The Book of Joel
Little is known of the prophet Joel beyond a few personal details contained in the book itself. He identified himself as the son of Pethuel, preached to the people of Judah, and expressed a great deal of interest in Jerusalem. Joel also made several comments on the priests and the temple, indicating a familiarity with the centre of worship in Judah (1:13–14, 2:14 and 2:17). Joel often drew upon natural imagery, the sun and the moon, the grass and the locusts, and in general seemed to understand the reality that truth must have an impact in the real world.
Dating the writing of the Book of Joel remains one of the most difficult tasks for OT scholars because, unlike most prophetic writers, Joel gave no explicit indication of his time period. In particular, Joel refrained from mentioning the current ruling kings. One of the most compelling arguments for dating the writing of the Book of Joel explains this omission by suggesting the prophecy occurred in the aftermath of Judah’s only ruling queen, Athaliah who died in 835BC. Upon her death, she left only her young son, Joash, to rule. But because Joash was too young to rule, the priest Jehoida ruled in his place until he came of age. So if Joel prophesied during this period of care, it would make sense that he mentioned no official king. The book of Joel also makes ample mention of priests, temple rituals, and nations, such as Phœnicia, Philistia, Egypt and Edom, that were prominent in the late 9th Century BC. All of this points to a date of approximately 835BC or soon after, making Joel one of the earliest writing prophets, as well as a contemporary of the prophet Elisha. However, there are many scholars who hold to a post-exilic date for writing as discussed in the series Introduction.
The book focuses its prophetic judgement on the Southern Kingdom of Judah with frequent references to Zion and the temple worship. Joel’s familiarity with this area and the worship in the temple suggests that he lived in Judah, possibly even in the city of Jerusalem itself.
The book of Joel’s importance to the canon of Scripture stems from its being the first to develop an oft-mentioned biblical idea: the Day of the Lord. While Obadiah mentioned the terrifying event first: <<For the day of the Lord is near against all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head>> (Obadiah 15), Joel’s book gives some of the most striking and specific details in all of Scripture about the Day of the Lord: days cloaked in darkness, armies that conquer like consuming fire, and the moon turning to blood. Rooted in such vibrant and physical imagery, this time of ultimate judgement, still future today (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 and 2 Peter 3:10), makes clear the seriousness of God’s judgement on sin.
Using what was at that time the well-known locust plague in Judah, Joel capitalised on a recent tragedy to dispense the Lord’s message of judgement and the hope of repentance. In referring to the terrible locust plague, Joel was able to speak into the lives of his listeners and imprint the message of judgement into their minds, like a brand sears the flesh of an animal.
One commentator notes that the Day of the Lord, which is a reference not to a single day only but to a period of judgement and restoration, consists of three basic features:
- The judgement of God’s people.
- The judgement of foreign nations.
- The purification and restoration of God’s people through intense suffering.
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