Who Wrote the Book of Joel?
Apart from the name of his father (Joel 1:1), little is known about Joel. His name means “the LORD is God.”
When Was Joel Written?
The book is undated. Its position among the pre-exilic prophets in the Hebrew canon and the mention of Israel’s earlier enemies (Joel 3:4, 19) suggest the book was authored in the mid-ninth century BC. This would coincide with the ministry of Elijah and the great drought during the reign of Ahab (874–853 BC, cf. 1Kgs 17–18).
What Was the Historical Situation at the Time of Joel?
A massive infiltration of locusts was devastating the land, leaving nothing with which to bring an offering to the LORD (Joel 1:13). Although no specific sins are mentioned, Joel does call them to repentance, admonishing them to “rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13). The atrocities committed against Judah (Joel 3:3–7) are not chronologically specific and could have occurred at any time prior to the events of Joel 2:18–3:2.
Using this current crisis, Joel points toward a more distant time—the future day of the LORD, when spiritual blessings would be poured out upon his true worshipers (Joel 2:28–32) and divine judgment would issue forth upon the unrepentant (Joel 3:12ff).
What Is the Primary Theme of the Book of Joel?
The theme is the “day of the LORD.” This phrase refers to a time when God supernaturally intervenes in the course of human history, pouring out his righteous judgment on sinners and his blessing on the penitent. The prophet ties this current event with the future, giving the people a preview of the future, eschatological day of the LORD. Readers must understand that biblical prophecy is never given in a historical vacuum. Rather, its proclamation addresses the need present at the time it was given, thereby providing a historical event from which to understand the eschatological event. This kind of parallel is most notably depicted in the prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ given by Isaiah to King Ahaz in Isaiah 7.
How Is Joel Arranged?
The contents are arranged in three categories. In the first section (Joel 1:2–20), the prophet describes the contemporary day of the LORD, in which the land is suffering massive devastation (Joel 1:2–12), followed by a summons to communal repentance (Joel 1:13–20).
The second section (Joel 2:1–17) is a bridge, tying the historical calamity (Joel 1:2–20) to the eschatological day of the LORD in Joel 2:18–3:21. Employing the contemporary plague as a backdrop, the prophet intensifies his description of the impending visitation of the LORD (Joel 2:1–11) and renews his appeal for repentance (Joel 2:12–17).
The third section (Joel 2:18–3:21) outlines the LORD’s compassionate response to their repentance and sets forth three promises to assure them of his presence among them: the divine healing of the land (Joel 2:21–27), the divine outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2:28–32), and the divine judgment on the unrighteous, encompassing simultaneously the restoration of the faithful remnant of Israel to her rightful place among the nations (Joel 3:1–21).
Joel seeks to rouse Israel from spiritual complacency, stirring them to repent (1:1–2:17) and pointing them toward a future day of the LORD full of blessings and judgment (2:18–3:21).
“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord,
‘return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.’
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.”
— Joel 2:12–13 ESV
I. The Contemporary Day of the LORD (1:1–20)
A. The Source of the Message (1:1)
B. The Command to Contemplate the Devastation (1:2–4)
C. The Completeness of the Devastation (1:5–12)
D. The Call to Repent in Light of the Devastation (1:13–20)
II. The Impending Day of the LORD (2:1–17)
A. The Alarm Sounds (2:1)
B. The Army Invades (2:2–11)
C. The Admonition to Repent (2:12–17)
III. The Eschatological Day of the LORD (2:18–3:21)
A. Introduction (2:18–20)
B. Material Restoration (2:21–27)
C. Spiritual Restoration (2:28–32)
D. National Restoration (3:1–21)
The Contemporary Day of the LORD (1:1–20)
Joel describes an actual plague of locusts and calls the people to repent, primarily to banish the plague so that the prescribed worship of the LORD might continue.
The Source of the Message (1:1)
Joel’s proclamation was from the LORD. His use of Israel’s personal name for God was strategic, denoting an intimate relationship bonded metaphorically through the covenant of marriage (cf. Hos 1–3).
The Command to Contemplate the Devastation (1:2–4)
1:2–3 The gravity of the conditions demands their undivided focus: “Has such a thing happened in your days or in the days of your fathers?” (Joel 1:2). The rhetorical question expects a negative answer; this plague is unique in history!
1:4 The four-fold reference to the locusts and the repetition of “left . . . has eaten” highlights their voracious appetite. It does not speak of a military invasion. Joel would not have described an invading army as like horses, or like warriors (2:4, 7).
The Completeness of the Devastation (1:5–12)
The three groups most directly impacted are the wine drinkers, who delight in its abundance, the priests, who utilize the fruit in the offerings, and the farmers, who reap the harvest.
1:5–7 The drunkards and drinkers of wine are implored to awake from their intoxication, to weep over their obvious loss, and to wail aloud. The severity of the devastation calls for public, communal mourning, not just private. The Old Testament word for wine (yayin) unquestionably represents fermented wine. “Sweet wine” (asis), often thought to refer only to unfermented juice, can possess intoxicating qualities as well (Isa 49:26).
