrew tenses in 2:18-19. In the MT, these verbs are what used to be called waw consecutive imperfects but are now usually referred to as preterites. They are the typical syntactical form for narration in past time. They may be used for future time, but in such cases they are usually anchored to a perfect tense cast in the future with the waw consecutive.10 Joüon says, “The wayyiqtol (like a qatal #112 g-h) is rarely used in the future. After a prophetic perfect (#112h): Isaiah 9:5; Joel 2:23.”11 Some have tried to repoint the forms as jussives, but Wolff cogently argues against the effort. The normally expected translation of these four verbs would thus be, “Then the Lord was zealous for His land, and He had pity on His people. And the Lord answered and said to His people, ‘Behold, I am going to send you grain . . .’” In spite of this, KJV, NASB, and NIV have translated it future, because they see all of chapter 2 as eschatological.

Hans Wolff,12 in his insightful analysis of the book, argues that chapter 1 is a historical plague of locusts, but that chapter 2 takes that historical situation and draws from it a warning about the eschatological Day of Yahweh. He argues, quite rightly I believe, that the tenses of 2:18,19 are narrative tenses picking up the point made in 1:2-3. In other words, the task of telling later generations about the plague is continued as the prophet tells of God’s forgiveness of His people, and so the content of 2:18-19 is historical, not prophetic. However, he believes that 2:1-11 refers to the eschatological Day of Yahweh as does 2:19ff. Consequently, his structure is a = locusts (1:1-20); a1 = eschatological Day of Yahweh (2:1-11); c = plea for repentance (historical) (2:12-17) to which the people responded and God was merciful; a2 = eschatological blessing (2:19b-32) and judgment on nations (3:1-21). Keil holds to a similar position. Chisholm13 generally follows Wolff.

I find it awkward to have a historical situation (2:18-19) thrust into an eschatological section. It seems to me better to see a unitary structure in the first two chapters.14 There are four main imperatival units in these chapters: 1:2 “Hear this, O elders, and listen, all inhabitants of the land”; 1:14 “Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land”; 2:1 “Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on my holy mountain!”; 2:15 “Blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast proclaim a solemn assembly.” In light of the calamity in chapter 1, they are to consecrate a fast (obviously for the purpose of intercession). This idea is pursued in 2:1 where the alarm is to be sounded because of the invasion of the “army.” Both ideas are included in 2:15 where the injunction to fast and to sound a warning are given.

I would conclude then, that the historical scene of a terrible locust plague is in view in both chapters. The parallel similes and descriptions link them. Even the description of the earth and heavens should be understood as coming from the impact of the awful locust invasion. The locusts are called God’s army in 2:11 and a nation in 1:6. The Day of Yahweh in chapters 1 and 2 should be understood as a “local” day of Yahweh when he brings judgment on His people. God’s earnest plea for repentance does not come until 2:12-17 where He proclaims His compassion toward His people. To this plea the people responded, and God graciously forgave them. In light of that forgiveness, He promised to restore all that the locusts had eaten (2:25) and to bring abundance of rain.

An objection might be raised about the statement in 2:19 translated in NASB “And I will never again make you a reproach among the nations.” This phrase is clearly an answer to the “paradigm prayer” God gave them in 2:17: “Spare Thy people, O Lord, and do not make Thine inheritance a reproach, a byword among the nations.” The phrase “never again” is עוֹד . . . לאֹ (lo’ ‘od). This syntactical combination occurs over 100 times. It is often translated “never again” as here, because it occurs often in prophetic passages containing promises. However, it often simply means “no longer” with no reference to whether the situation could be repeated (e.g., Judg. 2:14; Ezek. 33:22). The context refers to the historical reproach brought on Israel because of the locust plague. That reproach was removed when God destroyed the locusts and restored the vegetation to the people.

However, as God expands on His wonderful promises of restoration, He begins to telescope the distant future into the historical past. I believe this begins at 2:26b: “Then My people will never be put to shame” (וְלאֹ יֵבשׁוּ עַמִּי לְעוֹלָם) velo’ yeboshu ‘ami le‘olam). In the same way the Lord Jesus jumps into the Eschaton from a historical situation in Matthew 10, so God moves from the beautiful statements of restoration of Israel in the future.

Joel is teaching the people of Israel (1) the Day of Yahweh will bring discipline to His people to bring them to Himself; (2) God’s forgiveness is conditioned on repentance, but when that repentance is present, He forgives and restores (2:18-27); (3) The lessons taught in chapters 1-2 (God leads his army [locusts] against His people to force them to Himself, but upon genuine repentance, forgives and restores) are to be applied to the Eschaton, and therefore, the day of the Lord will include a spiritual renewal of Israel (וְהָיָה אַחֲרֵי כֵן vehayah ’ahare ken; these time references are general, not specific) (2:28-32). The day of the Lord will also be a time of judgment on the nations who have mistreated Israel (וּבָעֵת הַהִיא הָהֵמָּה בַּיָּמִים כִּי הִנֵּה ki hineh baymim hahemah uba‘eth hahi’). At that time Israel will be restored (3:1-21).

