Survey of Joel
"The word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel," Joel 1:1
I would love to know more about men like Joel. Hitchcock's Bible Names says "Pethuel" means persuasion of God. According to another scholar it signified, "the openheartedness or sincerity of God," (Keil). Does that supply some hint about his family background? Joel's name means Jehovah is God. Perhaps some conclusions can be gathered from his message, especially regarding his conviction and courage. We will have to be satisfied with our ignorance or speculation about such matters. Likewise, as one commentator said: "The date of the book is as conjectural as the life of the man himself," (A Commentary On The Minor Prophets, Homer Hailey, p.#40).
This should not hinder our efforts to read and understand the book of Joel. The following facts are easily discerned from your first reading of the book:
1. The prophet directed the "word of the Lord" to the "elders," (1:2a). References to Zion and Judah in the book would suggest Joel spoke to the leaders in Judah, the southern kingdom.
2. Joel speaks of a calamity unlike anything before (1:2b).
3. The prophet instructed them to transmit the message to future generations (1:3).
4. Joel spoke of a coming judgment as "the day of the Lord," and it was "at hand," (2:1). This "alarm" was to be sounded "in Zion."
5. Judah would be invaded by "a people ... great and strong," (2:2).
6. The response God instructed through Joel was: "Turn to Me with all your heart," (2:12).
7. Looking to the future, God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh (2:28ff). For the fulfillment of this prophecy, observe what the apostle Peter said on the day of Pentecost: "But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel," (Acts 2:16ff).
8. In chapter three, God says He would "bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem," and deal with "all nations," for "their wickedness," (3:1,13).
A clear literary pattern emerges in Joel chapter one. Observing this as you read the chapter can be of great help in studying the book of Joel. Joel describes calamity. Alongside his description, he tells the people what their response should be. Notice:
Calamity: "Has anything happened in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?" (Verse 2).
Response: "Tell your children about it...," etc. (Verse 3). See Psa. 78:5,6.
Calamity: Consuming locusts (Verse 4).
Response: "Awake," (Verse 5).
Calamity: "...a nation has come up against My land," (Verse 6).
Response: "Lament...," (Verse 8).
Calamity: "The grain offering and the drink offering have been cut off from the house of the Lord...," etc. (Verses 9,10).
Response: "Be ashamed...," (Verse 11).
Calamity: "The vine has dried up, and the fig tree withered ... surely joy has withered away from the sons of men," (Verse 12).
Response: "Gird yourselves and lament ... consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders...," (Verses 13,14).
Calamity: "The day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty...," (Verses 15-18).
Response: "O Lord, to You I cry out...," (Verses 19,20).
Joel is describing calamity, telling of judgment against the people. The prophet wants the people of Judah and Jerusalem to know, God is saying something in these events! Like other men of God, Joel was warning the people to see in their calamity (past, present, future) the hand of God. These events - as described or interpreted by Joel - should have caused the people to return to the Lord, who "relents from doing harm," (2:13).
What are we to do with this teaching from Joel today?
(1) We learn of the stubborn wickedness of men. Even after men begin to suffer the results of their own selfish ways, they often show no signs of repentance (see Isa. 1:5-9). The blight brought upon us by sin should awaken us to repent, especially when we understand the goodness of God (Rom. 2:4).
(2) We ought to take to heart the patience of the Lord, who "is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm," (2:13). It was not too late, for the people Joel spoke to, to realize and respond to God's mercy, rendering their hearts and turning to the Lord.
(3) The outpouring of the Spirit Joel spoke of has a very specific fulfillment beginning on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16ff). "It is evident from Acts 2 that only the apostles received the outpouring of the Spirit on that occasion; and yet Peter quoted the passage from Joel, declaring 'This is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel' (Acts 2:16). Later we find the gospel being carried to the Gentiles. The outpouring of the Spirit upon Cornelius and those gather in his house (Acts 10) confirms the Gentiles' acceptance of the gospel and the Lord's acceptance of them. Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9), and Paul tells of women who prophesied (1 Cor. 11:5). This receiving of the Spirit would be without distinction of age - 'old men and young men,' without distinction of sex - 'sons and daughters,' and without distinction of social order - 'servants and handmaids'." (A Commentary On The Minor Prophets, Homer Hailey, p.#54). We who are God's people today are recipients of the blessings Joel prophesied. We are God's spiritual remnant "according to the election of grace," (Rom. 11:5).
While we do not have Joel's among us today (inspired prophets), all of the events we experience and witness on earth should work within us swift repentance. God is in control. As time passes we should take seriously what the Lord said through Joel: "Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame," (Joel 2:27). "Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, 'Behold, I lay in Zion, a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame," (1 Pet. 2:6).
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 12.5; May 2005