Joel-The Prophet of the Day of the Lord
A Bible Study

Author

Joel, the son of Pethuel, is known to us only by his prophecy. His name means 'Jehovah is God.'

Date of Writing

The dates assigned to his prophetic activity on the basis of evidence in the book itself range from about 800 BC to about 400 BC. Some of the references to the times and conditions and the purity of language point to a date around 850 BC. The later date is favored by most Biblical scholars today. No king is mentioned, priests and elders appear as leaders of the community. The temple is standing, and priesthood, ritual, and offerings are prominent. Many of the people are still scattered in exile. Greeks appear as a far-off people to whom Jewish slaves were sold. The Greeks are not yet known as the conquering people whom the Jews knew from the days of Alexander the Great. All this seems to point to a date after the Exile and after the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah and before the time of Alexander.

The Addressees

The people of Jerusalem and Judah, Joel 3: 1. The place of Joel's prophetic activity was probably Jerusalem as well.

The Content

Joel's message is one sermon preached on the occasion of the very severe plague of locusts and terrible drought. He gives the moral and spiritual application thereof. He is quoted by Isaiah, Micah, Amos, Nabu, Zephaniah, Obadiah, Ezekiel, Malachi, and by some of the Psalmists.

The occasion of Joel's prophetic activity is clear. A plague of locusts of unprecedented severity has come upon the Land. There can hardly be a doubt that he is speaking literally, of a real plague of locusts. The accuracy of his description, down to details, is confirmed by eyewitness accounts both ancient and modern. We do not take this prophecy as an allegorical description of an invading army or of the enemies of Israel, as has been done by some.

Joel, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, does give more than a surface description of the plague He interprets it in depth, as a meaningful act of the God of judgment and salvation. He bids the people look beneath the surface of devastation and despair and see in the plague, first an indication of the coming great Day of the Lord, which bids them cry to the Lord.

Second, by using the suggestive term "the northerner" for the locusts (2:20) he bids his people see in them an approaching last judgmental visitation, which bids men return to the Lord and find deliverance in Him. (2:1-27)

Third, Joel's prophetic vision, no longer fixed on the present plague pierces into the future, and he gives a full-scale depiction of portents that herald its approach, the standard by which its divine decisions will be made and the finality of these decisions for good or ill. (2:28-3:21)

Joel's prophecy will do a work in the church today when we are reminded that the gift of the Spirit is a last-days responsibility, that to "live by the Spirit" in disciplined and orderly ranks is called upon for every believing child of God (Galatians 5:25)

The religious teaching of Joel

1. His concept of 'day of Jehovah, a day of terror and blessing, a day of vengeance and the year of the redeemed.' (Amos later announces this 'day' to Israel."

2. A call to repentance.

3. The outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh. Grace and Judgment always move side by side.

Outline

  1. 1:1-20 The Plague of Locusts: Predictive Token of the Day of the Lord.
    1. 1:1-14 The Prophet's Summons: Cry to the Lord
    2. 1:15-20 The Response of the People: The Cry of the Penitent
  2. 2:1-27 The Coming of the "Northerner" The Dawning of the Day of the Lord
    1. 2:1-11 The Invasion of the "Northerner"
    2. 2:12-17 Return to Me, Says the Lord
    3. 2:18-27 The Removal of the "Northerner" and the Restoration of Life
  3. 2:28-3:21 The Valley of Decision: The Coming of the Day of the Lord
    1. 2:28-32 Portents of the Day of the Lord
    2. 3:1-8 The Standard of Judgment
    3. 3:9-21 The Judgment

I) 1:1-20 The Plague of Locusts: Predictive Token of the Day of the Lord

A. 1:1-14 The Prophet's Summons: Cry to the Lord

1:1-14 The coming Day of the Lord is heralded by predictive tokens which bid the people of God be alert to it and respond to its coming. The plague of locusts is one: it bids men to cry out to the Lord. The community is addressed four times m its representatives...

a. old men, verses 2-4
b. drinkers of wine, verses 5-7
c. tillers of the soil, verses 11-12
d. priests, verses 13-14

The response demanded is that all inhabitants of the land cry out to the Lord, who is hastening toward His day of judgment and deliverance.

