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Bible Study: The Book of Joel

The Book of Joel

“Joel, … was probably the first of the so called writing prophets; so this book provides a valuable insight into the history of prophecy, particularly as it furnishes a framework for the end times which is faithfully followed by all subsequent Scripture. God started a new work with the writing of Joel, that of preparing the human race for the end of this temporal era, and thus gave an outline of His total plan. Later prophets, including even our Lord, would only flesh out this outline, but in keeping with the divine nature of true Scripture, never found it necessary to deviate from this, the initial revelation.” Montague S. Mills

The prophecy of Joel is short but certainly not lacking in beauty or interest. The prophet uses many literary devices to produce his vivid style: alliteration, metaphors, similes, and both synonymous and contrasting parallelism.

A most unusual feature of the Book of Joel is the plague of locusts (Chapter 1). Sometime during the prophet’s lifetime—and the date is very much disputed—a plague of locusts invaded Judah and completely devastated the land. This natural phenomenon is a vivid picture of the coming invasion of troops and the great and dreadful Day of the LORD.

Another remarkable feature of the prophecy is the prediction of the outpouring of God’s Spirit on all flesh (2:28:32) and the wonders that would follow. Since Peter quotes this passage in his sermon in Acts 2, Joel has become known as “the prophet of Pentecost.”

Joel is introduced as the son of Pethuel. Apart from that, little is known of him. His name means Jehovah is God. He has been called the John the Baptist of the O.T.

Date?

No king is mentioned by Joel and there are few chronological hints in his short prophecy to help place the book in its proper time frame. Dates as varied as the tenth century to the fifth century B.C. have been suggested. Joel’s position in the “Book of the Twelve,” as the Jews call the Minor Prophets, indicates that Jewish tradition considered Joel to be an early book. Its style fits the earlier classical period better than the post-exilic era of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The fact that no king is mentioned may be due to the book having been written when Jehoiada the high priest was regent (in the boyhood years of Joash, who reigned between 835–796 B.C.). Also, Judah’s enemies are the Phoenicians and Philistines (3:4) as well as the Egyptians and Edomites (3:19), not her later foes—the Syrians, Assyrians, and Babylonians.

Since I accept the early date, Joel spoke to the nation of Judah from the reign of Joash to that of Ahaz. This would make him the earliest of the writing prophets. The key phrase of the book is “the Day of the Lord,” found five times (1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14).

There is a distinct break or turning point in the book at 2:18. Up to that verse, Joel has been speaking of the desolation that would come on Judah. From then on, God tells of the deliverance which He will bring to the nation.

DESCRIPTION OF THE LOCUST PLAGUE (Chapter 1)

Its Unprecedented Severity (1:1-4)

Under the figure of a locust plague, Joel the son of Pethuel here describes the impending invasion of Judah by an army from the north. This prophecy received a partial fulfillment in

the Babylonian invasion, but in the future, the invader will be the king of the North (Assyria).

The severity of the locust plague was such that the elders could not remember anything like it. The plague was in four stages, the four stages in the growth of the locust: the chewing locust, the swarming locust, the crawling locust, and the consuming locust. These may refer to the four world empires which ruled over God’s people—Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

The prophecy lists its effect upon:

(1) Drunkards (1:5-7

(2) Priests (1:8-10, 1:13-16

(3) Farmers (1:11 – 12 – 17 – 18

(4) The prophet Joel (1:19-20)

The nation is called upon to repent, fast, and pray—from the drunkards to the farmers (verses 11, 12, 17, 18), and the priests (verses 8–10, 13–16).  The locusts had so stripped the land that there was nothing left with which to make offerings and sacrifices to the LORD (verses 8–10).

The prophet saw this as the day of the Lord and destruction from the Almighty (verse 15). This expression refers to any time when God steps forth in judgment, putting down evil and rebellion, and triumphing gloriously. In the future, the Day of the Lord includes the 70th Week of Daniel (a.k.a. The Time of Jacobs Trouble), the Second Advent, the Millennial Reign of

Christ, and the final destruction of the heavens and earth with fire. The prophet, speaking for the people, cries to the LORD for mercy, because fire has devoured both pastures and trees. Even the beasts of the field cry out to God because the brooks are dried up.

DESCRIPTION OF THE ENEMY INVASION (2:1-11)

The people are called to battle by a trumpet sounding the alarm, for the day of the Lord is at hand. The immediate reference was to the Babylonian captivity, but the completefulfillment is still future. Before the invaders come, the land of Judah is like the Garden of Eden; afterwards it is a desolate wilderness.

The comparison of the locusts to swift steeds, climbing the wall like men of war marching in formation, entering everywhere like a thief and blackening the skies with their immense numbers, constitutes some of the most graphic, poetic description in the prophets. This unendurable invasion is all at the beck and call of the LORD.

DIVINE APPEAL TO JUDAH TO REPENT (2:12-17)
Even now, the LORD calls the people to repentance. It is not too late to return to Him. But it must be more than outward ritual. Their turning was to be with all their heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. All classes of people are summoned to a sacred assembly and to consecrate a fast. In a future day, the priests will cry to the LORD in a solemn penitential assembly.

DIVINE DELIVERANCE PROMISED (2:18–3:21)

Material Prosperity (2:18–27)
Then the LORD will be zealous for His land and pity His people. He will send them grain, new wine, and oil to their satisfaction, in addition to removing their reproach from among the nations, and removing their enemies. The land will be restored to fertility and productiveness. Abundant rain will result in vats overflowing and threshing floors full of wheat. The people will be restored and will never again be put to shame. All the years that the swarming locust had eaten would be restored as well.

Pouring out of God’s Spirit (2:28-29

God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh in that day. The younger generation shall prophesy and see visions and the old men shall dream dreams. This latter prophecy was partially fulfilled in Acts 2:16-21, but Pentecost did not exhaust it. Its complete fulfillment will take place at the outset of Christ’s one-thousand year reign.

Signs Preceding Christ’s Second Advent (2:30-32)

The outpouring of the Spirit will be preceded by wonders in the heavens. Some of these predicted signs are: blood, fire, pillars of smoke, the sun turning into darkness and the moon into blood. All who turn to Jesus as Messiah, calling on His name, will be saved to enter the Millennium with Him.

Judgment of Gentile Nations (3:1-16)

God will gather the Gentile nations to the Valley of Jehoshaphat and will judge them there for their treatment of the Jews. Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia will be recompensed for plundering and enslaving God’s people. The people in those cities would in turn be sold as slaves—a fitting punishment for their crime.

The Gentiles are told to “Prepare for war!”, for the Lord will fight with them in the valley of decision. In the Valley of Jehoshaphat the Lord will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.

The sovereign God is currently testing all men and nations, as unfashionable as that concept may be to today’s worldly thinkers. Men dismiss the Biblical teaching concerning judgment to come, for individuals and nations, as a now outmoded concept. But the people of God have held fast through all the generations to the assurance that, in the “day of the Lord,” the Judge of all the earth will do right. That is our confidence, based upon the rock of Holy Scripture.

Restoration and Future Blessing of the Jews (3:16-21)

But the LORD will bless His people with deliverance, safety from invaders, and abundant supplies. The land of Israel would become fruitful and well-watered: the mountains shall drip with new wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water. Egypt and Edom will become a desolate wilderness, but Judah will be inhabited forever. God will also acquit her of her guilt of bloodshed.

The book ends on a secure note with a reason: For the LORD dwells in Zion.