The Book divides into two parts. The first part chapter 1:1 to 2:27 inclusive. The dividing verse is clearly: “and it will come to pass that afterwards I will pour out, etc.” The second part begins with chapter 2:28 to the end of the Book. The first section is again comprised of two sub-divisions. The first of these begins with chapter 1:1 and continues through chapter 2:17; and the second section, chapter 2:18 to chapter 2:27 inclusive. The second part of the Book comprises three subdivisions. Section I: chapter 2:28 to chapter 3:8; Section II: chapter 3:9 to chapter 3 :17; Section III: chapter 3:18 to chapter 3:21.
Contents of the Book.
The judgments of God and the comfort for God’s people. This judgment has come in the form of an actual plague of locusts that his swept and devastated the land. Mention is also made of a judgment of a more serious character threatening the people. A nation is or will come up upon the land, strong and without number. Thus the day of the Lord is come upon them. Let the people therefore lament and put on sackcloth. (Chap. 1:1 to vs. 20)
The prophet now describes the day of the Lord as a day of darkness and of gloominess. (Chap. 2:1, 2) The agent of the Lord’s wrath is described. It is a great and strong people, like as there never has been neither shall be after it.
The prophet exhorteth the people of Israel to repent of their sins. Let them blow the trumpet, sanctify a feast and call a solemn assembly. Who knoweth if the Lord will not return and repent and leave a blessing behind Him. (Chap. 2:11-17)
The Lord by the mouth of the prophet comforts the remnant. He starts with declaring that the Lord will be jealous of His land and pity His people and remove the agent of destruction. (Chap. 2:18-20) The children of Zion are exhorted to be glad as they now approach a glorious future, and an era of peace and miraculous prosperity. This spiritual prosperity is depicted with a phraseology borrowed from the natural. The Lord will deal wondrously with His people and they shall not be ashamed and He will dwell in the midst of them and they shall know that He is their God. (Chap. 2:20-27)
The Lord will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, come with judgments against the enemy of His people, and shower blessings upon His Church.
He will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh and show wonders in heaven and earth. There will be blood and fire; but whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, for in Mount Zion shall be deliverance. In those days the Lord shall bring again the captivity of Judah. He will come with judgment against the enemy of His people.
The Gentiles are exhorted to prepare for war and to assemble themselves together in the valley of threshing or slaughter. Out of Zion the Lord shall roar but He will be the hope of His people. They shall know that He is the Lord. The glorious future of Israel or the Church again set forth in earthly phraseology. The mountains shall drip with new wine. Egypt shall be a desolate wilderness. Jerusalem shall dwell for ever.
Most commentators are of the conviction that not chapter 2:28 “And it shall come to pass that I will pour out My Spirit” but chapter 2:18 “then the Lord will be jealous of His land, etc.” is the dividing verse of this Book. It can be shown that this is not the case. Consider that the four main themes of this first part are: a. judgment, b. repentance, c. deliverance, d. restoration and blessing. These four themes always go together and form a unity. By taking 2:18 as the dividing text, we detract from the whole one of its parts, namely, blessing and restoration and thus destroy the unity. Chapter 2:27, “My people shall never be ashamed”, forms a very fitting closing verse of the first part. The clauses: “And it shall come to pass afterwards” introduces a new theme that is so new that it sets this part of the Book which it introduces off by itself. Yet not so of course that there is no connection between this part and the first. Finally from the very nature of things the description and promise of restoration and blessing never marks the beginning of a Book or any part of a Book, but the end.
The Book itself does not say what the date of this prophecy is. According to the majority of scholars, the Book contains no data upon which a decisive conclusion can be made.
Consequently no other Book in the O. T. has been assigned so many different dates as this Book. Scholars differ regarding its date by a space of more than five centuries. The Book has been dated as early as the reign of Rehoboam, son of Solomon, 900 B. C., and as late as the 4th century B. C. In addition it has been located in every century between these two dates.
