OT Survey 113 Seminar 18 Joel
Andrew Hodge 8th September 2006
Old Testament Survey OTE 113
Jensen, Irving L. Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament 1978, Moody Press, Chicago pp 419, 426-430; Joel; Libronix; The Bible Prophecy Handbook John R. Ecob, Herald of Hope, Marayong, New South Wales, Australia 2003 (ISBN 0-9750953-0-7)
Discuss the historical, political and economic background for the writings of Joel:
Nothing is known of Joel’s background - birthplace, burying place, married or not, children, priest or Levite - apart from the fact he is the son of Pethuel (1:1). Joel’s name means “Jehovah (is his) God”. Nothing is known about his father (whose name means “enlarged/persuaded of God”). There are a number of other persons in scripture with the same name eg one of the sons of Samuel.
His book references Zion seven times, Judah six times, Israel three times and he identifies Grecians, the people of Tyre, Sidon, Egypt, Edom, the Sabeans (Arabians), and the valley of Jehoshaphat. This internal evidence therefore suggests that he lived in the southern kingdom of Judah and ministered sometime after the reign of Jehoshaphat (Ecob p316). Jensen, using the chronology of John C. Whitcomb, Chart 45 (pp 188-189) places Joel’s period of prophecy in Judah during the reign of Joash, king of Judah, grandson of Jehoshaphat, between ~826-818 BC contemporary with the first writing prophet, Obadiah, and the current prophet to Israel, Elisha. Jensen (p 426) also notes that “Some Bible students prefer the view that Joel lived after the Babylonian exile” a footnote recommending the reader to consult a commentary (see below).
Joel is required to write by the LORD (1:1). The occasion is not only the worst locust plague in living memory (1:2-5) but also a severe drought (1:17-20). There was insufficient produce to allow the normal Temple offerings (1:9); priest, Levite and normal citizen, flocks and herds suffered alike. Joel uses this plague to picture the Day of the LORD and calls the elders and inhabitants of the land to fast and to come to the House of the LORD to cry unto Him (1:14) in repentance (2:12-13).
Chronologically, Joel is the first of the OT prophets to describe this coming Day of the Lord which is taken up as a prominent theme by a number of subsequent writers. Joel is also the first prophet to whom “belongs the first statement of the strange truth that, though salvation should come to Zion and spread from thence to all the world, only a remnant of Israel should be saved (ch. 2:32).”
Joel recognises that the economic double calamity of locusts and drought was what God had previously promised would happen, and that God was using it to bring Israel to repentance. Moses’ Palestinian covenant is specific: “if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God…….that all these curses shall come upon thee and overtake thee” (Deuteronomy 28:15; followed by an extensive list of physical calamities involving health, politics and the economy), culminating in v24 “The LORD shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed.” There follows a second long list of specific disasters (28:25-68, including locusts v42) making the Israelites wish they were not alive (v67) and God telling them that they would end up as worthless slaves (v68).
All of God’s predictions came true with regard to the degradation of Judah and the subsequent captivity, but the thrust of Joel’s book is ‘The Day of the LORD’ ie the Tribulation/Millennium which is yet to be fulfilled for Israel the Nation. Such a severe locust plague affecting the crops would have prevented seed being available for planting next season ie it has a future follow-on effect, which is part of the thrust of Joel’s prophecy concerning the future of the nation ie he seems to be implying that ‘if you don’t get it right now, there will be hell to pay later’. Figuratively and literally.
Using the existing disaster, Joel calls the Nation to repentance - 1:8, 11, 13, 14, 2:12-17 - and the LORD is gracious to give the sure hope of his forgiveness and blessing as the Nation agrees with Him on their sinfulness, followed by an era of holiness and peace (remainder of Chh 2 and 3). Jensen also implies that with repentance came an immediate reversal of the effects of the plague (Chart 106, p429 and cf Joel 2:23-26). I am not sure that this actually occurred because I am uncertain that the Jews recognised the need to repent at the preaching of Joel.
