Joel is a prophecy of only three chapters delivered in about 800 BC, prior to the captivity. Joel, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Micah were written to Judah. In Malachi, the people were bringing the poorest of the sacrifices; in Joel they had nothing to bring.
Nothing is known of him other than his name (meaning “Jehovah is God”) and his father’s name, Pethuel. We do not know exactly when he preached, but can assume it was in the environs of Jerusalem at the time of a great devastation in the land due to an invasion of locusts. Joel was God’s messenger to explain that this was not merely a natural disaster but a chastisement from God.
Amos alludes to the words of Joel 3:16 in the opening of his prophecy (Amo 1:2). There is no doubt about the date of Amos’ book since he places himself in the reigns of Jeroboam and Uzziah. If we allow the presumption that he alludes to Joel (and not the other way around), then Joel must predate Uzziah (790-739 BC) and Jeroboam II (793-753 BC). David Gilliland has an interesting suggestion in his seminal writing on Joel in What the Bible Teaches. He suggests that it may have been during the reign of Athaliah.
He begins by calling on four generations (1:2-3) – your fathers, your children, your children’s children (cf. 2Ti 2:2). He is speaking to Judah and possibly, more specifically, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
The stress in the book seems to be more on the temple, and there is an absence of the meal and drink offerings. They would be mostly limited by famine and poor crops (see 1:5,9,10,12,13,16; 2:14,19,22,24; 3:18).
There is no mention of a king to enable us to determine with accuracy a time period. There is also no mention of any particular sin or evil; he does not denounce idolatry, immorality or injustice. He points to the barrenness and calls on the people to repent, perhaps merely from self-centered and self-contented living.
The cry of Joel is for repentance so that God might bless His people and provide what is needed to offer back to Him the worship He deserves. Yet amidst it all he is looking forward to Millennial conditions when the Lord will dwell among His people and His presence will be recognized by the nations (2:27; 3:17,21). Note also the frequent references (five times) to the Day of the Lord (1:15; 2:1,11,31; 3:14).
The Attributes of God
On 33 occasions He is spoken of as Jehovah. On eight occasions He is “your God.” He is the owner of the land (1:6; 2:18; 3:2). The “land” is a prominent feature in the book. It belonged to the Lord, and it was now no longer yielding the increase that would enable the nation to live and the sacrifice of the meal and drink offerings to be made.
Note the character of God as revealed in Joel:
- He is strong and executes His Word (2:11).
- He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and repents of the evil (2:13). There is in this an echo of the revelation given to Moses in Exodus 34.
- He is jealous for His land and pities His people (2:18).
- He is a God who restores the years the locusts have eaten (2:25).
- He is sovereign, controls nature, and does wondrous things (2:25,26).
- He is in the midst – a God who resides in relationship and revelation (2:27).
- He is a delivering God (2:32).
- He is the judge of the nations (3:12).
- He is the hope and strength of His people (3:16).
The Arrangement of Material
There are two equal sections of 36 verses each. The book turns on the cry of repentance in 2:17.
I. Ruin – Lamentation (1:1-2:17)
- The Devastation of the land (1:1-12)
- Their Desperation and humiliation (1:13-14)
- The Declaration of their sin (1:15-20)
- The Destruction that was imminent (2:1-11)
- The Development that is imperative (2:12-17)
All will hinge upon an awareness of their condition, the character of God and their contrition before God.
II. Recovery – Life (2:18-3:21)
- The Assurance from the Lord (2:18-27)
- The Anticipation of blessings in the future (2:28-32)
- The Arraignment against the nations (3:1-8)
- The Assembling for judgment (3:9-17)
- The Abundance of blessing and supplies (3:18-21)