October 2, 2015.
Daily Reading: Joel 1-3.
Background: Joel is the second in succession of the twelve minor prophets in the Hebrew scriptures. Fairly little is known about Joel, as all we are given in the book is his name and who he is the son of. There are different views among scholars about the time of Joel’s ministry. Some placing him as one of the earliest writing prophets and some placing him as one of the last writing prophets, each based on different arguments utilizing linguistic styles and illusions to other prophets words, or vice-versa. One leading view places Joel living in Judah during the time of Israel’s only reigning queen, who was on the throne until her son Joash was old enough to take over the throne (see II Kings 11-12), because of his deep knowledge about temple worship and the lack of reference to an official king. This puts the ministry of Joel ca. 835, though again this is not certain. The message of Joel is one of judgement and future redemption, as Joel’s words are referenced in Acts 2:17-21 when in conjunction with the outpouring of the spirit. Though Joel is only three chapters it plays an important role in theology amongst the first century Christians.
Concepts and Connections.
Teachings from a Locust Plague: Joel opens his oracle by using an analogy of the plague of locust that had come upon the land recently. Apparently the locust plague was severe with different swarms of locust coming in and stripping the crops bare, each swarm taking what was left over of the last one. Note that this plague had physically left the land dry and bare so that grain offerings and wheat offerings could be not offered in the house of the Lord, which Joel will later use to symbolize the spiritual dryness that the children of Israel will have (or already are having) when they turn to other gods and forsake the Lord. Joel points to this plague to draw the people’s attention to the judgement of the Lord, noting the severity of His punishment when He brings a nation against them to take the people into captivity because of their iniquity (v. 6). Note that it is unclear which nation is referred to in this verse, as we don’t know if Joel was prophesying primarily to Israel or Judah. Joel emphasizes the severity of the plague and laments over the scarcity it has caused and calls his audience to do the same. After this lament, there is a call to repentance to the priests that they might put on sackcloth and ashes and call a solemn assembly of the children of Israel that they might return to the Lord. Note that this is a symbol of the coming destruction telling them what they will need to do or what they should do when the Lord does bring the nation against them and His wrath is poured out on them because of their iniquity. If Joel is indeed one of the earliest writing prophets then this is one of the first references to the “day of the Lord” which symbolizes a time of the Lord’s punishment and refinement of His people. This phrase is sometimes used to indicate a time of the end prophecy in other context. When Joel looks out and sees the devastation of the land he turns and cries out to the Lord in this time of distress.
A Warning and Redemption: Joel opens this oracle, which is probably a continuation of the last chapter with a warning shout to Israel about the great nation that the Lord is bringing against them because of their sin. He compares the destruction of this nation to that of the plague of locust that have emptied the land and left it bare. Even with the coming destruction, the Lord pleads with the priests, to come back and cry out to Him, that perhaps He would relent of the disaster that He was bringing upon them, for the Lord is a merciful God and Joel knew that He answered because of repentance. This is a characteristic of God that we see in the Old testament as well as the New testament. It is important to see here that the Lord calls His people to rend their hearts and not their garments showing that He wants their hearts and not solely the rituals that they go through. The people are again called to call a solemn assembly and fast before the Lord, returning to Him that He might once again pour His blessings on the land when His people were back in the covenant relationship with Him. Note that the Lord wants His people to come back to Him, He wants to relent of the disaster He is bringing upon them, and He wants to show among the nations that He is with His people. The Lord has redemption in mind. The day of the Lord would be frightening and terrible for the people, but the purpose would be to refine His people and it would ultimately result in the outpouring of His spirit among all flesh, offering redemption to the whole world. Joel’s prophecy here is cited by Peter in Acts 2:17-21 as he preaches the gospel message for the first time after having received miraculous power from the Holy Spirit. His words are also cited by Paul in Romans 10:13.
Judgement of the Nations and Avenging of Israel: In this last section of Joel’s oracle we find the nations surrounding Israel that have brought destruction upon them are called into judgement of the Lord. They are called into the valley of Jehoshaphat where they would stand before the Lord and be judged for their works and their oppression of the Lord’s people. The Lord would restore the fortunes of Judah and avenge His people. The nations surrounding Judah are warned to prepare for battle, for the Lord is coming against them when He restores the fortunes of His people. There are many phrases in this last section that are echoed in other prophesies, both in the Old testament and in the New (see Isaiah 2:4, 63: 2-3, Revelation 14: 20). Joel leaves us with a beautiful picture of the full avenging and redemption of His people, once again giving them blessing and glory and showing the nations that He is the Lord, their God. Then all men will know the Lord by His wondrous works.
Tomorrow’s Reading: John 13-15.
Call on the name of the Lord.