THE BOOK OF JOEL

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 2:1621), the author uses Jl 3:15 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:

  1. Announcement of Unprecedented Disaster (1:220)
  2. The Day of the Lord (2:127)
  3. The Lord’s Final Judgment (3:14:21)

CHAPTER 1

1The word of the LORD which came to Joel, the son of Pethuel.

I. ANNOUNCEMENT OF UNPRECEDENTED DISASTER

2Listen to this, you elders!

Pay attention, all who dwell in the land!

Has anything like this ever happened in your lifetime,

or in the lifetime of your ancestors?

3Report it to your children.

Have your children report it to their children,

and their children to the next generation.

4What the cutter left,

the swarming locust has devoured;

What the swarming locust left,

the hopper has devoured;

What the hopper left,

the consuming locust* has devoured.

5Wake up, you drunkards,* and weep;

wail, all you wine drinkers,

Over the new wine,

taken away from your mouths.

6For a nation* invaded my land,

powerful and past counting,

With teeth like a lion’s,

fangs like those of a lioness.

7It has stripped bare my vines,

splintered my fig tree,

Shearing off its bark and throwing it away,

until its branches turn white.

8Wail like a young woman* dressed in sackcloth

for the husband of her youth.

9Grain offering and libation are cut off

from the house of the LORD;

In mourning are the priests,

the ministers of the LORD.

10The field is devastated;

the farmland mourns,*

Because the grain is devastated,

the wine has dried up,

the oil has failed.

11Be appalled, you farmers!

wail, you vinedressers,

Over the wheat and the barley,

because the harvest in the field is ruined.

12The vine has dried up,

the fig tree has withered;

The pomegranate, even the date palm and the apple—

every tree in the field has dried up.

Joy itself has dried up

among the people.

Cry Out to the Lord

13* Gird yourselves and lament, you priests!

wail, ministers of the altar!

Come, spend the night in sackcloth,

ministers of my God!

For the grain offering and the libation

are withheld from the house of your God.a

14Proclaim a holy fast!

Call an assembly!

Gather the elders,

all who dwell in the land,

To the house of the LORD, your God,

and cry out to the LORD!b

15O! The day!*

For near is the day of the LORD,

like destruction from the Almighty it is coming!c

16Before our very eyes*

has not food been cut off?

And from the house of our God,

joy and gladness?

17The seed lies shriveled beneath clods of dirt;*

the storehouses are emptied.

The granaries are broken down,

for the grain is dried up.

18* How the animals groan!

The herds of cattle are bewildered!

Because they have no pasture,

even the flocks of sheep are starving.

19To you, LORD, I cry!

for fire has devoured the wilderness pastures,

flame has scorched all the trees in the field.

20Even the animals in the wild

cry out to you;

For the streams of water have run dry,

and fire has devoured the wilderness pastures.d

* [1:4] Cutter…swarming locust…hopper…consuming locust: these names may refer to various species of locusts, or to some phases in the insect’s life cycle, or to successive waves of locusts ravaging the countryside.

* [1:5] Drunkards: this metaphor expresses both the urgency behind Joel’s preaching and his ironic assessment of his audience. There are no grapes to process into new wine, yet people view their situation as just another agricultural crisis. Joel argues that the problems they now face are lessons the Lord is using to provide the knowledge they lack.

* [1:6] A nation: the locusts are compared to an invading army, whose numbers are overwhelming. The ravaged landscape resembles the wasteland left behind by marauding troops; the order and peace associated with agricultural productivity (1 Kgs 5:5; Mi 4:4) has been destroyed.

* [1:8] Like a young woman: this simile personifies Jerusalem as a youthful widow, left unprotected and without resources by her husband’s sudden death.

* [1:10] The farmland mourns: or “the farmland is dried up.”

* [1:13] Judah’s situation is so grave and the day of the Lord so imminent that priests must lament day and night if they hope to reverse the divine punishment.

* [1:15] As in Am 5:1820, the day of the Lord in Joel’s first speech brings punishment, not victory, for Judah. In his second speech, this event means victory for those faithful to the Lord and death for the nations who are the Lord’s enemies. Almighty: Hebrew shaddai. There is wordplay between shod (“destruction”) and shaddai.

* [1:16] Before our very eyes: Joel’s audience should have discerned the significance of the winter drought and the locust invasion they witnessed. Joy and gladness: the loss of field crops has reduced Joel’s audience to subsistence living, with no means for liturgical or personal celebration, as in v. 12.

* [1:17] The seed…clods of dirt: the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain. Most commentators use the translation given here, since it fits the prophet’s description of an agricultural year plagued by winter drought and a spring locust infestation.

