THE BOOK OF JOEL
|DATE:||approx. 830 (during the time of King Joash’s minority)|
|THEME:||Repent in a day of locusts, and be delivered in the Day of the Lord|
|SUMMARY:||Judgment, repentance, and restoration during a devastating locust plague in Joel’s day foreshadow events in the eschatological, even-more-devastating day of the Lord|
I. The Historical Occasion: The Plague of Locusts (1:1-2:27)
A. The devastation caused by the hordes of locusts (1:1-12)
Bible scholars debate the meaning of the four words used in Joel 1:4 for locust (“palmerworm”; “locust”; “cankerworm”; “caterpillar”). There are two basic interpretations:
1. The four terms describe successive developmental stages in the locust plague (i.e., larva, pupa, winged insect, etc.)
However, the second word (“locust”; ‘arbeh) is the most generic word for locust and does not normally refer to a developmental stage of the locust. “Another factor is that the order of words in 2:25 differs from that of 1:4” (Hubbard, 43).
2. The four terms describe successive swarms of locusts
Some argue that the four words in 1:4 describe four different kinds of locusts (see Hubbard, 43). Others argue that they are synonyms. Whatever the case, Richard Patterson’s comment is probably accurate: “Probably the point is that the various Hebrew words are used to indicate the intensity of the locust plague. There had been a successive series of locusts that had made a thorough devastation of the land, a destruction indicated rhetorically by four distinct names” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 7:237).
Note: Another area of debate is whether the locust plague is literal or figurative (allegorical). Four points suggest that the locust plague Joel describes in chs. 1-2 is literal (as set forth in a paper by Yoichi Izu):
(1) Yahweh uses locusts to judge His people (Deut. 28:38-39, 42; I Kings 8:37)
(2) Joel clearly addresses the people of his day (1:2, 11; 2:1)
(3) the description of the locusts in Joel resembles that of a literal plague of locusts. See, for example, John Whiting, “Jerusalem’s Locust Plague,” The National Geographic Magazine 27 (1915): 529, 43. Whiting describes a locust plague in Jerusalem in 1915.
(4) Joel’s limits his description of the devastation from the locust plague to vegetation
B. Call to repentance (1:13-20)
In the midst of this plea to repent, Joel gives us the first glimpse of the future day of the Lord, suggesting that one motive for present repentance is the future day of judgment—the realization that a greater time of judgment is coming than the one presently being experienced.
C. The locust plague as a foreshadowing of the day of the Lord (2:1-11)
Note: Chapter 2 (2:1-2, 11) highlights the theme only mentioned briefly in 1:15—the Day of the Lord. This has led some commentators to suggest that Joel 2 no longer describes the locust plague but shifts to an eschatological day when invading armies will come up against Judah. The best interpretation, however, takes into consideration the typology that often accompanies the “Day of the Lord.” Historical events are commonly used as types or foreshadowings of the future eschatological Day of the Lord (e.g., Isa. 13-14; Jer. 46:10-17; Obad. 1-21). As Robert Bell notes, “the prophets’ words concerning the day of the Lord find their fulfillment in type and antitype” (Biblical Viewpoint, Nov. 1995, p. 46). Given this hermeneutic of type-antitype, “we can readily discern how the locust plague serves as a harbinger or foreshadowing of the coming Day of Jehovah” (Feinberg, Minor Prophets, p. 75). Some of Joel’s descriptions of devastation in chapter two remind us of the locust plague (2:3-9); other descriptions clearly refer to an eschatological army that God will some day bring against His people to judge them (2:10-11, 20). In chapter two, Joel’s focus shifts repeatedly from the present to the future and then back to the present.
D. Heightened call to repentance (2:12-17)
Note: Joel’s message contains certain cyclical aspects. 1:1-12 is parallel to 2:1-11; 1:13-20 is parallel to 2:12-17. 2:18-27 is also, in some respects, parallel to 2:28-3:21.