The locusts are like a nation that is powerful and beyond number, invading “my land.” God is the owner; it is “my land” (Lev 25:23), “my vine,” “my fig tree.” With the bark peeled off, the branches are made white, exposing them to almost certain death.
1:8–10 The prophet exhorts the priests and ministers to lament and mourn in a manner befitting the gravity of the situation—“like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth.” The young woman is to trade the gaiety of the wedding feast for the sobbing cry of the funeral dirge. She is admonished to exchange the wedding dress for sackcloth made of goat’s hair or camel’s hair (cf. Matt 3:4).
They are to mourn because “the grain offering and the drink offering are cut off.” To cut off the offerings not only violated their prescribed worship, but it also threatened the source of their own livelihood (Lev 10:12–13). The primary reference here is to the sacrifices offered each morning and evening. Grain (flour), wine, and oil were the ingredients that accompanied the daily sacrifices (Exod 29:38–42).
1:11–12 The tillers of the soil and the vinedressers were hired personnel. The land of Canaan abounded with wheat (Deut 8:8) and was a prized commodity (cf. 1Kgs 5:11). Barley, of lesser value, was generally viewed as the grain of the poor. Now, however, neither of them could be purchased—at any price. Harvest was normally followed by celebrating and offering the first sheaf of grain (Exod 34:22; Lev 23:10). This year there would be no celebration because the harvest of the field had perished. The fig trees, the pomegranates, the date palms, and the apple trees are not exempt. Consequently, gladness dries up. Human joy has departed from all segments of society.
The Call to Repent in Light of the Devastation (1:13–20)
1:13 In light of the circumstances, Joel implores them to pray and repent. Following Solomon’s example (1Kgs 8:37–40), the prophet exhorts the priests and ministers, the official administrators of the religious community, to lead the way. Even their ornately embroidered robes, required when ministering to the LORD (Exod 28:3, 4, 43), were to be replaced with sackcloth (Joel 1:13).
1:14 The prophet instructs them to “consecrate a fast” (cp. 2:15). Fasting was an official act set apart for the purpose of eliciting God’s compassion and averting his judgment (cf. 2Sam 12:22; Jonah 3:7–9). They were also to call a solemn assembly (Joel 1:14). Generally called for festive purposes (Lev 23:36; Neh 8:18), solemn assemblies were convened occasionally for the purpose of mourning. During solemn assemblies, work was specifically proscribed (Deut 16:8).
In addition, the priests were to gather “all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the LORD.” The law required all males to appear before the LORD three times each year (Exod 23:17). But there is no such limitation here; all are to gather.
1:15–18 Why the urgency? Because the historically unprecedented devastation caused by the locusts is a precursor of a far greater calamity to come. The prophet uses the contemporary situation to direct their attention toward a more awesome, terrifying day—the future day of the LORD. The present was a foreshadowing of a day yet to come. “Alas” is a cry of alarm, laden with ominous overtones. Unless they repent, the LORD’s speedily approaching visitation would come as destruction from the Almighty.
Without rain, the seed is unable to germinate and thus shrivels under the clods (Joel 1:17). With prolonged disuse, the granaries fall into disrepair and are torn down. Even the animals are affected. Finding no pasture, the beasts of burden groan (cf. Rom 8:18–22; Jer 9:10) and the cattle are perplexed; even the flocks of sheep suffer. Normally, sheep can subsist on vegetation other animals find uneatable; yet even they experience the consequences of the plague.
1:19–20 Out of a concern for his people (Joel 1:8–12), out of a zeal for continuation of sacrifices and worship of the LORD (1:13–16), and out of a compassion for the animals (1:17–18), the prophet now pleads for mercy and relief. The scorching drought had dehydrated the trees as well. Stripped of their leaves (1:7), the trees were unable to absorb moisture from the early morning dew, a process both common and necessary in drier, semi-arid climates.
Mentioned with cattle and sheep, the beasts in 1:18 appear to be domesticated beasts of burden. Here, however, they are described as “beasts of the field,” possibly referring to wild beasts. As wild beasts, they would have had less dependence upon the disappearing vegetation. But, with exhausted water sources and a lack of vegetation (cf. Jer 14:5–6), even they pant for the LORD (cf. Ps 42:1). This tender scene should not be surprising, for Scripture frequently depicts God as one who lovingly cares for all his creatures (Job 38:41; Pss 104:21–30; 147:9; Jonah 4:11; Matt 6:26; 10:29; Luke 12:24).
The Impending Day of the LORD (2:1–17)
The contemporary locust plague (Joel 1:2–20) forms the backdrop for the future eschatological day of the LORD (2:18–3:21). In 2:1–17, the prophet intensifies his description of the contemporary locust invasion. He is not speaking of an immediate invasion of an enemy nation; rather, he speaks of a future day when actual armies will invade (Zech 12–14). The presence of cosmic events (Joel 2:10) and the promise of never again being made a reproach (2:19) indicate he is speaking of a future event far greater than a historical army.
