Little is known about this prophet, other than the name of his father, Pethuel. Some think that Pethuel is derived from Bethuel who was Rebekah's father. But this is quite speculative and not widely accepted. The name Joel appears once in 1 Samuel, and many times in Chronicles and Ezra and Nehemiah, leading some scholars to argue for a postexilic date. They also point out that Joel routinely mentions Judah and Jerusalem, but not Israel, which leads them to think that it had to be after 722BCE when the Assyrians destroyed Israel. Plus, he writes about the temple, but no king. So scholars think it might have been after the exile, though arguments from silence are not the most compelling. When the text doesn't say anything, people sometimes assume nothing happened. That's called an argument from silence, and most people think it's rather weak. So in this case, because he doesn't mention a king, people might assume he was writing during a time when there was no king -- hence post exile. Despite its placement between Hosea and Amos, few claim that it is contemporaneous with them (ninth century).
It is unusual for a prophet not to give some hint regarding the period of his ministry. Knowing the historical background oftentimes sheds light on the writings. However, others claim the lack of historical reference makes the message timeless, and that would certainly be true of Joel. Though comprised of merely three chapters, his book encompasses the two main themes of the Bible. On the one hand, he pronounces a very real judgment on human sin; on the other hand, he makes known the grace of a merciful God, who will never permit complete destruction.
The occasion for Joel's words was prompted by a locust plague that had descended upon Judah. Most scholars think this was meant literally and was not just a metaphorical reference to an army (acting like locusts). Not only were crops destroyed (and hence the nation's economic base), but also all aspects of society were affected. In essence, the whole sacrificial system was at risk, because they had nothing to offer. In these dreadful circumstances, Joel saw the hand of God. Although life had been prosperous and peaceful, Joel felt the nation had taken God's blessings for granted and had degenerated into decadence and religious formalities. Unlike other prophets, however, he does not specifically identify their sins. Nonetheless, he cautioned that this plague was merely the beginning of worse things to come – unless, of course, they returned to God in full fellowship. Then God would not only forgive them, but He would also restore the land, which would allow them to re-establish the heart of the ceremonial religion.
Joel achieves his purpose by repeatedly referencing the "Day of Yahweh." This is best understood in terms of Israelite Holy War, whereby a conqueror would vanquish all of Israel's enemies in a single day. In the first section of his writings, Joel turns this concept upside down and proclaims that in a single day Yahweh will annihilate them. According to him, that time was in process. Then, after they had experienced suffering and reconciliation, the "Day of Yahweh" would also be unleashed upon their enemies (chapter 3).
The two main themes are both subdivided into two separate oracles. The first two describe a general and persistent distress, while the last two are oracles of hope that describe future deliverance. Of these, the first highlights God's mercy and outpouring spirit, and the second promises the defeat of all Judah's enemies. Like several other prophets, Joel followed the woe/weal model. Basing his prophecies squarely on the Mosaic covenant, he believed judgment was inevitable for the nation's sins, but after a period of discipline, God would even more abundantly restore and bless His people.
Description of Invasion – 1:1-2:17
- Oracle 1 – The plague, present disaster
- A summons to hear
- A call to the elders and all the inhabitants of the land
- A call to the people for lamentation, fasting, and prayer
- Their relation to God has been broken because of sin
- Gather the leaders and cry out to Yahweh
- Day of Yahweh can be seen in the plague of locusts
- Food has dried up; cattle are desolate
- Harbinger of things to come
- Oracle 2 – Sound the Alarm for the Day of Yahweh
- Locusts are like an invading army on the Day of Yahweh
- Day of Yahweh is coming
- Desperate language meant to portray coming destruction
- There will be no escape
- Call for repentance; change your hearts
- Their only hope is to completely and genuinely repent
- If people are truly repentant, the Lord will respond with forgiveness
- (Because that's the essence of God's nature)
- "Return to the Lord for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love"
The Lord's Response – 2:15-3:21
- Oracle 3 – A call to the God of Grace
- The faithful cry out
- Another call for fasting and gathering of the people
- Priests are commanded to appeal to God
- They can only hope that God will soon take pity on his people
- Promise of future restoration
- God responds to their plea by becoming "jealous for his people"
- He will send an abundant harvest and deliver them from their enemies
- Children of Zion should rejoice and be glad
- They will eat until they are full
- Oracle 4 – God's Future Intentions
- The outpouring of God's Spirit
- Yahweh will be in their midst and they will never be put to shame again
- His spirit will be poured out on all flesh, even slaves
- Everything will break loose at once – cosmic signs
- The coming of judgment against the nations
- Nations will be held accountable for their actions
- Several nations are specifically named
- Israelites will be returned to the land
- Those enemies who committed acts of atrocities will reap the same
- Announcement to the nations
- "All the men" must be readied for war
- Plowshares will be made into swords, knives into spears
- All men will be made into soldiers; the need will be so great
- The course of judgment
- Day of Yahweh is at hand
- Yahweh "roars" from Zion; victory is foregone conclusion
- But Yahweh is a refuge for his people; he will not "roar" against them
- God's blessings
- Promise of abundant crops and water (very poetic)
- Other nations will become barren because of their violence to Judah
- "And Judah will be settled forever…from generation to generation"
- "The Lord will dwell in Zion"
Joel ends with a grand promise – a great future awaits God's people. With their enemies destroyed, Judah will experience peace. In the place of devastation and drought will be abundance and prosperity. And above all, God will dwell with his people, bound to them by a renewed covenant. What more could anyone want?
Achtemeier, Elizabeth. "Minor Prophets I." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.
Birch, Bruce. "Hosea, Joel, and Amos." Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville, KY: Westminster Press, 1997.
Craigie, Peter. "Twelve Prophets." Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984.
McComiskey Thomas. The Minor Prophets." Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992.
Stuart, Douglas. "Hosea-Jonah." Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1987.