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Bible Commentaries
Joel 2

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-2

1. The nearness of the army 2:1-2

The prophet ordered a trumpet (Heb. shophar, ram’s horn) to be blown in Zion (Jerusalem), specifically on the temple mount, to sound an alarm (cf. Jeremiah 4:5-6; Ezekiel 33:2-6). Sometimes "Zion" refers to Jerusalem in the eschaton, but other times it is simply a poetic synonym for Jerusalem. Joel used it in the latter sense here. This shophar was the ancient equivalent of an air raid siren. The day of the Lord was coming, and all the inhabitants of the city should tremble. That day would be a time of foreboding evil, symbolized by a very overcast sky. It is interesting that a plague of darkness followed a locust plague in Egypt (Exodus 10). Darkness and clouds are common figures for judgment and destruction in the Old Testament (e.g., Jeremiah 13:16; Ezekiel 30:3; Ezekiel 30:18; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Ezekiel 34:12; Amos 5:18-20; Zephaniah 1:15). They are often associated with Yahweh in His role of mighty, victorious warrior (cf. Deuteronomy 4:11; Deuteronomy 5:22-23; Psalms 18:9; Psalms 18:11; Psalms 97:2). Joel could see a gigantic army spread over the horizon like the dawn. (Was the attack coming from the East, the direction of the dawn?). He said there never had been anything like this day nor would there be after it, even the plagues in Egypt. This may be hyperbole, or this day may refer to the Great Tribulation, when the Jews will experience their worst ever attack. Joel said this attack was near, either in the near future in his day or relatively near from his perspective as a prophet (cf. 2 Peter 3:8).

Many scholars take this passage as predicting an invasion of Jerusalem by some ancient enemy of Israel such as Assyria or Babylonia in the relatively near future. [Note: E.g., Wolff, p. 42; Chisholm, "Joel," pp. 1411-12.] Patterson argued for the army being that of Assyria. [Note: Patterson, pp. 245-46.] In favor of such a view is the reference to the invasion being near (Joel 2:1). Against it is the statement of its uniqueness in all of history (Joel 2:2). Other interpreters view Joel 2:1-11 as a further description of the locust plague that Joel described in chapter 1. [Note: E.g., Allen, pp. 29, 64-76; and Driver, p. 28.] This seems unlikely since the locust plague of chapter 1 was past, but the attack in Joel 2:1-11 was future. I think it probably refers to an attack by some enemy in Joel’s day in view of what follows.

Verses 1-11

A. The invading army 2:1-11

The Lord revealed that an army of human beings rather than locusts would soon assail Jerusalem. He described this army at length to stress the danger that His people faced and to motivate them to repent.

Verses 1-27


Joel had spoken briefly of a coming day of the Lord in Joel 1:15, but now he said more about it.

The term "the day of the Lord" seems to have arisen from the popular concept, in the ancient Near East, that a really great warrior king could consummate an entire military campaign in one single day. [Note: See Douglas Stuart, "The Sovereign’s Day of Conquest," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 220/21 (December 1975, February 1976):159-64.] Thus, as the Israelites used the term in relation to Yahweh, it reflected His greatness and pointed to His swift and effective dispatch of His enemies on a given occasion. Sometimes the term refers to such a judgment in the near past or future, and sometimes it refers to one in the distant future (eschaton). [Note: See Chisholm, "Joel," pp. 1412-13; or Patterson, p. 256, for good, brief discussions of the term and its uses.]

Verse 3

This huge army advanced like a forest fire, consuming everything in its path (cf. Joel 1:19). Before the devastation conditions were idyllic, but after it there was nothing but a scorched-earth wilderness. Nothing escaped the advancing judgment (cf. Exodus 10:5; Exodus 10:15).

Verses 3-5

2. The destructive power of the army 2:3-5

Verses 4-5

Joel compared this advancing army to warhorses and chariots, the war machines of his day. He heard the familiar sound of chariots in battle, which he likened to the crackling of fire as it rages up a mountainside swiftly consuming everything in its path. The huge army that Joel saw appeared unstoppable.