As to the person of the prophet, his name was Joel. There are thirteen others in Scripture who have this name but it is not likely that the prophet is to be identified with any of them. The name means, Jehovah is God; which is at once a brief confession of faith.
Of the personal history of Joel all that is known is what may be gathered from the prophecy itself. He was a prophet of the Southern kingdom. His message is for Judah and Jerusalem. His home was in all likelihood in southern Palestine. His discourse indicates that he possessed an intimate knowledge of the temple and its service and of the duties of the priests. Chap. 1:9, 13, 14, 16; 2:14, 17. It is not probable that he was a priest, judging from his references to the priest.
The Interpretation of the Book.
One view identifies the locusts of chap. 1:4 with the great and strong army of chap. 2:2-11; and interprets the whole picture as a symbolical representation of a hostile human army. According to this view, the great and strong, army of chap. 2 is an army of locusts and nothing more. Criticism: This view will not do at all. It does violence to the text namely to chap. 2:2b, which reads: “a great people and strong, there hath not been ever the like neither shall be any more after it.” The conviction cannot be escaped that the Prophet here speaks in the first instance of real people and not of locusts as symbol of humans.
Another view has it that throughout the first section of this discourse the prophet speaks of locusts only. (Chap. 1 and 2). Nowhere in this section is the army of locusts and its action a typical representation of an army of humans. Criticism: This view will not do. The locusts of chap. 1:4 are locusts, insects. If this utterance does not signify locusts, the Bible in sections such as these must be held to be a Book of deceptive phraseology, and this, it is not. Herewith we do not mean to say, that insects are never called people in Scripture. They are as in Prov. 30:25-27 which reads: “the ants are a little people, etc., the conies are a feeble folk. . . . the locusts have no king.” This section, however, speaks literally of insects as people. But what is there in Joel 1:4 that could be taken as indication that locusts are human beings. The above is not criticism on the view in question. For according to this view the locusts of chap. 1 are real locusts. The view errs insofar as it refuses to see in chap. 2 anything more than literal locusts. It is also plain that throughout the entire first chapter, the prophet speaks of a literal plague of locusts, that therefore the nation of verse 6 signifies an army of locusts. Consider statements such as these: ‘fit lay waste the vine, barks the fig tree, makes it clean bare, so that as a result the meat offerings and the drink offerings are cut off, the field is wasted and the new wine is dried up.” Consider that the prophet does not say that the priests are cut off. In other words no mention is made of bloodshed. The destruction is confined to vegetation. In the second chapter however, and this is what the exponents of the view under consideration will not concede, the prophet has before his eye in the first instance a plague of locusts, but also an army of humans. The view we now criticize is the one that may also be found in Keil & Deilitsch Commentary on Joel. Yet even these commentators felt constrained to concede that the prophet in the second chapter is speaking of something more than actual locusts. Say these commentators: “But even if there are no conclusive hints that can be adduced in support of the allegorical interpretation (the interpretation according to which the locusts point to a human army) it cannot be denied on the other hand that the description on the whole contains something more than a poetical painting of one particular instance of the devastation of Judah by a more terrible swarm of locusts than had ever before been known.” According to Keil the description bears an ideal character and is something more than a description of a remarkable plague. This Keil seems to be compelled to concede in spite of himself.
According to another view the prophet is speaking of no plague of locusts at all, not even in the first chapter, but of an human army throughout. The entire section according to this view is a symbolical interpretation of a destruction wrought by a human army. This view will not do for in chap. 1 it cannot be denied in the light of the phraseology employed, that the prophet describes a plague of locusts. And in the second chapter the prophet again has before his eye a plague of locusts. To deny this is to do violence to the plain statement of this section.
There is a fourth view to which the locusts are weird, half-human creatures, like those we come upon in the Book of Revelation. This view is not held by any commentator of note.
