Background

“The LORD (Yahweh) is God” is the meaning of Joel’s name, which serves as the book’s title. He was the son or descendent of Pethuel (Jl 1:1), and that is all that is revealed about the man in Scripture. There are about a dozen other men in the Old Testament who also have the name Joel. Because of repeated references to people and places in Judah and Jerusalem (see Joel 1:9,13; 2:32, 2:1,32; 3:1,6,8,16ff) it seems most likely that he lived and worked in that region.1The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.

See also the Chronology of the Prophets and the Chronology of Latter Prophets and Intertestamental Period.

Authorship

All attempts to ascertain precisely when Joel lived and wrote the book have been frustrated for lack of enough evidence. It appears as though the limited evidence we have supports the idea that Joel wrote his book late in the ninth century (approximately 830-800 BC), during the reign of Joash. The placement of Joel in the Hebrew Bible with Hosea and Amos argues for such an early pre-exilic time. The mention of Philistines, Phoenicians, Egypt, and Edom (Jl 3:4, 3:19) as enemies of Judah fits that time period, while there is no mention of the Syrians, Assyrians, or Babylonians. The absence of any reference to the activities or influence of the king may reflect the fact that Joash became king when only seven years old (see 2 Kings 11). Linguistically, the style of Joel is different from that of the post-exilic prophets, and there are unmistakable literary parallels with other pre-exilic prophets like Micah, Zephaniah, and especially Amos (although it is possible Joel could have come later and borrowed phrases from them, analysis of contexts supports the idea that Joel uses the phrases first).

Those who prefer to place the writing of Joel after the exile admit that Joel did use phrases and a literary style of early pre-exile prophets. But they see Joel 3:1-2 as clear evidence of the exile that has already taken place (rather than as a prophecy similar to Deuteronomy 28). They also cite the absence of any reference to the Northern Kingdom, the king, or the prevalence of high places as evidence of a later writing period. However, Joel may simply have been called to serve the Southern Kingdom and, additionally, the use of “Israel” in Joel 2:27, 3:2,16 may well include all twelve tribes (both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms). The elders and priests may have been more influential than young King Joash and for this reason are cited in the book (Jl 1:2, 13-14). There is no particular reason why Joel should have mentioned the high places even if they existed in his day. (Nahum and Zephaniah do not mention them either, but both are acknowledged to be pre-exilic prophets.)

The mention of the Greeks (Jl 3:6) is sometimes cited as evidence of late authorship, but the mention of them proves little. Hellenistic peoples were known to Israel in the ninth century BC, were actively trading with Phoenicians, and are mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions also in the eighth century BC. Besides, this reference in Joel mentions them as remote or distant people, a phrase more fitting for an early date than a late date.

Purpose for Writing

The content of the book is a clear preaching of law and gospel, with a powerful call to repentance and equally powerful promise of restoration and renewal. “The Day of the Lord” is his central reference, a day of both bad and good news. Joel’s description of the locust plague is so graphic and detailed that most conclude he is describing an event that has already taken place. The plague serves as a type or picture of the Day of the Lord that is still to come (Judgment Day). The call to repentance in view of the approaching Day of the Lord is memorable also because Joel sees that Day as one that spells the downfall of impenitent Israel as well as of enemy nations. But the Day of the Lord also brings prosperity for the faithful.

The promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Messianic era (Jl 2:28-32; Ac 2:16-21) is perhaps the best known section because of its link to the Day of Pentecost. It serves to reinforce the truth that deliverance and blessings are linked to coming of the Day of the Lord just as surely as judgment and destruction are.

Christ Connection

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he promised to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples and they began to prophesy and preach in many different languages (Ac 2:1-13). The apostle Peter explained to the crowd that they were witnessing the fulfillment of not just Jesus’ promise but also Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2:28-32 (see Acts 2:14-21).

Joel also pictures the Last Day as a day of great judgment upon all the wicked people of the earth (e.g., Jl 1:15; 3:2,12-16). Thanks to Christ’s work, all of the wicked things we have done have been forgiven, and now God calls us to repentance (Jl 2:12-14,32). Those who believe in him have nothing to fear on the day of judgment but instead can rejoice (Jl 2:23; 3:17-21).

Notable Passages

  • Joel 1:15
  • Joel 2:1-2,11
  • Joel 2:12-14
  • Joel 2:23,27
  • Joel 2:28-32
  • Joel 3:1-2
  • Joel 3:14-16

Outline

A simple two-part outline may be used, as this first sample shows:

  1. The Locusts, a Foretaste of the Day of the Lord (Jl 1:1-2:27)
  2. Assurance and Salvation , also on the Day of the Lord (Jl 2:28-3:20)

Some see chapter two as an advancement of thought from chapter one, and this kind of outline shows that idea:

  1. The Current Crisis and call to lament & repent (Jl 1:1-20)
  2. The Coming Escalation and call to repent lest things get worse (Jl 2:1-27)
  3. The Future Day of the Lord, bestowing judgment and prosperity (Jl 2:28-3:20)2Hill, Andrew E. and Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. 475-76.

A slight adjustment to the above outline would be:

The Day of the Lord is Coming

  1. The Lord’s Day of Wrath (Jl 1:1-2:17)
    • In the locust plague, (Jl 1:1-12)
      • Repent (Jl 1:13-20)
    • In the final judgment (Jl 2:1-11)
      • Repent (Jl 2:12-17)
  2. The Lord’s Day of Salvation (Jl 2:18-3:20)
    • For the locust plague (Jl 2:18-27)
    • For the final judgment (Jl 2:28-3:20)

References   [ + ]

1. The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.
2. Hill, Andrew E. and Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. 475-76.