Think about a time when your life was invaded.

Something had pushed its way in, you didn’t want it, you didn’t ask for it. Maybe it so devastated your life you found yourself asking, “what’s left?”

Maybe something or someone very dear to you was stripped away. Perhaps it was something tangible, like a beloved one, or a source of income, or your health. Maybe it was something harder to quantify, but no less disastrous—your hopes were crushed, your trust was violated, your love was wrung and twisted dead.

Or, perhaps you are beginning to see warning signs. You sense something is starting that will, in time, grow to become a big problem and you don’t know how to handle it. 

This is exactly what happened in Joel’s day.

Joel is remindful of the locust, as this insect features large in his prediction of a devastating cloud of locusts descending upon Judah, bringing catastrophic ruin. Yet, God would one day restore them.

Joel is next in the list of minor prophets in a typical Christian Bible, but he may actually have prophesied dead last to all the others. In fact, not that much is known about this prophet—he’s not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, except by Peter in Acts chapter 2, and neither is his father Pethuel mentioned.  Because of his great concern for Judah and Jerusalem, some theologians locate Joel in the southern kingdom. 

The dating of his prophecy is tricky. Bible scholars have suggested a range of about three hundred years in which his book could have been written. A number of academics put him with the reign of the good king Joash, 835-796 BC, who sadly ended his reign doing evil. However, there are no clear historical details to link Joel to that era.

Interestingly, Joel references material written by Isaiah, Amos, Obadiah, Zephaniah, and Malachi (who wrote during Judah’s exile), and refers to the Greeks (in 3:6), which would seem to place his prophetic ministry in the Persian era, 539-333 BC.

So which is it? Did Joel write such an influential book that five later prophets quoted him? Or, was Joel among the last of the prophets?

Perhaps the most important clue rests on what Joel didn’t talk about. Because, Joel wrote about the temple, priests, active worship, and elders, but didn’t mention a king, the evidence points to some time after Jews had returned to their homeland and rebuilt Jerusalem.

So, why is Joel placed so early in the line-up, right next Amos? Most likely because he quoted the beginning of Amos towards the end of his own book:

The Lord roars from Zion,

    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;

the pastures of the shepherds wither,

    and the top of Carmel dries up.

Amos 1:2 (NRSV)

Compare with

The Lord roars from Zion,

    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,

    and the heavens and the earth shake.

But the Lord is a refuge for his people,

    a stronghold for the people of Israel.

Joel 3:16 (NRSV)

Another seeming direct quote from Amos, in Joel, happens just two verses later,

The time is surely coming, says the Lord,

    when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,

    and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;

the mountains shall drip sweet wine,

    and all the hills shall flow with it.

Amos 9:13 (NRSV)

Compare with

In that day

the mountains shall drip sweet wine,

    the hills shall flow with milk,

and all the stream beds of Judah

    shall flow with water;

a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord

    and water the Wadi Shittim.

Joel 3:18 (NRSV)

It’s almost as though Joel had Amos’ scroll rolled out beside him as he was finishing his own prophetic work. Because they also both described a plague of locusts, I wonder if Joel, attuned as all prophets are to God’s voice was directed by the Lord to open Amos’ prophecy—now two or three centuries old—and read from it as led by the Spirit.

Joel, attuned to God’s vision, could see disaster brewing on the horizon, and turned to his people in trembling horror, calling for a national fast, for repentance, for courage to brace themselves. Whether by an actual event, or by a more metaphorical depiction, Judah was about to be invaded, stripped to the bone, robbed dry, and left for dead. There would be nothing left.

And yet, Joel said, out of ashes and death God would bring restoration.

With many thanks to a really wonderful resource on YouTube called “The Bible Project,” let’s begin our study of Joel with this overview.

The Bible Project: Overview of Joel

[Locust | courtesy]

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