Joel Prophesies of Jehovah’s Vengeance and Love
“AFTER that it must occur that I shall pour out my spirit on every sort of flesh, 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.”—Joel 2:28, 29.
Without a doubt, these two verses, by virtue of Peter’s quoting them on the day of Pentecost, are the best known part of Joel’s prophecy. (Acts 2:14-18) But the Bible book of Joel has much more to say, although his prophecy consists of only three chapters, for a total of 73 verses. The book also tells of a devastating locust plague with its resulting famine, of a time of repentance and restoration and of Jehovah’s executing of vengeance upon the nations. In our Bible, Joel appears as the second of the so-called Minor Prophets—minor as to the length of each book, but certainly not as to importance.
A Bible principle that becomes apparent when we consider the prophecy of Joel is that the message is important, not the person used in giving it. Thus all we know about the writer, Joel, is that he is the son of Pethuel. The meanings of Bible names are often significant and this is true of Joel and his father. “Pethuel” means “God delivers,” and “Joel” means “Jehovah is God.”
The book’s internal evidence shows it to be most likely that Joel belonged to the two-tribe kingdom of Judah. Indicating this is the prophecy’s emphasis on Judah and Jerusalem and the temple service at Jerusalem.
When was this prophecy written? We cannot be dogmatic. Various scholars give dates as early as the 10th century B.C.E. and as late as the second. The weight of evidence favors about 820 B.C.E. This date seems to be borne out by the fact that reference is made to Israel’s early enemies—Tyre, Sidon, Philistia, Edom and Egypt—rather than to such later foes as Assyria and Babylon. It also is indicated by the book’s place in the Hebrew canon.
The style of writing lends added weight to the earlier date. Many consider Joel’s style so elegant that his prophecy might be likened to a highly polished diamond. In fact, it is of such literary quality that some scholars put Joel’s prophecy at the head of all the later prophets. His writing is very poetic and is marked with a variety of rhythms. He also shows a fondness for similes and metaphors.
The authenticity of Joel’s prophecy has never been questioned by the Israelites themselves; it occupies an early and honorable place in their canon. Further supporting its authenticity are the quotations from it by the apostles Peter and Paul. Its authenticity is also confirmed by the fulfillment of its prophecies upon Tyre, Philistia and Edom.—Acts 2:14-18; Rom. 10:13.
PLAGUE AND FAMINE
Joel’s prophecy might well be viewed as consisting of three parts. Part one (1:1 to 2:11) gives a twofold description of a locust plague. The first description likens it to a plague of four kinds of locusts that have the teeth and jawbones of lions. Concerning Joel’s report of it, we are told: “The terrific destruction wrought by a plague of locusts on the agricultural, economic and religious life of a people is described with almost scientific accuracy, according to many who have witnessed such a scourge.”
As Joel tells us, everything is eaten up, the ground is despoiled, the farmers are in distress and the vinedressers are howling. Even the domestic animals sigh and the cattle are in confusion. No wonder the priests and ministers at Jehovah’s house are told to howl, to spend the night in sackcloth, to sanctify a time of fasting and to “cry to Jehovah for aid”!—Joel 1:14.
The second description of the locust plague begins with the command to sound an alert: “Blow a horn in Zion, O men, and shout a war cry in my holy mountain.” Then follows the description: “Like powerful men they run. Like men of war they go up a wall. . . . One another they do not shove. As an able-bodied man in his course, they keep going; and should some fall even among the missiles, the others do not break off course. Into the city they rush. On the wall they run. On the houses they go up. Through the windows they go in like the thief.”—Joel 2:1, 7-9.