In the first chapter the prophet speaks of an actual plague of locusts as has been shown. In the second chapter, the prophet again has before his eye an actual plague of locusts. This is so evident that there is no need to dispute about it. Notice the following: The appearance of them is the appearance of horses, and, as horseman so shall they run. In a word, the prophet does not declare that an army of horses and chariots do come, but that there will come an army of creatures comparable as to appearance and action and tumult they make to a fully equipped and heavily armed army of humans. Notice verse 25: “I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten, etc.” The prophet himself calls the locusts a great army sent by God. In a word, the entire second description in chapter 2 permits of no other view than that the prophet was indeed speaking and describing a real plague of locusts. The language the prophet employs is not too extravagant. One report of a certain traveler reads: “they (locusts) seem to march in regular battalions, crawling over everything that lay in their way in one straight front. They enter the innermost recesses of the houses, were found in every corner, invested our food, the whole face of the mountain was black with them. They came like a disciplined army. They charged up the mountain-side, climbed over rocks, walls and ditches.”
However according to the very genius of prophecy the description in this instance refers to something more than a remarkable plague of locusts. As it is with the promise, so it is with the prediction of doom. The promise first proclaimed in Paradise was successively fulfilled, first on a low natural plain and finally on a high spiritual plain. And each fulfillment was at once a prophetic type of the following; and, rightly considered, of all the following fulfillments. The prediction of the initial fulfillment of the promise is the prediction of the ultimate fulfillment and at once the prediction of the fulfillments that lie between the first and the last. Illustration: Concerning the patriarch Judah, Jacob said, “the sceptre shall not depart from Judah till Shiloh come.” (Shiloh means peace and rest). This prophecy went into initial fulfillment when Jehovah with His people entered the typical rest of Canaan and chose as His residence in that land the city of Shiloh. Here in Shiloh the tabernacle was pitched upon the arrival of Israel in Canaan. The Prophecy again went into fulfillment with the appearance of Solomon and his reign of glory. It went into fulfillment a third time when the exalted Christ entered with His people into the sanctuary above. The final fulfillment will be when the tabernacle of God will be with men on the new earth.
Each previous fulfillment in the O. T. dispensation called for the following and sustained to it the relation of prophetic type. It means that in foretelling the initial fulfillment the prophet foretells all the fulfillments to follow. In predicting the coming of Jehovah into His typical rest of Canaan, Jacob at once predicted the coming of Solomon, the coming of Solomon’s great Son, Jesus Christ. The coming of Shiloh in the last day.
As it is with the prediction of the fulfillment of the promise, so it is with the prediction of judgment and doom. Hence, in predicting the coming of the plague of locusts, the prophet at once predicts the coming of the Roman and Chaldean armies. That the prophet knew of these judgments and actually had them before his eye is evident from chap. 3:1-8. The first two verses of this chapter read: “For behold in those days and in that time when I shall bring again the captivity of Jerusalem and I will gather the nations. . . . and will plead with them there for my people and my heritage, Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations and parted my land.” This and the following verses prove conclusively that the prophet saw in his prophetic vision the coming of the Assyrian and Roman armies through the instrumentality of which Jehovah scattered Israel among the nations. Much of the phraseology of chap. 2 is to be accounted for on the basis of the view that the prophet had before his eye the coming of the aforesaid hosts.
The coming of these hosts and the treatment they afforded the O. T. Church was again the prophetic type of the persecution of the Church by the world throughout all the ages, so that what arose before the eye of the prophet was the aggregate of persecutions of the Church by the world. These persecutions the prophet depicts in a phraseology provided him by the persecution of the O. T. Church, by the enemies of the theocracy.
Whether the plague of locusts in chap. 2 is the same plague described in Chap. 1 or whether the two plagues are two distinct devastations, cannot be determined with absolute certainty. There is evidence, however, that the two are the same. For chap. 1:4 speaks of the devastations wrought by the locusts. Consider that the prophet does not promise a restoration of the years eaten by the locusts until after he has for the second time described the ruin wrought by them, namely, in the last section of chap. 2. This pleads for the view that we have to do with one continuous plague.
