Book Summaries

Second of the so-called Minor Prophets. The author's name gives it its title. In the Hebrew printed Bibles Joel stands, as it does in English, between Hosea and Amos, though in the Septuagint it appears 4th in the so-called Minor Prophets, and follows Micah, Hosea and Amos being the first two. Nothing is known of the author other than that he was the son of Pethuel (Joel 1:1). The date of the book has been variously assigned by conservative Bible students to the 9th cent. b.c. and the 7th cent. The book contains no historical or chronological data of assistance in determining its date. Those who advocate the 9th cent. point to the fact that Assyria and Babylonia are not mentioned as enemies of Judah (cf. ch 3:4 ­6, 19), a mention which we would expect if the book had been written in the 8th cent., or later. The fact that Joel mentions no king as reigning at the time he prophesied is cited as evidence that the book was written during the regency of Jehoiada while Joash was yet a child (2 Ki 11:17 to 12:2), about 825 b.c. Attention is also called to the fact that there is no stern denunciation for sin that is characteristic of the later prophets. In fact, no national sin, as such, is mentioned. Advocates of the 7th-cent. view assign Joel's ministry to the early years of Josiah's reign, approximately 635 b.c., when Assyrian power was waning and Babylonia had not yet come into prominence. Because Josiah came to the throne as a child, it is conjectured that he must have lived under a regent. The fact that Tyre and Sidon (Joel 3:4 ­6) do not appear in history as enemies of Judah until the closing decades of its history is cited as favouring this view. Presumably also, the Jews had little contact with the Greeks (v 6) in the 9th cent.

The book of Joel is a masterpiece of Hebrew poetic form marked by systematic organisation, a skilful use of language, well-balanced syntax, and vivid figures of speech. It is a classic of Hebrew prophetic literature unexcelled in vividness of description and picturesque diction. In sublimity of style it ranks with Isaiah and Habakkuk.

The prophet's message appears in the form of a sermon or a series of sermons addressed to all Israel (e.g., chs 2:19 ­21; 3:4, 9, 11, 13). The theme is reformation. The message opens with a stark picture of gloom, but closes with a brief glimpse of glory. The prophet explains why a reformation is needed, calls attention to the calamities God has sent to remind His people of their need, stresses the urgency of reformation, and points out what a genuine reformation will involve. He then turns to the results of such a reformation. The book may be divided into 2 main sections: (1) Adversity and the call to repentance (chs 1:1 to 2:17). (2) The promise of deliverance and restoration (chs 2:18 to 3:21). First, Joel gives a vivid description of the distress occasioned by a severe plague of locusts, which he describes under the symbol of an invading army (ch 1:4 ­6). The plague is more severe than any in 5 generations (vs. 2, 3), with the result that a countryside has already been denuded of verdure (vs. 6, 7). Crop after crop has been ruined (vs. 11, 12), and there remains not enough even for the offerings of the Lord's house (vs. 9, 10). In view of the crisis that confronts the nation Joel calls for a period of fasting and summons the inhabitants of the land to the Temple for a solemn assembly (Joel 1:14). Accompanying the plague of locusts is a severe drought (vs. 15 ­20), so severe that the nation faces extinction, and thus "the day of the Lord" (chs 1:14, 15; 2:1). The present calamities presage that time of divine retribution. In ch 2:2 the prophet repeats what he has already said in ch 1:2, 3 concerning the severity of the plague and the unprecedented suffering that it has brought about. Even now the land appears as if it had been swept by fire (ch 2:3). In vs. 4 ­11 the locusts are declared to be the "army" of the Lord, whose coming none can abide--unless God intervenes (v 11). Here Joel compares the locusts to a horde of mounted invaders who cover the countryside like a tidal wave. In vs. 12 ­17 the prophet directs attention to what the people of God should do in view of the crisis now confronting the nation. Nothing less than wholehearted repentance, in fact as well as form, will suffice to avert complete annihilation, and the people are admonished to rend their hearts and not their garments (v 13) as they gather together before the Lord. To stress the urgency of reformation the prophet summons the aged, little children, and infants to accompany the men and women of Israel as the nation gathers in solemn assembly; even marriage festivities are to be postponed (v 16).

Beginning with ch 2:18 it is assumed that the people have responded to the prophet's summons. They have gathered together before the Lord, they have repented with all of their hearts, and now they await His gracious reply. The first effect of their repentance is the removal of the plague of locusts. God promises corn, wine, and oil sufficient to satisfy the needs of all, but has even greater blessings in store for His people (v 21). Not only will He send the usual early and latter rains, in the fall and the spring of the year, but the soil will prove to be so productive as to make up for the losses occasioned by the plague of locusts. The people will "eat in plenty, and be satisfied" (vs. 23 ­26). God's blessing will not be limited to supplying their material needs, however. As He pours out the former and latter rain upon the ground, so He will pour out His Spirit upon the hearts of the people (vs. 28, 29). Then extraordinary omens in the natural world will herald the coming of "great and the terrible day of the Lord" (vs. 30, 31), but God's people need not fear, since all who "call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered" (Joel 2:32). Instead of being a day of judgement upon Israel (cf. chs 1:15; 2:1), the day of the Lord will prove to be a time of judgement upon the heathen nations that have oppressed God's people (ch 3:1 ­17). As repeatedly elsewhere in the OT prophets (Eze. 38:8, 23; Zeph. 3:8, 9; Zech. 12:2 ­10; 14:2 ­13; etc.) God is pictured as gathering the heathen nations to the vicinity of Jerusalem, where He will execute judgement upon them. The Phoenicians (Joel 3:4) and Greeks (v 6) who assemble in the "valley of Jehoshaphat" purposing to take the city of Jerusalem (v 2) here stand for all of Israel's oppressors. Once the heathen have assembled and are on the point of capturing the city, God causes His "mighty ones to come down" (v 11). He delivers His people (v 1) and annihilates their enemies (vs. 1, 16). Never again will the nations oppress Israel, and the land of Judah will stand forth in perpetual fertility and beauty. From generation to generation the Lord will dwell in the midst of His people (vs. 20, 21).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.