Introduction to Joel

Study notes ▪ 2017
Tags: Joel; Judah; Day of the Lord


Author

Joel, the son of Pethuel (1:1); a prophet focused on the kingdom of Judah, mentioned only in the book that bears his name, and even there with virtually no biographical data

Date

Unknown
  • The sorts of direct chronological indicators found in other prophetic books (e.g., references to specific kings’ reigns) are absent from Joel.
  • According to Huttar, “The Book of Joel has been dated by conservative scholars from the ninth to the fifth centuries B.C.: more recent scholars tend to date the book to the latter end of the spectrum. Particularly important in supporting this later date are Joel’s apparent quotations from earlier Old Testament literature” (519).
  • Geisler dates the prophecy to 830-820 BC (231). Similarly, Merrill places Joel “between the beginning of the famine [during the reign of Joram king of Israel] (ca. 852) and the Assyrian invasion [of Shalmaneser III] (841)” (383).
  • After evaluating many forms of evidence, Williamson reaches a very different conclusion: “A date somewhere between 515 and 345 B.C. is the most likely on the basis of the evidence” (1078). Similarly, Dillard, while acknowledging the ambiguity of the relevant data, favors a postexilic date: “late 6th to mid-5th century” (242).

Kings Mentioned  

Judah: None
Israel: None

Nation(s) Targeted

Primary: Judah (3:1; 3:18; 3:20; etc.), as evidenced by the book’s references to Zion (e.g., 2:1; 3:17), Jerusalem (e.g., 3:1; 3:20), temple service (e.g., 1:13; 2:17), and priests (e.g., 1:9)
Secondary:
  • Phoenicia, represented by the cities of Tyre and Sidon (3:4)
  • Philistia (3:4)
  • Egypt (3:19)
  • Edom (3:19)

Representative Texts

1:2-4; 1:10-15; 2:1-4; 2:10-18; 2:23-25; 2:28-30; 3:12-16; 3:19-21

Core Message

Judah faces a devastating invasion of locusts. The resulting destruction of crops has depressed the collective sentiment and has impaired the temple service, which depends on the availability of agricultural products. The intensity of the event is unprecedented—significant enough that Yahweh refers to the locusts as his army. The only hope of deliverance is the Lord’s mercy, and thus he voices through Joel a call for genuine repentance on a nationwide scale. The people are not merely to cry for relief from suffering, but to appeal that Judah’s welfare would magnify the Lord’s name.

The present crisis portends a turn of end-time events known collectively as the day of the Lord. Joel foresees an outpouring of God’s Spirit, resulting in widespread proclamation of the word of the Lord. Severe judgment awaits, but Judah is no longer the target. Other nations—at least those surrounding Judah—are subject to divine retribution, but those who call on Yahweh will be saved.

New Testament References[1]

  • 1:6 (Rev. 9:7-8)
  • 2:4-5 (Rev. 9:7, 9)
  • 2:28-32 (Acts 2:17-21)
  • 2:31 (Rev. 6:12)
  • 2:32 (Rom. 10:13)
  • 3:13 (Rev. 14:14-20)

Features

The book of Joel is distinct from other prophets in that it gives balanced attention to the hope of restoration that follows the reality of divine judgment (Ryken, Wilhoit, and Longman 454-55). This tension is reflected in the book’s emphasis on the day of the Lord: “The future is both terrifying … and so exhilarating that one can hardly wait for it” (455).

Unlike most of the minor prophets, Joel contains no clear indications of the time period when its author prophesied. The book’s failure to name any king of Judah or even mention the monarchy may indicate that it was written after the Babylonian exile (Dillard 240-41).

Sources

Beale, G. K., and D. A. Carson, eds. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.
Dillard, Raymond Bryan. “Joel.” The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary, edited by Thomas Edward McComiskey. Baker Academic, 2009, pp. 239-313.
Geisler, Norman L. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. Baker Book House, 1977.
Huttar, David K. “Joel, Theology of.” Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, edited by Walter A. Elwell, Baker Books, 2000, pp. 419-21.
Merrill, Eugene H. Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel. Baker Books, 1996.
Ryken, Leland, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. InterVarsity, 1998.
Williamson, H. G. M. “Joel.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, fully revised, vol. 2, Eerdmans, 1982, pp. 1076-80.

[1] New Testament citations of texts from Joel were identified in part by consulting Beale and Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.



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