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the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Joel

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

- Joel

by Dr. Robert Utley

INTRODUCTION TO JOEL

I. NAME OF THE BOOK

A. Named after the prophet/author.

B. His name (BDB 222) is a combination of two names for God:

1. YHWH - the Covenant name for God

a. Any Hebrew name that began with “J” plus a vowel was usually an abbreviation for YHWH.

b. Any Hebrew name that ends in “iah” is also an abbreviation for YHWH (Isaiah).

2. El - the general name for God in the ancient Near East.

3. Between these two Hebrew names a verb must be inferred YHWH (is) El.

C. This was a very common Hebrew name. There are at least thirteen mentioned in the historical books:

1. Samuel's firstborn son, 1 Samuel 8:2

2. person from the tribe of Simeon, 1 Chronicles 4:35

3. person from the tribe of Reuben, 1 Chronicles 5:4, 1 Chronicles 5:8

4. person from the tribe of Gad, 1 Chronicles 5:12

5-7. Levites from the sons of Kohath

a. 1 Chronicles 6:33; 1 Chronicles 15:17

b. 1 Chronicles 6:36

c. 2 Chronicles 29:12

8. person of the tribe of Issachar, 1 Chronicles 7:3

9. one of David's mighty men, 1 Chronicles 11:38

10-11. Levites from the sons of Gershon

a. 1 Chronicles 15:7, 1 Chronicles 15:11; 1 Chronicles 23:8

b. 1 Chronicles 26:22

12. prince of the tribe of Manasseh, 1 Chronicles 27:20

13-14. persons involved in the return from Babylonian exile

a. Ezra 10:43

b. Nehemiah 11:9

15. the prophet Joel of unknown family and unknown date

II. CANONIZATION

A. This book is part of the divisions of the Hebrew canon called “the latter Prophets.”

B. It was part of a scroll called “the Twelve.” These are known as the minor prophets because of the length of their writings.

C. See fuller note in Introduction to Obadiah

III. GENRE

A. This book is half prose and half classical Hebrew poetry.

B. Joel seems to allude to several other prophets (partial list):

Joel 1:0. Joel 1:15c - Amos 4:9; Isaiah 13:6

Joel 2:0. Joel 2:3 - Isaiah 51:3 or Ezekiel 36:35

Joel 3:0. Joel 2:10 - Isaiah 13:10

4. Joel 2:32 - Obadiah 1:17

5. Joel 3:10 - Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3

6. Joel 3:16 - Isaiah 13:13; Amos 1:2

7. Joel 3:18 - Amos 9:13

C. Joel's end time imagery is expressed in the apocalyptic term, “the day of the LORD” (cf. Acts 2:0).

D. Theories of how to interpret the locust plague, Joel 1:4; Joel 2:25.

1. symbolic/allegorical

a. Jewish Targum at Joel 2:25

(1) peoples

(2) languages

(3) rulers

(4) kingdoms

b. Marginal note in 6th century A.D. Greek MSS

(1) Egyptians

(2) Babylonians

(3) Assyrians

(4) Greece

(5) Romans

c. Christian Commentators (18th century A.D.)

(1) Assyrian

(2) Chaldea

(3) Macedonia

(4) Rome

2. past historical

a. the prophet uses the past tense of the Hebrew VERB

b. this was a characteristic prophetic technique to take events in the life of the prophet and project them into a future setting. Israel's future was dependent on her faith-repentant choices in the present

3. future historical

a. there is a coming literal invasion because of Israel's sins

b. the locusts are used because of the military metaphors used to describe them:

(1) look like horses

(2) sound like chariots

(3) march in order

4. apocalyptic

a. the mention of “the day of the LORD” signals this type of genre

b. the use of colors and animals is characteristic of this genre

c. Joel possibly relates to Revelation 9:3-11

IV. AUTHORSHIP

A. Nothing is known about this prophet except his name and that of his father, “Joel, son of Pethuel,” Joel 1:1.

B. There have been two later traditions about the prophet:

1. from the tribe of Reuben (Pseudo-Epiphanius)

2. from Judah because of his knowledge of the Temple routine

V. DATE

A. There is no way to exactly date the book (G. Campbell Morgan said it was one of the earliest or one of the latest of the prophets):

1. from internal evidence two dates have been suggested:

a. a post-exilic date

(1) it must be related to a threatened invasion of Judah in the metaphor of a locust plague.

