Timing of the prophecy

There are several indicators in Joel that he wrote  towards the end of the southern kingdom’s demise,  when the captivity in Babylon was looming and  for some had already commenced. Consider the  following pointers:

  • A northern army had already come upon them 1:6; 2:3,20; cp Jer 1:13–16; 50:17
  • Leadership structure was in tatters 2:10; cp 2 Chron 36:11–17
  • The Temple was still in existence, but services in decline 1:9,16; cp 2 Chron 36:14,16
  • Famine and drought widespread 1:9–10,17– 20; cp Jer 14:1–12

Basic message of prophecy

Joel attempts to get the nation to repent and turn  back to God. He explains the tragic events that were  already taking place as indicating God’s displeasure  with them. God wanted them to turn unto Him and  call upon His Name. Their personal suffering and  distress would be reversed if they would but rend  their hearts and open their minds to His words. If  they would but listen He would restore all that had  been lost, reversing their ills and blessing them once  again. However, they would not listen. It would not  be until the latter days that a full change of heart  would be effected in Israel, when “Yahweh would  roar out of Zion”.

Outline of the prophecy

1:1–12 Warning – Babylonian destruction like a  locust plague

1:13–15 Call to repentance

1:16–20 Lament for the famine and drought

2:1–11 The Trumpet of alarm – “who can abide it?”

2:12–14 Further call to repentance – “rend your hearts”

2:15–17 Trumpet of assembly – a call to mourning

2:18–27 Message of hope – calamities will be reversed

2:28–32 The great and terrible day of Yahweh

3 : 1 – 8 Desolation of Jerusalem – all nations gathered

3:9–17 Call for war – Gentiles assembled for judgment

3:18–21 Eden restored – “Yahweh dwelleth in Zion”.

Themes in the prophecy

There are various themes running through the  prophecy which are worth noting.

Locusts The Babylonian invasion was likened to  a locust plague in verse 4. Such plagues were not  uncommon in Israel. The four stages mentioned by  Joel increase in intensity as each swarm ravages  the land. The words describe locusts as gnawers,  swarmers, devourers and consumers, each more  destructive than the previous wave. God calls them  his great army (2:25) and details their destructive  march through the land (v1–11). Even the latter  days, when the Gentiles again come into the land,  are reminiscent of the locust plagues, until God  intervenes (3:14–17).

Name of Yahweh Several times the qualities of the  divine name are invoked (1:9,15; 2:13, 26, 27, 32;  3:17).God wanted them to observe and take hold  of His qualities and soften their hearts to His ways.

Lamentation and repentance This is a prominent  theme in the prophecy as one would expect. God  wanted them to become aware of their pitiful plight  and truly repent and turn to Him. God’s warnings  and appeals are obvious in the following verses  1:5,8,9,11,13,14,18,19,20; 2:12,13,17,32.

The day of Yahweh

This is a term often found in the prophets and in  Joel likewise. God’s time of judgment would surely  come (1:15; 2:1,11,31; 3:14,18).The day of Yahweh  is a day of reckoning, whether for Jew or Gentile.  His mercy and long-suffering are extensive, but  they have a limit. Israel experienced divine wrath  on several occasions; the Gentiles have yet to  experience God’s wrath for He shall “judge all the  heathen round about”.

The possession of Yahweh:

The care and concern of God for His people is  repeatedly expressed in the prophecy by the use of  the pronoun “my” and “his”; cp 1:7; 2:1,17,18,19,  26,27; 3:2,3,5,16,17. Though they would be sorely  punished for their sins, Israel are still God’s people,  beloved for their fathers’ sake. Though natural  branches and eventually broken off, they would be  grafted in again. They would be restored to favour  and cleansed of their iniquities, as the last two  verses reveal (3:20–21).

Chapter 1

This chapter is Joel’s warning and call to repentance  as the day of Yahweh was about to fall upon them.  Already they were experiencing the heavy hand of  their God in the condition of their crops and herds,  but they would not learn from these calamities that  God had brought upon them. “Alas for the day! For  the day of Yahweh is at hand, and as a destruction  from the Almighty shall it come” (1:15). Joel could  not express his message more plainly. There was  but little time and judgment would come. Is it any  different in our times? The day is near in our times  when God’s judgments will be in the earth.

Chapter 2

Joel repeats his warning to the people and the need  for repentance. His graphic picture in chapter 1  of the destructive power of the locust is changed  in chapter 2:2–11 to the plain language of the  destructive power of the invading army. This was  God’s army: “who can abide it”? Joel pours forth  a heart rending appeal in the words of 2:13: “rend  your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto  Yahweh your God: for he is gracious and merciful,  slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth  him of the evil.”

What wonderful words of grace. They reach  down to us today. This is the wonderful character  of the God we serve. He wants us to be in His  kingdom. If like the prodigal son of Luke 16, we  come to our senses and turn unto Him, He will see  us afar off and rejoice in our return. What a gracious  and forgiving God we serve! May we always have  our ears open to his Word.

Verses 28–32 are taken up in Acts 2:17–21 and  applied by Peter to his times. He pointed out that  their possession of the Holy Spirit was a fulfilment  of Joel’s words before the great day of judgment  that was to come upon the nation in AD 70. That  generation had the opportunity to repent and “call  upon the name of Yahweh” before being overturned  by the Romans.

Chapter 3

This marvellous chapter brings the prophecy right  down to our days. We live in the very days when  God has brought Israel into their land and turned  “again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem”(3:1).  In 1948 we saw the nation reborn; in 1967 we  witnessed Jerusalem in the hands of the Jews. How  long before verses 2–15 find their fulfilment in  the battle of Armageddon and the intervention of  the God of heaven through His Son? This chapter  provides us with encouragement because it gives  us so many details about the day of Yahweh and the  harvest of the nations in the battle of Armageddon.

As we read the words of this prophecy, particularly  of chapter 3, may we be encouraged to hold fast in  these last times, knowing that the judgments of God  are near and that He is, even now, the “hope of his  people and the strength of the children of Israel”.