Minor Prophets: Joel's Fearsome Vision

It seems, after asking for a time of national fasting and repentance, Joel began to describe a new invasion, far more terrible than the first one, sort of the same but also very different from the plague of locusts. 

This invasion would be a burning up instead of an eating up. The invaders would be like horses, but only sort of, like chariots, but not really, like men, but not actually men.  There would be convulsions, like earthquakes, and a total black out of all light. 

What is Joel describing? 

Lots of people have suggested all kinds of ideas, I will give you two that lean towards end-time eschatology: 

Some scholars conjecture that Joel was portraying a modern-day army using modern-day weapons. From their vantage, they see napalm, tanks, fire throwers, even missiles in Joel’s depiction. 

For the other idea I’d like you to keep Joel 2 open and turn to Revelation chapter 9.

Joel 2:2-11 (NRSV)Revelation 9:1-12 (NRSV)
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerful army comes;


their like has never been from of old,
    nor will be again after them
    in ages to come. Fire devours in front of them,
    and behind them a flame burns.
Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
    but after them a desolate wilderness,
    and nothing escapes them.  

They have the appearance of horses,
    and like war-horses they charge.
As with the rumbling of chariots,


     they leap on the tops of the mountains,
    like the crackling of a flame of fire
    devouring the stubble,
like a powerful army
    drawn up for battle.  

Before them peoples are in anguish,
    all faces grow pale.

Like warriors they charge,
    like soldiers they scale the wall.


Each keeps to its own course,
    they do not swerve from their paths.
They do not jostle one another,
    each keeps to its own track;  

they burst through the weapons
    and are not halted.They leap upon the city,
    they run upon the walls;
they climb up into the houses,
    they enter through the windows like a thief.
 

The earth quakes before them,
    the heavens tremble.

The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.


The Lord utters his voice
    at the head of his army;
how vast is his host!
    Numberless are those who obey his command.
Truly the day of the Lord is great;
    terrible indeed—who can endure it?
And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit; he opened the shaft of the bottomless pit,

and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft.

Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given authority like the authority of scorpions of the earth.  

They were told not to damage the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.  

They were allowed to torture them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torture was like the torture of a scorpion when it stings someone.  

And in those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.  

In appearance the locusts were like horses equipped for battle.

On their heads were what looked like crowns of gold;

their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair,

and their teeth like lions’ teeth;

they had scales like iron breastplates,

and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle.

They have tails like scorpions, with stingers, and in their tails is their power to harm people for five months.  

They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.    
 I added the emphases and bullet points
Comparison of the prophet Joel’s vision with the apostle John’s vision

Just as Joel may have had the prophet Amos’ scroll unfurled beside him, so John may have had Joel’s words in his mind, for John saw the same scene that Joel saw. 

And what Joel saw shook him to the core.

I imagine him staring hollow-eyed at the horror God had revealed to him. I wonder if he felt the heat of that fire on his skin, felt a wave of nauseous terror ripple right through his body. The trauma from an injury can remain in the brain and body as muscle and tissue memory—did the memory of the locust invasion trigger fresh agony, while Joel was in the grip of this fearsome vision?

Imagine God’s gentle love as the breath of His Spirit swept through Joel’s fevered mind,


Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.

Joel 2:12-13 (NRSV)

Again, Joel called the nation to fasting and repentance. “Blow the trumpet” he cried out, “Sanctify a fast! Call a solemn assembly, gather the people!” Everyone was to come:

  • Assemble the aged
  • Gather the children
  • Even infants at the breast
  • Let the bridegroom leave his room
  • And the bride her canopy

“Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.”

I picture Joel himself so involved in what the Lord was showing him that it was almost as if he were living the vision, turning to see mothers with their children, and over there, a wedding underway, and behind him, an old man sitting in his doorway, an old woman bent over as she slowly walked. In his vision he shouted to them, “Drop everything, come just as you are, there isn’t a moment to waste. I know this is your wedding day, your honeymoon, you just gave birth, you think you are too old to matter anymore….You must come and weep, and pray, and be restored to your God.”

Finally, the Lord spoke.

If you have Joel’s prophecy opened in front of you, then you can see the sweet, good words the Lord had for His people, and the words He speaks to every person who turns to Him.

Right in the middle of God’s speech are some of the most famous words in the Book of Joel, words that have been repeated countless times as people over the centuries had started hollow-eyed at their own horrors.


I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.

Joel 2:25-26 (NRSV)

God gives His promise for the lost years,
the wasted years, the missed opportunities.

You can’t return to the past and change it. 

But God can and will restore to you all that was wasted when you return to Him. 

It’s not too late to restore relationships, to repair bridges, to pray for and say yes to new opportunities. God can make up for all you didn’t do right before, He can more than make up for it! Knowing that God will restore what was lost, what was wasted, frees you and me to move into and with God’s will now—to  fulfill His purpose for us today.


[Apocalypse | image courtesy Pxfuel]

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