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In the two speeches that make up this book, Joel uses an agricultural crisis to measure his audience’s knowledge of its God, warn them of a worse disaster if they ignore his preaching, and express his conviction that all faithful Judahites would someday enjoy a secure future. Although the superscription, or title (1:1), does not place Joel’s preaching or the book’s composition in a specific historical context, internal evidence favors a postexilic date for its composition, probably 450–400 B.C. This evidence includes: Joel’s reliance on an established, possibly written, prophetic tradition; the existence of an organized temple liturgy; the dominance of priests and the absence of a king; and vocabulary characteristic of later material like Chronicles and Zechariah.
Inadequate winter rains and a spring locust infestation have devastated Judah’s grain fields, vineyards, and orchards. Because the people carry on with business as usual, unaware that this crisis is the work of the Lord in their midst, Joel fears that the Lord may soon deliver a death blow by withholding the rains that normally fall in the late autumn. However, Joel’s efforts to avert this crisis are successful. The first speech ends with Joel’s assurance that at the end of the next agricultural year the people will enjoy a superabundant harvest.
The second speech begins with a summary description (chap. 3) of the prophet’s hope that Judah’s God will one day destroy its enemies and make Jerusalem secure once and for all. This divine intervention will create a more inclusive community, cutting across boundaries of gender, class, and age. In Peter’s first public speech at Pentecost (Acts 2:16–21), the author uses Jl 3:1–5 to announce the formation of such a community among Christians in Jerusalem and the proximity of the day of the Lord. The rest of Joel’s second speech (chap. 4) uses the imagery of drought and locusts from the first speech and introduces the metaphor of a grape harvest and wine making to describe the attack of the Lord’s heavenly army on Judah’s enemies. In the renewal of Judah’s hillsides by the winter rains, the prophet sees the revitalization of the people because the Lord dwells with them.
The Book of Joel may be divided as follows:
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