Thus, 2:1–17 provides a transition from the historical plague to the eschatological day of the LORD. Because the locust plague is a harbinger of the coming day of the LORD, the prophet once again, in terms more resounding than before, urges them toward repentance (2:12–17).
The Alarm Sounds (2:1)
With increased pathos, the officials are commanded to “blow a trumpet in Zion.” Horns were used to signal attack in war (Job 39:24–25), to announce joyous occasions (1Kgs 1:34ff), and to gather troops for battle (Judg 6:34). The trumpet (shofar) described here should not be confused with another Hebrew instrument generally translated “trumpet” (hasoserah). The latter denotes a long, straight instrument made of hammered silver (Num 10:2), while the former depicts a curved ram’s horn.
The Army Invades (2:2–11)
2:2–4 Joel stresses the darkness of the day with four synonyms: darkness, gloom, clouds, and thick darkness. Darkness is most likely used here both literally (Exod 10:15; Joel 2:31; Rev 6:12–13) and figuratively (Isa 8:22; Jer 13:16). The massive horde of locusts, spreading a pall of darkness over the hills of Judah, is compared to a military assault. In Joel 2:2 he likens them to a great and powerful people. In 2:4, he compares their appearance to horses (Rev 9:7). Horses were not used in ancient times for agricultural purposes; they were weapons of war (Exod 15:1, 19; Deut 20:1; Josh 11:4).
2:5 The picturesque analogies continue. Locusts leaping on the tops of the mountains are compared to the noise of chariots. Their eating is depicted as the crackling of a fire devouring chaff. Their appearance is compared to a powerful army drawn up for battle.
2:6–8 Their method of operation leaves the citizens in a state of anguish. Panic and fear are clearly marked on their faces. Like warriors they charge, a comparison to men at the pinnacle of their physical prowess. Disciplined and organized, they march each on their way; they do not swerve from their paths. Neither their massive numbers nor their swiftness of pursuit intrude upon their singleness of focus. They do not force one another to deviate from his appointed place.
2:9–11 Amazingly, they burst through the defenses, unable to be halted. All attempts to stop the overflowing invasion fail. They just keep coming! Unimpeded, “they climb up into the houses, they enter through the windows like a thief.” With only a lattice or shutter-type window covering, flying insects had easy access into the home. These voracious eaters did not restrict their diet to the fields and trees; human provisions were also sought (cf. Exod 10:5–6).
The locust swarms picture the cataclysms of the future day of the LORD. The locusts are the LORD’s soldiers; he orchestrates everything. His camp is exceedingly great, and his word is powerful. As a result, his day is great and awesome. Thus, the prophet asks rhetorically, “who can endure it?” The implied answer is “no one;” no one is able to resist.
The Admonition to Repent (2:12–17)
Joel once again summons the people to repentance (Joel 2:12–14) and corporate fasting and weeping (2:15–17).
2:12 Since none can endure it, then let all pray that God may stay his hand of judgment. It is not too late to avert total disaster. As such, the conjunction marks a turning point in the prophet’s message. Instead of darkness and gloom, Joel introduces a glimmer of hope.
The invitation to return to the LORD is expressed as an imperative and calls for a change of direction (cf. Hos 14:2). The return is to be characterized in two ways: “inwardly (“with all your heart”) and outwardly (“with fasting, weeping, and mourning”). This command is like the instructions elsewhere to circumcise the heart (Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4), displaying a broken and contrite spirit (Ps 51:17).
2:13 Introduced by “for,” the prophet sets forth five characteristics of the LORD. He is gracious and merciful, depicting an intense love and compassion of a parent for a child. Literally “long of nostrils,” the idea of being “slow to anger” pictures one who takes long, deep breaths to forestall anger (Prov 25:15). Steadfast love refers to a covenant love.
The final characteristic, described as one who relents over disaster, is not contradictory to the LORD’s immutability (1Sam 15:29; Ps 110:4). When used of God, it is an anthropopathic expression. While from man’s finite perspective, it appears God has changed his mind, it must be understood that God’s stern warnings of judgment are not inflexible; rather, they are subordinate to the higher purpose of his people’s welfare.
2:14 “Who knows” is not an expression of doubt concerning the LORD’s character. Rather, it is a statement of uncertainty from man’s point of view. The phrase underscores God’s sovereignty. Human repentance cannot force God to show compassion. Perhaps, if the people demonstrate a genuine change of heart, the LORD may withhold further judgment and leave a blessing behind. The reference here is to a physical blessing (i.e., food, grain, fruit), as the mention of grain offerings and drink offerings mandates. They can give back only what he has first given them (1Chr 29:14; 1Cor 4:7).