It should be remembered that Joel also describes God’s outpouring of wrath on the Gentile nations (for the way they treated Israel) as well as on Israel (for the purpose of salvation of a Remnant). There are described two invasions of the Land, two Wars (see Chart: Ecob p 318, with supporting argument pp 317-322, although he states that the first invasion is preceded by a thrust from the King of the South, Egypt):
In Joel’s time, the LORD has brought Israel low on account of their rebelliousness and they are “a reproach among the heathen” (2:19). This attitude is presumably on account of the evil perpetrated under Jehoram, Ahaziah and Athaliah immediately prior to the accession of Joash. Joel is able to promise them that if they do repent there will be a restoration of “corn, and wine and oil” (2:18-19). Even under the ‘good’ king Joash, times were OK while Joash was influenced by Jehoiada the Priest. According to the various charts in Jensen, Joel ceased prophesying before Joash turned away from Jehovah on Jehoiada’s death, hence the rebelliousness that Joel preached against was not on account of Joash’s later evil influence on the Nation.
However God does not reject His Nation on account of this attitude, Joel prophesying that after the return from captivity (3:1), God would gather “all nations, and will bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel”. This verse ignores the major time gap between the Return from Exile and the battle of Armageddon - 538 BC (Decree of Cyrus) to toward the end of the Second half of the Tribulation; but it does underscore God’s perpetual concern for His Chosen Nation and their ultimate vindication before the whole world.
The time of writing of this book is likely to be in the earlier part of the reign of Joash - as above. In addition, Joel does not describe a major Aramaean invasion of Judah (2 Chronicles 24:23) which occurred later in Joash’s reign. The Pulpit Commentary notes that “The Philistines and Edomites attacked Judæa in the days of Jehoram (2 Chron. 21:10, etc.), but they were not punished for their revolt till the times of Amaziah son of Joash, and Uzziah his successor (2 Chron. 25:11; 26:6). Therefore Joel’s mission falls between the sin and its chastisement; i.e. between the reigns of Jehoram and Amaziah.” Amos, Isaiah and other prophets may have quoted from the book of Joel (see below), therefore placing Joel before ~765 BC.
In a sense, fixing the date of writing of the book of Joel is superfluous because the book contains prophecy which stretches from a memorable plague of locusts at a time known to all his readers, to the Millennium. It is this prophecy which is important - both to the readers of Joel’s day, to every reader in the interim, and to us when the commencement of the Day of the Lord is imminent.
Discuss the three main purposes of Joel according to Jensen:
Jensen p 427: 1. to foretell coming judgments upon Judah for their sin
2. to exhort Judah to turn their hearts to the Lord
3. to impress upon all people that this world’s history will culminate in the events of the Day of the Lord, when the scales of justice will finally rest.
1. Joel is fulfilling both of the prime roles of being a prophet who speaks the Word of the Lord. He first shows Godly insight into his compatriots’ problem of heart rebelliousness against God and the previously prescribed punishments for this (eg Mosaic Law - Deuteronomy 28). The Judeans ought to have known anyway - all written down in the Books which they had but they were taking no notice. This kind of forthtelling is the exposition of the known will of God as preaching from the Scriptures in our churches should be today.
Second, God gives him special insight as to the future judgments which are to occur on account of continuing refusal to repent for those who have a traditional knowledge of God (Israel), and on account of unchanging rebelliousness for those who refuse to acknowledge God (Gentiles). This is the prophets’ role of foretelling the future according to God’s plan.
2. God does not leave His listeners in the lurch. His prophet’s efforts ought to bring people to their senses in appreciating personal sinfulness - God ensures that those who do, have available the avenue of repentance for restoration of the personal relationship that He wants with each one.
This is not only a blanket call to the tribe of Judah nor to the faceless nation of Israel for Joel mentions specific groups and individuals - priests, ministers of the altar (1:13), elders, all the inhabitants of the land (1:14), the people, the congregation, the elders, the children, those that suck the breasts, the bridegroom, the bride (2:16) - exhorting them to “rend your heart, and not your garments’ (2:13). This will ultimately result in the pouring out of the Spirit on “sons and daughters…old men…young men…servants…handmaids” (3:28-29).
3. Anyone reading Joel, even an unsaved person, should receive the impression that the Day of the Lord is a time of terrible, universe-wide unprecedented catastrophe that, for all they know, will involve them. They should also understand that Judah will be restored to prosperity by the grace of God, and that in addition “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered” (2:32).
Jensen may give the impression that all that is involved in the judgment of God at the Day is to allow “the scales of justice [to] finally rest” (p 427). This is to affirm the concept of works for the unsaved ie ‘if I have done more good than bad the scales will rest in my favour’, whereas God requires repentance and faith, not works.
