Joel, whose name means "Jehovah is God," was one of many prophets God sent to the nation of Israel during the time of the divided kingdom when the people reveled in the lewd and lascivious worship of the idolatrous nations they refused to drive out of the land. This generation was but an extension of the generation after Joshua who grew up in ignorance of God and the law He gave to Moses at Mt. Sinai (see Judges 2:10). The content of his book indicates that Joel was a resident of Judah and prophesied in Jerusalem. Though some scholars assign to Joel a later date, he is generally thought to have prophesied about 830 B. C. during the reign of Jehoash of Judah (see 2 Kings 11-12).
Scripture records nothing of Joel's life or character, but his writings reveal much about his genius and poetic skills as a spokesman of God. He wrote out of a vivid imagination in a graphic and picturesque style. He tells us much about the "day of the Lord" - a "great and terrible" day when Jehovah as God comes to tread down with vengeance and wrath the enemies of His people and provide a place of refuge and deliverance for all who call on His name (2:31-32).
Joel, as many Old Testament prophets, looks beyond the immediate judgment of Israel's enemies and the deliverance of the nation from captivity. He foresees the pouring forth of God's Spirit in the "last days" and the escape of a remnant of Israel in the Messianic kingdom at Mt. Zion in the Jerusalem that is from above (see Hebrews 12:22-29). He also speaks of Jehovah's call of the nations into the valley of Jehoshaphat, the valley of decision, where He will summon the nations for judgment. In that day He will, in vengeance, tread them down in the winepress of His wrath (2:28-3:20).
But Joel primarily writes to his generation about their immediate need of repentance. "Alas, for the day! For the day of Jehovah is at hand, and as destruction from the Almighty shall it come" (1:15). This will manifest itself in a locust invasion that marches across the land as an invading army that never breaks rank, climbs the walls of the city, and enters houses like thieves. They have advanced in massive hordes and "laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree; he has made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white." He personifies the land as mourning because the "grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil languishes" (1:7, 10).
The invasion of the locust is but a harbinger of the "great and very terrible" day of captivity when God will execute His wrath against this ungodly and evil nation. In the wake of the devastating invasion, God's spokesman calls on the nation to repent. He summons all: the drunkards to weep at the loss of wine, the priests to mourn that the meal offerings and drink offerings are cut off, the husbandman to wail at the wasteland where wheat and vines once flourished, the bride and bridegroom to come forth from their chamber, and all the inhabitants of the land to tremble in anguish and fear (see 1:5, 9-13; 2:1, 15-17).
"Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain," the prophet says. "Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, and gather the people" - including the old men and the children. The nation should "lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth" who has just died (1:8).
But this is a time for genuine repentance. "Yet even now...turn ye unto me with all your heart and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning," says Jehovah through the prophet (2:12). Joel precludes a mere show of repentance and calls on the nation to "rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord - for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, and repents him of the evil" (2:13). This was no time to tear and rip garments in anguish, but the time as a nation to be cut to the heart. Jehovah's message: "Turn ye unto me with all your heart, and with fasting" (2:12). God Himself can be brought to repentance, Joel says. He is "gracious and merciful, is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness" and will turn from the evil He has purposed against His nation (2:13).
Joel's message extends beyond his days to the "last days" and must not be lost on God's people and nations today. Peter applies Joel's prophesy to the age of the new covenant when God calls all men through the gospel to Jesus that they might be sanctified and cleansed by the "washing of water with the word" (see Ephesians 5:26). At Pentecost Peter said, "This is that which was spoken through the prophet Joel" that "whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:16, 21). He then preached Jesus and commanded sinners to "repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus unto the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Saul of Tarsus learned this truth from an evangelist and was told to "arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16).
In view of a "great and terrible day" of the Lord, "rend your heart" and "turn ye unto me with all your heart" is still God's message to His people and to the nations.
- Biblical Insights, August, 2012