Introduction to Joel
Author and Date
Little is known about Joel, a prophet from Judah (perhaps Jerusalem). Most scholars date the book after the exile to Babylon (586 b.c.).
Joel calls the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem to lament and return to the Lord during a time of national disaster. A locust plague has destroyed both wine (1:5, 7, 12) and grain (1:10). This threatens the people’s ability to present offerings in the temple (1:9, 13, 16).
- Day of the Lord. The dominant theme of the book is the “day of the Lord.” This describes a time when the presence of the Lord brings judgment and/or deliverance and blessing, depending on the circumstances. Therefore, although the “day” results in destruction for the nations, it can also be seen as a time of salvation for God’s people. The Lord remains a refuge in the chaos of judgment (3:15–16).
- Repentance. If the whole community would cry out to the Lord (1:13–20) and look to him—not merely with external actions but in sincerity and commitment (2:12–13)—then judgment may be prevented. However, the Lord is not bound by the acts of the community (2:14). It is his decision to either send or withhold the destruction by the locusts (1:15), just as the army is his to command (2:11).
- The Lord in their midst. The reason the Lord will turn from judgment to blessing is to express his covenant-keeping character (2:13, 18–26; 3:18). His promise to dwell in the midst of his people is prominent not only in Joel (2:27; 3:17, 21) but also throughout the OT (Num. 35:34; Isa. 12:6; Zeph. 3:15, 17; Zech. 2:10–11). God restores what the locusts have destroyed (Joel 2:27) and protects Israel as the world crumbles (3:16–17) so that the people will know his presence. This theme is restated at the end of the book (3:21), showing how important it was for Joel.
- These three themes come together in the promise of the future outpouring of the Spirit (2:28–32). This outpouring is associated with the day of the Lord (2:31) in both its judgmental (2:30–31; see 2:10; 3:15) and its saving (2:32) roles. The outpouring of the Spirit is also related to repentance: those who are saved call “on the name of the Lord” (2:32). The giving of the Spirit is the ultimate evidence of God “in the midst of” his people (Isa. 63:11; see Hag. 2:5).
- The Judgment against Judah and the Day of the Lord (1:1–2:17)
- The Mercy of the Lord and Judgment against the Nations (2:18–3:21)