Lesson 1 of 5
In Progress

Summary of Joel


Much of the book of Joel concerns a terrible locust plague that causes starvation for animals and humans. Joel takes this as a sign that people should lament and repent. God responds positively beginning in 2:18. After 2:29, the book moves from historical events to conjecture about the end-time (the Day of the Lord) when the world will be changed and when strange and frightening signs will appear (2:30-32). In the new age, all people will prophesy (2:28-29). This section of Joel is quoted in the account of the Pentecost experience in Acts 2:17-21.


If not for the use of Joel 2:28-29 by Acts, we probably would not pay much attention to Joel. But, as is true of other prophets, Joel does remind us of a number of important points. God is at work in the world, there are consequences to human behavior, lament and repentance are appropriate responses to disaster, and hope is always the last word. Joel also is important for giving us a glimpse of early end-time speculation that will be expanded further in other biblical books.


Joel is the twenty-ninth book of the Bible; it is the second of the twelve books of “minor prophets” (shorter prophets) that close the Old Testament. Joel lies between Hosea and Amos, a placement that shows clearly that the order of the twelve prophets is not chronological.


The only information that is known about Joel is that his father was named Pethuel (Joel 1:1), but we do not know who Pethuel is either. There are a dozen persons named Joel in the Old Testament, and none seems to be the one who is responsible for this book. His hometown is not identified, nor his occupation, nor who was ruling the country during his ministry. The first verse of the book does make clear that he is a prophet to whom the word of the Lord came.


Joel probably lived during the Persian period of Old Testament history (539-331 B.C.E.) During that time, the Persians allowed some of the Jews to return to Jerusalem and the temple was eventually rebuilt. Joel was familiar with the temple, so he must be dated after its restoration. He knows earlier prophets. No kings of Judah are mentioned (there were none after the defeat by Babylon in 586 B.C.E.). All this points to a period between 400 and 350 B.C.E.


Joel calls the people to recognize a locust plague as a sign from God that they should repent, and then goes on to envision a final judgment when God will punish evil nations and vindicate Israel.


Since Joel is a short book, one should simply read it straight through, paying special attention to the transitions in 2:18 and 2:28. God responds favorably in 2:18 after laments and rituals of repentance. The move from historical events to end-time speculation begins in 2:28.