2:15–17 From the oldest to the very youngest, this solemn occasion called for a full ritual purification. Generally, purification rites included bathing, washing clothing and dressing with clean apparel, and abstaining from conjugal activity (Gen 35:2; Exod 19:14–15). Corporate prayer and mourning are to include children and nursing infants. Even the bride and bridegroom are exhorted to assemble—consummation of the marriage will have to wait. The bride and groom are not in different rooms; the terms are poetical synonyms used interchangeably for the bridal bedroom. Under normal circumstances, Israelite law exempted the newly married from public duties for a period of one year (Deut 20:7; 24:5). But not so now!
The priests and ministers are told to weep and pray, with an emphasis on the location—between the vestibule and the altar of Solomon’s temple. Facing the Holy of Holies and the physical residence of the shekinah glory above the mercy seat, the priests were to call upon the LORD.
The seer’s instructions were two-fold: they were to weep and to pray. Overwhelmed by having nothing to offer, they were to pray that the LORD would spare them and that he would not make his inheritance a reproach, a by-word among the nations. Israel is frequently described as the LORD’s inheritance (Deut 4:20; 9:26, 29) and his special treasure (Exod 19:5; Deut 7:6; Ps 135:4). The word “reproach” means “to say sharp things against, to taunt.” The Hebrew particle “not” [al] suggests the idea of stopping something that was already occurring.
The Eschatological Day of the LORD (2:18–3:21)
After describing the contemporary day of the LORD brought on by the locust invasion (Joel 1:2–20) and the impending day of the LORD by means of an intensified description of the locusts’ indefensible attack (2:1–17), Joel announces a three-fold description of the future day of the LORD. It will be a day of material restoration (2:21–27), spiritual restoration (2:28–32), and national restoration (3:1–21).
2:18–19 Beginning in 2:18, Joel makes a decisive transition, devoting the remainder of this prophecy to the restoration of material, spiritual, and national prosperity. The LORD’s jealousy and pity are focused on his land and his people. He is the passionate guardian of his people and the protector of his land, eager to uphold the tenets of the covenant (Gen 13:14–18; 17:6–8). “Behold I” (Joel 2:19) brings riveting attention to the source of these good and comforting words (cf. Zech 1:13).
The basic necessities of life (grain, wine, and oil) will be restored and the reproach among the nations will be lifted. In Joel 2:17, the negative suggests that they were already suffering reproach and thus praying it would stop. The negative “no more” [lo’] in 2:19 speaks of permanent removal—never again! It indicates a finality which extends beyond Israel’s return from the Babylonian Captivity to encompass the era of future prosperity and security.
2:20 To make this happen, the LORD will remove the “northerner,” a powerful nation located north of Israel (Ezek 38-39). This northern power will be divided and driven far away—the vanguard into the eastern sea (Dead Sea) and the rear guard into the western sea (Mediterranean Sea). Since the two other Old Testament occurrences of the noun “stench” refer to corpses killed in battle (Isa 34:3; Amos 4:10), the reference here most likely refers to a military battle and not to locusts.
Material Restoration (2:21–27)
2:21–22 Joel begins his description of the remarkable reversal of circumstances with the command to stop being afraid. Instead of mourning and fear, the land is to be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has caused the conditions of Joel 1:6–7, 10–12, 19–20 to be reversed! Like the land, the situation for the animals and trees has been reversed as well.
2:23 Similarly, the people are to be glad and rejoice. The object of their rejoicing is “the LORD their God.” He is the source of this reversal, for he has given the early rain for their vindication. Some translate “early rain” [hammoreh] as “teacher,” with specific reference to the Messiah. It is thought that translating it “early rain” would be redundant since the latter part of the verse again speaks of the early rain. An early rain translation, however, seems preferable. The context speaks of temporal, material blessings—not of the Messiah. After a devastating drought, the repeated emphasis on abundant rain would be very fitting, and thus the writer makes it prominent in the text.
As evidence of the restored relationship, the LORD has “poured down for you the rain” (cf. Lev 26:3–5). Early rains fell during October–December and helped with soil preparation, seed planting, and germination. Latter rains fell primarily during March and April, providing ample moisture for the heads of grain to fill-out properly (cf. Deut 11:14; Jer 5:24) “As before,” most likely refers to previous happier conditions which are now being restored.
2:24 Joel emphasizes the amazing restoration. The verse literally reads, “And full shall be the threshing floors of grain.” A threshing floor encompassed a small, generally round, area of hard-packed ground upon which the stalks of grain were laid. The grain was extracted by oxen stomping on it while dragging a heavy piece of wood, called a sledge, over the grain.
Like the threshing floors, “the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.” A vat was a small basin chiseled into the top of a flat stone. Slightly above the vat, a winepress was hewn into the rock, with a narrow trough cut from the winepress to the vat. Grapes or olives were placed into the winepress and trodden upon, with the juice flowing downward into the vat.
