Date: Probably Eighth Century B.C.
Little is known about the prophet Joel except that his father’s name was Pethuel, he probably lived in Jerusalem, and he prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah. His book has been considered the earliest prophetic book written, the latest prophetic book written, or just about anywhere in between. Joel made an effort to round out his rhythm and to balance his sentences. His book is one of the most elegant literary pieces in the Old Testament.
An atmosphere of impending doom pervades this prophecy. The major nations of the world, Babylon and Assyria, are not mentioned, so we are left to guess whom Joel had in mind as he thought about the coming judgment. A plague of locusts had just swept through the land, providing a background for Joel’s visions of doom. As the book opens, we hear the sound of a mighty army of insects stripping the vegetation bare.
Theological Themes in the Book of Joel
Using the plagues of locusts as an example, Joel meditates on the coming wrath of God. His words concern the present existence of Judah, but then shade off into discussing a future judgment, usually associated with the end of the age. This two-fold approach provides the student of the Bible with an excellent example of what is known as prophetic “foreshadowing.” Two future events, although separated by many years, are spoken of as though they were one event: the events are telescoped together, giving the appearance of being one. Joel called the plague of locusts “the Day of the Lord” (1:15-2:1; 2:31).
A second theme in Joel is that, after judgment, a time of blessed prosperity may be expected (3:17-18). Like the other prophets of Israel and Judah, Joel emphasized that God stands ready to forgive, if people repent. God is gracious and slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. If Joel’s contemporaries would genuinely change their lives and attitudes (“Rend your heart, and not your garments”) God would withhold judgment from them (2:13). Finally, Joel foresaw a future outpouring of the Holy Spirit (2:28-31). The apostle Peter later quoted these verses from Joel’s prophecy as foretelling the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21).
Outline for the Book of Joel
- The plague of locusts and the judgment of God Joel 1:1-2:27
- The day of the Lord: blessing and judgment Joel 2:28-4:21