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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Joel, Book of

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1. Analysis . The Book of Joel clearly falls into two parts: (1) a call to repentance in view of present judgment and the approaching Day of Jahweh, with a prayer for deliverance ( Joel 1:1 to Joel 2:17 ); (2) the Divine answer promising relief, and after that spiritual blessing, judgment on the Gentile world, and material prosperity for Judah and Jerusalem ( Joel 2:18-32; Joel 3:1-21 ).

(1) The immediate occasion of the call to repentance is a plague of locusts of exceptional severity (Joel 1:2 f.), extending, it would seem from the promise in the second part ( Joel 2:25 ), over several years, and followed by drought and famine an severe as to necessitate the discontinuance of the meal- and drink-offering, i.e. probably the daily sacrifice (cf. Exodus 29:41 , where the same Heb. words are used of the daily meal-offering and drink-offering). This fearful calamity, which is distinctly represented as present (‘before our eyes’ Joel 1:16 ), heralds ‘the great and very terrible day of Jahweh’ ( Joel 2:11 ), which will be ushered in by yet more fearful distress of the same kind ( Joel 2:1-11 ). The reason of all this suffering actual and prospective is national sin, which, however, is not specified. Jahweh’s people have turned away from Him (implied in Joel 2:12 ). Let them turn back, giving expression to their penitent sorrow in tears, mourning garb, general fasting, and prayer offered by priests in the Temple ( Joel 2:12-17 ).

(2) The second part opens with the declaration that the prayer for mercy was heard: ‘Then … the Lord … had pity on his people’ (Joel 2:18 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). It seems to be implied that the people had repented and fasted, and that the priests had prayed in their behalf. The rendering of this passage in the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , ‘Then will … the Lord pity his people,’ is generally rejected by modern scholars as inaccurate, being, according to Driver, ‘grammatically indefensible.’ What we have in the original is not prediction, but historical statement. This Divine pity, proceeds the prophet, speaking in Jahweh’s name, will express itself in the removal of the locusts ( Joel 2:20 ), and in the cessation of the drought, which will restore to the land its normal fertility, and so replace famine by plenty ( Joel 2:22-26 ). But higher blessings yet are in store for the people of Jahweh. His Spirit shall afterwards be poured but on all, inclusive even of slaves ( Joel 2:28 f.). And when the Day of Jahweh comes in all its terror, it will be terrible only to the Gentile world which has oppressed Israel The gathered hosts of the former, among whom PhÅ“nicians and Philistines are singled out for special condemnation ( Joel 3:4-8 ), shall be destroyed by Jahweh and His angels in the Valley of Jehoshaphat ( Joel 3:11 b f.]), and then Jerusalem shall be a holy city, no longer haunted by unclean aliens ( Joel 3:17 ), and Judah, unlike Egypt and Edom, will be a happy nation dwelling in a happy because well-watered land, and Jahweh will ever abide in its midst ( Joel 3:18-21 ).

2. Integrity . The unity of the book was questioned by the French scholar Vernes (in 1881), who, however, admitted the weakness of his case, and by the German scholar Rothstein (in 1896), the latter finding a follower in Ryssel (in the JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] ). These critics assign the two parts to different writers in different ages. Baudissin ( Einleitung ) suggests extensive revision. These theories have found little acceptance. Recent criticism generally regards the book, with the exception of a gloss or two, as the work of one hand.

There are indeed two distinctly marked parts, as was shown in the analysis, but that is in no way incompatible with unity of authorship, for the following reasons: ( a ) The second part does not contradict but supplements the first. ( b ) The thought of ‘the day of Jahweh’ as a day of terror is common to both ( Joel 1:15 and Joel 2:31 ). ( c ) The alleged lack of originality in the second part, in so far as it exists, can bereasonably accounted for by its apocalyptic character. ( d ) The distinctive features of the first part, which is mainly historic, are largely due to the special theme the description of locusts and their ravages, which is unique in Heb. literature.