1:2-4 The aged men represent the people ~ all the inhabitants>. As the men of memory, guardians of the people's traditions who constitute a bridge between the generations, and as men of authority whose word has weight for the community, they are told to hear and tell. They are to mark the unprecedented character of the plague and to preserve the memory of it, not as just another piece of history but as a speaking act of God which points to the end of history and His judgment upon it.

Question: How do you and I "preserve the memory" of events in our life and our generation to teach the next generation of the things of God and as lessons for life? Suggestions?

1:4 The various names for locusts may be names for several varieties of locusts or for the locust in various stages of its development. The point however is clear. Each successive swarm destroys what the previous one had left.

1:5-7 Drunkards are told to awake to the significance of the plague and therefore to weep and wail. They are addressed as an extreme case of a tendency in the people as a whole; they represent all drinkers of wine, those who enjoy life in leisurely relaxation and so are in danger of remaining deaf to what the Lord is telling concerning His Day (see Luke 21:34).

Here Joel is taking from them the lesser gift of wine that gladdens the heart of man (Psalms 104:15) in order to implant in them the need and desire for the greater gift of repentance and salvation.

1:8-10 Here in the center of this five-fold appeal the people are addressed are addressed corporately, as a virgin laments the death of the bridegroom of her youth. This is a call for Israel, whom the prophets often picture as a virgin, to repent and call to the Lord before the coming Day of the Lord is upon her. If people do not repent the last day will be worse than a loss or a death. It will bring about eternal death.

1:11-12 If the tillers of the soil are confounded, this means that the creaturely life, the economic existence, of the whole people is threatened. When they wail, gladness fails from the sons of men, and it is time for all to "cry to the Lord."

We have never seen total crop failure! When we have a short crop times can be hard for many. What would be the reaction of people if we experienced total crop failure? Would people turn to the Lord or would they utterly reject Him?

1:13-14 In the address to the priests, the agony and the imperative of the hour becomes completely clear. None imperatives are directed to them, bidding them recognize the hour and make the assembled people recognize it too.

The point is clear, when the heavy visitation of God cuts off the very means of worship, there is but one thing to do: The people must put on garments of sorrowing repentance (sackcloth) and utter the cry of repentance. God's speaking actions says: Cry to the Lord!

1:13 Sackcloth is the badge of sorrow, often the sorrow of repentance (see 1 Kings 21:27-29; 1 Chronicles 21:16-17; Isaiah 22:12 )

B) 1:15-20 The Response of the People: The Cry of the Penitent

1:15-20 The quick and powerful prophetic word has done its work. The cry invoked from the people is a lament for the havoc wrought by the locusts. But it is more than that: the lament is religious, expressive of sorrow over the broken relationship with God, grief at the cessation of joy and gladness of worship in His house.

Above all, there is in the cry the recognition that this is a visitation of God, the cast shadow of the coming Day of the Lord, destruction from the Almighty (verse 15) with an inescapable demonstrative power. Perhaps even the unexpected reference to fire and flame in verses 19 and 20 is also an indication that the people are recognizing the disaster as a visitation of God's wrath Fire, by the way, is one of the commonest Old Testament symbols of the wrath of God (see Deuteronomy 4:24. Psalms 89:46; Jeremiah 4:4.)

II) 2:1-27 The Coming of the "Northerner" The Dawning of the Day of the Lord

In chapter two, which opens with the command to "blow the trumpet" and to "sound the alarm" in the holy city, the prophet makes a fresh start in his interpretation of the plague of locusts. The locusts is still in the picture but us expressly mentioned only once late in the chapter and almost incidentally. (verse 25)

The plague has become the occasion of his prophecy rather than its theme; it is seen, not so much as an announcement of the Day of the Lord as the inception of it, as the beginning of God's movement toward that dreadful Day, as something present which has in it the germ of the future. The locust are given a new and suggestive name the "Northerner" which marks him as part of the whole sweeping judgmental activity of God which leads to, and culminates in the Day of the Lord.

