The second book, in the so-called minor prophets, is the book of Joel. I hope to encourage to give a little more attention to this book and to strive to learn from it. It has a message that is not minor, a message that is desperately needed in today’s church.
The meaning of Joel’s name is descriptive of his message for us. Joel literally means “Jehovah is God.” Thus, the main message of Joel is the Lord is God. With that powerful truth, Joel also warns of a coming judgment. This coming judgment day is termed the “Day of the Lord.” He speaks about a coming locust plague, a severe famine, and fire; God’s punishment for sins and the hope of repentance.
We know very little about Joel as a person. Verse 1 tells us that his father’s name was Petuel. Later Rabbinic tradition says that his father was Samuel since he had a son named Joel (1 Sam. 8:1). What we do know, based on the content of his book, is that he lived before Jerusalem was destroyed; that the sacrifices and worship of God were going strong (Joel 1:9, 12, 14, 17; 3:18). Most suspect he was a priest since he spends so much time with topics dealing with things related to the priesthood. Something that is interesting is that he doesn’t mention Assyria, Syria, or Babylon (which are so prevalent in the rest of prophets) which means they were not yet powerful enemies or didn’t even existed yet. He does speak about Edom, the Philistines, Egypt, and the Phoenicians which suggests to me that it was written early (mid-8th century, 830 B.C.).
Joel speaks (in chapter 1) about a coming locust plague (grasshoppers) that will strike Israel and devastate life as they knew it. This he said is the coming “Day of the Lord.” The coming day of the Lord, as used by Joel, is very different from what the Jews believed or hoped it to be. He describes it as a time when Israel is going to be judged and punished by God. They believed that God would judge the nations and restore Israel to her former glory. Yet, Joel knows that the coming day of the Lord is not a good thing, not a redemptive act, but is punishment for their sins. God will judge the nations, but he will judge Israel as well. Joel pleads with Israel to repent of their sins and prepare for this coming judgment. He also speaks about a time when God will “pour out his Spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28). This day finally came, according to Peter (Acts 2:16-17), on “Pentecost” and marked the beginning of the Lord’s church.
Joel like most of the prophets spoke of God’s judgment for sins followed by restoration with mercy and grace. Joel 2:12ff. speaks to each person who reads his words to repent and return to the Lord. He challenges each of us to get our hearts right with God instead of being outwardly sorrowful. He tells us that the Lord is holy and just, but he is also “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:12-13).
Joel reminds us of the words of Jesus himself who said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). God is always calling his people to turn from their sins and back to him. He encourages us to stop looking at the temporary things of life and to focus on things eternal. Joel is one of the shortest, yet most heart searching, books of the Old Testament. Let me encourage you to read the book of Joel and then do some honest reflection about your life and faith.
Joel reminds us that God is coming in judgment but how he comes to us is dependent on us and our willingness to repent.