Joel — God’s Present and Future Judgment

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Known only from this book that bears his name, the prophet “Joel the son of Pethuel” is mentioned nowhere else in scripture. Neither is the plague of locusts he described mentioned in any of the historical books of the Old Testament. Therefore, it is difficult to pinpoint the proper time period when this document was written.

Due to frequent references to Zion, the temple and the priesthood, many scholars believe the prophet lived in or near Jerusalem, and that he may even have been a priest. Because the priesthood is emphasized, but no king is named, some experts suggest the book was written during the boy-king Joash’s early years. Others say Joel wrote much later, after some of the leading men of Judah were deported to Babylon. Yet still more assert the style is not compatible with that period. The content of this prophecy is also found in the book of Amos, prompting some experts to believe that Joel borrowed from him, while others say the opposite is true.

According to Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, “The book of Joel is often considered to be the most polished literary work among the prophetic writings” [p. 248]. Capitalizing on the contemporary crisis of a devastating swarm of locusts, the prophet foretold an even more awesome time of judgment in the future. He urged his readers to repent and trust in YHWH, so that they would experience blessing and restoration, instead.

Joel Chapter 1
In poetic style, “Joel the son of Pethuel” told the elders of Judah to pay attention to his message from YHWH (Joel 1:1-2). He asked whether they or their parents had ever seen anything like the plague they were suffering; it was surely the stuff of legends to be passed down to future generations (vv. 2-3)!

Describing four stages or kinds of insects, the prophet declared the utter devastation left after the swarms consumed every bit of vegetation:

What the chewing locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten;
What the swarming locust left,
the crawling locust has eaten;
And what the crawling locust left,
the consuming locust has eaten.

There was not a bit of fruit left from which to make wine (5). It was as if a fierce animal or an overwhelming army had swept through the countryside, stripping every vine and fig tree bare (6-7). There was no grain or wine to bring to the temple to offer to God or share with the priests (9). The land and its people mourned the destruction of grain, vineyards and olive trees (8 & 10). Verses 11-12 tell us that farmers and vine dressers were ashamed to admit that all their wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, date palms, apple trees and every other green thing had been devoured and was withered away.

Joel urged the priests and Levites to clothe themselves in sackcloth, call everyone to the house of YHWH and proclaim a national fast (13-14). “For the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty” (15).

He spoke not only of the lack of food, but of the loss of “Joy and gladness from the house of our God” (16). Even the seeds in the ground were shriveled, the barns were broken down, and the livestock were suffering with no grass to eat (17-18). Apparently, there was also a drought which dried up the water brooks and a fire which finished off whatever stubble had remained in the fields (19-20). What worse fate could befall a nation whose entire economy was based on agriculture?

Joel Chapter 2
As if all this were not enough, the prophet told the people to sound an alarm from the holy mountain.

Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the LORD is coming.
It is close at hand—
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains
a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was of old
nor ever will be in ages to come.
(Joel 2:1-2, NIV)

These verses vividly describe the advance of the devouring hordes of locusts that came upon the land of Judah. Yet, it may also have foreshadowed a human army that was to come, when the Babylonians invaded. And, as many prophecies do, this vision may foretell an even more distant time yet to come, when the armies of men, demons and angels will clash in the Valley of Megiddo in Revelation chapters 19 & 20.

The locusts had left such destruction, the prophet compared them to consuming flames and described the land as “a Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness” (Joel 2:3). He said they moved as swiftly as horses, “with a noise like chariots,” or the crackling of flames devouring stubble (vv. 4-5). The way they advanced in ranks reminded him of a mighty army. The terror they inflicted on the Hebrews was akin to that inspired by a well-disciplined troop (6-7). They went wherever they pleased, with nothing to stop them (8-9).

Fast-forwarding to an even worse calamity to come, Joel envisioned earthquakes and the dimming of celestial lights, as YHWH summoned His vast army for the “great and terrible” day of the Lord which no man can endure (10-11).

Again, the Lord called His people to repentance, with fasting, weeping and mourning that was genuine (12). Joel said,

Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity
(Joel 2:13, NIV).

The hope was that He would choose to leave a blessing rather than continue to inflict His curse on these apostate people (14). As a sort of chorus echoing Joel 1:14, the prophet again repeated his plea for the people to assemble everyone at the temple for a national fast—even infants and those newly wed (Joel 2:15-16). The priests were counseled to weep and pray for YHWH to spare His people from foreign nations that would taunt them, saying, “Where is their God?” (17).

The promised result? “Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, and pity His people,” sending them grain, new wine and oil—enough to satisfy them and remove their reproach among the nations (18-19). Whether referring to men or insects, the Lord further intended to remove “the northern army,” driving them far away and leaving them to rot for the “monstrous things” they had done (20).

Anticipating all of this, Joel broke out in song:

Fear not, O land;
Be glad and rejoice,
For the LORD has done marvelous things!
Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field;
For the open pastures are springing up,
And the tree bears its fruit;
The fig tree and the vine yield their strength.
Be glad then, you children of Zion,
And rejoice in the LORD your God…

He promised the spring and fall rains, to make the threshing floors full of grain, while the vats would overflow with grape juice and olive oil (23-24).

And here is a wonderful promise, both literally and figuratively, physically and spiritually: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…” (Joel 2:25, NIV). Just like Job, all the stuff, all the relationships, all the joy the Lord allowed the enemy to steal from you, He will give back—and then some! “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you…” (26). What was true for Israel is true for those of us adopted into God’s family through Christ: We’ll never be put to shame, and we can be sure that YHWH our God is in the midst of us (27).