All that has been pictured in the first chapter appears now in higher relief: the Day of the Lord now appears at the very beginning; the call to repentance is more explicit and is more fully developed; and the Lord's promise of renewal and restoration is correspondingly richer and fuller.

A) 2:1-11 The Invasion of the "Northerner"

To the Israelites, "Northerner" would have an ominous sound, for the north is the region from which Pa1estine was invaded by the great world powers; and from the north, according to the prophets, the judgment of God comes upon Israel (Jeremiah 1:14; 4:6; 6:1; 13:20)

"Northerner" can then suggest all God's judgmental visitations, natural and supernatural. In calling the locusts the "Northerner," Joel is aligning them with all the judgmental instruments of God who not only herald but usher in the Day of the Lord.

The locusts are accordingly described as an invading people (verse 2) of unprecedented and incomparable power, whose coming brings with it a darkness mysterious and deep. (verse 2)

They are cavalry host whose scotched-earth policy makes the land a wilderness (verses 3-5), an army whose uncannily disciplined and unswerving advance turns the faces of all peoples pale with anguish (verses 6-8).

At the coming of the host, the very cosmos is convulsed- earth, heaven, sun, moon, stars are shaken (verses 10-11)

And, no wonder, for this is the Lord's Army, His own Army!. His is the voice in command; and they execute His omnipotent word (verse 11) They usher in the great and terrible Day of the Lord before which no man can stand.

B) 2:12-17 Return to Me, Says the Lord

2:12-17 Who can endure the coming of this host, the dawning of this Day? Only the Lord can create the possibility of escape. Hope of escape, according to His sure Word (verse 12) lies only in repentance, in "returning to Him" returning with all one's heart (verse 12) to Him whose ancient promises reveal Him as the God with a great compassionate heart (verse 13).

The Lord alone can restore His penitent people the blessings of the land and of renewed worship (cereal and drink offering) (verse 14). To Him the afflicted people are to turn corporately in solemn assembly (verse 15) led by the priests, who appeal to the covenant by which the Lord has graciously bound Himself to His people (Thy people, Thy heritage) (verse 17 ).

C) 2:18-27 The Removal of the "Northerner" and the Restoration of Life

The great reversal of fortunes is the Lord's doing and His alone (verses 18-20). His holy zeal for His honor as Israel's God and His pity for His people, in quick response to their penitent pleading, restore the ruin wrought by the invader and cast out the "Northerner," who has done great things as God's executioner and has had his day.

Because the Lord has done great things, the ravaged land (verse 21), famished beasts (verse 22), and the starving sons of Zion (verse 23) are called upon to cease from fear and to rejoice. (verse 23)

The years that the locusts have made blank periods of ruin will be restored (verses 24-25). The Lord of life is bestowing life, full life, on His people. They shall eat of His bounty, praise His name, and know that He is their God and is the only true God. Life will be one harmonious whole, where man's economy, his liturgy, and his theology will make one music to the glory of God (verses 26-27).

III). 2:28-3:21 The Valley of Decision: The Coming of the Day of the Lord

The locust plague now disappears altogether! For all its terror, it was but a whisper that heralded and prepared for the day when the Lord will "roar from Zion." (3:16). The last section of the book of Joel (2:28-3:16) deals with the actual corning of the Day of the Lord, with the portents that herald the coming judgment to the church and to the world (2:28-32); with the standard of the last judgment and then with the execution of the last judgment, portrayed as war (3:9-12) and harvest (3:13) and as definitive decision and division (3:14-21)

A) 2:28-32 Portents of the Day of the Lord

The first portent is the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh, with the result that all prophesy (verses 28-29). The people of God as a whole will become for mankind what the Spirit -empowered prophet has been for Israel: the declared interpreter of God's Holy Will. Thus Israel prepares the way for the judgment on the Day of the Lord; for prophets force a decision and create a division as the example of Elihjah on Mt. Carmel shows us in 1 Kings 18:21.