It is interesting that locusts look like tiny armored horses, and they behave like them as well (cf. Job 39:19-20; Revelation 9:7). The Italian word for locust means "little horse," and the German word means "hay horse." [Note: Cf. Wolff, p. 45, n. 46; Driver, p. 52; et al.] Thus the correspondence between the army of locusts that had recently swept through the land swiftly and this future invading army is unmistakable. Even their sounds were similar. However, the point of the comparison is probably the horse as a symbol of power and might (cf. Isaiah 31:1-3; Hosea 14:3; Micah 5:10; Haggai 2:22; Zechariah 9:10; Zechariah 12:4; Revelation 9:7). [Note: Dillard, p. 274.]

Verse 6

As this army advanced, all the people in and around Jerusalem felt terrified and turned pale with fear (cf. Isaiah 26:17; Jeremiah 4:31; Micah 4:10).

Verses 6-9

3. The relentlessness of the army 2:6-9

Verses 7-9

The enemy soldiers ran with great stamina and climbed over walls, as locusts do. They were very disciplined in their attack, each one staying in his proper position and not crowding his fellow soldiers (cf. Joshua 6:5). Even when they broke through an obstacle they did not break ranks. They rushed on the city of Jerusalem, ran along its walls, and climbed into its houses like so many thieves. Again the comparison with locusts is striking (cf. Exodus 10:5-6).

Verse 10

The earth trembles as this army advances. The heavens also tremble. The sun and the moon grow dark, and the stars fade from view. Cosmic disturbances like these are common in biblical descriptions of Yahweh waging war (cf. Joel 3:16; Judges 5:4; Psalms 18:7; Psalms 77:18; Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 13:13; Ezekiel 32:7; Zechariah 14:6-7; Revelation 6-18).

Verses 10-11

4. The invincibility of the army 2:10-11

Verse 11

It now becomes clear that Yahweh is leading this army against Jerusalem. Normally the Lord fought for His people, but here Joel saw Him leading an army against them. He is the one who is directing the soldiers with His voice. His host is both numerous and strong. The day of this attack, the day of the Lord, is great and awesome, and no one can withstand it (cf. Malachi 3:2; Malachi 4:5).

Some interpreters regard the description of the locust plague in Joel 2:1-11 as simply another description of the same locust plague as the one described in chapter 1, or another locust plague in Israel’s past history. Others take this description as an allegory picturing Israel’s traditional enemies. Still others view it as picturing the eschatological day of the Lord in which the Lord Himself will come with His heavenly army in holy war against evil. [Note: E.g., idem, p. 278.] Many amillennialists take this view. The view that seems best to me, and to many other commentators, is that it is a metaphor based on the past locust plague. Joel used the past locust invasion as a harbinger of an impending human invasion by an undesignated foreign foe.

Verses 12-13

Speaking for the Lord, Joel urged his hearers even now, even though judgment was threatened, to repent. However, he clarified that their repentance needed to be wholehearted, not just external. Fasting, weeping, and mourning would give evidence of the people’s sincerity, but they had to rend their hearts, not just their garments, as was customary in mourning. They needed to return to Yahweh their God (cf. 2 Chronicles 7:14).

Verses 12-14

1. An appeal for private repentance 2:12-14

Verses 12-17

B. A call to repentance 2:12-17

Such an awesome prospect of invasion led Joel to appeal to the people of Jerusalem to repent. This would hopefully turn away God’s judgment. He voiced two appeals, but, unusually, he did not say what the sins of the people were. Evidently they were known well enough at the time.

Verses 13-14

If they did, they could count on Him being gracious, compassionate, patient, loyal to them, and willing to withhold punishment (cf. Exodus 34:6; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 103:8; Psalms 143:8; Jonah 4:2). Their genuine repentance might-Yahweh is still sovereign-move Him to turn from His previously intended course of action and bless, rather than curse, them (cf. Malachi 3:7). Agricultural blessings would signal a reversal of His judgment in the recent locust invasion, and they would then be able to offer grain and wine to the Lord again (cf. Joel 1:9; Joel 1:13).