But if we take this view of the matter which the text seems to demand? the question arises why the plague of locusts is twice described: Once in chap. 1:6ff and again in chap. 2:2ff. Chapter 1:6 reads: “For a nation is come upon my land, strong and without number.” Chap. 2:2 reads: “A great people and strong, there hath never been the like.” Our answer is as follows: In the second chapter the prophet predicts a human army in the phraseology suggested by a plague of locusts. That is to say, in the second chap, the prophet has before his eye the same plague of locusts and in again describing this plague he at once consciously predicts the coming of the human armies. Rightly considered we are dealing here with two distinct events. This is evident from the texts. The first event is the actual plague of locusts; the second, the coming of a human army. That we are dealing here with two distinct events is evident as was said from the text. Chap. 1:6 reads: “that which the locusts hath eaten.” The tense is here the perfect; and further “a nation is come”. “He hath laid my vine waste, etc.” In a word, here the prophet is speaking of what has and is happening. On the other hand in chap. 2:1ff, the prophet speaks of that which will come, of that which is near at hand. Consider this text: “for the day of the Lord is night at hand.” This is a prediction of what will come to pass. Two distinct events are spoken of. So that what we have in this discourse is the following:
I. Chapter 1—The description of a present judgment, the actual plague of locusts.
II. Chapter 2:1-18—The prediction and description of a coming judgment in terms of devastation of the same plague of locusts.
III. Chapter 2:18-28—A promise that both the army of locusts and human army will be removed. This promise went into initial fulfillment with the return of Judah from the exile.
IV. Chapter 2:28 to the end of Book—This section must be made to apply to the New Testament Dispensation. The events predicted are: a. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, chap. 2:28-32. b. The simultaneous persecution of the church by the world, described of course in an O. T. phraseology. Chapter 3:1-3. c. The judgment (final) of God upon the world. Chap, 3:4-17. d. The ultimate salvation and eternal bliss of the Church. Chap. 3:18 to the end.
We are now ready to state the time in which the Book of Joel was written. In the light of what has been given the only conclusion is that the prophetic labors of Joel took place not before the captivity of Judah only, but prior to the evasion by the army.
Now the aforesaid host appeared for the first time before the gates of Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah (796-697 B.C.). It may be safely concluded therefore that Joel prophecies before the year 726. To reinforce this argument we call attention to the fact that the great purpose of God for raising up His prophets of the group known as greater and minor prophets was to prepare by comforting discourses His people for the greatest of all afflictions that was to overtake them, namely, the exile. Joel belonged to this group, and was raised up as is evident from his discourse for this same purpose. Hence, whereas he came with a message especially for Judah, he must have prophesied before the aforesaid affliction or judgment overtook this southern kingdom.
The question remains whether a year can be selected for marking the beginning of the space of time in which Joel’s labors must have fallen. He could not have prophesied later than 697. The question is how early could he have prophesied? For this we select the year 800, the year in which Uzziah began to reign. The reason I select this year is that of all the minor and four great prophets, the date of whose labors are known from Scripture, not one arose before 800. Yet we concede that this reasoning is not conclusive, and must therefore be re-enforced by others. As was said the judgments of God consisting in the exile and in the woe subsequent to that event was one of the out-standing themes upon which all the aforesaid prophets dwelt. Further these prophets did not appear with these specific predictions until Israel and Judah had nearly filled their measure of iniquity and had thus made themselves ripe for judgment. There is a reason why the Lord waited until then in broaching by the mouth of these prophets this particular theme. The reason is that during the reign of the kings preceding the date selected, the judgments of God were not pending. It is worthy to observe in this connection that Elijah and his successor Elisha did not predict the exile. And it is peculiar that these two men of God prophesied before the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah, namely, during the reign of Ahab, king of Israel, and Athaliah, the wicked queen in Judah. The conclusion is warranted therefore that whereas the aforesaid theme constitutes the one outstanding theme of Joel’s discourse, the labors of this prophet fell in that particular period during which the exile was being predicted. And the year is approximately 800 B. C. Also Joel, therefore, must be held to have prophesied somewhere between the reign of Amaziah 838 and the beginning of the reign of Hezekiah 726.
