Lesson 4 of 5
In Progress

Introductory Issues in Joel

Combination of earthly and end-time (apocalyptic) hopes 

The first part of Joel seems to be preoccupied with a very real, historical, tragic event. A locust plague would be a terrible, frightening occurrence. Joel understood it as a message from God that the people should repent. Then, beginning with 2:28, the book moves to a different kind of genre, speculating about a future time when all people can prophesy, when wondrous signs indicate that huge changes are coming, and when battles take place in which enemies are defeated once and for all and Israel is vindicated. This is one of the first biblical passages that looks like the end-time (apocalyptic) literature found in Daniel and Revelation and occasionally in the Gospels.

Joel’s connection with the temple and the priestly traditions

Though he fits into the picture of classical biblical prophets in many ways, Joel’s interest in priestly concerns makes him different from most. When he calls for lamenting and repenting, he seems to think that this is something that should be done by the community in the temple, following certain prescribed rituals. This would not be true of prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, who prophesied prior to the Babylonian exile. When scholars try to understand what kind of a prophet Joel was, they look for clues for what happened to the office of the prophet in the days after the exile when some of the people returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.

Sudden turn to hope

The first part of the book is full of vivid descriptions of the locust terror, accompanied by calls to lament and repent. Then, suddenly (in 2:18), God responds favorably and promises relief. It is almost shocking to read words of assurance after all the despair that has poured out. Has the relief already come, or is this an expression of hope that God will soon act to take away the threat and restore good fortune to the people? The same kind of abrupt transition from despair to hope occurs in the structure of a typical lament psalm. The reader of a lament psalm probably will not move to hope immediately, but the psalm (like Joel) is a reminder that in the past people who have suffered have had their hope renewed. God does respond favorably to those who call for help from the depths of their despair.