"Some dismiss biblical references to God ’relenting’ from judgment as anthropomorphic, arguing that an unchangeable God would never change his mind once he has announced his intentions. While it is true that God will not deviate from an announced course of action once he has issued a formal, unconditional decree (see Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Psalms 110:4), he is often depicted as ’changing his mind’ in contexts where he has given only a warning or made a conditional statement about what he will do. Since Joel 2:13 lists God’s capacity to ’change his mind’ as one of his fundamental attributes (see also Jonah 4:2), one cannot dismiss this characteristic as anthropomorphic." [Note: Chisholm, Handbook of . . ., p. 372. See also idem, "Does God Change His Mind?" Bibliotheca Sacra 152:608 (October-December 1995):387-99; and Thomas L. Constable, Talking to God: What the Bible Teaches about Prayer, pp. 147-48.]

Verses 15-16

The prophet urged the blowing of the shophar in Zion again, but this time to call a public assembly and a fast rather than to announce the coming invader (Joel 2:1; cf. Joel 1:14). Fasting involved sacrificially going without food to devote oneself to a higher spiritual purpose. God’s people needed to gather together and re-consecrate themselves to Him as a people. Everyone without exception should participate, from the oldest to the youngest. Even newlyweds, who sometimes received a special exemption for being newly wed (Deuteronomy 24:5), needed to attend this meeting.

It is interesting that the Jews will assemble in the Promised Land, having received encouragement from the Antichrist, during the first half of the Tribulation. Then the invader will descend on their land and the terrible prospect envisioned in Joel 2:1-11 will take place, in the second half of the Tribulation. Antichrist will persecute them. They will not assemble then in repentance, however.

Verses 15-17

2. An appeal for public repentance 2:15-17

Joel went beyond calling for personal heart-felt repentance to urging the people to assemble for a corporate expression of their sincere contrition.

Verse 17

The priests should take the lead in this public expression of repentance. They should weep and pray for God to have mercy on His people, because they were His special inheritance, for the glory of His name. The pagans might conclude that He was unable or unwilling to defend His chosen people from their enemy if He allowed the invader to succeed.

Verse 18

1. The Lord’s gracious response 2:18

If the Israelites repented sincerely, Yahweh would be zealous to protect His chosen land from foreign invaders and have pity on His chosen people. This was His essential response.

"Beginning in Joel 2:18, Israel ceases to be the object of God’s judgment and becomes instead the object of His blessing. In a similar reversal the hordes (locust and human) cease to be the instruments of God’s judgment on Israel and become instead the objects of God’s judgment. This reversal was originally foretold by God through Moses in Deuteronomy 30:1-9." [Note: Dyer, p. 742.]

"Between Joel 2:17-18, we should presume that the invitation and commands of Joel 2:12-17 have been accepted and obeyed." [Note: Hubbard, p. 61.]

Verses 18-27

C. The possibility of forgiveness and restoration 2:18-27

Joel next revealed the Lord’s response and comforting words in view of the people’s private and public repentance. It is unclear whether he meant that the Lord had responded or would respond. The problem is the Hebrew perfect verbs, which can be rendered in English with either past or future verbs. Several English translations (NASB, NIV, AV) interpreted the Lord’s response as being conditioned on the people’s repentance and translated the verbs in the future tense. It is equally possible that Joel meant that God had already responded positively because the people had repented, which the prophet did not record. I view this section as what God promised to do if the people responded to Joel’s call to repentance. Sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. God told the Israelites that they had passed the point of no return and that captivity was inevitable (Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11-12). Since repentance was still possible for the Israelites when Joel wrote, this prophecy evidently does not deal with that time.

"Laments in the OT are sometimes followed by a divine oracle in which Yahweh, through a prophet, assures his people that their prayers will be answered (or sometimes rejected)." [Note: Allen, p. 85. See 2 Chronicles 20; Psalms 12:5; 60:6-8; Isaiah 33:10-13; Jeremiah 4:1-2 (cf. 3:21-25); Hosea 14:4-7; and Micah 7:11-13.]