2:26 The focal point is the LORD’s actions—his grace, his blessing, and his restoration. The verb “I will restore” is a legal term depicting restitution for damages (cf. Exod 22:3–5). The LORD promises full compensation to Israel for the losses suffered, even though she herself was the guilty party and therefore could make no formal claim.
2:26 Having repeatedly highlighted the abundance of the restoration, the prophet reiterates the need to “praise the name of the LORD your God.” The source of the gift is not to be forgotten (Jas 1:17; Deut 8:10). It is the LORD “who has dealt wondrously with you.”
2:27 In the process, “they will come to know that I am the LORD your God.” The experience of the locust plague, coupled with the awesome acts of deliverance and restoration, would lead them to know that the LORD was their God, and that there is none else. The phrase draws immediate attention to the Ten Commandments—“I am the LORD your God . . . You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exod 20:2–3). The text repeats the closing refrain of Joel 2:26—“my people shall never again be put to shame.” Heretofore, it has been “his people” (2:18, 19) and “his land” (2:18). Now, it is “my people”—depicting his jealous love for and relationship with Israel (cf. Hos 2:14–23).
Spiritual Restoration (2:28–32)
“And it shall come to pass afterward” forms a temporal transition from the material blessings (Joel 2:21–27) to another manifestation of the LORD’s presence—the outpouring of the Spirit. The phrase does not denote any particular eschatological timeframe. But “in those days” (2:29) and “before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (2:31) do. The unprecedented supernatural activity and the superlative, “never again” language (2:19, 26, 27) point to the second advent timeframe. In addition, Joel’s use of “your sons and daughters” (2:28) indicates he is speaking of a future generation, not the present one.
2:28–29 Twice he declares: “I will pour out My Spirit” (2:28, 29). It will be an unprecedented deluge, an effusion affirmed by other prophets (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 39:28–29; Zech 12:10). Old Testament individuals were given the Holy Spirit for the purpose of carrying out various responsibilities (e.g., Exod 31:3ff; 35:31ff). But this does not suggest that Old Testament believers were without the aid of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:8–10; 14:17). Similar to his role today, the Spirit in the Old Testament was working in many ways, including initiating and preserving faith (Pss 51:11–12; 143:10).
Joel specifies that the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh. The phrase can refer to all of humanity (e.g., Gen 6:12; Deut 5:26; Isa 49:26). Here, however, the phrase is limited to Jewish people only. The reference to your sons and your daughters points to Jewish descendants only, not to Gentiles. Also, the oracle belongs to “his land” and “his people” (Joel 2:19; cf. Ezek 39:29).
Although some point to Peter’s promise of the Holy Spirit to all who are far off (Acts 2:39) in support of a broader understanding, it should be remembered that even Peter was surprised when the Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles (Acts 10:45). There can be little doubt that the Spirit has been given to all believers of the present age (1Cor 12:13), but that is not the focus here.
Furthermore, the giving of the Spirit will be without distinction of gender, age, or social status. Unexpectedly, even the male and female servants will prophesy, dream dreams, and see visions.
2:30–31 Since no specific distinctions are made between Joel 2:29 and 2:30, it is most likely that the events of 2:20–32 will occur simultaneously or in close temporal proximity. Blood, fire, and smoke (2:30) depict the LORD’s supernatural power on earth, while the sun turning to darkness and the moon to blood (2:31) describe celestial phenomena. Just how the moon will turn to blood is not made known, but something more than an eclipse is intimated.
The text adds that these events will occur “before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” The preposition “before” is literally translated “to the face of, in the presence of” and most commonly denotes presence rather than time priority. Consequently, parallel passages must be consulted when determining the sequence of these eschatological events (Matt 24:29; Mark 13:24).
2:32 The question of “who can endure it” (2:11) is now answered. Deliverance will come to everyone who calls on the name of the LORD (Prov 18:10). In Joel 2:28, the breadth of the Spirit’s effusion is emphasized. In 2:32, a narrower, more exclusive, perspective is presented. Out of the broad categories of 2:28, there will be those who escape, namely, those who call on the name of the LORD, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls (2:32). The first and last phrases illustrate the human responsibility/divine sovereignty aspects of God’s provision of salvation (cf. Acts 13:48; Phil 1:29; John 6:44).
Mount Zion and Jerusalem (cf. Joel 3:17) are safe havens because the LORD is residing there. “The survivors whom the LORD calls” refers to those regathered to the land of Israel at the time of Messiah’s second advent. As noted earlier, the context limits this passage specifically to Israel. In Romans 10:13, however, Paul uses the phrase in a broader sense to include all people who call on the LORD, regardless of nationality.
How does Peter use Joel 2:28–32 at Pentecost?