In view of the highly pictorial language used, it appears that we are to view Joel’s words as a prophecy rather than as a report of what had actually happened in the past. To what does it apply? The facts suggest that it has application to the modern vigorous house-to-house witnessing done by Jehovah’s Witnesses beginning in the early 1920’s. They have indeed proved to be a plague to modern Christendom and have moved forward like a well-disciplined army.*
REPENTANCE AND RESTORATION
The second part of Joel’s prophecy deals with repentance and the restoration that followed it. We read at Joel 2:12-14: “Come back to me with all your hearts, and with fasting and with weeping and with wailing. And rip apart your hearts, and not your garments; and come back to Jehovah your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness . . . Who is there knowing whether he will turn back and actually feel regret and let remain after it a blessing, a grain offering and a drink offering for Jehovah your God?”
This part of the prophecy also appears to have had its particular fulfillment in modern times, notably during World War I when God’s people had unclean lips and Jehovah was angry with them. It was then that Jehovah’s people repentantly implored God, as noted at Joel 2:17: “Do feel sorry, O Jehovah, for your people, and do not make your inheritance a reproach, for nations to rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples: ‘Where is their God?’”—Compare Isaiah 12:1; 6:5.
Joel’s prophecy at 2:21-27 and 3:18-21 depicts the fruits of this repentance, the promises of restoration. Truly, after the harrowing experiences of those World War I years, Jehovah’s people have been restored to a spiritually paradisaic state.—See Isaiah chapter 35.
In view of the apostle Peter’s words (Acts 2:14-18), there can be no question that Joel 2:28, 29 had a fulfillment on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E. But it appears to have had another fulfillment during the “last days” of Satan’s entire system of things. (2 Tim. 3:1) Particularly in 1919 and 1922 were there modern outpourings of Jehovah’s spirit, especially in connection with the two conventions of Jehovah’s dedicated people at Cedar Point, Ohio.
EXECUTION OF JUDGMENT
We come now to part three, dealing with judgment and execution. (Joel 3:2-16, 19) It tells us why Jehovah is angry with the nations—because of the way they have treated his servants. They scattered them among the nations, making slaves of them. Also, they robbed Jehovah’s temple of its gold, silver and other desirable things, and brought these into their own temples. They did violence to the sons of Judah and shed innocent blood. Note that here Jehovah God claims that this abuse was as though done to him, even as Jesus told Saul of Tarsus that he was persecuting Him when Saul persecuted Jesus’ followers.—Acts 9:5.
After calling these nations to account, Jehovah commands his people to proclaim his day of vengeance, declaring among those nations: “Sanctify war! Arouse the powerful men!” Then we have the reverse of Isaiah 2:2-4 and Micah 4:1-3, that is: “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning shears into lances. As for the weak one, let him say: ‘I am a powerful man.’” They are summoned to the low plain of Jehoshaphat, which name means “Jehovah is Judge.”—Joel 3:9-12.
Next we have the description of Jehovah’s vengeance upon the nations. The sickle is thrust in to harvest the wicked nations that are to be thrown into the winepress, causing it to overflow. Fittingly, this part of the prophecy concludes with this all-important reason for it: “You people will have to know that I am Jehovah your God, residing in Zion my holy mountain.” (Joel 3:17) This prophecy closely parallels what the book of Revelation tells us about Armageddon.—Rev. 16:14-16; 19:15-21.
The book of Joel magnifies the sovereignty of Jehovah God. We see this in his sending the locust plague upon the ‘drunkards of Judah’ (Christendom), in his challenging the nations to battle and in his executing them in the “low plain of Jehoshaphat.” This prophecy also highlights Jehovah’s great mercy, as we read at Joel 2:13: “Come back to Jehovah your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, and he will certainly feel regret on account of the calamity.” Moreover, implicit in the book is the command for Jehovah’s people to sound the warning of his coming day of vengeance as they proclaim among the nations, “Sanctify war!” Happily, we have now reached that day when Jehovah sits “in order to judge all the nations round about”!—Joel 3:9-12.
For details see The Watchtower, July 15, 1979, pages 16-18.
[Pictures on page 29]
“Like men of war they go up a wall . . . On the houses they go up.” To what does this apply?