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by Thomas Constable
TITLE AND WRITER
The title of this book is the name of its writer, as is probably true of all the prophetical books of the Old Testament.
We know little about Joel, whose name means "Yahweh is God." He was the son of Pethuel, who does not appear to have been an especially famous person. Eleven other individuals in the Old Testament bore the name Joel (1Sa_8:2; 1Ch_4:35; 1Ch_5:4; 1Ch_7:3; 1Ch_11:38; 1Ch_15:7; 1Ch_26:22; 1Ch_27:20; 2Ch_29:12; Ezr_10:43; Neh_11:9).
All the extant Hebrew manuscripts and the ancient versions of Joel attest to the unity of the book. Critics who deny its unity and argue for two different writers do so on the basis of supposed literary and conceptual differences, usually between the first two chapters and the third. Specifically, they assign the historical passages to Joel and the apocalyptic ones to another writer. However there is a consistent theme that ties the whole book together, which is one reason most conservative interpreters believe that Joel wrote all three chapters.
The date of Joel is its largest introductory problem, as is the case with Obadiah. [Note: See Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 411-14.] There are four most likely possibilities. First, some scholars advocate an early pre-exilic date during the reign of King Jehoshaphat (872-848 B.C.) or possibly his grandson, King Joash (835-796 B.C.). Arguments in favor of this period include the position of Joel in the Hebrew canon; it appears among other prophetic writings of this period. Also the enemies of Israel that Joel named (Tyre, Sidon, Philistia [cf. 2Ch_21:16-17], Egypt [cf. 1Ki_14:25-26], and Edom [cf. 2Ki_8:20-22]; Joe_3:2-7; Joe_3:19) were enemies of Israel during this time. The prominence Joel gave to Judah’s priests and elders rather than to her king-Joash was a boy king under the influence of Jehoiada, the high priest, early in his reign-is a further argument for this view. However, all these conclusions are open to other interpretations. [Note: Advocates of this view include Hobart E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, p. 148; Gleason A. Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 305; E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 271-72; C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, 1:169-70; Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 188; Charles H. Dyer, The Old Testament Explorer, p. 737; Warren W. Wiersbe, "Joel," in The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 333; and Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, p. 268.]
Second, some authorities believe a mid-pre-exilic date of composition, probably during the reign of Joash’s grandson, King Uzziah (792-740 B.C.), fits the evidence best. Supporters of this view also claim the first two arguments cited in favor of the early pre-exilic view above. They argue, in addition, that the absence of references to Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia make a later date, when these nations were the major ancient Near Eastern superpowers, unlikely. Joel’s reference to Greece in Joe_3:6 may fit this period since the Ionian Greeks were at this time expanding their commercial influence in Asia Minor. Joel’s reference to the Sabeans in Joe_3:8 is appropriate for this period as well. Internal references and linguistic characteristics may also reflect Uzziah’s times and are similar to the writings of the other eighth-century prophets (i.e., Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah). However, again, much of the same evidence can fit other periods of Judah’s history. [Note: Advocates include Richard D. Patterson, "Joel," in Daniel-Malachi, vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 231-33.]
Third, some interpreters opt for a late pre-exilic date. Statements in Joel could fit this period, and some of his statements are similar to those of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and may reflect conditions before the destruction of Jerusalem, perhaps between 597 and 587 B.C. If true, Joel would have been a contemporary of Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. Yet Joe_2:18-19 seems to imply that God had been merciful to Joel’s generation, suggesting that the people had repented, but there is no record of this happening during this period. [Note: Advocates include Wilhelm Rudolph, Joel-Amos-Obadja-Jona, pp. 14-15; and Arvid S. Kapelrud, Joel Studies, pp. 154-58.]