Verse 19

Joel had interpreted the Lord’s response (Joel 2:18), and now he relayed His instructions (Joel 2:19-27). Yahweh would restore all that the locusts had eaten: grain, wine, and oil (cf. Joel 1:10). The people would enjoy plenty of these products in the future (cf. Deuteronomy 6:10-11; Deuteronomy 8:7-10; Deuteronomy 11:13-15). Yahweh would also never again allow the nations to disparage His people, assuming that they would not apostatize again (cf. Joel 2:26-27). Another view, less acceptable from my viewpoint, is that this promise is unconditional and refers to Israel’s eschatological future. The problem with this view is that the Jews will experience some antagonism at the very end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:7-10).

Verses 19-27

2. The Lord’s promise of blessing 2:19-27

Having given His essential response to the people’s repentance, the Lord now explained what He would do in more detail. This section is chiastic with the focus of emphasis on Joel 2:21-24. Joel 2:19; Joel 2:26-27 promise a restoration of crops and a cessation of shame. Joel 2:20; Joel 2:25 promise the elimination of enemies, and Joel 2:21-24 urge courage and encourage rejoicing.

Verse 20

The prophet now revealed that this invader would come from the North. Both Assyria and Babylon, as well as all other eastern invaders, entered Israel from the north because of the impassability of the Arabian Desert to Israel’s east.

"If ’the northerner’ is yet future (eschatological), the army is possibly the army in Joel 3:9; Joel 3:12; Daniel 11:40; and Zechariah 14:2." [Note: Chisholm, "Joel," p. 1419.]

Instead of leading this army against Jerusalem (Joel 2:11), the Lord would drive it from Judah. He would drive its soldiers into a parched and desolate land (Arabia?) and into the eastern (Dead) sea and the western (Mediterranean) sea (cf. Daniel 11:45). In other words, He would turn against them rather than leading them and scatter them rather than uniting them against Jerusalem. The smell of the dead carcasses of the many soldiers would fill the air because they had done many great things. In short, they had tried to overthrow God’s people (cf. the Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea). Masses of dead locusts also smell terrible, especially after dying in the sea and then being washed ashore. [Note: Driver, pp. 62-63; Smith, 2:441.]

Verses 21-24

Joel called on the land, personified to represent its people, to rejoice because the Lord had done great things (in contrast to the enemy army, Joel 2:20). The NIV interpreted the last line of Joel 2:20 as referring to the Lord, but it probably refers to the invading army, as the NASB, AV, and RSV translated it. Specifically, he had delivered His people from a much larger and more powerful enemy invasion, assuming the Judahites’ repentance. The animals too could stop fearing because God’s blessing had returned to the land. Green pastures had replaced brown, and trees and vines had again become abundantly fruitful rather than dry and lifeless (cf. Joel 1:7; Joel 1:10-12; Joel 1:19). Fall and spring rains, signs of divine blessing (cf. Deuteronomy 11:14), had replaced drought, so the Lord’s people could again rejoice rather than grieving (cf. Joel 1:5; Joel 1:8; Joel 1:11; Joel 1:13; Joel 1:20). The 1978 NIV translation "a teacher for righteousness" (Joel 2:23) is better rendered "the autumn rains for your righteousness." [Note: See Kapelrud, p. 116; or Patterson, p. 254.] The threshing floors would be full of grain and the vats would overflow with new wine and oil (cf. Joel 1:17).

Verse 25

The Lord further promised that He would make up to His people what they had suffered because of the locust invasion (cf. Joel 1:4; Exodus 22:1; 2 Kings 4:7). The "years that the locusts had eaten" refers to the yield or produce of those years. Sin had resulted in covenant curses, but repentance would result in covenant blessings (cf. Deuteronomy 28-29).