3. Date . There is no external evidence. The place of the book in the Canon is not conclusive, for the Book of Jonah, which was manifestly written after the fall of Nineveh, is also found in the former part of the collection of the Twelve, and comes before Micah, the earliest portions of which are beyond doubt much older. Hence the question can be answered, in so far as an answer is possible, only from the book itself.

The facts bearing upon it may be briefly stated as follows: (1) The people addressed are the inhabitants of Judah (Joel 3:1; Joel 3:6; Joel 3:8; Joel 3:18 ff.), and Jerusalem ( Joel 2:32; Joel 3:6; Joel 3:16 f., Joel 3:20 ). Zion is mentioned in Joel 2:1; Joel 2:15; Joel 2:23; Joel 2:32; Joel 3:16-17; Joel 3:21 . There is no trace of the kingdom of Samaria. The name ‘Israel’ is indeed used ( Joel 2:27; Joel 2:3 ), but, as the first and last of these passages clearly show, it is not the kingdom of Israel that is meant, but the people of God, dwelling mainly about Jerusalem. (2) There is no mention of royalty or aristocracy. (3) The Temple is repeatedly referred to ( Joel 1:9; Joel 1:13 f., Joel 1:15 , Joel 2:17; Joel 2:3 ), and by implication in the phrase ‘my holy mountain’ ( Joel 2:1; Joel 2:3 ): its ritual is regarded as of high importance ( Joel 1:9; Joel 1:18 , Joel 2:14 ), and its ministers stand between the people and their God, giving expression to their penitence and prayer ( Joel 1:9; Joel 1:13 , Joel 2:17 ). (4) The people are called on to repent of sin ( Joel 2:12 f.), but in general terms. No mention is made of idolatry or formalism, or sensuality, or oppression the sins so sternly denounced by Amos and Isaiah. (5) The foreign nations denounced as hostile to Israel are the PhÅ“nicians ( Joel 3:4 ), the Philistines ( ib. ), Egypt and Edom ( Joel 3:19 ). Reference is also made to the Grecians (‘sons of the Ionians,’ 3 [ Hebrews 4:1-16 ]:6). and the Sahæans or S. Arabians ( Joel 3:8 ) as slave-dealers. Assyria, Babylonia, and Aram are neither named nor alluded to. (6) The history of Judah and Jerusalem includes a national catastrophe when the people of Jahweh were scattered among the nations and the land of Jahweh was divided amongst new settlers ( Joel 3:2 ). (7) This book of 73 verses contains 27 expressions or clauses to which parallels, more or less close, can be adduced from other OT writings, mainly prophetic. In 12 passages there is verbal or almost verbal correspondence: cf. Joel 1:15 b and Ezekiel 30:2 f.; Joel 1:15 c and Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 2:2 and Zephaniah 1:15; Zephaniah 2:6 and Nahum 2:10; Joel 2:13 and Exodus 34:6; Exodus 2:14 and 2Sa 12:22; 2 Samuel 2:27 b and Ezekiel 36:11 etc.; Joel 2:27 c and Isaiah 45:5 f., Isaiah 45:18; Joel 2:31 b, and Malachi 4:5; Joel 2:32 and Obadiah 1:17; Obadiah 1:3; and Amos 1:2; Amos 3:1 and Jeremiah 33:15 etc. In two other places there is contrast as well as parallelism. Joel 2:28 answers to Ezekiel 39:29 , but the latter has ‘on the house of Israel,’ the former ‘on all flesh,’ and Joel 3:10 is the reverse of Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3 . The last clause of Joel 2:13 is found also in Jonah 4:2 in the same connexion and nowhere else. (8) The Heb. exhibits some features which are more common in late than in the earlier literature. There are a few Aramaisms: ’âlâh ‘lament’ ( Joel 1:8 ); sôph ‘hinder part’ ( Joel 2:20 ) for qçts; the Hiphil of nâchath Joel 3:11 ), and rômach ( Joel 3:10 ) a word of Aramaic affinities; and several expressions often met with in late writers. Still, it is not advisable to lay much stress on this point.

