Who Was Joel?
Joel is fairly well known from the Apostle Peters quotation in Acts 2:46, though not much else is known of him. His father, Pethuel, is mentioned, but we know nothing of him, and Joel 1:1 is the only place "Pethuel" (which means "the openheartedness or sincerity of God") is found in Scripture. By giving the name of his father, the prophet Joel distinguishes himself from all other men who share his name.
Like Obadiah, Joels name is shared by12 men in Scripture:
Interestingly, Joel is a common name among priestly lines, and many scholars assume Joel was probably a priest: there are many references to the priesthood in the book, and no king is mentioned.
The Background for Joel
A Glimmer of Hope in a Dark Time
Joel prophesied during the reign of Joash in Judah. Joash took the throne 10 to 15 years after Jehoshaphat, about 6 years after Jehoram (see the notes on Obadiah).
This was a particularly dreadful period in Judahs history. Jehoram didnt follow the Lord as his father Jehoshaphat did, and he died under Gods curse "in great pain" (2 Chron. 21:19). Jehorams son, Ahaziah, succeeded his father and met with strong opposition from the Lord: he was wounded in battle, fled to Samaria from those attacking his household, and was found and killed (2 Chron. 22:7-9).
Ahaziah had followed the wicked advice of his mother, Athaliah (2 Chron. 22:3), who was quite ambitious for her own cause. When Ahaziah was killed, she took the throne and tried to kill all of her own grandsons, Ahaziahs sons. All died but Joash, who was hidden from his grandmother (2 Chron. 22:10-12). Joash remained hidden in the temple for about 7 years under the care of Jehoida, the high priest. Elisha was still prophesying at this time.
When Joash became king, he followed Jehoidas counsel and began a short period of reform, including repairs to the temple. When Jehoida died, however, other counselors persuaded Joash to abandon his temple project (2 Chron. 24:15-17). Immediately, Judah fell into idolatry (2 Chron 24:18).
God sent prophets to Judah, including Jehoidas son, Zechariah, to warn of impending danger if they didnt repent. The people of Judah, however, (probably the royal court) stoned Zechariah to death (2 Chron. 24:19-21). In return, a small Syrian army invaded Judah and defeated their much larger army soundly. Joash became quite ill and was assassinated as retribution for Zechariahs murder (2 Chron. 24:23-25).
Sometime during the decline and fall of Joashs reign, either before or after the Syrians crushed them, God sent the locust plague described by Joel. The image of locusts as an army was particularly striking to those in Judah. From Joels description of the future invading army, the small Syrian army had probably already moved on. If such a small army could devastate Judahs best defenses, and this measureless swarm of locusts denude the land so cleanly, what would become of them if the "Day of the Lord" should come with His innumerable host?
With Joash there was a glimmer of hope for renewal and revival, but there was no heart in the efforts of reform.
The Levitical Sacrificial System
Of particular interest in Joel, especially with his focus on priestly matters, is his call to come before the Lord. His invitation in chapter 2 is phrased such that one thinks of sacrifices in the temple. An effect of the locust plague, however, was the removal of all legally acceptable sacrifices. There was no heart in the reform of Joash, and God did not want the inhabitants of Judah merely to begin the temple repairs once more and bring monotonous sacrifices. Below is a list of acceptable sacrifices1 for various needs and occasions.
What has the locust plague destroyed?
Joel 1:9, 10
With what can the people approach the Lord?
Outline of Joel
Title: Responding to Discipline
Theme: What does God want when your soul is made a desert?
1. When Your Soul is Made a Desert (1:1-20)
2. When is it Too Late? (2:1-17)
3. When the Desert Blooms (2:18-27)
4. Milk and Honey (2:28-3:21)
The Message of Joel
Joel asks four questions* which summarize his message2:
Has anything like this happened in your days or in your fathers days? (1:2)
Has not food been cut off before our eyes, gladness and joy from the house of our God? (1:16)
The day of the Lord is indeed great and very awesome, and who can endure it? (2:11)
Who knows whether He will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him, even a grain offering and a libation for the Lord your God? (2:14)
Taken together these questions can be put in this way: We are facing an unprecedented disaster that has touched not only our physical condition, but our deepest inward condition. This situation, however, is nothing compared to whats coming if we dont turn now and choose life. We have no guarantee that God will turn this curse into blessing, but that doesnt matter; we must respond with repentance even if disaster still follows.
* Two other questions are asked in Joel: one is a question Joel assumes the priests will ask when or if they repent and call out to God (2:17); the second is Gods address to the nations asking rhetorically if they can stand against Him (3:4).
A Matter of the Heart
Joel points to Judahs heart early in his message, honestly telling them that they were void of gladness and joy. They were also void of sincerity in worship and trusted their ritual to appease the God of Israel. Joel points out that the sacrifices which demonstrate devotion to God are completely cut off. If they want to respond to Gods awesome invitation, they were going to have to come with broken hearts before Him, and broken hearts only. Being on the side of Gods blessing rather than His wrath is a matter of the heart, not mere performance.
When The Desert Blooms
Joels beautiful message of Gods promise to restore His people is full of rich promises. Swindoll calls Joel 2:18-27 "one of the greatest promises of hope in all the Old Testament"3.
We like to view Joel 2:18-27 as a particularly powerful statement of promises given by God of blessings to come and exchanges He will make with them. The blessings will follow their repentance, as will the exchanges (see Joel 2:17).
Gods response to His people at their repentance is to provide the full, perfect remedy for their fatal condition. For their condition of defilement, God will remove that which defiles them. For their condition of destruction, God will bring full restoration. As proof of Gods sincerity, Joel points to the literal, life-giving rain as a metaphor of God pouring out His rich blessings (2:23).
1 Adapted from The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, edited by John Walvoord and Roy Zuck (Victor Books: 1985).
2Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995.
3Charles Swindoll, Gods Masterwork: A Concerto in Sixty-Six Movements. Volume 3: Hosea through Malachi. Insight for Living, 1997.