The prophet Joel (whose name means "Yahweh is God") most likely recorded his prophecies between the ninth and second centuries B. C. There is not much known about Joel's personal life. It's mentioned that his father's name was Pethuel (Jl. 1:1) and it is possible that he served as a Temple prophet, but no one knows for certain. It is apparent from his book that he was an effective and powerful speaker. His primary area of service and intended audience was Judah. Not much is known about what was taking place in Israel at this time however Persia was the dominant power on the world scene.
Joel's primary message to Judah concerns "The Day of the Lord" (1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:1-2, 14, 18). Judah is called to repent in order to prepare for it. Like all prophecy the wording of Joel's oracle is richly layered. Rules for interpreting prophecy include what scholars call "the rule of double reference" or the "law of partial fulfillment". Simply put this means that some prophecies seem to refer to more than one fulfillment or future event and that these fulfillments are very similar in appearance. For example, Joel's prophecy concerning the pouring out of God's Spirit (Jl. 2:28-32) can certainly be attached to the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Peter even quotes Joel in his sermon at the Temple (Ac. 2:14-21). While the pouring out of God's Spirit is a physical blessing upon the people, there is also a judgment which will have a physical effect upon the earth (Jl. 2:30-32; Rev. 6:12-13). This has yet to happen.
The physical characteristics of the Day of the Lord are described by Joel using the imagery of a great locust swarm (Jl. 1:4-12; 2:3-11, 25-27). I don't know if you've ever seen one of these, but I remember seeing one recorded on TV. It was both amazing and scary. Joel's locust imagery is unsettling to most Westerners. But in the agricultural realm, the ability of locusts to obliterate any living, green thing for miles and miles conjured up fear and dread. This picture truly taught Israel that God intended for them to live rightly before Him, and that He would judge ALL men accordingly (Jl. 1:13-15; 2:1-2, 15-17; 3:1-2, 12-14). In Joel's prophecy the locust plague is a forerunner to the Day of the Lord which features vindication of the just and punishment of the wicked (Jl. 1:15; 2:11, 18-25; 3:4-8). It carries a double message. Israel would be judged on how she treated the Lord and the nations would be judged on how they treated Israel (3:1-2). The nature of the locust swarm reflects the nature of God's judgment. It is quick, devastating and thorough.
Many Christians are enamored with the "End Times" these days. There is no question that world events and natural disasters point to something greater going on in the spiritual realm (Dan. 10:11-13; Eph. 6:12-13). And most believers would also agree that although the world might appear chaotic and under the control of overwhelming evil, the ultimate end of all things as we know them is in God's hands (Lev. 23:1-2; Ecc. 3:1-11; Gal. 4:4; 1 Pet. 1:3-5). But my observation is that most of the sensationalism that gets attached to the End Times and the fulfillment of prophecy we know has yet to happen, actually takes our focus off the "here and now". What does Joel's prophecy mean to us on a daily basis? How are we to walk in faith with his message in mind?
I believe there are two important principles to remember from Joel. First, repentance is pleasing to God (Jl. 2:12-13; Rom. 2:4). God is both loving and just (Jl. 2:12). Although He desires for us to live a life pleasing to Him, He will hold us accountable when we stray from His path (Jl. 2:27; 1 Pet. 4:17-19). Judgment is not meant to heap guilt upon us, but instead to bring about repentance and a renewed desire to live according to His will (Ps. 51:10-13; 2 Cor. 7:10). Most importantly repentance restores life to the way God meant for it to be in the first place (Jl. 2:28-32; 3:19-21; Heb. 6:1). Secondly, Joel teaches us that in God's eyes the days are short. We may see a span of a thousand years in between a prophecy such as Joel's in chapter two and it fulfillment in Acts. But in God's eyes they are a mere blip in the ticking of God's clock. Like the happy couple who reminds us to "save the date", Joel reminds us that God has a date saved too, and we are to be prepared for it when it comes (Jl. 2:1; Mt. 24:43; 1 Thes. 5:2).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 6/7/2015