Joel 1 (day 877) 26 May 2012]
1: “Son of Pethuel” is the only information given about Joel’s identity. We will learn in the course of reading the book that he is likely situated in Jerusalem some time after the return of the exiles as recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Many scholars today place the book between 500 and 350 B.C.
2-20: The first chapter tells the story of an incredibly destructive locust plague that destroys everything in its path leaving no food for humans and animals alike. There is no grain or wine for consumption or religious rituals. Verse 19 hints of wildfires sweeping forests and fields after the locusts have stripped them bare.
There is no way to tell if the locust plague is intended to describe an actual event or is instead a literary device to illustrate the coming “day of the LORD” (2:1). Many scholars, particularly those of centuries past, believe Joel dates to the last years of the kingdom of Judah (630-600 B.C.) and that the locust “army” is a metaphor for the real army of Babylon invading the land.
Joel 2 (day 878) 27 May 2012
1-14: Using the imagery of a vast swarm of locusts, Joel moves now to describe the “day of the LORD” that is coming, an apocalyptic day of world judgment and destruction in which the armies of God overrun the earth, leaping and scaling buildings like locusts. That this is no longer intended to be a description of a locust plague is made evident by the devouring fire that goes before and behind them, the quaking earth and the trembling heaven that accompanies the onslaught. God’s “army” is relentless and unstoppable.
15-16: Again the prophet calls for the trumpet to be blown. Now a vast assembly of the people is called, including even infant children and newly married couples on their wedding night.
17: The priests are summoned to raise intercessory prayers for the people, asking God to spare them because they are God’s people and pointing out to God that if they are destroyed other nations will believe God is powerless to help them. Hmm…I wonder if that line of prayer works.
18-27: Joel imagines God’s response to the people’s supplications. God will restore the land’s productivity. The punishing army sent to enforce the Day of the LORD will be diverted to other “parched and desolate” (figuratively speaking) places. The land where God’s people dwell and the wild animals that live there need not fear. The people (“children”) can rejoice because God will send the rains in due season, a bumper crop will result, and the people will enjoy a plentiful harvest.
28-29: After the Day of the LORD God’s spirit will be poured out and the people, all the people, will be changed. Men and women alike, young and old, slave and free, Gentile and Jew will be filled with God’s spirit. Think of the implications of these verses on the apostles’ understanding of the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), or on Paul’s understanding of the gift God gave the world in Jesus (Galatians 3:28 – “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”), or on the United Methodist Church’s more recent decision to ordain women for ministry.
30-32: These verses are quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:19-21), and Jesus tells of similar events by which God will warn the nations of the coming Day (Mark 8:24-25). We should not fall into the error of trying to figure out what historical events might match the description Joel gives: he is simply using fantastic imagery to speak of the unimaginable things God might do to redeem creation when the time comes. Such is the currency of apocalyptic literature.
Joel 3 (day 879) 28 May 2012
1-3: Joel is looking to the distant future when Judah and Jerusalem will be restored and all the nations judged for their part in the suffering of God’s people. The ‘valley of Jehoshaphat’ is not a specific location – no such place name is known – but rather a reference to what is to happen. The name Jehoshaphat means “the LORD is judge.” The nations will be judged for claiming the land for themselves. This is an affront to God because the people of Israel had always lived in the land at God’s pleasure; the land has always belonged to God.
4-8: Tyre, Sidon and Philistia are held up for the particular crimes of taking the sacred vessels from the temple in Jerusalem and using them in their pagan places of worship, and for engaging in the slave trade to sell God’s people to the Greeks. Their punishment will be that they in turn will be sold to the Sabeans, a region in the Arabian Peninsula in the opposite direction from Greece.
9-10: Joel is told to summon all the nations to war with God and to come with all the firepower they can muster – beating plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into spears is exactly the opposite of what we read in Isaiah 2:4 and will read in Micah 4:3.
11: Joel issues the summons, while at the same time calling on the warriors of the LORD to come down and meet them in battle.
12: God renews the summons to the trial, which is now being described as a battle.
13-16: God commands the heavenly host to utterly destroy the armies of the nations, using the imagery of harvesting the grain field and the vineyard. The battle assumes cosmic proportions as the foes clash. All creation is shaken.
17-21: The book ends with a repetition of God’s intent to restore Zion as his “holy mountain,” bless the land, and punish the neighboring peoples who have had a part in causing the suffering of God’s people.