* [1:1819] In figurative language, Joel describes how the insufficient winter rain, the locust invasions, and summer’s heat on pasture lands and water sources drive domestic and wild animals to cry out for rain.

a. [1:13] Jer 4:8.

b. [1:14] Jl 2:15.

c. [1:15] Is 13:6; Ez 30:23; Ob 15; Zep 1:7.

d. [1:20] Ps 42:2.

II. THE DAY OF THE LORD

CHAPTER 2

The Day Approaches

1* Blow the horn in Zion,

sound the alarm on my holy mountain!

Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,

for the day of the LORD is coming!a

Yes, it approaches,

2a day of darkness and gloom,

a day of thick clouds!

Like dawn* spreading over the mountains,

a vast and mighty army!

Nothing like it has ever happened in ages past,

nor will the future hold anything like it,

even to the most distant generations.b

3Before it,* fire devours,

behind it flame scorches.

The land before it is like the garden of Eden,

and behind it, a desolate wilderness;

from it nothing escapes.c

4Their appearance is that of horses;

like war horses they run.

5Like the rumble of chariots

they hurtle across mountaintops;

Like the crackling of fiery flames

devouring stubble;

Like a massive army

in battle formation.d

6Before them peoples tremble,

every face turns pale.e

7Like warriors they run,

like soldiers they scale walls,

Each advancing in line,

without swerving from the course.

8No one crowds the other;

each advances in its own track;

They plunge through the weapons;

they are not checked.

9They charge the city,

they run upon the wall,

they climb into the houses;

Through the windows

they enter like thieves.

10Before them the earth trembles;

the heavens shake;

Sun and moon are darkened,

and the stars withhold their brightness.f

11The LORD raises his voice

at the head of his army;

How immense is his host!

How numerous those who carry out his command!

How great is the day of the LORD!

Utterly terrifying! Who can survive it?g

Return to the Lord

12Yet even now—oracle of the LORD

return to me with your whole heart,

with fasting, weeping, and mourning.

13Rend your hearts, not your garments,

and return to the LORD, your God,

For he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love,

and relenting in punishment.h

14Perhaps he will again relent

and leave behind a blessing,*

Grain offering and libation

for the LORD, your God.i

15Blow the horn in Zion!

Proclaim a fast,

call an assembly!j

16Gather the people,

sanctify the congregation;

Assemble the elderly;

gather the children,

even infants nursing at the breast;

Let the bridegroom leave his room,

and the bride* her bridal tent.

17Between the porch and the altar*

let the priests weep,

let the ministers of the LORD weep and say:

“Spare your people, LORD!

do not let your heritage become a disgrace,

a byword among the nations!

Why should they say among the peoples,

‘Where is their God?’”k

The Lord Relents. 18Then the LORD grew jealous* for his land and took pity on his people. 19In response the LORD said to his people:

I am sending you

grain, new wine, and oil,

and you will be satisfied by them;

Never again will I make you

a disgrace among the nations.

20The northerner* I will remove far from you,

driving them out into a dry and desolate land,

Their vanguard to the eastern sea,

their rearguard to the western sea,

And their stench will rise,

their stink will ascend,

What great deeds the Lord has done!

21Do not fear, O land!

delight and rejoice,

for the LORD has done great things!l

22Do not fear, you animals in the wild,

for the wilderness pastures sprout green grass.

The trees bear fruit,

the fig tree and the vine produce their harvest.

23Children of Zion, delight

and rejoice in the LORD, your God!

For he has faithfully given you the early rain,*

sending rain down on you,

the early and the late rains as before.m

24The threshing floors will be full of grain,

the vats spilling over with new wine and oil.

25I will repay you double

what the swarming locust has eaten,

The hopper, the consuming locust, and the cutter,

my great army I sent against you.n

26You will eat until you are fully satisfied,

then you will praise the name of the LORD, your God,

Who acts so wondrously on your behalf!

My people will never again be put to shame.

27Then you will know that I am in the midst of Israel:

I, the LORD, am your God, and there is no other;

my people will never again be put to shame.o

* [2:111] Joel warns the people about the destruction he sees galloping toward Jerusalem. He combines the imagery of the locust invasion (chap. 1) with language from the holy war tradition in order to describe the Lord leading a heavenly army against the enemy, in this case, Jerusalem.

* [2:2] Like dawn: from the east comes dark destruction rather than a new day’s light.

* [2:3] Before it: fire precedes and follows the army’s advance. Even the ravaged landscape of chap. 1 looks like a lush garden compared to the devastation this army leaves behind.