The Spirit exposes human sin and is tile potent convector (see John 16:7-11). Under the Spirit, the prophets call humanity to repentance, as Peter did when Joel's prophecy is found fulfilled in Acts 2:14-40 on the day of Pentecost.

God will speak through a nation of prophets; He will also warn and woo the nations by "portents in the heavens and on the earth before His great and terrible day comes (verses 30-31).

A tottering universe will warn all people of their doom and point them (this is the major emphasis) to the means of their deliverance, to the Lord who calls them. The survivors will be those who have heeded His call and, in obedience to it call upon the name of the Lord. (verse 32)

The key signature before Joel's stern music of judgment is the word concerning the Lord who is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. (Romans 10:12)

B) 3:1-8 The Standard of Judgment

The people destined to be God's messenger to the nations look large in the picture of the judgment. As this people has been the hidden axis on which all history revolves, so it will be the manifest center of God's last and final judgment.

The goal of God's judging is the redemption of His people. (verse l)

Man's fate in the judgment will depend on how they have dealt with God's people. (verse 2)

As they have done to Israel, so it shall be done to them. "The saints shall judge the world." (1 Corinthians 6:2)

It is noteworthy that the Lord identifies Himself with His people (are you paying me back? verse 4) just as Jesus identifies Himself with the least of His brethren in His portrayal of the last judgment (Matthew 25:40, 45)

C) 3:9-21 The Judgment

The judgment is pictured in three ways. It is a great way (verses 9-12) the world's mighty men are summoned to prepare themselves and appear in battle array against he Lord. Thus the rebelliousness of sinful man, his revolt against God, is made clear. Strangely enough, the expected battle is not pictured at all. the Lord will judge (verse 12) in quiet sovereign majesty, and that is the sudden end of all rebellion against Him.

Second, the judgment is pictured as a harvest (verse 13).The judgment is not a freakish outburst of fury but a long prepared for, long-due, deliberate settling of accounts.

Third, the judgment is pictured as ultimate decision and division (verses 14-21) with a strong stress on the positive outcome of the judgment and for God's people.

God has permitted and overcome the last concentrate assault against Him. (verses 9-12). He has in long patience allowed the grain and the weeds to grow up together until the harvest (verse 13 cf. Matthew 13:2~30, 36-43). Now on the Day of the Lord, the time for a final separation has come.

The noisy multitudes are gathered in the valley of decision (verse 14). Their noise, which has filled the pages of history, is silence by the voice of the Lord "roaring from Zion" the place where His glory dwells (verse 16; cf. Psalms 26:8; 76:2; 132:13-14). The roaring of that voice will shake the universe (verses 15-16) and will pronounce a doom of desolation on peoples like Egypt and Edom, oppressors and enemies of His people (verse 19).

But for His people that voice speaks everlasting peace; the Lord their refuge and stronghold (verse 16) their city established for ever in security (verse 17, 20) their land a land of plenty (verse 18) and, above all, unbroken communion with the Lord. "You shall know that I am the Lord your God." (verse 17)

Closing Comment

May every catastrophe in this world be a reminder for us of The Day of The Lord, a day of judgment for the unbeliever and a day of deliverance for the believer. May we therefore heed the call to repent, to turn to the Lord, and to receive of Him the fulfillment of His gracious promises of salvation, now and forever.

Thus concludes our study on the book of the prophet Joel.

Sources

Concordia Self Study Commentary, Martin H. Franzmann Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO. 1979 pp. 600-604

Eldor Haake, A Study of the Prophet Joel, The Prophet Of The Day Of The Lord, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Moline, IL. 1981