The book of Joel is clear but brief on how an unsaved Gentile can enjoy the grace of God. To the Jew, Joel reinforces hope that in the end their enemies will be crushed and Israel will be restored to peace and blessing with God Himself, on the sole ground that they are Jews, the Chosen Ones, but I suspect that most Jews miss the point that God will only call a remnant (2:32). Joel is specific in requiring a “rending of the heart, not the garments”; Jews miss the importance of this because ‘the vail is still on their hearts, even with the reading of the OT’ (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).
Choose one of the three most common views of the main theme of the book and be able to defend it:
The main theme of the book is The Day of the Lord. The views surrounding this prophecy vary according to when it is to occur, how long it lasts and what is included in it, whether it has already occurred in the past, whether it should be allegorised into something spiritual only and how it is related to the Rapture of the Church, the Tribulation, the Second Coming of Christ and the Millennium.
A literal reading of Joel expresses a physical event yet to happen. NT writers who refer to the same event also regard it as future (Acts 2:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). Almost without exception OT references to the Day refer to a time when God’s judgment is violent in vengeance and wrath. This is largely directed against Gentile nations, epitomised by the Battle of Armageddon at the end of the Tribulation when great natural disasters have finished ‘softening up’ the unbelieving nations of the earth. This level of purging is necessary before an age of righteousness ie the Millennium can be ushered in.
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery describes the Day in these terms: “Invariably the Day of the Lord is associated with acts of violent judgment. It is not surprising, then, to find the biblical authors using images of great slaughter and desolation to describe the aftermath of God’s action. Among the images commonly employed are those of large numbers of bodies falling on the battlefield or in the streets (Is 34:2–3; Jer 25:33; 49:26; 51:3–4; Lam 2:21; Ezek 24:21; 30:7; 39:11–16; Amos 8:3), large quantities of blood being shed (Is 34:5–7; Jer 46:10; Ezek 32:6; Zeph 1:17), the pouring out of human blood as a winepress squeezes juice out of pressed grapes (Is 63:1–3; Lam 1:15; Joel 3:13; Rev 14:19; 19:15), the feeding of carrion animals on masses of corpses (Ezek 32:6; 39:4; Rev 19:17–18, 21) and the desolation of buildings and lands or their occupation by wild animals (Is 23:1; 24:3–12; 34:8–17; Jer 18:16; 46:19; 50:26; Ezek 30:7; Joel 2:3; Rev 18:2).”
However the Day cannot be said to be a single 24 hour period because, as noted above, events occur that would normally be expected to take longer than just one day. In addition and in agreement with Ryken et al, “the Day of the Lord will be a day in which the oppressed people of God will experience deliverance. This is often described in terms roughly opposite to those describing God’s judgment, including victory in battle (Obad 17–18; Zech 9:15; Mal 4:4; 2 Thess 2:8; Rev 19:19–21); reoccupation of territory (Is 35:8–10; Obad 19–21; Zeph 3:18–20; Zech 14:10–11; Rev 21:22–27); replenishment of waterways, fields, crops and domestic animals (Is 25:6; 29:17; Hos 2:21–22; Joel 2:18–24; 3:18; Zech 9:17; 14:8; Rev 22:1–2); rebuilding of dwellings (Amos 9:14; Rev 21:2, 9–21) and rejoicing (Is 29:19; Zeph 3:14; Rev 21:4).”
In my view the Day of the Lord as described in Joel (3:18) includes the restoration of Israel in righteousness to the Land and therefore takes at least 7+1000 years. It is not clear to me as yet whether or not the Day also includes the final battle of Satan and his followers, against the Lord in Jerusalem at the end of the millennium, but it would be logical to do so if the Day is intended to represent all of God’s events to wipe unrighteousness out of His entire creation so that the New Heavens and the New Earth will contain no evil whatsoever.
The Day would not include the end of the Millennium if the majority of descriptions of the Day (eg Zephaniah 1:14-18) are literally read ie applied only to those living during the Tribulation, God’s purposes being limited only to a time of calamity to stimulate the repentance of Israel and punishment for the Gentiles for their treatment of the Jew. This would make the Day only 7 years long, but I favour the inclusiveness of the restoration in Joel 3:18 (see also Zephaniah 3:11-13, 16-20).
