The Book of Joel was written by the prophet Joel, Acts 1:16-17 / Acts 2:39 whose father’s name was Pethuel, Joel 1:1. Although there are twelve other men with the same name mentioned in the Bible, we can’t identify them with the author of this book.
In fact, all we know about Joel is what’s found within the book itself. We do know that His name means, ‘The Lord is God’, and he was a very powerful prophet who boldly spoke the word of God. He was from Judah and was addressing the nation of Judah, especially southern Judah.
The date of the book is pretty much uncertain, some place it as written around 900 B.C., some place it around 400 B.C. which means they believe it was written after the exile, and still others date it around 830 B.C. It was probably written around the same time as Obadiah, Elijah and Elisha and around the time of King Joash.
Basically, God through His prophet Joel, warns the people of Judah, that they need to repent but if they don’t repent of their sins, then judgment would come, and they would be punished severely.
The book was written in response to a devastating event which totally destroyed the land, a plague of locusts had devoured everything in the land, of which we have no record and then a drought followed, it’s during this drought which Joel writes his prophecy because at this time the whole land, all the animals and everyone living in it were suffering greatly, Joel 1:9.
Joel really wanted the people to understand that the locust plague and drought were God’s doing in order to bring about their repentance. If they didn’t repent, then even more destruction would come upon them. The good news is that within all the doom and gloom there was hope for the future, Joel 2:28-32.
It’s God who’s speaking through His prophet Joel and his first word is the word, ‘hear’. Oh, how people need to listen to God, even today! When God speaks everyone should be silent and listen to what He has to say, it’s such a shame that there are so many people who want to speak on ‘God’s behalf’ but they themselves, never listen to what He actually says.
Hence why we have so many different religious groups in the world today and so many fragments of Christianity.
Joel first calls on the elders and then all who live in the land to hear and listen to what God is about to say to them and what was God going to say to them?
Something so bad was going to happen which would be spoken of for five generations. It wasn’t going to happen in their generation but in the generations to come, Exodus 10:2. Like most of the Old Testament prophets, I doubt very much if Joel completely understood what was going to happen, 1 Peter 1:10-12.
Judgment is coming to Judah, the locust plague which happened in the past is now going to be used by Joel to speak of an army sent from God in the future. The locust plague was going to be devastating, it was going to be so big that they would speak about it for five generations to come, Isaiah 45:7 / Amos 3:6.
Locusts are around 2 ½ inches long and can fly up to 25 mph. It’s reported that one locust can eat the leaves on a tree in 15 minutes. The female of the species is more dangerous than the male.
Back in 1915, there was a reported locust plague, they came from the Tarsus Mountains in the north through to Egypt in the south. Millions were captured and buried alive and it took two months for all the trees to be destroyed down to the bark.
1. The noise of their wings.
2. There were so many of them it blocked out the sun.
3. Their excrement fell like rain and was very acidic.
1. Yalek, meaning hedge eater.
2. Gazem, meaning creeping locusts.
3. Chasil, meaning devourer.
4. Arbeh, meaning locust.
Because there are four kinds of locusts, this means it covers everything, this was total devastation, this is the picture it gives, this is what happened in the past. Moses and Solomon had prophesied this kind of judgement before, Deuteronomy 28:38-39 / 1 Kings 8:37, but even then, God’s people didn’t recognise that God was behind it.
The wine and fig trees were very important to their economy, but these too were totally destroyed. Notice that Joel describes the locust plague as a ‘nation’, this was going to be a strong nation which would come and ultimately devastate the whole land, Proverbs 30:25-27.
In the custom of the Jews, if a woman was engaged to a man, the man automatically became known as her husband, being engaged was as good as being married in Jewish law, Deuteronomy 22:23-24 / Matthew 1:19.
Sackcloth is a very coarse, rough fabric woven from flax or hemp and is usually worn as a sign of mourning. Notice that the grain, oil and crops are also affected, this basically means that their religion is going to be affected, Exodus 29:38.
If the farmers and vine-dressers couldn’t produce anything, there would be nothing to sacrifice and so the priests would end up going hungry. Cereal crops and fruit trees signify that their day-to-day living is going to be affected too.
Here we see Joel pleading for the people to cry out to the Lord, we see that he begins by telling the priests that they should lead this plea by introducing a fast and bring everyone together.
This is a call for repentance and Joel is saying, ‘they know this has happened in the past, they know what it can do’ and so now he has set them up and is going to tell them what all of this means. Joel 2-3 is basically a commentary of Joel 1.
This is a call by Joel to the people and he tells them to repent and pray from their hearts. And notice he starts with the ‘priests’ which means this was to start from the top to the bottom, God starts with the people who should know better, James 3:1.
The priests had to put on sackcloth which is a sign of mourning and they are told to repent because this thing that was coming isn’t very far away. ‘The day of the Lord is near’, this was to be a day of destruction and judgement and if the people didn’t repent then, all would suffer the consequences.
Joel asks a series of questions to which the answer is ‘yes’ to all of them. God never does something without prior warning and He never punishes people without letting them know why. Every animal, everyone and even the land was suffering, and so Joel cries out to the Lord for some kind of break from it all.
The fire had destroyed the land and the trees and so in a way God had brought them to their knees.
The phrase ‘The day of the Lord’ is found five times throughout the Book of Joel, Joel 1:15 / Joel 2:1 / Joel 2:11 / Joel 2:31 / Joel 3:14.
In the Old Testament, it’s used to describe when God vents His anger, Isaiah 13:9 / Zephaniah 2:2-3 and the day when He stands against His enemies, Ezekiel 13:5. Notice that Joel says that the day is ‘near’, other prophets used this same phrase, Isaiah 13:6 / Ezekiel 30:3 / Obadiah 1:15 / Zephaniah 1:7 / Zephaniah 1:14.
In the New Testament that day is called, ‘the Day of the Lord’, 1 Thessalonians 5:2 / 2 Thessalonians 2:2 / 2 Peter 3:10. This is the Day when the Lord will return for the final time with His saints and His angels, this is the Day when He will judge the nations, 1 Thessalonians 5:2 / 1 Thessalonians 5:4 / 2 Peter 3:10 and rule over them, Matthew 25:31ff / Revelation 19:11ff.
We often wonder what it will take to bring people to their knees, never mind a nation, for Judah it was going to take a plague of locusts and a drought to bring them to repentance.
The locust plague had already happened and now they’re in the midst of a drought, Joel uses the past plague and the current drought as lessons to let them know that God is trying to get their attention and they need to repent of their disobedience.
We see many people finally turning to the Lord when life gets tough, usually through bad decisions or difficult circumstances. The problem comes when we forget our past and what the Lord has done for us.
Maybe it’s not a bad thing to speak about how God finally brought us to our knees to our children and grandchildren, maybe through our past experiences we can help them to recognise when God is trying to get their attention, maybe we can teach them to learn from our past mistakes, Romans 15:4 / 1 Corinthians 10:11-12.