The next two verses are quoted by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:17-21 to explain the manifestation of the Holy Spirit through tongues and prophecy on the day of Pentecost:

“And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days”
(Joel 2:28-29, NIV).

Jesus described the kind of phenomena referred to in verses 30-31, during his end-time prophecies regarding the temple in Jerusalem (See Matt. 24:29, Mark 13:24-25 & Luke 21:25-26). “[W]onders in the heavens and in the earth” would include the darkening of the sun and moon Jesus and Joel describe, ‘falling stars,’ and other “perplexing” events described in the Gospels and in Revelation. The Hebrew word for column, timarah, actually means “palm tree.” I have heard one Bible scholar note that a “palm tree of smoke” perfectly describes the ‘mushroom cloud’ caused by a nuclear explosion. Yet this is something God, not man, is going to do “before that great and terrible day of the LORD arrives” (Joel 2:31, NLT).

I personally got to see a ‘blood red moon’ during the lunar eclipse on December 12 of last year. Many watched the sun darken this spring, during the ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse.

But did you know that from 2014-2015 there will be a series of once-in-a-lifetime blood moons and solar eclipses? According to Mark Biltz, pastor of El Shaddai Ministries in Bonney Lake, Washington, “four consecutive blood moons that coincide with God’s holy days of Passover in the spring and the autumn’s Feast of Tabernacles (also called Succoth) occurs between 2014 and 2015.” Checking the NASA calendar of celestial events, the pastor also found two solar eclipses anticipated during the same time span—“one on the first day of the Hebrew year and the next on the high holy day of Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the seventh Hebrew month.” You can read more at the WND article, “Blood Moon Eclipses: 2nd Coming in 2015?”

Now Jesus told us no one knows the day, nor the hour of His return, but He did give us signs that tell us the “season” that we can anticipate His second coming (c.f.—Matt. 24:32-44). And He warned us to be ready and conducting ‘kingdom business’ when He comes. I think it is time for us to stop living as if the ‘Day of the Lord’ is never coming, and start telling people about Jesus, as if it could arrive at any time!

Joel 2:32 fits right into this theme, when it says, as Romans 10:13 quotes regarding Jesus Christ: “That whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” Joel, no doubt, considered this salvation as applicable only to the Jews, yet Paul applied it to all who believe in the Lord (See Rom. 10:8-12). So, although deliverance came from Mount Zion and Jerusalem, where Jesus suffered and died on the cross, whoever responds to God’s call is eligible for this salvation! Praise the Lord!

Joel Chapter 3
In the last days described in chapter 2, the Lord said He would bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem (Joel 3:1). This has been fulfilled several times in the history of Israel—but most notably after the return of the Jews in response to Cyrus’ command to rebuild the temple and, more recently, after the mass migration of Jews following World War II. The next verse says God will gather the nations in the “Valley of Jehoshaphat” to judge those that scattered His people and divided up the Holy Land (v. 2). This should caution any politician that would encourage Israel to give up her traditional holdings to ‘make peace’ with her enemies! Those who have gambled for the rights to Hebrew slaves or exchanged a boy or girl for sex or alcohol are especially condemned (3).

God promised swift retaliation against Tyre, Sidon and Philistia [areas that once occupied modern Lebanon and the Gaza strip], “Because you have taken My silver and My gold, and have carried into your temples My prized possessions” (4-5). Not only did they loot Judah, but they sold God’s people to the Greeks (6). Therefore, the Lord planned to sell them into slavery to the Sabeans (7-8)—a threat that was carried out when the Persians and Greeks sold captives from the coast lands of the Mediterranean to the Arabians.

Verses 9-10 call all of Israel’s enemies to war, compelling them to turn their farming implements into weapons, and convince themselves that they are strong enough to fight. The summons continued:

Assemble and come, all you nations, and gather together all around. Cause Your mighty ones to go down there, O LORD. Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations (11-12).

And then we have the imagery repeated in Revelation 14:17-20 of a great harvest of grapes to be collected in God’s wine press (Joel 3:13). Once the armies are assembled to fight God, “The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will diminish their brightness. The LORD also will roar from Zion,” and His mighty voice will shake heaven and earth (vv. 15-16). These images, too, play into end-times prophecy, including Revelation 16:16-21, which describes catastrophic events just after the Beast sends out agents to gather the nations for war at Armageddon (vv. 12-14).

Yet the Lord promises to “be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel” (Joel 3:16). They will know He is YHWH their God, “dwelling in Zion My holy mountain” (v. 17). Jerusalem will one day be truly set apart, with no foreigners passing through it again. Productivity will return to the land, as it will be watered with a fountain that flows from the house of YHWH (18). Egypt and Edom will be desolate, “Because of violence against the people of Judah, for they have shed innocent blood in their land” (19). Judah and Jerusalem, however, will “abide forever…from generation to generation,” and God “will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed” (20-21).

No matter what your sin or its consequences, God can restore what the enemy has been allowed to take from you—but only if you repent and trust in Him. God has revealed Himself to us. He has given us the Law, so we know we have done wrong. He allows bad things to happen to us, when we deviate from His plan, in order to bring us back into alignment with Him. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, God has the right to pardon those who repent and to judge those who refuse to accept His provision for forgiveness.

Which side will you be on, come the “great and terrible Day of the Lord”? Will you be among those who have called upon the name of YHWH and are saved? Or will you fight against Him and be destroyed? I hope you will chose life eternal and blessed by choosing Jesus!

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.