(2) Joel 3:2 implies that Israel has already been exiled. The name “Israel” is now used for Judah, Joel 2:27; Joel 2:27; Joel 3:1-2, Joel 3:16.

(3) Joel 3:6 speaks of a Greek slave trade, which implies a post-exilic date.

(4) Joel 3:1, Joel 3:17 implies that Judah has already been exiled and is in danger of being invaded again if her sin continued.

(5) there is no mention of a king, which implies a post-exilic setting. Joel addressed his message to the elders and priests.

(6) the invaders are called “northerners,” which implies a Mesopotamian (Assyria, Babylon, Persia) invasion, Joel 2:20; Joel 2:20.

(7) Baal worship characteristic of the pre-exilic period is not mentioned.

b. a pre-exilic date

(1) there seems to be a reference to the Temple, Joel 1:9; Joel 1:9, Joel 1:13-14; Joel 2:17.

(2) the enemies mentioned inJoel 3:4; Joel 3:4, Joel 3:6, Joel 3:8 (Phoenicia, Philistia, Edom, Sabeans) are pre-exilic, not post-exilic.

2. from external evidence

a. The location of the book in the Hebrew canon implies a pre-exilic date.

b.It may have been placed next to Amos because they both speak of the “day of YHWH” and use locust invasions as symbols of judgment. Also, the book alludes to a positive visitation for blessing, not judgment. This fits the post-exilic setting.

3. I think an early post-exilic date fits the evidence best (B., 4).

B. Theories as to the date based on an invasion of Palestine:

1. during the reign of Joash (837-800 B.C.)

2. during the reign of Uzziah (783-742 B.C.)

3. during the reign of Zedekiah (598-586 B.C.)

4. during the time of Zerubbabel (during reign of Darius I, 522-486 B.C.)

5. during the time of Malachi (430 B.C.)

6. a futuristic eschatological invasion of God's people

C. There is a literary relationship between

1. Joel 2:32 and Obadiah 1:17. They are both early post-exilic.

2. Joel 3:16 and Amos 1:2. Joel quotes so many prophets; Joel probably quotes Amos.

D. John Calvin made a good point about the date of Joel: “As there is no certainty it is better to leave the time in which he taught undecided; and as we shall see, this is of no great importance. Not to know the time of Hosea would be to readers a great loss, for there are many parts which could not be explained without a knowledge of history; but as to Joel there is less need of this, for the import of his doctrine is evident, though his time be obscure and uncertain.”

VI. HISTORICAL SETTING The National Geographic Magazine of December, 1915 (XXVIII, No. 6) records a locust plague in Palestine. This article is very helpful in understanding the prophet's allusions.

VII. LITERARY UNITS

A. A vision of a devastating locust plague as a symbolic representation of an invading army, Joel 1:1-27

B. The day of the Lord as a blessing not a curse to a repentant people of God, Joel 2:28-21 (Zephaniah is just the opposite.)

VIII. MAIN TRUTHS

A. The prophet sees the events of his day as a foreshadowing of future events.

B. Joel calls for a national day of repentance (Joel 1:13-14; Joel 2:12-17)

C. If God's people repent, God will bring a new day of prosperity, both physically and spiritually (Deuteronomy 27-28).

D. God will judge the surrounding nations! (Joel 3:1-17)

E. This new day of spiritual renewal (cf. Joel 2:28-29) will affect

1. men and women

2. old and young

3. slave and free (cf. Acts 2:0; Galatians 3:28)

F. “The day of the LORD” is a characteristic phrase of Amos, Joel and Zephaniah. How we respond to God now, determines if it is a day of blessing or judgment.

G. God's character is described in Joel 2:13 (cf. Exodus 34:6; Psalms 103:8-13 and Nehemiah 9:17).

H. The pouring out of the Spirit in Joel 2:28-32 reflects the New Covenant Age (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-27).

 
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