This prophecy has its peculiar significance that sets it apart from all the other prophetic discourses. Peculiar to this prophecy is the theme, “the day of the Lord;” or otherwise said, “Jehovah enthroned as God supreme, who reigneth absolutely and doeth all things; Jehovah whose counsel is the fountain and cause of all the events of time including judgment and salvation,”
The prophet looks about him and sees that a natural plague of locusts had swept over the land. The first part of his message was delivered in view of the desolation resulting from that plague. The second vision was that of judgment of a more serious character to overtake the people. The prophet sees an army coming which he describes, using the locusts plague for purpose of illustration. The third vision was that of things beyond his day and generation. Joel looked about him and saw the results of the locust plague. He looked ahead and saw coming judgment, and thru judgment salvation for God’s people. Climbing to still higher heights he saw things far distant, namely, ultimate judgment and salvation. The aggregation of all these events of the present, the immediate future, and of the far distant future he saw as the activity of Jehovah, and these activities fall into three great groups each of which fills a certain space of time, the prophet calls a day. And whereas the events belonging to each distinct group are seen by the prophet as the activity of Jehovah, each day to him is a day of the Lord. The day of the Lord then, is a day of rejoicing for God’s people and a day of terror for the wicked, for the very reason that it is a day of the righteous and holy God.
Unbelieving men are wont to separate the events of time from God. Of the locusts they say: “this is a mere misfortune. No one could foresee or prevent it.” But the prophet filled with holy boldness delivers his message: “It is a day of the Lord, and it has so devastated everything that no drunkard can obtain wine, that there are no offerings for the temple, that the people have no bread.” Of these things men spake as simple happenings in the course of nature. But the prophet said that they were the immediate acts of God in judgment. He calls to all the old men and the drunkards, the land owners, all the people to observe the action of God.
The prophet also declared concerning the judgment which was to come, which he again describes as the Lord’s doings. “The Lord uttereth His voice before His army.”
Again looking into the far distant future, the prophet insisted upon the presence and activity of God. This final day too was a day of the Lord. The prophet therefore was thoroughly theocentric. God to him was all. And therefore his prophecy is the greatest source of comfort for the Church.
Peculiar to this discourse is also the vision of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, not upon the Jews only, but upon all flesh. This prediction in the mouth of Joel is significant. It shows that there was nothing of this false and carnal patriotism in Joel’s soul. He was attached not to the Jew, but to the Church, and thus to any being or body, be he Jew or Gentile, that belonged to the Church. This is true patriotism. And as the true prophet of God he denounced the sinner, were he Jew or Gentile.
The prophet is unable to specify the date of this happening. He can say no more than that it will take place afterwards. Israel’s sons and daughters will prophesy, its old men shall dream dreams, and its young men shall see visions. Israel is here the N. T. Church. The meaning of this prophecy is that the Church as spread over the whole earth will be seen as the city of God on a hill and thus confess the name of Christ and witness for His truth. In a word, the Church will prophecy as a body in which the Word of God richly dwells. For old men shall dream dreams. This action on the part of the Church will arouse the fury of the world. There will be persecutions and thus the Lord will again come in judgment to deliver His people. He will show wonders in heaven and earth, blood and fire and pillar of smoke. It will be a terrible day, but the people of God need have no fear that they will be swept into perdition by the torrent of God’s judgment. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. In each day the Lord will save His people. He will save His people ultimately. They shall live with the Lord in great abundance. They shall eat in plenty and be satisfied and praise the Name of the Lord their God.