* [2:14] Blessing: the rain that makes possible the grapes and grain (v. 19) that workers will process into Temple offerings.

* [2:16] Elderly…infants…bridegroom…bride: Jerusalem is in such great danger that even those normally excused from fasting or working are called upon to participate in activities to ward off the imminent catastrophe.

* [2:17] Between the porch and the altar: the priests stood in the open space between the outdoor altar for burnt offerings and the Temple building.

* [2:18] Jealous: the Hebrew word describes the passionate empathetic bond the Lord has with Israel. The people’s wholehearted participation in Joel’s call for fasting and prayer sparks the Lord’s longing to protect and love his people Israel. This desire moves him to withhold punishment and to send the blessing of v. 14 instead.

* [2:20] The northerner: the locusts, pictured as an invading army, which traditionally came from the north (Jer 1:1415; Ez 26:7; 38:6, 15). Locusts are not usually an annual threat in Palestine, nor are they often associated with the north. However, to demonstrate the extent of the Lord’s care for Judah and control over what happens within its borders, Joel assures his audience that the Lord will quickly drive the locusts out of Judah the coming spring, should they reappear. Dead locusts will litter the shores of the “eastern” (the Dead Sea) and the “western” (the Mediterranean) seas.

* [2:23] This autumn rain teaches the people to recognize God’s compassionate presence in nature and history. There is a play on the double meaning of the Hebrew word moreh: “early rain” and “teacher.” In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the word is used in the phrase “teacher (= moreh) of righteousness.”

a. [2:1] Is 13:9; Jer 4:5; 6:1; 51:27; Hos 5:8; Zep 1:16.

b. [2:2] Is 13:14; Zep 1:415.

c. [2:3] Is 13:9; 51:3; Ez 36:35.

d. [2:5] Jer 6:23.

e. [2:6] Na 2:11.

f. [2:10] Jl 4:15; Is 13:10, 13; Ez 32:78; Mt 24:29; Mk 13:24; Lk 21:2526.

g. [2:11] Jer 30:7; Am 5:18; Zep 1:15.

h. [2:13] Ex 34:6; Ps 86:5; Jon 4:2.

i. [2:14] Jon 3:9.

j. [2:15] Jl 1:14.

k. [2:17] Ps 42:4, 11; 79:10; 115:2.

l. [2:21] Ps 126:3.

m. [2:23] Hos 10:12.

n. [2:25] Jer 5:17.

o. [2:27] Is 45:56, 18; 46:9.

III. THE LORD’S FINAL JUDGMENT

CHAPTER 3

The Day of the Lorda

1* It shall come to pass

I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your old men will dream dreams,

your young men will see visions.

2Even upon your male and female servants,

in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

3I will set signs in the heavens and on the earth,

blood, fire, and columns of smoke;

4The sun will darken,

the moon turn blood-red,

Before the day of the LORD arrives,

that great and terrible day.b

5Then everyone who calls upon the name of the LORD

will escape harm.

For on Mount Zion there will be a remnant,

as the LORD has said,

And in Jerusalem survivors

whom the LORD will summon.c

* [3:15] In many places in the Old Testament, Hebrew ruah is God’s power, or spirit, bestowed on chosen individuals. The word can also mean “breath” or “wind.” In this summary introduction to his second speech, Joel anticipates that the Lord will someday renew faithful Judahites with the divine spirit. In Acts 2:1721 the author has Peter cite Joel’s words to suggest that the newly constituted Christian community, filled with divine life and power, inaugurates the Lord’s Day, understood as salvation for all who believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ.

a. [3:1] Is 44:3; Ez 39:2829; Acts 2:1721.

b. [3:4] Jl 2:10; Mal 3:23.

c. [3:5] Ob 1718; Rom 10:13.

CHAPTER 4

The Lord’s Case Against the Nations

1For see, in those days and at that time,a

when I restore the fortunes

of Judah and Jerusalem,

2I will gather all the nations

and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.*

There I will enter into judgment with them

on behalf of my people, my heritage, Israel;

Because they scattered them among the nations,

they divided up my land.b

3For my people they cast lots,

trading a young boy for the price of a prostitute,

exchanging a young girl for the wine they drank.c

4* Moreover, what are you doing to me, Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are, I will very quickly turn your deeds back upon your own head.d 5You took my silver and my gold and brought my priceless treasures into your temples! 6You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, taking them far from their own country! 7Look! I am rousing them from the place to which you sold them, and I will turn your deeds back upon your own head. 8I will sell your sons and daughters to the Judahites who will sell them to the Sabeans,* a distant nation. The LORD has spoken!

