Part 3: Joel: Behold the Day of the Lord

Posted on June 27, 2018

26


Note: This series was published in the magazine Zion’s Fire a few years back. I offer it here for anyone interested. I plan to run one article a day for 13 days. Being magazine articles, obviously each post will be longer than my usual blog length. 

Name of Book: Joel 

Author: The prophet Joel 

Meaning of Author’s Name: “Yahweh is God” 

When Written: Too tough to call since there is no indication in the text as to when the prophet lived. Possibilities include 835 B.C. (Joash king of Judah; Jehud king of Israel); 597-586 B.C. (Zedekiah, Judah’s final king; northern kingdom already exiled); post-exilic (following Israel’s return from Babylonian exile in 535 B.C.). 

Themes

  • The Day of the Lord
  • Repentance
  • The restoration of Israel

Political Background
book of joelSince we don’t know when Joel prophesied, it is impossible to hone in on Israel’s political situation. However, even a casual reading of this short book gives us plenty of ample clues as to what was happening in the land at the time the book was written. Among other things, the priesthood was not doing its job. It was not spurring the people to spiritual growth, and priests cared more about their own welfare than that of the people. Also, the nation was on the verge of a catastrophic locust invasion which would devastate the land. The prophet would use this event as a metaphor for an invading nation which would come to destroy Israel’s land and people. 

Key Verses

  • Joel 2:13: “So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.”
  • Joel 2:28-29: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
    your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”
  • Joel 2:32: “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Reference in the New Testament: Joel 2:28-32 (Acts 2:17-21; Romans 10:13)

Synopsis
After a brief introduction, the prophet launches immediately and somberly into his message, which is so crucial that the people of Israel are commanded to tell their children about it, who in turn will one day tell their children, who in turn will tell their children. What is this message which must be so urgently passed from generation to generation? To introduce it, Joel warns of a soon-coming locust invasion that will ravage the land (1:4). The prophet addresses the “drunkards” and “drinkers of wine,” and commands them to “awake” and “weep” (v. 5). Though the drunkenness of the people reflects a general immorality plaguing Israel, it also reflects the nation’s spiritual stupor. Joel is telling the Hebrews to forsake their worship of foreign gods and disregard of the God of Israel. The call to “awake” is the command to snap out of their spiritual delinquency, and the decree to “weep” is an admonition to repent of their sin and wrongdoing.

The prophet next tells of an imminent and very real locust invasion, and employs it as a metaphor to describe an imminent and very real military invasion which will tear through the land and devastate it. Because we can’t with precision identify the time in which the book was written, neither can we identify the invading nation. However, history tells us that the choices are few, either Assyria, which exiled the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C., or Babylon, which exiled the Southern Kingdom in three separate deportations (606, 597, and 586 B.C.) and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 586. What the locusts will do to the landscape of Israel, the invading nation will to do the people and agriculture of Israel.

HPIM1488.JPG

Joel goes on to correlate this soon-coming military invasion to a far-off onslaught of God’s end-times wrath, which the prophet calls, “the day of the Lord” (v. 15). In its ultimate sense, the Day of the Lord refers to God’s final judgment upon the earth at the end of the age. What is “the age” in view here? This is the time period from the creation of Adam and Eve until the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. It is during this current time period when God has given Satan a sphere of influence over unsaved men and women. (Jesus refers to Satan as “the ruler of this world” [John 12:31]; and Paul calls Satan “the prince of the power of the air” [Ephesians 2:2]. However, make no mistake about it: this is God’s world and God’s universe. He controls all. Whatever authority Satan possesses exists only through God’s permissive will.) Satan’s influence will cease at the coming of Christ, when he will be judged along with all humanity who deny Christ. This will occur at the end of this age. (The next “age” will be the Kingdom Age – or the Millennial Kingdom – when Christ rules over the world from Jerusalem for 1,000 years.)

In Joel 1, the prophet describes the Day of the Lord in “local” language, telling the Israelites:

Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God? The seed shrivels under the clods, storehouses are in shambles; barns are broken down, for the grain has withered. How the animals groan! The herds of cattle are restless, because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep suffer punishment (vv. 17-18).

This “localization” of the Day of the Lord will give way to a more universal outpouring, but the results of the Day of the Lord are always the same: destruction and devastation.

The first two verses of chapter 2 continue the theme of the Day of the Lord, but ramps up the language and scope of that terrible time. Joel tells us that the Day of the Lord is, “A day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, like the morning clouds spread over the mountains” (v. 2). Make no mistake about it, the Day of the Lord will be the most terrifying event in history. This is saying quite a bit considering the violent history of the human race and its horrific legacy of butchery, bloodshed, and carnage. The Day of the Lord will surpass it all. However, because its origin will be of the Lord, the punishment being meted out will be just, righteous, and warranted.

huge armyJoel goes on to describe an invading end-times military invasion, an army consisting of, “A people … great and strong, the like of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them, even for many successive generations” (v. 2). This military force will be unique to the Day of the Lord, and is further described in verses 3-11. After you read these verses, flip over to Revelation 9:2-11. The two descriptions (Joel and Revelation) of the armies bear a remarkable resemblance as they are most likely one and the same. Both armies seem to consist of demonic beings rather than human ones, hence the “uniqueness” of this unstoppable military force.

