THE BOOK OF JOEL: A BRIEF OVERVIEW

Found in the Bible right after Hosea, the book of Joel has a uniqueness about it, and it certainly has connections to the message of the new covenant. As you study it, consider this thought: from Joel 1:1 to Joel 2:17, it appears that the prophet is speaking, while from Joel 2:18 to the end of the book it seems that the speaker is God Himself.

Historical setting: Joel’s prophecy was written after a locust plague had brought horrible destruction on Judah (1:4). The devastation caused by this plague was unparalleled (1:2,3), relentless, and complete (1:4,7,10,11,18,19), halted the offerings at the Lord’s house (1:9,12), took away the people’s joy (1:12,16), and had a profound effect on nature (1:18-20).

Unlike many of the prophets, Joel does not specify which kings were in power at the time of his writing. From the contents of the book, it seems obvious that its message was addressed to the inhabitants of the Southern Kingdom (Judah). We say this because Joel speaks of the activities of “the house of the LORD” (1:9,13,16), which was the temple that was located in Jerusalem. He also refers to priests being the Lord’s ministers/servants (1:9,13; 2:17). Joel mentions neither the destruction nor destroyers of either the Northern Kingdom or Southern Kingdom. Many conservative-minded Bible students suggest that Joel did his prophesying around B.C. 830.

Some key thoughts: When you study the book of Joel, there are three matters that really catch your attention. Those would be an unprecedented locust plague, “the day of the LORD,” and a prediction of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let us take a look.

(1) The book’s overall message is connected to the term “the day of the LORD,” which is found in each chapter of the book (1:15; 2:1,11,31; 3:14). Joel describes “the day of the LORD” as being “destruction from the Almighty” (1:15), as well as “great and very terrible” (2:11) and “awesome” (2:31). In the Old Testament, the words “the day of the LORD” refer to a judgment from God, a visitation in which He would punish the wicked and bless the righteous. Each biblical reference to “the day of the LORD” must be understood in view of the context in which it is used.

In connection with the day of the Lord, Joel speaks of the sun being “turned into darkness and the moon into blood” (2:31; 3:14,15). This is highly figurative language which the prophets often employed as an attention-getter to show the amazing and devastating nature of the day of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 13:9,10).

(2) The destructive plague of locusts that Joel describes was not what is commonly called a natural disaster. Rather, Jehovah sent the plague as a punishment for Judah’s sin. God said that He sent the locusts as His great army against Judah (2:25). Unlike many of the writing prophets, Joel does not mention any specific sins committed by Judah, yet he does record God’s call for His people to repent: “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God . . .” (2:12,13).

(3) The outpouring of God’s Spirit – “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh” (2:28). When would that be? “Afterward.” After what? At some point after Judah returned to God with all her heart and He bestowed on her the promised blessings about which we read in 2:18-27. Guided by the Spirit, Peter declared that the Spirit of the Lord was to be outpoured “in the last days” (Acts 2:17). Joel’s prophecy clearly pointed to the outpouring of the Spirit on that Day of Pentecost on which the church began in Jerusalem, as Peter said to the Jews who assembled on that occasion, “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16).

The outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2:28) would be for “all flesh” – no racial barriers; for “sons and daughters” – no gender barriers; for “young” and “old” – no age barriers; it would result in prophecies, dreams, and visions. All of those phenomena took place in the first century A.D.

Additional principles to ponder from Joel:

God’s nature and attributes – He is Almighty (1:15), He speaks (2:11,12), He is gracious and merciful (2:13), He is slow to anger and of great kindness (2:13), He gives blessings (2:14,19,23), He is zealous/jealous (2:18), He shows pity (2:18), He does marvelous things (2:21), He judges and carries out justice (3:4,7,12), and He is the shelter/hope and strength of His people (3:16).

“Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (2:32). There definitely was physical deliverance for the Jewish disciples of Jesus who escaped Jerusalem during its destruction in A.D. 70. But, the New Testament quotations and application of deliverance for those who call on the Lord’s name points to spiritual salvation through the Christ when one obeys the gospel (Romans 10:13-16; Acts 22:16).

Accountability before God – All people of all nations must give account of themselves to the Lord. There is no way to escape His arm of judgment: it is for all (3:1,2,9,12-14). Joel plainly shows that those who stick with God will be blessed, but those who turn away from Him will face unpleasant consequences.

— Roger D. Campbell

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