The Nations Destroyed

9Announce this to the nations:

Proclaim a holy war!

Alert the warriors!

Let all the soldiers

report and march!e

10* Beat your plowshares into swords,

and your pruning knives into spears;

let the weakling boast, “I am a warrior!”f

11Hurry and come, all you neighboring peoples,

assemble there!

Bring down, LORD, your warriors!

12Let the nations rouse themselves and come up

to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;

For there I will sit in judgment

upon all the neighboring nations.

13Wield the sickle,g

for the harvest is ripe;

Come and tread,

for the wine press is full;

The vats overflow,

for their crimes are numerous.*

14Crowds upon crowds

in the Valley of Decision;

For near is the day of the LORD

in the Valley of Decision.h

15Sun and moon are darkened,

and the stars withhold their brightness,i

16The LORD roars from Zion,

and from Jerusalem raises his voice,j

The heavens and the earth quake,

but the LORD will be a shelter for his people,

a fortress for the people of Israel.

A Secure Future for Judah

17Then you will know* that I the LORD am your God,k

dwelling on Zion, my holy mountain;

Jerusalem will be holy,

and strangers will never again travel through her.

18* On that day

the mountains will drip new wine,

and the hills flow with milk,

All the streams of Judah

will flow with water.

A spring will rise from the house of the LORD,

watering the Valley of Shittim.l

19Egypt will be a waste,

Edom a desolate wilderness,

Because of violence done to the Judahites,

because they shed innocent blood in their land.m

20But Judah will be inhabited forever,

and Jerusalem for all generations.

21I will avenge their blood,

and I will not acquit the guilt.

The LORD dwells in Zion.

* [4:2] Valley of Jehoshaphat: one of the symbolic names of the place of punishment for Judah’s enemies; the other is “Valley of Decision” (v. 14). The name Jehoshaphat means “the Lord judges.” If the popular identification of this place as the Kidron Valley is accurate, Joel may imagine the Lord seated above the valley on Mount Zion directing his troops in the destruction of nations in the valley below.

* [4:48] This prose material may be a later addition to the book. It illustrates a common biblical theme (cf. Ps 7:16; 9:16; 35:8; 37:1415; 57:7), having one’s evil deed (selling Judahites into slavery) turned into one’s own punishment (being sold into slavery by the Judahites).

* [4:8] Sabeans: traders from the southwestern tip of the Arabian peninsula, present-day Yemen (cf. 1 Kgs 10:12; Ps 72:10; Jer 6:20).

* [4:10] The Lord directs the troops to forge military weapons out of the agricultural tools necessary for life during peacetime. In Is 2:4 and Mi 4:3, both in contexts presuming the defeat of Israel’s enemies, this imagery is reversed.

* [4:13] Their crimes are numerous: the nations are ripe for punishment. Joel uses the vocabulary of the autumn grape harvest to describe the assault of the Lord’s army against these nations. In Is 63:16, grape harvest imagery also controls the description of the Lord’s return from Edom with blood-spattered clothing after having trod his enemies into the ground as if they were grapes (cf. Jer 25:30).

* [4:17] Then you will know: this verse further develops the motif of knowledge introduced in 2:27. The Judahites will learn that the Lord is present in their economic prosperity and political autonomy, even though they did not associate God’s presence with their crop failure.

* [4:18] Images of agricultural abundance illustrate the harmony and order Joel expects the Lord to establish in Judah; like 2:1827, this section reverses the deprivation and drought of chap. 1. A spring…house of the LORD: streams of water flowing from the Temple of an ideal Jerusalem also appear in Ez 47:1. The Valley of Shittim: or “the ravine of the acacia trees”; while there is a Shittim east of the Jordan, the reference here is probably to that rocky part of the Kidron Valley southeast of Jerusalem, an arid region where acacia trees flourished.

a. [4:1] Jer 33:15; 50:4, 20.

b. [4:2] Is 66:18; Zec 14:2.

c. [4:3] Ob 11, 16.

d. [4:4] Ob 15.

e. [4:9] Jer 6:4.

f. [4:10] Is 2:4; Mi 4:3.

g. [4:13] Is 63:16; Rev 14:15.

h. [4:14] Ob 15.

i. [4:15] Jl 2:10; 3:4.

j. [4:16] Jer 25:30; Am 1:2.

k. [4:17] Ob 17; Na 2:1.

l. [4:18] Ez 47:112; Am 9:13; Zec 14:8.

m. [4:19] Ob 10.