A great plague threatened Israel. Would the people of God repent? What would happen on the great day of YHWH? We learn about such things from the prophet Joel.
Joel is the twenty-ninth book in most English Bibles; in the Hebrew Bible it is part of the Nevi’im, the Prophets; in the Greek Septuagint Joel is the fourth of the Duodecim (Latinized; Dodeka in Greek), “the Twelve.” Joel’s name means Yahweh is God. The book does not specify when Joel prophesied; concern about the land indicates he spoke either during the later period of the divided kingdoms (ca. 800-600 BCE) or after the return from exile (ca. 530-400 BCE). Joel warns and comforts Israel regarding the judgments in the “day” of YHWH, with danger in the near term and hope for the long term.
Joel’s warnings are found in Joel 1:1-2:17. Joel summons the elders and people of Israel to hear of what YHWH is planning, a thing not seen in the past, and remarkable for the future: a series of locusts will have devoured the produce of the land (Joel 1:1-4). Drunkards should lament the devastation wrought by this nation which entered the land: offerings cease, the priests, the farmers, and the ground mourn, and gladness is gone in the face of famine (Joel 1:5-12). Joel then calls all people to consecrate a fast, to lament and repent, for the day of YHWH and the devastation it brings is near, causing famine and devastation in the land (Joel 1:13-20). The trumpet should be blown, for the danger of the day of YHWH is at hand; it is described as thick darkness, fearful, devouring like fire, as paradise before them but a desert behind them; they look like horses and a powerful army, powerfully advancing ahead, fully set on devastation; before them all are afraid and melt away, and they enter everywhere (Joel 2:1-9). On account of this the earth quakes, the heavens tremble and are darkened, for YHWH speaks to His army; the day of YHWH is great and awesome, and who can endure it (Joel 2:10-11)? Yet it need not be this way: YHWH gives His people an opportunity to repent, returning to Him with fasting, weeping, and mourning, rending their hearts; the summons is made for all people to consecrate a fast and weep, lament, and mourn (Joel 2:12-17).
In Joel 2:18 YHWH becomes jealous for His land and has pity on His people. He sends food and prosperity, and they will no longer be a reproach among the nations; the northerner will be removed from them and driven away; the land will be given reason to rejoice in its produce and the people for their overflowing prosperity; they will praise YHWH and His people will not be put to shame (Joel 2:19-27).
Joel then looks forward to an upcoming day of YHWH in Joel 2:28-3:3. In those days YHWH will pour out His Spirit on all flesh, even male and female servants (Joel 2:27-28). Wonders and signs will be seen in the heavens and on earth; those who call on the name of YHWH will be saved, and a remnant will remain in Zion (Joel 2:29-32). At that time YHWH will gather the nations in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (“YHWH judged”): there He will render judgment on them since they have scattered His people, mistreated them, and divided His land (Joel 3:1-3).
Joel continues his oracles against the nations in Joel 3:4-21. Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia come under condemnation for selling Judean captives to the Greeks as slaves; God will bring them back into their land and bring recompense by selling the Phoenicians to the Sabeans (Joel 3:4-8). A summons is made for war, turning plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into speaks, preparing war against the nations; YHWH will render judgment at the Valley of Jehoshaphat; YHWH is powerful but remains a refuge and stronghold for His people (Joel 3:9-16). The Israelites will know YHWH is their God when they dwell in Zion without strangers passing through, full of produce and prosperity (Joel 3:17-18). Egypt and Edom, for their violence against Judah, will become as a wilderness while Judah will be inhabited; YHWH will avenge the blood of those in Judah (Joel 3:19-21).
The book of Joel leaves us with a few questions: is the marauding army really of locusts or is it a reference to Assyria and/or Babylon? Did YHWH relent before the disaster or did He restore what was lost? The power in Joel’s message, however, is beyond doubt; Peter makes it known that the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost is a fulfillment of what Joel had spoken (Acts 2:14-31); the locust army is seen again in John’s vision in Revelation 9:1-12. Joel vividly speaks of YHWH’s judgment as the day of YHWH; His judgments lead to pestilence and destruction for those who have turned away from Him, and yet brings prosperity and hope for those who find refuge in Him. Let us repent of our wickedness, turn to God in Christ, and obtain the hope of prosperity in the resurrection for those who serve the LORD God!
Ethan R. Longhenry