The fourth view is that Joel wrote at a postexilic date, perhaps 515-500 B.C. or even as late as sometime in the 400s B.C. Interpreters who see Joe_3:1-2; Joe_3:17 as references to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity take the references to the temple in Joe_1:9; Joe_1:13 and Joe_2:17 as applying to the second temple (completed in 515 B.C.). Yet all these texts could apply to earlier periods. [Note: Advocates include Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "Joel," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1410; idem, "A Theology of the Minor Prophets," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 387; idem, Handbook on the Prophets, p. 368; Raymond B. Dillard, "Joel," in The Minor Prophets, pp. 240-42 (though see pp. 301-2); David A. Hubbard, Joel and Amos, p. 27; and John Bright, A History of Israel, p. 417.] Generally scholars who view apocalyptic writing as a late development in Judaism tend to date Joel quite late.
As should be obvious from this brief review, the dating of the book rests on interpretations of various verses that are not clear. No other Old Testament book mentions Joel. Consequently dating the book amounts to guesswork, though some writers were quite dogmatic about their convictions. I prefer an early or mid-pre-exilic date mainly because of Joel’s position in the Hebrew text among other writers of this period. I think he was probably one of the earliest writing prophets.
PLACE OF COMPOSITION AND AUDIENCE
Joel’s frequent references to Judah and Jerusalem suggest that he lived and ministered in the Southern Kingdom (cf. Joe_1:2; Joe_1:9; Joe_1:13-14; Joe_1:16; Joe_2:1; Joe_2:14-15; Joe_2:17; Joe_2:23; Joe_2:32; Joe_3:1-8; Joe_3:12; Joe_3:14; Joe_3:17-21).
"Joel was a man of vitality and spiritual maturity. A keen discerner of the times, he delivered God’s message to the people of Judah in a vivid and impassioned style, with a precision and originality of thought that served as a veritable quarry out of which many subsequent prophetic building stones were to be hewn." [Note: Patterson, p. 230.]
Joel wrote to warn his audience about a coming day in which God would judge His people. He compared this devastating judgment to a terrible locust invasion that had fairly recently swept through the land. What he said about this coming judgment has only seen partial fulfillment; some of it still lies in the eschatological future (i.e., the eschaton). God would send blessing as well as judgment, however, and this too has only come partially on the Israelites so far. The prophet warned his hearers that unless they repented of their empty formalism in worship and turned back to Yahweh wholeheartedly, devastating judgment would overtake them. If they repented, God would pardon them and restore His blessings to them abundantly.
The sovereignty of God and the inevitability of divine punishment for covenant unfaithfulness are dominant themes in Joel. So is Yahweh’s compassionate forgiveness in response to repentance. The day of the Lord, both judgment and blessing aspects, is also a prominent theme. Thus the administration of God is a strong motif: how God exercises His sovereignty when His people sin. Another important theological contribution of Joel is his prediction of God pouring out the Holy Spirit in the last days (Joe_2:28-32).
STYLE AND TEXT
Joel’s literary style is rich, vivid, classical, clear, and beautiful. The Hebrew text of Joel presents no serious interpretive problems and is well preserved.
I. Introduction Joe_1:1
II. A past day of the Lord: a locust invasion Joe_1:2-20
A. An initial appeal Joe_1:2-4
B. A call to mourn Joe_1:5-13
C. A call to repent Joe_1:14
D. The significance of the plague Joe_1:15-20
III. A near future day of the Lord: a human invasion Joe_2:1-27
A. The invading army Joe_2:1-11
1. The nearness of the army Joe_2:1-2
2. The destructive power of the army Joe_2:3-5
3. The relentlessness of the army Joe_2:6-9
4. The invincibility of the army Joe_2:10-11
B. A call to repentance Joe_2:12-17
1. An appeal for private repentance Joe_2:12-14
2. An appeal for public repentance Joe_2:15-17
C. The possibility of forgiveness and restoration Joe_2:18-27
1. The Lord’s gracious response Joe_2:18
2. The Lord’s promise of blessing Joe_2:19-27
IV. A far future day of the Lord: another human invasion and deliverance Joe_2:28 to Joe_3:21
A. Israel’s spiritual renewal and deliverance Joe_2:28-32
B. God’s judgment on Israel’s enemy nations Joe_3:1-17
1. The announcement of judgment Joe_3:1-8
2. The description of judgment Joe_3:9-17
C. Israel’s ultimate restoration Joe_3:18-21
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