Bible Book Number 29—Joel
Place Written: Judah
Writing Completed: c. 820 B.C.E. (?)
1. What dramatic events highlight Joel’s prophecy?
WAVE upon wave, a horde of insects desolates the land. Fire ahead of them and flame behind complete the devastation. Everywhere there is famine. The sun turns into darkness and the moon into blood, for the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah is at hand. He gives the command to thrust in the sickle and gather the nations for destruction. However, some “will get away safe.” (Joel 2:32) The consideration of these dramatic events makes Joel’s prophecy both intensely interesting and of great benefit to us.
2. What do we know of Joel and the circumstances of his prophesying?
2 The book is introduced as “the word of Jehovah that occurred to Joel the son of Pethuel.” The Bible tells us nothing more than this about Joel himself. It is the prophetic message that is emphasized and not its writer. The name “Joel” (Hebrew, Yoh·ʼelʹ) is understood to mean “Jehovah Is God.” Joel’s firsthand familiarity with Jerusalem, its temple, and the details of temple service may indicate that he wrote his book in Jerusalem or Judah.—Joel 1:1, 9, 13, 14; 2:1, 15, 16, 32.
3. For what reasons is a date of about 820 B.C.E. suggested for Joel’s prophecy?
3 When was the book of Joel written? This cannot be stated with certainty. Scholars variously assign dates ranging from before 800 B.C.E. to about 400 B.C.E. The description of Jehovah’s judgment of the nations in the plain of Jehoshaphat suggests that Joel wrote his prophecy sometime after Jehovah’s great victory on behalf of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, and hence after Jehoshaphat became king in 936 B.C.E. (Joel 3:2, 12; 2 Chron. 20:22-26) The prophet Amos may have quoted from the text of Joel. This, then, would mean that Joel’s prophecy was written before that of Amos, who began prophesying sometime between 829 and 804 B.C.E. (Joel 3:16; Amos 1:2) An early date may also be indicated by the book’s position in the Hebrew canon between Hosea and Amos. Hence a date of approximately 820 B.C.E. is suggested for Joel’s prophecy.
4. What proofs are there of the authenticity of Joel?
4 The authenticity of the prophecy is proved by quotations and references to it in the Christian Greek Scriptures. On the day of Pentecost, Peter spoke of “the prophet Joel” and applied one of his prophecies. Paul quoted the same prophecy and showed its fulfillment toward both Jew and non-Jew. (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:16-21; Rom. 10:13) Joel’s prophecies against neighbor nations were all fulfilled. The great city of Tyre was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar, and later the island city was brought to ruin by Alexander the Great. Philistia likewise perished. Edom became a wilderness. (Joel 3:4, 19) The Jews never questioned the canonicity of Joel, and they placed the book second among the so-called minor prophets.
5. In what way is the prophecy of Joel strikingly expressive?
5 The style of Joel is both vivid and expressive. He repeats for emphasis and uses striking similes. Locusts are called a nation, a people, and an army. Their teeth are like those of lions, their appearance like horses, and their sound like chariots of an army drawn up for battle. The Interpreter’s Bible quotes an authority on locust control as saying: “Joel’s description of a locust invasion has never been surpassed for its dramatic accuracy of detail.”a Listen now as Joel prophesies of the fear-inspiring day of Jehovah.
CONTENTS OF JOEL
6. What terrible vision does Joel first see?
6 Insect invasion strips the land; day of Jehovah near (1:1–2:11). What a terrible vision of calamity Joel sees! A devastating onslaught by the caterpillar, the locust, the creeping unwinged locust, and the cockroach. Vines and fig trees have been stripped bare, and starvation stalks the land. There are no grain or drink offerings for the house of Jehovah. Joel warns the priests and ministers of God to repent. “Alas for the day,” he cries out, “because the day of Jehovah is near, and like a despoiling from the Almighty One it will come!” (1:15) Animals wander in confusion. Flames have scorched the pastureland and trees, and the wilderness has been seared by fire.
7. How is Jehovah’s invading military force described?
7 Sound the alert! “Blow a horn in Zion, O men, and shout a war cry in my holy mountain.” (2:1) The day of Jehovah is near, a day of darkness and thick gloom. Look! A people numerous and mighty. They turn the Edenlike land into a desolate wilderness. Nothing escapes. Like horses and with a sound like chariots on the mountaintops they run. Like a people in battle order they rush into the city, climbing on walls and houses and through windows. The land is agitated and the heavens rock. Jehovah is in command of this numerous military force. “The day of Jehovah is great and very fear-inspiring, and who can hold up under it?”—2:11.
8. (a) How only may the insect invasion be stemmed? (b) What compensation does Jehovah promise?
