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Joel, the problem of

When did the prophet Joel speak and write? Understandably, on the answer to this question depends much of interpretation of his book. And yet a brief review of Christadelphian expositors shows a remarkable diversity on this question. Presented in chronological order, there are at least six views of the matter:

A. The reign of Jehoshaphat (approximate dates 860-860 BC) Edward Whittaker and Tony Benson in Testimony 46:387-392.

Reasons: No direct allusion to the great powers of Assyria and Babylon, who rose to prominence later. No direct reference to idolatry, again most appropriate for an early date. Two references to the valley of Jehoshaphat' (3:2,12), which the authors equate with the valley of Berachah (2Ch 20:26) where Jehoshaphat and Judah won a miraculous victory over the locust-like invaders of Moab, Ammon and Edom. (The two 'locust' invasions in Scripture, they point out, were both Arabic in character (Jdg 6:3-6; Rev 9:1-11). It is suggested that the famine in Israel during Ahab's reign, prayed for by Elijah (James 5:17; 1Ki 17:1), affect to some degree the adjacent kingdom of Judah (Joel 1).

Parallel passages: Joel 2:15-18 with 2Ch 20:3,4,11,13.

B. The early part of the reign of Jehoash (840-830 BC). Fred Pearce in The Christadelphian 112:263,264.

Reasons: Much the same as for (1) except that it is argued that the mention of the valley of Jehoshaphat refers to a past, though recently past, event. Since the four "Major Prophets" are unquestionably in chronological order, it is to be expected that the "Minor Prophets" follow a similar pattern, in which case Joel is seen to be quite early. In Joel the priests are still generally faithful and capable of repentance and reformation, which was not at all true toward the end of the kingdom. Suggested time: the regency of the faithful Jehoiada, while Jehoash was still a child (2Ki 11:17-20; 2Ch 23:16-18).

C. The first part of the reign of Uzziah (810-800 BC). T. Sutton in Testimony 5:407-409.

Again, the same arguments for a relatively early date as in (1) and (2).

Parallel passage: "His name spread far abroad; for he was marvelously helped" (2Ch 26:15). No other very precise evidence is offered.

D. The reign of Hezekiah (710-700 BC). WH Boulton in The Christadelphian 43:245-249.

Oblivious to much of the above evidence that would tend otherwise, WH Boulton lays great stress on the direction of the invasion -- from the north (2:20). Thus it is suggested that the invasion of Sennacherib's army (2Ki 18,19) is the fulfillment, and Assyria, though not directly mentioned, is the enemy of Israel. (JD Webster takes this same view in Dawn, Vol 19, pp 13-16, but offers no reasons. The same assumption is made by John Thomas in Eureka, Vol 1:44, where he refers to Joel's vision of "the lions of Assyria, and others.)

E. Josiah's reign (630-612 BC). EM Spongberg in Joel (Logos Publications), pp 7-12.

Most of the evidence offered for a later date consists of an attempt to dispute the various reasons for the earlier dates(as outlined above); and, it must be admitted, those proofs are all circumstantial. It is suggested that Josiah's great reformation (2Ch 34,35) provides a fitting background for the prophecy.

F. The days of Jehoiakim or Zedekiah (612-586 BC). Carl Parry in Joel (Christadelphian Scripture Study Service), pp 3-7.

Here is something not otherwise stressed in any of the above: the Temple had already been sacked (3:5). [However, Whittaker and Benson do suggest in their exposition (No. 1 above) that Joel 3:5 was fulfilled by the Philistines and Arabians in the reign of Jehoshaphat's successor Jehoram (2Ch 21:16,17). They see Joel 3:4-8 as a sort of 'footnote' added after the reign of Jehoshaphat. Such an interpretation of verse 5 well suits Fred Pearce's exposition (2) also.] Parallels are suggested with Zephaniah (a contemporary with Josiah): Joel 1:10,11 with Zephaniah 1:2; Joel 1:18 with Zephaniah 1:3; Joel 1:15 with Zephaniah 1:7; Joel 2:1,2 with Zephaniah 1:14,15; Joel 3:2 with Zephaniah 3:8. The 'lion' of Joel 1:6 is taken as figurative of Babylon (Jer 50:17; Dan 7:4).

See also Fifield and Palmer, Testimony 46:224-228, where the book is specifically applied to Zedekiah's reign on the grounds that Joel 1 describes a desolation which already existed, and which would fit the earlier desolation in the reign of Jehoiakim. Jer 4:5-8 is cited as parallel to Joel 1:6,13,14; and 2:1.

G. A seventh view is taken by Edgar Wille (The Christadelphian 104:317), who says:

"There (is) no doubt that the original northern army (v 20) was a terrible plague of locusts which brought Israel (ie, Judah) to their knees at some unspecified time in the past."


Of all the views outlined here, this last offers the least as to historical context, but then, let it be remembered, he has the least chance of being wrong!

Such views of the historical context drastically affect the possible primary fulfillment of Joel's prophecy, as well as the potential secondary, or latter-day, fulfillment.

1. Jehoshaphat
A period of drought during his reign, and a series of devastating locust plagues towards the end of that period (Joel 1). Then the impending invasion of the great Arab confederacy (Joel 2; 2Ch 20).
From Joel 2:18 onwards. An invasion from the north, but with a distinctly Arab flavor: the 'nations round about' (3:11,12, RV). Cp Joel 3:4-8 with Psa 83:6-8.
2. Jehoash
The four great Gentile oppressors of Judah -Babylon, Persian, Greece and Rome-depicted by four phases of a locust plague. (No immediate fulfillment).
The invasion of Gog and Magog... Rosh... etc (Eze 38), with emphasis on the composite character of the northern host (combining qualities of all four 'world' empires).
3. Uzziah
Assyria, Egypt, Babylon and Rome (No immediate fulfillment).
Much the same as #2 above.
4. Hezekiah
Sennacherib's invasion from the north.
The northern host in its role as the latter day Assyrian.
5. Josiah
Four successive steps of the Babylonian captivity (2Ki 24:1,2,10-16; 25:1-11).
The great northern army, more or less synonymous with "Babylon".
6. Jehoiakim and Zedekiah
Babylonian invasion, with four progressive stages, as in #5. (No literal locust invasion.)
The same as #5.

The above summary is intended only to give a basis for further study, and not to advocate one view above the others.

In conclusion, there is general agreement as to the latter-day counterpart of the locust or locust-like army of invasion. By common consent, it is seen to be the same host described in Ezekiel 38 and Zechariah 14. But it is worth noting that what we perceive as the immediate context of Joel affects our grasp of the details of the final fulfillment, one example being: Will there be Arab participation in the last great war in Israel? and if so, to what extent? And, another question: Are the valley of Jehoshaphat and Armageddon to be understood as identical (as in Eur 3:603)?

A final point: If so many can disagree as to the application of a prophecy of which the initial fulfillment is already past, then is it any wonder that they disagree on the future fulfillments of other prophecies? And if such disagreement has been tolerated on the interpretation of Joel without any noticeable dislocation of the Truth's foundations, then why should it be thought a thing intolerable that brethren disagree, for example, on the interpretation of Revelation?

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