With these facts before them critics have concluded that the book must be either very early or late. Many, led by Credner, found evidence of pre-exilic date, and most of these, after him, selected the minority of Joash of Judah ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 737). König prefers the latter part of the reign of Josiah (b.c. 640 609). Recent critics with a few exceptions (Orelli, Kirkpatrick, Volck, and to some extent Baudissin) regard the book as post-exilic: c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 500 (Driver, but not without hesitation); after the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah (E.Kautzsch, W. R. Smith, G. A. Smith on the whole, Martl, the school of Kuenen, Nowack, Cornill, and Horton). Positive decision between these widely divergent views is at present impossible. Much can be said, as Baudissin has recently shown, in favour of a pre-exilic date, which, if proved, would modify our conception of the growth of Israelitish religion; but several points seem to strongly favour post-exilic origin: the religions atmosphere, the political situation in so far as it can be discerned, reference to the Greeks, and the literary parallelisms, most of which are more intelligible on the assumption of borrowing by Joel than vice versa .

4. Interpretation . The ancient Jews, as represented by the Targum, and the Fathere, who have been followed by Pusey, Hengstenberg, and others, to some extent even by Merx, regarded the locusts of the Book of Joel as not literal but symbolic. That view, however, is now generally abandoned. The seemingly extravagant descriptions of the locust-swarms, and the havoc wrought by them, have been confirmed in almost every point by modern observers. What is said about their number ( Joel 1:6 ), the darkness they cause ( Joel 2:10 ), their resemblance to horses ( Joel 2:4 ), the noise they make in flight and when feeding ( Joel 2:5 ), their irresistible advance ( Joel 2:7 ff.), their amazing destructiveness ( Joel 1:7; Joel 1:10 ff., Joel 2:3 ), and the burnt appearance of a region which they have ravaged ( Joel 2:3 ab) can hardly be pronounced exaggerated in view of the evidence collected by Pusey, Driver, G. A. Smith, and other commentators. The colouring of the picture is no doubt Oriental and poetic, but when allowance is made for that, it is seen to be wonderfully true to life. The description of the locusts as ‘the northern army ’ ( Joel 2:20 ) is indeed still unexplained, but is insufficient of itself to overthrow the literal interpretation. On the apocalyptic character of the latter portion of the book there is general agreement.

5. Doctrine . As compared with some of the other prophetic writings, say with Deutero-Isaiah and Jonah, the Book of Joel as a whole is particularistic. The writer’s hopes of a glorious future seem limited to Judah and Jerusalem, and perhaps the Dispersion ( Joel 2:32 [ Hebrews 3:5 ]). On the other hand, it is remarkable that the outpouring of the Spirit is promised to ‘all flesh,’ not merely to ‘the house of Israel’ a general way of stating the promise which made the NT application possible ( Acts 2:16 ff.). So the book may be said to contain a germ of universalism. Its other most striking characteristic, from the doctrinal standpoint, is the importance attached to ritual and the priesthood, and the comparatively slight stress laid on conduct. Still, it is here that we find the caustic words: ‘Rend your heart and not your garments’ ( Joel 2:13 ).

6. Style . In style the Book of Joel takes a very high place in Hebrew literature. It is throughout clearly, elegantly, and forcefully written. Skilful use is made of parallelism note the five short clauses in Joel 1:10; of Oriental hyperbole ( Joel 2:30 f. [ Hebrews 3:3 f.]); and of word-play, e.g. shuddadh sadheh ‘the field is wasted’ ( Joel 1:10 ), yâbhçshu … hôbhîsh ‘are withered … is ashamed’ ( Joel 1:12 ), shôd mish-shaddai ‘destruction from the Almighty’ ( Joel 1:15 ), and the play on the verb shâphat and the name Jeho-shaphat in Joel 3:2; Joel 3:12 ).

W. Taylor Smith.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Joel, Book of'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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