Verses 26-27

The people would have plenty to eat and would feel satisfied physically. They would also be full spiritually and praise Yahweh their God for working wonders for them (cf. Exodus 3:15; Exodus 15:11; Exodus 34:10; Joshua 3:5; Judges 6:13; Psalms 77:14). They would never be put to shame, again assuming that they continued in their attitude of humble trust and obedience (cf. Joel 2:19). God’s blessings would evidence His presence among them and the intimacy of their fellowship with Him (cf. Numbers 11:20; Numbers 14:14; Deuteronomy 7:21). They would realize in their experience that He is the only true God (cf. Exodus 6:7; Exodus 16:12; Deuteronomy 4:35; Deuteronomy 4:39), and they would abide in that shameless condition (as long as they remained faithful to Him).

". . . just as God’s warnings of judgment are often conditional and can be averted by repentance, so his promises of prosperity are often contingent on their recipients remaining loyal to God (see Jeremiah 18:7-10)." [Note: Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p. 373.]


The preceding promises foreshadowed even greater deliverance and blessing for the Israelites in their far distant future. The clues to a leap to the distant future in the prophet’s perspective are the words "after this" (Joel 2:28), "in those days" (Joel 2:29), "the great and awesome day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31; cf. Joel 2:11), "in those days and at that time" (Joel 3:1), and "in that day" (Joel 3:18).

Verses 28-29

After this, namely, after the deliverance from the northern invader just described, God promised to pour out His Spirit on all the Israelites without gender, age, class, or position distinctions. Other similar promises identify the Israelites as the recipients of the Spirit (e.g., Ezekiel 36:27; Ezekiel 39:29; Zechariah 12:10), and here "your sons and daughters" (i.e., Israelites) are the object of this blessing. God never gave His Spirit to unbelievers, so believing Israelites are in view. Amillennialists believe that all flesh means all believers, namely, believing Jews and Gentiles in the church. [Note: E.g., Dillard, p. 295. Cf. Hubbard, p. 73.] They change the meaning of what Joel said. In Old Testament times God gave His Spirit only to select individuals (cf. Numbers 11:24-29; 1 Samuel 10:10-11; 1 Samuel 19:20-24), but in the future everyone (i.e., all believers) would prophesy and receive revelations from the Lord. Prophesying often describes praising God in the Bible (cf. 1 Chronicles 25:1-3), so that may be in view here. Visions and dreams were God’s customary ways of giving special revelations to people in Old Testament times (cf. Numbers 12:6). Normally the absence of prophetic revelation indicated sin and divine judgment, but the presence of such revelation reflected divine blessing (cf. 1 Samuel 3:1; Amos 8:11). So a universal bestowal of the Spirit indicates a time of unprecedented divine blessing. This would be the fulfillment of Moses’ desire (Numbers 11:29; cf. Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:3-4; Ezekiel 36:27-28; Ezekiel 37:14; Ezekiel 39:29; Zechariah 12:10).

Verses 28-32

A. Israel’s spiritual renewal and deliverance 2:28-32

Verses 30-31

The Lord also promised awesome displays of celestial phenomena before this great and terrible day of the Lord arrived. Awe-inspiring miracles would occur in the sky as well as on the earth. The appearance of blood, fire, and columns of smoke suggests warfare, with God’s hand at work behind the scenes (cf. Exodus 19:9; Exodus 19:16-18; Revelation 6:12-17). The sun would become dark and the moon would turn red. These are probably descriptions of how these heavenly bodies will look (language of appearance), not what will become of them, in view of other similar descriptions (e.g., Joel 2:2; Joel 2:10; Joel 3:15; Jeremiah 4:23-24; Ezekiel 32:6-8; Amos 5:18-20; Amos 8:9; Zephaniah 1:15; Revelation 6:12-13). These signs will precede the great and awesome day of the Lord still future (cf. Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-28).

Verse 32

The promise continued that whoever would call on the name of Yahweh would be delivered. The day of the Lord described earlier in this chapter involved God judging the enemies of His people, and this eschatological day of the Lord also involves divine judgment. Therefore the deliverance in view must be from divine judgment (cf. Romans 11:26). Specifically, there will be people on Mt. Zion and in Jerusalem who escape, even among the survivors of previous distresses whom Yahweh has chosen for deliverance (cf. Isaiah 51:3; Zechariah 13:8).

