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Joel – Background and Themes



Text  Joel 1-2:27

The book of Joel is just three chapters long.  ”Joel” means “Jehovah is God”, all we know about him is that he is “the son of Pethuel” (1:1),  Joel’s exact historical position is unknown.  Because of its foundational prophecies, many conservative commentators place Joel in the very early days of the divided kingdom, perhaps just after Solomon’s reign, around 900BC.  But there are those who date it much later, as recently as around 400BC.  

1. The Great Plague.  

The first chapter of Joel brings us face to face with a great natural disaster in the land.  

  • The great swarms of locusts. 1:2-3  Locusts are like big grasshoppers or crickets.   Harmless to humans – perhaps, singly – but locusts EAT CROPS.  They would swarm in over the fields, so many of them that the sky would be darkened, and they would settle on the fields, and they would strip the crops bare.  1:10-12. In Joel, there had been massive attacks of locusts, so large and destructive that the people would talk about them for years to come.  
  • The illustration of an even more serious plague.  For Joel, hearing from God, these waves of destruction were symbolic of a far great destruction to come.  Some older commentaries note that there are four plagues of locusts mentioned. What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; What the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; And what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten.  They think this number may be significant – for later in her history Israel would face four great enemies, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks and the Romans.  Whether this is so or not, for sure Joel is likening these destructive pests to the future enemies, who God would raise up against his impenitent people.  1:6 .  
  • The plea to call out to God for help.  When locusts attack, humans are powerless.  Similarly, there is no-one who can turn away the judgement of God.  In the bible, when God’s people grew cold, took his mercy for granted and began to stray away to worship other gods, he brought them back through chastening. There is only one thing to do in the face of such a terrible disaster.  Get on your knees!  1:19 O Lord, to You I cry out;  

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2. The Day of the Lord.

That brings us to the second great theme that runs through Joel and is developed throughout the Bible.  The Day of YHWH.  Just like the swarms of Locusts and the invading armies, The Day of the Lord will be a day of great danger, destruction and retribution. In chapter one the idea is introduced.  Joel 1:15.  In chapter two it’s expanded and explained…  2:1,  Read chapter two and see how the armies will march across the land, and destroy everything in their path.  These are HUMAN INVADERS, foreign armies raised up by God, to exact punishment upon his rebellious and faithless people!  These foreign armies are (for this purpose alone) the armies of God  V11  God is sovereign, and everything is working out in accordance with his carefully designed purpose.    He’ll bring…

  • Retribution upon God’s people.  Chapter two is a stern warning to the people of God, for being in a covenant relationship with God has responsibilities, given to His people in the 10 commandments, in the Law.  When we flout his law we are unfaithful to him who redeemed us, and he chastens us to bring us back and make us trust him more fully.  Like a child, we need discipline!
  • Vindication of God’s people.  Yet for the believer, the fact that the Day of the Lord will surely come is good news!  For God will judge the nations, even those nations who have been used by him to chasten his own people.  Chapter three is about this.. In a graphic account, Joel says, 3:1-2  Note how well deserved that punishment will be too.  These pagan nations were an abomination in God’s sight.  Look at their terrible practices depicted here.  They engaged in human trafficking of children for sexual purposes.   (Like our modern abortion on demand society?)

When does the ‘Day of the Lord’ occur?  Joel, of course, doesn’t say.  But given its description, the Day of the Lord has already come, and is yet to come! It came at the Babylonian Exile of Jerusalem, It came at Calvary, It is coming when Christ comes again!


3. The Call to Repent!  Chapter 2:12-17.  

The next obvious step in Joel’s message must be a call to action, to repentance, turning away from sin, and turning to God with a whole heart.  So…

  • God calls upon his people to repent! 2:12   But what will that repentance look like?
    • Repentance is internal! So rend your heart, and not your garments; It is an affair of the heart, for to put on an outward show of repentance, while the heart is still at war with God is just hypocrisy. Compare this with Christ’s warning to the hypocrites in Matthew 6.   
    • Repentance is dependant upon, and trusting in, the forgiving mercy of God.  Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.  God never turns away sinners who come to him for forgiveness.  He is gracious, merciful, and his kindness is immense.  Matthew 11:28  
  • Joel calls upon God’s people to repent!  
    • Nationally. 2:15-16  To pray that God will raise up a faithful servant who will warn the nation, and call for national repentance.
    • Personally.  Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing room.  We need repentance in our hearts.  Every day!
    • Ecclesiastically. 2:17  The church has largely departed from the faith once handed down.  It’s time to blow the trumpet in Zion, to sound an alarm in God’s holy mountain, the place where He is worshipped, and call for His people to repent and return to the Lord who saved them.

God blesses those of his people who live a humble repentant life.  2:14 Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him.  2:25b  

So, Joel’s great theme has been introduced.  ‘The Day of The Lord,’ has been described, explained, illustrated, warned about, and opportunity for repentance has been given, and Joel has even helped us to understand what that entails.   In our next study, ‘JOEL IN THE NEW TESTAMENT’ we’ll look at Joel 2:28-32, and Joel 3:18-21

© BobMcEvoy February 2019

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