E. Restoration and renewal from the locust plague (2:18-27)
1. Pivotal verse (2:18)
The verbs in 2:18-19a should be translated in the past tense (not in the future): “And the Lord was jealous for his land, and He had pity upon His people. And Yahweh answered and said to His people…” This verse marks the turning point in the book of Joel. Evidently, the people responded favorably to Joel’s message and repented. In response, the Lord poured out His blessings upon His people and upon His land.
2. Blessings from the Lord (2:19-27)
These blessings are listed in (roughly) inverse order to how they appeared in the preceding section on judgment—2:25 returns to the locust plague with which 1:4 began.
a. Removal of reproach and scorn (2:19; cf. 2:17)
b. Destruction of invading army (2:20; cf. 2:1-11)
c. Renewal of vegetation; agricultural abundance (2:21-24; cf. 1:10-12, 17-18)
Verse 23 mentions the “former rain” and the “latter rain.” Of great importance to Israelite farmers were the showers in October/November right after the summer months (the “former rain”) and the showers in April/May just before the hot summer (the “latter rain”). Good crops were dependent upon these two rains.
d. Retribution for what the locusts have eaten (2:25; cf. 1:4-7)
II. The Future Day of the Lord (2:28-3:21)
A. Spiritual “showers of blessing” (2:28-32)
Note: Joel 2:28 begins by saying, “And it shall come to pass afterward.” After what? The end of verse 23 (“in the first month”) is better translated “as before” or “as at the first.” Verse 23 speaks of an initial restoration in the days of Joel—Yahweh’s restoration of the former and latter rains and the agricultural blessing that accompanies such rains. But afterward, in an eschatological day, God will then pour out spiritual showers of blessing.
1. Outpouring of the Spirit (2:28-29; cf. Acts 2:16-21)
A key feature of this Spirit outpouring is its extent. In the OT, the outpouring of the Spirit was primarily limited to leaders and those appointed to perform specific tasks. The outpouring of the Spirit in Joel 2:28-29, however, will be upon all—young and old; leaders and servants.
2. Signs in the heavens (2:30-31)
3. Deliverance for all who call (2:32)
B. Judgment of God upon the nations (3:1-16)
“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!” (3:14a). Joel is not making an evangelistic appeal; he is describing the great future battle in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (lit. Yahweh judges), also known as the Battle of Armageddon (Zech. 12:1-3; 14:1-3; Rev. 16:14-16; 19:17-19).
C. Renewal and blessing in Zion of millennial proportions (3:17-21)
1. Security of Jerusalem (3:17)
2. Agricultural abundance (3:18)
3. A fountain flowing from the house of Yahweh (3:18)
The only natural source of water in Jerusalem is the Gihon Spring, hardly enough water to irrigate the valley of Shittim. However, the OT teaches that at the inauguration of the millennium, a river will flow out of Jerusalem east and west (Ezekiel 47:1-12; Zech. 14:8) to the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, respectively. Such an abundance of water will radically change the landscape of Palestine, creating a fertile swathe in the middle of Palestine that extends the width of the land.
 Many things in Joel correspond to what we know about the early years of the reign of King Joash (835-796 B.C.). The people had turned from Yahweh under the reigns Jehoram, Ahaziah, and Athaliah. Joel does not mention a king of Judah; he only mentions elders and priests. During the period of Joash’s minority, the elders and the priests of the land would have been the key leaders (e.g., Jehoiada, the godly priest). Eugene Merrill suggests that Joel ministered during the reign of Jehoram of Judah (848-841), making Joel a contemporary of Obadiah and Elisha. The locust-induced famine of Joel’s day would then correspond to the seven-year famine mentioned by Elisha in II Kings 8:1-6 (Kingdom of Priests, 352, 382-383).
 These verbs are waw consecutive imperfects, a form of the Hebrew verb that normally communicates past action.