The apostle Peter, on the day of Pentecost, quotes from Joel 2:28–32, introducing it with the phrase: “this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). This statement has troubled commentators, since very little of what is described in Joel 2 happened in Acts 2. The cosmic signs of Joel 2:30–31 are noticeably absent at Pentecost. The sun was not darkened; the moon did not turn to blood. There was no blood, fire, or columns of smoke. Joel mentions nothing of speaking in supernaturally generated foreign languages, nor does Acts give evidence of supernatural dreams. Only two points of contact are found: God’s Spirit was poured out, and those who called upon the name of the LORD were saved. Consequently, it appears best to view Joel’s prophecy as fulfilled in a preliminary fashion at the time of Pentecost, with a complete fulfillment reserved for the time surrounding the second advent.
Two factors suggest this conclusion. First, the outpouring of the Spirit and the salvation of all who call upon the name of the LORD, both of which are central to the Pentecost event, are a preview of the outpouring promised at Messiah’s second advent. Second, Peter specifically notes that the events of Acts 2 inaugurate the last days, a time which begins with the first advent of Christ (Heb 1:2) and extends out to include the second advent. Thus, while Peter does say “this is what” (Acts 2:16), indicating at least some aspect of fulfillment, the phrase does not exhaust all the events that would constitute fulfillment. That which was inaugurated at Pentecost will be fully realized in the eschatological day of the LORD.
National Restoration (3:1–21)
The fortunes of Israel are still in view, but now it is the unrighteous nations who are brought to the fore (Joel 3:1–16). The reiteration of the time indicators, “in those days and at that time,” emphasizes the closeness with the events described from 2:18 onward.
3:1 Restoring the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem entails the worldwide summons of the nations. Like a subpoena, the LORD will gather all the nations and bring them to the Valley of Jehoshaphat (3:2) to answer for their offenses against his people (Ezek 38–39; Zeph 3:8; Zech 12:3, 9; 14:2, 14). This valley, so named because it is the place where “the LORD judges,” is also called the “valley of decision” (Joel 3:14). Although its location is unknown, other prophets indicate this battle will occur near Jerusalem (Ezek 38–39; Dan 11:45; Zech 12:1ff; 14:10).
3:2 “I will enter into judgment with them there” introduces the legal aspect of this event. God as judge will issue subpoenas and bring them into his courtroom in the Valley of Judgment on behalf of his people and his heritage. The Abrahamic covenant emphatically assures blessing to those who bless Abraham and his posterity, but it also emphatically promises annihilation to those who speak lightly of her (Gen 12:3). To touch his people is to touch the apple of his eye (Zech 2:8; cf. Ps 105:15).
The first charge is listed: they have scattered them among the nations. The exact historical event or timeframe in view here is uncertain. The fact that all nations are charged for this crime suggests that all enemies of his people throughout history are in view.
3:3 They have divided up my land (3:3) is the second charge. Though Israel had been exiled as a result of her disobedience to the LORD (Amos 7:17; 2Chr 36:20–21), he had not relinquished his claim to the land (2:18).
The third charge is that they have sold Israel into slavery. Treated as a commodity in ancient times, captives were often sold to foreigners (Nah 3:10; Gen 37:36). Further insult was added by the minuscule price with which they were valued, making a mockery of them and their God by trading them for monetary gain and sexual gratification.
3:4 Tyre and Sidon and the regions of Philistia are singled out for special attention. Phoenicia was an early ally of Israel (1Kgs 7:13f; 11:1). But in later years, Phoenicia joined with Philistia to harass Israel (2Chr 21:16–17; Amos 1:6, 9).
The historical fulfillment of 3:4–8 is uncertain. Some suggest it points to the raid of King Jehoram’s palace (2Chr 21:16–17), while others believe it refers to the invasion of Alexander the Great (333 BC). A third possibility places its fulfillment during the time of the Maccabees, when the Phoenician and Philistine influence was waning.
Taking the role of the plaintiff, the LORD himself presents the opening arguments in a series of rhetorical questions. “What are you to me? Are you paying me back for something?” In essence, “Is there any injustice which I have done to you through Israel that you should avenge with evil?” The obvious answer is, “No!” On the contrary, it is they who deserve retribution, and thus he promises, “I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily.”
3:5–6 Phoenicia’s worldwide commerce included slave trading (Amos 1:9; 1Macc 3:4, 41; 2Macc 7:11). Greece apparently became a central clearinghouse for the slave trade: “So famous did the island of Delos become as a slave mart, that sometimes 10,000 were bought and sold in a single day.”1
3:7–8 More than monetary gain, their motive included removing them far from their own border. Consequently, the LORD will stir up Israel to be the avengers of his wrath (cf. Zech 12:8; Isa 11:12–14). Once delivered into the hands of their former slaves, they will be sold to the Sabeans, to a nation far away (Jer 6:20). The Sabeans came from southern Arabia, an area populated by the descendants of Abraham’s marriage with Keturah (Gen 25:3; cf. Gen 10:28) and well-known for its wealth (1Kgs 10:2, 10; Ezek 27:22).
