There are a dozen persons named Joel in the Old Testament and none seems to be the one who is responsible for this book. Joel’s hometown is not identified, nor his occupation, nor who was ruling the country (Israel or Judah) during his ministry. The first verse of the book does make clear that he is a prophet to whom the word of the Lord came. Internal evidence dates Joel ca. 835-586 B.C.
- The temple is functioning (1:9): Could not be after the destruction of the Temple (586 B.C.).
- Judah is inhabited (1:2, 11, 14): Another confirmation that it is prior to the Exile (586 B.C.).
- Joel is placed between Hosea and Amos in the canon. This is not much help because the arrangement was due to literary similarities to Amos (which we will examine next time).
- The destruction in 3:2-3 is so grim that surely it must refer to some conquest (722 B.C.?). * The discussion about pouring out His Spirit in Joel 2:28-29 is Messianic hope (Pentecost).
So it is difficult to tell WHEN it was written, but I believe it was for the northern Kingdom prior to the fall of Israel to the Assyrians, with a hope of Messiah to come to redeem Israel from her sin. Others believe it was written way later (5th century B.C.). Joel warns Israel to repent, using locusts and drought as images of an even future judgment that is coming that will wipe out the land of Israel of all life.
God Responds to the Nation's Sinfulness and Breaking of His Covenant (1:1-2:11)
Joel calls for recognition that the calamity is the result of God dealing with the nation of Israel. In the Hebrew Joel uses four different names for these swarming locusts, creeping locusts, etc. Raymond Dillard, in his commentary on Joel gives the following information about locust plagues:
In our generation areas having the potential for a locust outbreak are monitored by international agencies using satellite reconnaissance and other technology; incipient swarms are met by aircraft and trucks carrying powerful pesticides. However, if the locusts are not destroyed or contained shortly after the hatch, once the swarm has formed, control efforts are minimally effective even today. For example, in 1988 the civil war in Chad prevented international cooperation in attacking the hatch, and a destructive swarm spread throughout North Africa devastating some of the poorest nations and threatening Europe as well. The swarms can reach great sizes: a swarm across the Red Sea in 1889 was estimated to cover two thousand square miles. A swarm is estimated to contain up to 120 million insects per mile. “Baro” Desert Locust, (Raymond Dillard, The Minor Prophets, “Joel,” p. 255-56).
Israel Responds to the Devastation with Mourning (1:8-20)
In verse 15 Joel says, “The day of the Lord is near.” He introduces the concept of the Day of the Lord here, but goes on to elaborate how bad the suffering is then. But he recognizes that the destruction by the locusts is only a shadow of what is to come – an invasion from the Assyrians.
READ – Deuteronomy 27 and Deuteronomy 28 – (emphasizing Deuteronomy 28:15). Israel was justly reaping the consequences of their rebellion as “God’s holy nation.” The Messiah has come for the world.
The Description of Future Devastation by the Assyrians (i.e. “The Lord's Army” of Judgement) (2:1-11)
This is the major reason I believe that Joel was written in the 9th or 8th century B.C., prior to when the Assyrian army (the world’s first major Empire) came from the north and destroyed Israel “The day of the Lord is indeed great and awesome, and who can endure it?” No one can endure it, so what are they to do? They need to repent and pray that God will have mercy on them. Of course, the “type” represented by the Assyrian invasion of Israel is the “shadow of death” that passes over every human being.
The Call for Repentance (2:12-17)
Joel does not presume on God’s sovereignty in mercy and grace. In verse 14 he says, “Who knows whether God will turn and relent.” Sometimes God will judge for the praise of His holiness and justice. In 2:16 Joel mention infants, bridegrooms and brides who fast and mourn. These are three members of society who are not typically sad and mournful, but even they knew the need for a return to God.
God's Response to Repentance (2:18-3:21)
The verbs in Joel 2:18-19 are translated into English as future tenses in most Bibles, but they can and probably should be translated as past tenses. I think the people did repent at Joel’s pleading and here we have the results. So it should read:
“Then the Lord was zealous for His land,
and had pity on His people.
And the Lord answered His people, ...”
God granted for their repentance several blessings (verses 19-27) which are given a chiasm. A chiasm is a repetition of similar ideas in the reverse sequence.
Restoration of crops (19a) and cessation of shame (19b).
Invasion averted (20)
Praise and exhortation (21-24)
Effects of locust invasion reversed (25)
Restoration of crops (26a) and cessation of shame (26b-27)
“My people will never be put to shame.”
The Deliverance of God’s People from Sin and Shame is Fulfilled Beginning at Pentecost (2:28-3:31)
In this section God promises deliverance. Peter quotes Joel 2:28 at Pentecost in Acts 2:17. The judgment of the nations for the mistreatment of Israel (3:1-17) is a judgment on people for the rejection of Christ.
- There is to be therefore now “no condemnation” (or shame) to them who are in Christ (Rom. 8).
- To the extent that we lose sight of God’s glorious riches in Christ, we lose sight of real life.
- It is knowing the goodness of God that always leads to repentance, not the Law of God.
- To whatever extent the gospel is not freely preached and shared, people remain in bondage.
- The greatest tragedy in modern day Christianity is moving the power of God to a future advent.