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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Joel

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(Ἰωήλ)

Joel is proved by internal evidence to have been one of the latest of the Hebrew prophets. The prominence in his writings of priests and ritual at home, and of a diaspora abroad, his reference to the distant sons of Greece, his use of Aramaic words, and the lurid apocalyptic colouring of his prophecies, clearly point to the Persian period. But Joel has not the wide outlook of some of the other prophets. He is not fascinated either by Isaiah’s visions of Israel as the light of the Gentiles, or Malachi’s of the heathen waiting upon Jahweh. He has not the humanitarian feeling of the author of Jonah, who may have been his contemporary. He is a rigid and exclusive Israelite. In his view the heathen, as being apparently beyond redemption, are to be destroyed, not to be won to the knowledge of God. But if he is narrow, he is intense; and while he cherishes the priestly ideals, his hope for Israel lies rather in such a diffusion of the prophetic spirit as shall create an inspired nation. Nothing less will satisfy him than the fulfilment of Moses’ wish: ‘Would to God that all Jahweh’s people were prophets.’ For him the goal of Hebrew history, the Divine event to which all things move, is that God shall, by the mighty working of His Spirit, so enlighten and control His people, so adapt them to share His confidence and receive His revelations, that the thrilling experiences which have hitherto been confined to the prophets shall then be shared by all Israel. ‘Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit’ (Joel 2:28-29).

This particular prophecy wins for Joel a prominent place in the NT. St. Peter at once recognized its fulfilment in that outpouring of the Spirit, that baptism of fire, that Divine intoxication, which was experienced on the day of Pentecost. He quoted the prophet’s words, and the question naturally arises how he interpreted ‘upon all flesh.’ Was he, like the prophet himself, still a particularist, extending the promised blessing to all the Jews of the Diaspora, but limiting it to them, and so making the old distinction of lsrael from the heathen more marked than ever? Or did he there and then change his standpoint so as to include the nations in his purview? Did he in that hour of inspiration read into Joel’s words the later universalism of St. Paul? Probably the issue did not become clear to his mind so soon. It was not a day for correct definitions but for overwhelming impressions. Enough that to the effusion of the Spirit there was meantime no limit of sex (‘your sons and your daughters’), of age (‘your young men, your old men’), or of condition (‘my bondmen and my bondwomen’). Time would also show that there was to be no limit of race (Jew or Gentile); for however men (even prophets) may limit ‘all flesh,’ to Christ and His Church it means ‘all humanity.’

James Strahan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Joel'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/j/joel.html. 1906-1918.

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