A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of teaching the book of Joel to the morning session of the SBS here in Montana. When I found out that I would be teaching Joel at the end of April and then Zephaniah the second week of May, I wasn’t that concerned as both are only three chapters long. I found, however that for three chapters, Joel has a lot to wrestle with. I won’t go in to all the details, but there has been a lot of debate around both the background and the contents of this book. Thankfully, there is a wealth of quality teachers here that had taught this book previously, and were able to help me wrap my mind around what was going on.
At its simplest, the book of Joel is similar to other prophetic books in the OT. His basic message is a warning of judgment, the need for repentance, and God’s restoration that will come if they repent. The challenge was investigating the background of the book to interpret the book in the right context. Here is how I (and other people smarter than me) see the context. I believe the Joel prophesied during the time leading up to the reign of King Joash of Judah. The best place to find this story is in 2 Chronicles 23. If you want the setup to the story, you can read the previous chapter. Basically Joash’s father, Ahaziah, has been killed by his wife Athaliah, who has killed all his heirs expect Joash, who is being hidden in the temple; Athaliah is ruling as queen at this time. Her reign included all kinds of idolatry. Into this scenario comes a locust plague which Joel describes in chapter 1. Locusts were part of the curses God promised would come if Israel did not keep the covenant (Deuteronomy 28). Joel goes to the priests and the elders with his prophecy and they respond. The response is seen in Jehoiada’s actions in 2 Chronicles 23. I believe the return to the covenant is followed by physical restoration that is promised in Joel 2:19-26. As for the contents of Joel 2:1-17 I believe Joel is describing the next part of the covenant curses that will come upon the people if they continue to rebel: an army that comes like a locust plague. In 1:5 the locusts are described as a “nation;” a plague of locusts included millions of these insects, so an army is a suitable description! In chapter 2, Joel is seeing a literal nation coming against Judah like the locusts had come against the nation, only instead of devouring crops, this army will devour everything. Finally, the book contains a large section on restoration of which I see 3 parts: physical restoration (2:19-26), future promise of spiritual outpouring (2:28-32), and future promise of vindication at the Day of the Lord (3:1-21).
There were two particular themes that stood out to me from this book. The first was the importance of repentance and what that looks like. Martin Luther’s first thesis of his famous 95 theses says, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when he said repent, willed the whole life of believers should be repentance.” I believe that to be true. The most common purpose of the prophet in the OT was to call people to repent and turn back to the covenant. I believe that though we now live under a new covenant, the message of repentance is still just as important. I need to check daily that my heart and my life is in line with God. Often, the thing that causes the most damage in our lives are the small ways in which we drift from the path God has set before us. If you are not sure what repentance looks like, I would encourage you to read through Joel and highlight the different things he calls the people to do. Then ask yourself what are the timeless ideas behind what he is saying. The second thing that stood out to me was the need for Christians to understand the prophetic messages of the OT in the context in which they are spoken. Helen’s previous post did an excellent job of describing what this looks like. As I studied Joel, it saddened me to see some of the theology that has been developed from allowing people’s experiences to interpret how they understand Scripture, instead of allowing Scripture to interpret their experiences. I would encourage you to seriously consider where you fall in with what I just described, and if it is the former, I pray that you would seek God as to whether you need to adjust your view of the Bible. I am constantly amazed how God continues to reveal new things to me about who He is and who I am as I study the Bible, and I hope that you would find the same.
If you are reading through the Bible with Helen, the next three books are Jonah, Nahum, and Hosea. Reading all three will take approximately 45 minutes.