Structural Diagram of Chapters 1 and 2

a1 Call for Elders and Inhabitants of land to hear (1:2-3)
    שִׁמְעוּ זאֹת וְהַאֲזִינוּ shime‘u zo’th veha’azinu

b1 Reason: an event has transpired (1:4-7)
    Perfects: אָכַל(3 x’s); הִלְבִינוּ הֶשְׁלִיךְ חֶָשַׁף שֶָׂם עֶָלָה נִכְרַת
                   ’akal, nikrath, ‘alah, sam, hasaph, hishlik, hilbinu

c1 Wail drunkards and wine bibbers (1:5)
    Three imperatives: וְהֵילִילוּ וּבְכוּ הֶָקִיצוּ haqitsu, ubeku, vehelilu

b2 Reason: a NATION has come up (6-7)

c2 Wail everyone—8
One imperative: אֱלִי ’eli

b3 Reason: devastation of agriculture (9-12)
    Effects on priests: אָבְלוּ ’abelu
    Facts: יָבֵשׁ hiphil (4 x’s); אָבַד אֻמְלַל אֶָבְלָה שֻׁדַּד Yabesh, shudad, abelah, ’umelal, ’abad

d1 “The grain and drink offering have been cut off from the house of Yahweh”

c3 Wail priests (13a)
    Five imperatives: לִינוּ בּאוּ הֵילילוּ וְסִפְדוּ חִגְרוּ
                                 higeru, vesiphedu, helilu, bo’u, linu

d2 “The grain and drink offering have been withheld from the house of God”

a2 Call for Elders and Inhabitants to Repent (14)
    Four imperatives: זַעֲקוּ אִסְפוּ קִרְאוּ קַדְּשׁוּ qadeshu, qire’u, ’sephu, za‘aqu

b5 Reason: Day of Yahweh is near (קָרוֹב qarob), it is coming (יָבוֹא yabo’)

a3 Call for an Assembly (2:1a)
    Blow, Shout, Tremble—all inhabitants of the earth

b6 Reason: Day of Yahweh (2:1b)

c4 Description (2:2-11)
Earth (2:3-9)
Heaven (2:10-11)

a4 Plea for Repentance (2:12)
Fasting, weeping, mourning

b7 Reason: (2:13-14)
    Gracious, merciful, patient, great kindness, repents of calamity, who knows whether...

d3 “And leave a blessing behind Him, Even a grain offering and a libation.”

a5 Call for Repentance and an assembly (2:15-17)

2:1

2:15

Blow trumpet

Blow trumpet

1:14

Consecrate fast

Consecrate fast

Call assembly

Call assembly

Gather elders

Gather people

Cry out

Consecrate assembly

Gather elders

Gather children

Let . . . go out

Let . . . weep

Let . . . say

God’s Response (2:18-27)

“And Yahweh was zealous (וַיְקַנֵּא wayeqane’) for His land, and He had compassion (וַיַּחְמל wayahmol) on His people. And he answered (וַיַּעַן waya‘an) and said (וַיּאמֶר wayomer) to His people, behold I am about to send to you the grain, new wine, and oil. And you will be satisfied with them and I will not permit you any longer to be a reproach among the nations” (2:18-19).


1Hans W. Wolff, Joel and Amos, Hermeneia, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977) p. 3.

2See Richard H. Hiers, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 2:82-83 for an excellent discussion. He says, “There is wide agreement, however, that for most of the prophets, the Day of Yahweh meant that time in the relatively near future when Yahweh would punish not only his people’s enemies, but also his people (Israel, Judah, or the Jewish people) for breaking the covenant. Then, either through a new Davidic king or messiah or by acting directly, Yahweh would establish his own rule or kingdom over all the earth.”

3Wolff (Joel and Amos, p. 4) argues that the temple referred to in Chapter 1 has been rebuilt and the memory of the Babylonian siege is faded. Hence, he places the book after 445 B.C. when the walls of the city have been rebuilt.

4See also D. A. Garrett, “The Structure of Joel,” JETS 28 (1985): 289‑297.

5Read the description of crop destruction in the middle west by grasshoppers.

6Some, e.g., H. Wolff (Joel and Amos) argue that chapter 2 speaks of an actual army.

7Note my translation “was zealous.”  This tense would normally be translated past.

8F. S. Frick, “Rain,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:612.

9See further, R. Patterson, “Joel,” Expositors Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 7:258.

10Gesenius, Kautzsch, Crowley, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, #111w.

11Joüon, Grammaire de l’Hébreu Biblique, #118s. “Dans la sphere du futur, wayyiqtol (comme qatal #112 g-h) est rare. Apres un parfait prophetique (#112h): Is 9,5; Joel 2,23.”

12Hans Wolff (Joel and Amos).

13Chisholm, “Joel,” Bible Knowledge Commentary, Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1978.

14So Allen, “Joel,” New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976.

Related Topics: History, Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Prophets