The Apostle Paul quoted this verse and applied it to spiritual salvation (Romans 10:13). His usage does not fulfill what God promised here, namely, physical deliverance before the coming day of the Lord. Paul meant that just as God will deliver all who call on Him in that future day of the Lord, so He will deliver all who call on Him for salvation from sin. They will avoid the terrible day when all unbelievers will suffer condemnation by their Judge (Revelation 20:11-15).

The Apostle Peter also quoted this passage (Joel 2:28-32) in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14-36). He said that what the people of Jerusalem were witnessing, which they mistook for drunkenness, was what Joel had spoken of (Acts 2:16-21; cf. Acts 10:45). Many interpreters believe that Peter meant that Joel’s prophecy was completely fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. [Note: E.g., Dillard, p. 295.] This can hardly be what he meant, however, because much of what Joel predicted in this passage did not occur on the day of Pentecost, specifically the celestial phenomena. The day of Pentecost was not the day of the Lord that Joel predicted.

Another interpretation of Peter’s meaning is that part of what Joel predicted was fulfilled on Pentecost, and the rest awaits fulfillment in the future day of the Lord. [Note: E.g., Kaiser, p. 189.] This double or partial fulfillment view makes most sense to me. God poured out His Spirit on the church on the day of Pentecost, but He will also pour out the Spirit on Israel in the eschatological future. The problem with this view is that the promises of the outpouring of the Spirit and the other miracles are so intertwined that separating them by thousands of years seems unnatural. Moreover, Peter quoted the whole passage in Joel, not just the promise of the Spirit’s outpouring. In contrast, Jesus only quoted part of Isaiah 61:1-3 when He said that that prophecy was fulfilled when He read it in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:18-21).

A third possible interpretation is that Peter meant that what happened on Pentecost was similar to what Joel had prophesied God would do in the future day of the Lord. He drew a comparison and pointed out an analogy, but he did not claim fulfillment. Similarly, Jesus said, "This is my body," in the Upper Room. Both expressions are metaphors, according to this view. This view sees the entire fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in the eschatological future. The outpouring on the day of Pentecost was simply a foreview of what the Lord will do in the future (cf. Galatians 3:28). The day of Pentecost was not the day of the Lord that the prophets spoke of here and elsewhere.

There is not much practical difference between views two and three. View two sees the outpouring on Pentecost as a partial fulfillment, and view three sees it as a foreview of the fulfillment. [Note: For a fuller discussion of the views regarding Peter’s use of this prophecy, see my notes on Acts 2:16-21.]

"Peter quoted this passage in Acts 2 because (a) it related to the outpouring of God’s Spirit (Acts 2:4; Acts 2:15-16), (b) it stressed his theme of repentance (Acts 2:21; Acts 2:37-39), and (c) it fit with his understanding that the Jews were about to enter the Day of the Lord, leading up to the return of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus (Acts 1:6-8; Acts 2:36; Acts 3:19-21)." [Note: Dyer, p. 743. Cf. Wiersbe, p. 338.]

The day of the Lord that Joel predicted here begins with the Tribulation (cf. Daniel 9:24-27; Revelation 6-18), continues through the return of Christ and the Millennium (cf. Revelation 19-20), and culminates in the eternal state (cf. 2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21-22). The signs in view picture what the Book of Revelation describes further as occurring in the Tribulation, and the pouring out of the Spirit will occur at the beginning of the Millennium. Then all believers will possess the Spirit and will have the ability to receive fresh revelations from the Lord. Forgiveness of sins and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are two of four great blessings of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24-30).

"Joel envisioned the outpouring of the Spirit as being confined to Jews, but in the progress of revelation and history, we discover that Gentiles are included as well, for they too are incorporated into the new covenant community." [Note: Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p. 374.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Joel 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/joel-2.html. 2012.
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