In light of this coming destruction upon the earth, Joel calls Israel – and all humanity who will read his words in the centuries to follow – to repentance (vv. 12-17). The prophet pronounces this in poignant and poetic language. The beauty of his plea is intended to cut straight to the heart and should result in definitive action. Joel says, “‘Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God …” (vv. 12-13). The Lord is calling for true repentance. In ancient Israel, the rending, or tearing, of the outer robe symbolized mourning over the loss of a loved or admired one. However, this rending too often deteriorated into a matter of show. A rending of the heart, however, is inward and true; emotional and real. Only repentance can satisfy the Lord and save one’s soul on the day of judgment.

The next section of chapter 2, verses 18 through 27, explains the results of repentance, with Joel proclaiming this remarkable promise: “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done marvelous things!” (v. 21). Note how just about all of Joel’s language is in agricultural terms, i.e., his use of such words as “grain,” “wine,” “oil,” “tree,” “fruit,” “rain,” and “fruit.” Throughout its history, ancient Israel was primarily an agricultural people (and is very much so today, though not as exclusively as in the past). The creation of the two ornate capitals of Jerusalem in the south and Samaria in the north certainly contributed a more “urban” air to Israel’s city dwellers, but the nation never departed from its agricultural roots. This was also true in Jesus’ time as many of His parables were couched in agricultural terms.

Verses 28 through 32 represent the most stunning passage of the entire book, and begins with these words: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh.” As you read this portion, note that verses 28 and 29 were fulfilled in Acts 2:16-18. However, Joel 2:30-32 is not yet fulfilled, but will be at the end of the age. In classic Day of the Lord “language,” Joel writes: “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” (2:30-31). The “Day of the Lord” is explicitly mentioned 19 times in the Old Testament and four times in the New.

valley of jezeel

The Valley of Jezreel in Israel (referred to in Joel as the Valley of Jehoshaphat).

By the time we reach chapter 3, we are thoroughly transported to the end times, as introduced by the words, “in those days and at that time” (v. 1). In prophetic writing, practically every reference to “that time” refers to the end of the age. Whereas the earlier prophecies of Joel contained both “near” and “far” implications, chapter 3 is all about the “far.” Verses 2 through 8 address the pagan nations of the world – particularly those who oppressed and persecuted Israel – and tells them that God will gather all of them into the Valley of Jehoshaphat (v. 12) for the final showdown.  The Valley of Jehoshaphat can refer to the final battle at Armageddon in Revelation 16:16, or may have a more general sense as in the proverbial “courtroom of God” – the place where He will pour out His judgment.

The final three verses of Joel’s electrifying book deal with Israel’s ultimate restoration. Once again the prophet employs agricultural language to express Israel’s final blessing: “And it will come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drip with new wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water; a fountain shall flow from the house of the Lord and water the Valley of Acacias” (v. 18).

Aftermath
Ancient Israel never saw the fulfillment of this wondrous promise, but the remnant of Israel certainly will at the end of the age.

Significance for God’s People Today

  • Reading the book of Joel should impress upon you both the sovereignty and grace of God. He is the supreme Master over His universe and will execute judgment, punishment, and mercy according to His holiness, righteousness, and wisdom.
  • The “rending” of your heart to God. God demands total worship. Are you doing so with fullness of heart and humility?

Implications for the World Today

  • The prophet could have been speaking to 21st century men and women when he said, “Awake, you drunkards, and weep; and howl, all you drinkers of wine” (Joel 1:5). Just as Israel suffered from spiritual drunkenness, so too does the vast majority of humanity.
  • Tragically, assuming that the nations of the world will not “awake,” it appears certain they will be gathered by the Lord to the Valley of Jehoshaphat for final judgment.
  • Today is the day for repentance if we are to avoid God’s final judgment of condemnation.

Of Note

  • Joel’s reversal of a familiar prophetic phrase. In Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3, when speaking of the Millennial Kingdom over which Christ will rule, the people in that day will, “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” This command will go forth because it will be a time of peace; war is over. However, during the Day of the Lord, when Christ wages battle against the nations of the earth, Joel reverses the order, telling the doomed nations to, “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears” (3:10). This will be a time of war and judgment, not peace and rest.
  • Joel 3:12-17 is about as dramatic, frightful, and powerful as any passage in all of Scripture. Read it several times in order to get a sense of its sheer might and significance.

Up Next: Part 4: “Amos: A Corrupt People and a God of Fury”

Part 1: “Introduction: The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets”

Part 2: “Hosea: Adultery, Judgment, and God’s Grace”