CSIRO_ScienceImage_7007_Plague_locusts_on_the_move
A swarm of plague locusts

What is in Joel?
Joel is the twenty-ninth book of the Bible and one of the Old Testament prophetic books. Only three chapters long, Joel is one of the shortest books in the Old Testament. The first chapter warns of a great judgment coming to the people by an invasion of locusts. Joel 1:4 describes the devastation this plague will bring: “What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.” In chapter 2, a huge army lays in wait on the ‘day of the Lord’, ready to run ‘like war horses’, before which ‘all faces grow pale’. Both the locust invasion and the powerful army evoke images of all-consuming judgement which nobody can escape from. In fact, Joel 2:11 states this explicitly (For the day of the Lord is very great and very awesome, who can endure it?). Not all is lost, though. Chapter 2 also states that the Lord may withhold destruction if the people earnestly repent. Additionally, God would further bless His people, doing such things as pouring out the Holy Spirit on all and showing wonders in the heavens. Chapter 3 tells of the coming day of the Lord, when all the nations will be judged, and the Lord’s people will prevail.

Who wrote it?
Joel wrote the book of Joel, a fact virtually undisputed. We don’t know much about him, but it’s possible he lived in Judah because of the numerous references to Judah in the third chapter, and Joel’s knowledge of temple activities in the book.

When was it written?
The book’s date is far more unknown than the author. Joel does not mention any king, but using this can yield wildly varying dates. For example, during the late 9th century B.C., Joash, the king by right, was too young to serve, and so a high priest ruled in his place for a time. That would technically be a time without a king. At the other end of the estimations, around 500 B.C. was after the Babylonian exile, and Judah didn’t have any king then. A later date, however, has a bit more evidence behind it. Joel contains in Joel 3:2-3 a reference to the exile being in the past, and there are several other clues that fit more comfortably at the turn of the 5th century B.C.

When does it take place?
See above. Since Joel originally prophesied the content of the book AND wrote it down, the answer to this question is relatively close to the answer to the above.

Why was it written?
Joel prophesied against the nations of the land, warning them of the coming day of the Lord, in which God would judge all the nations swiftly and without mercy, including Israel itself. The book (Joel 2:18-32) also serves as encouragement to all those who repent, as they will see the glory of God and gain the Holy Spirit, which was given out freely after Jesus’s ascension in the New Testament.

Who is in Joel?
There is the prophet Joel, and the recipient of his prophesying is all the people of the land, because the judgment of the Lord will skip nobody.

How does Joel apply to me today?
It’s understandable for a new Christian to hear of the day of the Lord, having only read the Old Testament, as something that may have already happened due to Joel’s sense of urgency. Generally speaking, though, it refers to the time that God’s righteous judgment is enacted, whether it be a specific day or a long stretch of time. Indeed, God has been acting throughout eternity. Usually, however, when the day of the Lord is referred to, it popularly means the day (again, not necessarily a single 24-hour day) of judgment at the end of the age, when Jesus will come again and call His people to Him. Peter, speaking from the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:20, quotes Joel 2:28-32 and pronounces it fulfilled. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved from the upcoming judgment, the judgment which Jesus also spoke of as forthcoming (Matthew 12:36). The general takeaway, however, is that we don’t know when God will judge our sins. A Christian should not be caught unaware, as Jesus warns in Matthew 24:36-51, and as Joel warns in his book.

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Recommended resources:

As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation.

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Image by CSIRO. Licensed under CC-A 3.0 Unported