8 Turn to Jehovah; spirit to be poured out (2:12-32). But something can be done to stem the invasion. Jehovah counsels: “Come back to me with all your hearts, . . . rip apart your hearts, and not your garments; and come back to Jehovah your God.” (2:12, 13) A horn blast summons the people to solemn assembly. If they return to him, “Jehovah will be zealous for his land and will show compassion upon his people.” (2:18) There will be blessings and forgiveness, and the invader will be turned back. Rather than a time for fear, it is a time to be joyful and rejoice, for there will be fruit and grain and new wine and oil. Jehovah will compensate for the years that his great military force of locusts has eaten. His promise is: “You will certainly eat, eating and becoming satisfied, and you will be bound to praise the name of Jehovah your God, who has done with you so wonderfully.” (2:26) They will learn that Jehovah alone is their God in the midst of Israel.
9. What heart-stirring prophecy follows?
9 “And after that it must occur that I shall pour out my spirit on every sort of flesh,” says Jehovah, “and your sons and your daughters will certainly prophesy. As for your old men, dreams they will dream. As for your young men, visions they will see. And even on the menservants and on the maidservants in those days I shall pour out my spirit.” There will be terrifying portents in sun and moon before the coming of the day of Jehovah. Yet some will survive. “It must occur that everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will get away safe.”—2:28-32.
10. What is to take place in the low plain of Jehoshaphat?
10 Nations to be judged in “plain of Jehoshaphat” (3:1-21). Jehovah will bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem. The nations will be gathered; Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia will pay dearly for reproaching and enslaving Jehovah’s people. Listen to Jehovah as he challenges the nations: “Sanctify war! Arouse the powerful men! Let them draw near! Let them come up, all the men of war!” (3:9) Let them beat plowshares into swords and come up to the low plain of Jehoshaphat (meaning “Jehovah Is Judge”). Jehovah’s command rings out: “Thrust in a sickle, for harvest has grown ripe. . . . The press vats actually overflow; for their badness has become abundant. Crowds, crowds are in the low plain of the decision, for the day of Jehovah is near.” (3:13, 14) Sun and moon become dark. Jehovah roars out of Zion, causing heaven and earth to rock, but he proves to be a refuge and fortress for his own people. They will have to know that he is Jehovah their God.
11. How does Joel then describe the blessings from Jehovah that are to follow?
11 What paradisaic plenty will be seen “in that day”! (3:18) The mountains will drip wine, the hills will flow with milk, and the streambeds will course with abundant water. A refreshing spring will go forth from the house of Jehovah. Egypt and Edom, who have shed innocent blood in Judah, will become desolate wastes, but Judah and Jerusalem will be inhabited to time indefinite, “and Jehovah will be residing in Zion.”—3:21.
12. What prophetic import of Joel did Peter stress at Pentecost?
12 Some commentators have described Joel as a prophet of gloom. However, from the point of view of God’s own people, he appears as the proclaimer of glorious tidings of deliverance. The apostle Paul emphasizes this thought at Romans 10:13, saying: “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.’” (Joel 2:32) There was a striking fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E. On that occasion Peter was inspired to explain that the outpouring of God’s spirit upon Christ’s disciples was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. (Acts 2:1-21; Joel 2:28, 29, 32) Peter laid great stress on the prophetic import of Joel’s words: “And everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.”—Acts 2:21, 39, 40.
13. (a) What striking similarities can be seen between Joel and Revelation? (b) What parallels to Joel are to be found with other prophecies?
13 Striking similarities can be seen between the locust plague described by Joel and the plague prophesied in Revelation chapter 9. Again the sun is darkened. The locusts resemble horses prepared for battle, they make a sound like that of chariots, and they have teeth like those of lions. (Joel 2:4, 5, 10; 1:6; Rev. 9:2, 7-9) Joel’s prophecy at Joel 2:31, which tells of the sun turning into darkness, is paralleled as an event by the words at Isaiah 13:9, 10 and Revelation 6:12-17, and also at Matthew 24:29, 30, where Jesus shows the prophecy to apply at the time he comes as the Son of man with power and great glory. The words of Joel 2:11, “the day of Jehovah is great and very fear-inspiring,” are apparently referred to at Malachi 4:5. Parallel descriptions of this ‘day of darkness and thick gloom’ are also to be found at Joel 2:2 and Zephaniah 1:14, 15.
14. What passages in Joel magnify Jehovah’s sovereignty and his loving-kindness?
14 The prophecy of Revelation looks forward to “the great day” of divine wrath. (Rev. 6:17) Joel also prophesies of that time, showing that when the great “day of Jehovah” comes upon the nations, those who call on him for protection and deliverance “will get away safe.” “Jehovah will be a refuge for his people.” Edenic prosperity will be restored: “And it must occur in that day that the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the very hills will flow with milk, and the very streambeds of Judah will all flow with water. And out of the house of Jehovah there will go forth a spring.” In presenting these bright promises of restoration, Joel also magnifies the sovereignty of Jehovah God and appeals to those of sincere heart on the basis of His great mercy: “Come back to Jehovah your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.” All who heed this inspired appeal will reap eternal benefits.—Joel 2:1, 32; 3:16, 18; 2:13.
a 1956, Vol. VI, page 733.