The prophet and his prophecy
We know little about Joel the man or the devastating plague of locusts spoken of at the start of his message. This for Joel this was a clarion call for Zion to turn to the Lord. As far as this plague went, this was a current event and yet Joel looks far into the future, linking the Day of the Lord to the time recorded in the New Testament that is to do with the coming of the Holy Spirit and spanning to the end time battle that precedes the ushering in of the restored kingdom of Israel and a time of peace and vindication for the people of God.
Background and context
The book contains no references to datable historical events. Many interpreters date it somewhere between the late seventh and early fifth centuries BC. In any case, its message is not significantly affected by its dating. The book of Joel has linguistic parallels to that used by other prophets and addresses some of their themes, especially around different aspects associated with the Day of the Lord.
A synopsis of the Book
- Title (1:1)
- Judah Experiences a Foretaste of the Day of the Lord (1:2—2:17)
- A Call to Mourning and Prayer (1:2–14)
- The Announcement of the Day of the Lord (1:15—2:11)
- A Call to Repentance and Prayer (2:12–17)
- Judah Is Assured of Salvation in the Day of the Lord (2:18—3:21)
- The Lord’s Restoration of Judah (2:18–27)
- The Lord’s Renewal of His People (2:28–32)
- The Coming of the Day of the Lord (ch. 3)
- The nations judged (3:1–16)
- God’s people blessed (3:17–21)
The message of the Prophet
Joel sees the massive locust plague and severe drought devastating Judah as a harbinger of the “great and dreadful day of the Lord” (2:31). Confronted with this crisis, he calls on everyone to take stock on what is happening and repent and pray: old and young (1:2–3), drunkards (1:5), farmers (1:11) and priests (1:13). “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” (2:13). While the locusts were likely for real, he describes them as the Lord’s army and sees in their coming a reminder the day of the Lord is near. He describes it as one of punishment of unfaithful Israel as well as the nations. Restoration and blessing will come only after judgment and repentance: “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten … 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” (2:25, 27).
The verses that follow are referred to by Peter at the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21), ushering in the Day of the Lord and yet 2000 years on we are still to see the complete fulfilment: “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: “And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. 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” (2: 28-32).
Then we come to end time battles, referred to in Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah and Revelation (discussed in Chapter 15): “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 … 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: Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong … Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision … (3:2, 9-10, 14).
After which God Himself secures the final victory, there is a time of blessing for Israel: “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. 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. 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 out of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim … But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion” (14, 16-18, 20-21).