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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

- Joel

by John Dummelow


1. Author. Nothing is mentioned concerning the personality of the prophet Joel beyond the name of his father, Pethuel (Joel 1:1); but he clearly lived in Jerusalem, since the Temple appears ever present before him (Joel 1:9, Joel 1:13-14, Joel 1:16; Joel 2:17), and the sound of alarm is given from Zion (Joel 2:1), and the people are summoned thither for a solemn assembly (Joel 2:17). He also does not notice the northern kingdom, but speaks of Judah and Jerusalem having suffered from their enemies (Joel 3:1, Joel 3:6), and promises to them a recompense (Joel 3:8, Joel 3:17, Joel 3:20).

2. Date. The date of the book of Joel is determined alone by internal evidence. A terminus a quo is fixed by the dispersion and wrongs mentioned in Joel 3:1-6. Many have seen in these a reference to the sacking of Jerusalem during the reign of Jehoram (about 850 b.c.) by the Philistines and Arabians, recorded in 2 Chronicles 21:16.; In that case the book would probably be one of the earliest of the prophetic writings, a formerly prevalent view, suggested by its position in the Canon after Hosea. Agreeable to this early date have been pointed out, (1) that the condemnation of Egypt and Edom for having shed innocent blood (Joel 3:19) may refer to the invasion of Shishak during the reign of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25), and to the revolt of Edom under Jehoram (2 Kings 8:20); (2) that the mention of the valley of Jehoshaphat preserves a lively recollection of that king’s victory at the valley of Berachah (2 Chronicles 20:26); (3) that the simplicity of the teaching of Joel indicates an early period of written prophecy; (4) especially as fixing the date of his book in the early part of the reign of Joash (837-801 b.c.), that it is silent concerning the king—then in his minority; (5) that idolatry and Baal worship are not mentioned, since they did not flourish when the king was under the influence of Jehoiada the priest (2 Kings 12:2; 2 Chronicles 24:17.); (6) that the priests and the worship of Jehovah are made prominent (Joel 1:18; Joel 2:17), something also to be expected at the same time through the influence of Jehoiada; and, finally, (7) that the failure to mention the Syrians, Assyrians, or Chaldeans as enemies of Judah, is also agreeable to this date, since only late in the reign of Joash did the Syrians, through Hazael, threaten Judah (2 Kings 12:17.).

But, in spite of this apparent accumulation of evidence, it is doubtful whether the dispersion and wrongs of Joel 3:1-6, where the partition of the land is definitely stated (Joel 3:2), can refer to any other event than the Chaldean conquest of Judah, and the following considerations also are in favour of a post-exilic date. (1) The words of Joel stand in strong contrast to those of the early prophets, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah, who emphasised the defection of Israel from Jehovah through deeds of violence and oppression, political alliances and idolatry, and based almost wholly upon these their calls for repentance or forebodings of divine judgment. But these features are entirely wanting in the book of Joel. Human agencies, also, are not found as instruments of divine judgments, as in the earlier prophets, except in the slightest degree, but supernatural manifestations take their place, and thus the book is of the nature of an apocalypse, a kind of writing prevalent from the captivity and onward. One feature of the apocalyptic literature is the use made of parallels from earlier writings, and these are frequent in the book of Joel. (2) The stress laid upon sacrifices and the prominence given to the priests (Joel 1:9, Joel 1:13; Joel 2:17) reflect a highly developed ecclesiastical community, which the Jews became after the exile. (3) The mention of the Grecians in connexion with the slave trade (Joel 3:6) points strongly to the post-exilic period when Syrian slaves were in request in Greece. (4) The silence concerning the northern kingdom and the Syrians, Assyrians and Chaldeans, and a king in Judah, already mentioned, favour a post-exilic date. (5) The references to Edom and Egypt can also readily be explained from the post-exilic point of view, since bitter feeling then continued toward Edom, and Egypt might be mentioned typically: see Joel 3:19. And, finally, (6) the language favours a post-exilic writer. Hence the more prevailing view among scholars now is that the book of Joel belongs to the post-exilic period, and was written cirJoel 500 b.c., though possibly considerably later.

3. Subject and Occasion. The general subject of Joel is divine judgment, or the Day of Jehovah. This is depicted in 1- Joel 2:17 under the form of a locust plague, which undoubtedly was the occasion of the prophecy. So vivid is the description of the locusts, especially under the figure of an army (Joel 2:6-11), that some have supposed the language figurative and have taken the account as presaging a future invasion or experience of Israel after the analogy of that of the hosts of Gog and Magog described in Ezekiel 38, 39. But the prophet is rather speaking of literal locusts, addressing his contemporaries in view of present distress. His description of the advent of these insects as a Day of Jehovah and as a destruction from the Almighty (Joel 1:15) with terrifying natural phenomena (Joel 2:10) is none too strong to express the feeling awakened by the presence of real locusts. The fearfulness of their devastations has been attested again and again by travellers and scientific observers. Locusts darken the sky, their sound is like that of a rushing wind or falling water; nothing can break their ranks or turn them back; neither fire nor water as ordinarily applied stays their progress; they devour all vegetation; they penetrate into houses; and finally, when their work is accomplished, driven by the wind into the sea their dead bodies have been cast up in heaps to putrefy the atmosphere and produce disease. Thus the interpretation that finds literal locusts is justified, and yet, doubtless, in the prophet’s mind the scourge itself was a figure of a great and final day of judgment, and that thought intensified his language and made it somewhat ideal.

After a two-fold description of this day of judgment through locusts, with calls for fasting and prayer (Joel 1:2 to Joel 2:17), it is said, ’Jehovah had pity on his people’ (Joel 2:18 RV), implying that the people had fasted and prayed and that their intercession had availed. Then the promises are given of the removal of the locusts and the restoration of the fruitfulness of the land (Joel 2:19-27), and of the bestowal of the divine spirit of knowledge (Joel 2:28-32). In connexion with this latter promise a glimpse of the already suggested terrible day of final judgment is given (Joel 2:30-32), and this becomes the direct theme of the remainder of the book in two different forms: first, a judgment restricted to the immediate neighbours of Israel (Joel 3:1-8); and then, secondly, one embracing all nations (Joel 3:9-21).

4. Teaching. The book of Joel addresses the Christian Church under visitations of evil with a call for humility and intercession both through outward form and ceremony and through the inward motions of the heart, with the assurance that God hears and answers prayer, turning the day of calamity into one of prosperity. It heralds Jehovah as the judge of all mankind to right wrongs, giving temporal and spiritual blessings unto His faithful people without distinction, and punishing evildoers. Thus it appeals to our innate sense of justice and becomes a source of hope and strength when the righteous are tried. A final blissful salvation is assured to the people of God. But, at the same time, the book has limitations in fostering a spirit of retaliation (Joel 3:8), in presenting no salvation for the heathen (cp. in contrast Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 19:18-25), and, while doubtless the assumption is that the saved Israelites are righteous and the other nations are wicked, yet the distinction between the saved and unsaved is racial rather than spiritual and moral, and the narrow feeling of the Jews, which the book of Jonah was written to counteract, is reflected, and its universal judgment scene (Joel 3:9-21) needs to be supplemented by that of Matthew 25:31-46, even as its promise of the outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2:28.) finds fulfilment in spiritual gifts to the Church which are far wider than those of the single day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14.).

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