3:9 The courtroom scene of 3:1–3 is resumed. With the sound of the gavel, the Judge now orders his agents to hurriedly gather the defendants and ready the scene of the execution. The battle, centered in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (3:12), is no mere skirmish. The day of the battle of Armageddon (cp. Isa 24:21–23; Mic 4:11–13; Zech 12; 14; Rev 16:14–16; 19:17–21) has now arrived!
The nations are to “consecrate for war,” to prepare for battle by performing their religious rituals (cf. 1Kgs 18:21–29). The LORD is prompting the heathen nations to stir up their mighty men. As if asleep, the warriors are to awaken from the lethargy of peace and prosperity (cp. Zech 1:11–12).
3:10 The massive nature of this battle demands every available instrument be transformed into weaponry (cf. Jer 46:3–4; 51:11), and every person, even the weak, be made available to fight. So great is the eagerness to fight against the LORD and his people that even the weak volunteer for active duty (cf. Deut 20:5–9; Judg 7:3). When the LORD empowers his people, then even the feeble will be truly mighty (Zech 12:8; Isa 60:22).
3:11 The anticipation of the LORD’s vindication of his people compels Joel to exclaim, “Bring down your warriors, O LORD!” The nations have their mighty men (Joel 3:9) and warriors (3:10), but they cannot compare with the LORD’s angelic agents.
3:12 Though compelled, yet the nations stir themselves up to come of their own volition to the Valley of Jehoshaphat (see 3:2). Earlier, the LORD was portrayed as the prosecutor; now he is the Judge. In 3:2ff, he stands to indict the defendants; here he sits to judge all the surrounding nations. Judges, as here, would sit to deliberate and render a verdict (e.g., Isa 28:6; Ps 9:4; Matt 25:31–46). Standing to the right of the accused was the normal position taken by the plaintiff or prosecutor (cf. Zech 3:1; Ps 109:6). The warriors (3:11) are commanded to put in the sickle, because the harvest is ripe, and the winepress is full. As the context signifies, judgment is meted out to all nations universally (Joel 3:2, 11), not just those surrounding Israel.
3:13 In Isaiah 63:1ff, the LORD himself is treading the winepress. In Micah 4:13, his people are doing the harvesting. In Zechariah 14:5, the activity is attributed to his heavenly agents. Although Joel 3:13 does not specify, 3:11c suggests the mighty ones are given these responsibilities. Of course, his people may assist, being empowered by him (Isa 11:13–14; Zech 12:8; 14:15).
3:14 The prophet Joel is amazed; “multitudes, multitudes” have gathered! The repetition and plural forms elevate the sense of awe. The valley of decision defines the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:2) as the place where the LORD will execute his irrevocable decision.
3:15–16 The LORD roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem, causing the heavens and the earth to tremble with thunder and earthquakes (cf. Zech 14:4; Isa 29:6–8; Rev 16:16–18). The nations, now gathered in the valley of decision, had roared in triumphal celebration against the LORD and his anointed (Ps 74:4). Though sent by God to punish his people, they had exceeded their bounds, going beyond the orders of the Commander (Zech 1:15). In response, the LORD now roars in judgment (Jer 25:30–33; cf. Hos 11:10–11).
3:16 The cosmic upheaval generates fear and panic among the nations (cf. Rev 6:12–17). But for the righteous remnant of his people (Joel 3:16b–21), he is a refuge and stronghold. The judgment of the unrighteous and the protection of the righteous by the LORD become visible proofs that he is the LORD who dwells in Zion (3:17). As recipients of his punishment and judgment, the nations will come to know whom the LORD truly is (Ezek 39:6–7; 36:36–38).
3:17 As a result of the LORD’s actions and physical presence, Jerusalem shall be holy. It will be set apart to him (cf. Isa 52:1; Ezek 39:6–7; Nah 1:15; Zech 14:21) and strangers shall never again pass through it. Moral and religious defilement will be eradicated.
3:18 “In that day” reiterates the timeframe and nature of the eschatological day of the LORD. Not only will it be known as a time of judgment on the nations (Joel 3:1–16); it will also include unprecedented blessings from the throne of God (Isa 4:2). In contrast to the desolation of Egypt and Edom (Joel 3:19), the land of Israel will enjoy abundant and fruitful harvests under the personal presence and rulership of the LORD.
Mountains, not known for having productive soil, are described as being exceptionally fertile; they “shall drip sweet wine.” Reflecting on their exodus from Egypt, when Canaan was depicted as a land flowing with milk and honey (Exod 3:8, 17; 13:5; Num 13:27), Joel exclaims that the hills will flow with milk. The hillside grazing lands will provide abundant nourishment for dairy cows and goats, dispensing a flow (figuratively) of uninterrupted milk.
This profusion of blessing is made possible in part by abundant rains (cf. Joel 2:23). All the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water, being fed by a fountain from the house of the LORD. As in the paradise of Eden (Gen 2:10), a river will flow out of Jerusalem and the temple (cf. Zech 14:8; Ezek 47:1–12) to water the valley of Shittim.