The scale of this event is such that it cannot have already happened as Preterism suggests in 70 AD. In addition to misrepresenting history, a Preterist must further distort Scripture in order to accommodate the prophecies directed solely toward Israel and the Church, ending up with amillenialism, no future tribulation, less appreciation of God’s righteous view of our inherent rebelliousness, replacement theology with no future for Israel, a false view of where we currently stand in the history of the Creation, and worst of all, forcing God to be a liar.
See Appendix for two charts: one regarding the different theories as to when the Rapture is to occur with the consequences of having an amillennial view (Ecob p 187), and the other an overall chart showing the integration of Israel, the Church and the End Times (Ecob, personal communication).
Relate Joel’s relationship to the other prophetic writings:
Joel is firmly based in Moses. The Law prescribes specific punishments for disobedience including loss by locusts (Deuteronomy 28:23-42), captivity (28:49) and national scattering (28:64). Moses also foretells restoration following repentance (Deuteronomy 30).
Most commentators believe that Joel was an early writer (~815 BC as above) and that his work was quoted by others including Amos (Amos 1:2 cf Joel 3:16; 9:13 cf 3:18; 7:3 cf 2:13; 7:4 cf 1:20; 9:13 cf 3:18), Isaiah (Isaiah 13:6 cf Joel 2:1; 13:10 cf 2:10, 31; 13:13 cf 3:15-16; 13:8 cf 2:6), Obadiah (Obadiah 11 cf Joel 3:3; 10 cf 3:19; 15 cf 1:15), and Zechariah (Zechariah 12:2, 9, 14:1,5-11 cf Joel 2:30-32).
This is not to forget that other OT and NT writers also prophesied concerning the Day of the Lord - Jeremiah (46:10), Lamentations (2:22), Ezekiel (13:5, 30:3), Zephaniah (1:7, 8, 14, 18, 2:2, 3), Malachi (4:5), Luke (Acts 2:20), Paul (1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2) and Peter (2 Peter 3:10).
Articulate the major theme of Joel and its application to Israel and believers:
Ryken et al make a useful observation about the overall plan of Joel: “What finally unifies the book of Joel is its heightened contrasts. The future is both terrifying—the coming “day of the Lord” will be “a day of darkness and gloom” (Joel 2:1–2)—and so exhilarating that one can hardly wait for it (Joel 2:28–29). God transforms the fruitful landscape into a desert (Joel 1:20; 2:3) and the desert into a fruitful landscape (Joel 2:22–25). God first uses locusts to destroy Judah’s crops (Joel 1:4) and then restores “the years which the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter” (Joel 2:25). God is both a divine warrior with a destructive army (Joel 2:11; 3:11) and a God of pity (Joel 2:18) who is a refuge to his people (Joel 3:16). God invades nations with locusts and armies but at the same time “dwells” in Zion (Joel 3:17, 21). Zion itself is both warned of invasion (Joel 2:1) and assured of protection (Joel 3:16). God both allows foreign nations to invade his chosen nation and judges them for carrying Judah into exile. There is no more paradoxical book in the Bible than Joel. Pervading this kaleidoscope of contrast is the tremendous energy of the imagery from start to finish, with everything heightened to a white heat of intensity.”
Joel is known as ‘the Prophet of Pentecost’ because Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32 in his post-Pentecost preaching in Acts 2:16-21. Peter does this not to show that Joel’s prophecy had been fulfilled (because it had not been as yet) but because Pentecost is an example of this prophecy ie a foretaste of what was to come for those of the New Covenant.
Joel also points forward to the restoration of Israel in the Land and how believers will relate to them after the major Tribulation battles and in the Millennial reign of Christ (Joel 3).
1. The different views of the Rapture and the unscriptural amillennial view:
Ecob p 187
2. The scheme of history from the rebuilding of Jerusalem to the New Heavens and New Earth. The Day of the Lord (in my view) includes at least the 70th Week of Daniel and the Millennium.
Ecob (personal communication)
The Pulpit Commentary: Joel, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones, xii (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004).
 The Holy Bible : King James Version. electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.
The Pulpit Commentary: Joel, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones, viii (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004).
Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper Longman et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, electronic ed., 197 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, c1998).
Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper Longman et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, electronic ed., 455 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, c1998).