Shittim, located to the north of the Dead Sea (Num 25:1; Josh 2:1; 3:1), was an area known for shittim (or acacia) trees. As the place where Israel experienced spiritual failure and God’s judgment (Num 25:1), and as the name of the wood from which the tabernacle furniture was constructed (Exod 25–30), it serves as a symbol of renewed spiritual vitality.
3:19–21 As perpetual antagonists, Egypt and Edom will become a desolate wilderness (Isa 19:5ff; Ezek 29:9; 32:15; Jer 49:7ff). Though included in the group of nations gathered in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (cf. Joel 3:2, 11, 12), Egypt and Edom are singled out as representatives of Israel’s enemies “because they have shed innocent blood in their land.” Although the historical occasion referenced here is uncertain, one thing is certain: from the time of the Exodus onward, Egypt and Edom inflicted numerous wounds and casualties on Israel for which they are now held accountable.
Allen, Leslie C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976.
Brown, Colin. “Day of the LORD (Yahweh).” ZPEB 2 (1978): 46–47.
Busenitz, Irvin A. Commentary on Joel and Obadiah. Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2003.
Cannon, W. W. “The Day of the LORD in Joel.” The Church Quarterly Review 103 (1927): 32–63.
Chisholm, Robert B. Interpreting the Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.
Finley, Thomas J. Joel, Amos, Obadiah. WEC. Chicago: Moody, 1990.
Gianotti. C. “The Meaning of the Divine Name YHWH.” BS 142 (1985): 45–48.
Henderson, Ebenezer. The Twelve Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint 1980.
Hengstenberg, E. W. Christology of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel, reprint 1973.
Henry, Carl F. H. God, Revelation, and Authority. Waco, TX: Word, 1976.
Kaiser, Walter C. The Messiah in the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.
Kaiser, Walter C. Toward an Old Testament Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.
Kaiser, Walter C. “The Promise of God and the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit: Joel 2:28–32 and Acts 2:16–21.” Living and Active Word of God: Studies in Honor of Samuel Schultz, ed. by M. Inch and R. Youngblood. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1983.
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Myers, Jacob M. “Some Considerations Bearing on the Date of Joel.” ZAW 74 (1962): 177–95.
Stuart, Douglas. Hosea—Jonah. WBC. Waco, TX: Word, 1987.
Tomasino, Anthony. “‘olam.” NIDOTTE 3 (1997): 245–351.
Treves, Marco. “The Date of Joel.” VT 7 (1957): 149–56.
VanGemeren, Willem A. Interpreting the Prophetic Word. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.
Von Rad, Gerhard. “Origin of the Concept of the Day of Yahweh.” JSS 4 (1959): 97–108.
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Endnotes & Permissions
1. Henderson, 119.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This commentary is adapted with permission from Irvin A. Busenitz, Commentary on Joel and Obadiah (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publishing), 2003.
1:1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel:
An Invasion of Locusts
2 Hear this, you elders;
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your fathers?
3 Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children to another generation.
4 What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten.
5 Awake, you drunkards, and weep,
and wail, all you drinkers of wine,
because of the sweet wine,
for it is cut off from your mouth.
6 For a nation has come up against my land,
powerful and beyond number;
its teeth are lions’ teeth,
and it has the fangs of a lioness.
7 It has laid waste my vine
and splintered my fig tree;
it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down;
their branches are made white.
8 Lament like a virgin1 wearing sackcloth
for the bridegroom of her youth.
9 The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off
from the house of the LORD.
The priests mourn,
the ministers of the LORD.
10 The fields are destroyed,
the ground mourns,
because the grain is destroyed,
the wine dries up,
the oil languishes.
11 Be ashamed,2 O tillers of the soil;
wail, O vinedressers,
for the wheat and the barley,
because the harvest of the field has perished.
12 The vine dries up;
the fig tree languishes.
Pomegranate, palm, and apple,
all the trees of the field are dried up,
and gladness dries up
from the children of man.
A Call to Repentance
13 Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests;
wail, O ministers of the altar.
Go in, pass the night in sackcloth,
O ministers of my God!
Because grain offering and drink offering
are withheld from the house of your God.
14 Consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the LORD your God,
and cry out to the LORD.
15 Alas for the day!
For the day of the LORD is near,
and as destruction from the Almighty3 it comes.
16 Is not the food cut off
before our eyes,
joy and gladness
from the house of our God?
17 The seed shrivels under the clods;4
the storehouses are desolate;
the granaries are torn down
because the grain has dried up.
18 How the beasts groan!
The herds of cattle are perplexed
because there is no pasture for them;
even the flocks of sheep suffer.5
19 To you, O LORD, I call.
For fire has devoured
the pastures of the wilderness,
and flame has burned
all the trees of the field.
20 Even the beasts of the field pant for you
because the water brooks are dried up,
and fire has devoured
the pastures of the wilderness.