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Bible Commentary
Joel

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OVERVIEW

Nothing is known for certainty about the ancestry of Joel, or about him personally. There is even some uncertainty as to the precise time when he prophesied, although the prophecy itself provides a number of clues, as shall be seen.

Literal locusts?

Joel pictures an enormous locust invasion brought by God upon His land, as a punishment and a warning to His people (Joel 1:15; 2:11). The devastation wrought by the locusts brings the inevitable famine, and Joel chronicles the suffering of man and beast alike, in its wake (Joel 1:4,5,9-12,16-18).

Outline

1.
The locust plague as a foretaste of the Day of the Lord: Joel 1:1 – 2:17

a)
The calamity: Joel 1:1–20

b)
The scourge as the forerunner of the judgment day: Joel 2:1–17



2.
The averting of judgment and bestowal of blessings: Joel 2:18 – 3:21

a)
The Lord's restoration of Judah: Joel 2:18–27

b)
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit: Joel 2:28–32

c)
Judgment upon the nations: Joel 3:1–16

d)
The blessings on God's people: Joel 3:17–21

Historical application

But Joel has more in mind than a literal plague of locusts. Whether there was, in Joel's day, a real such infestation, or whether the prophet is presenting an idealized picture merely based on the well-known phenomenon of such plagues... either way, he definitely also has in mind a real army, of men, not insects (Joel 1:6,7; 2:1-7).

What was this army which Joel saw sweeping down upon the Land of Israel? Most likely the Assyrians of Sennacherib, who first devastated most of the north of Israel, and then turned upon the south of Judah, besieging and capturing most of its fortified cities (2Ki 17; 18; Isa 36; 37). Assyria was joined in its onslaught upon Judah and its capital Jerusalem by the Arab nations of Tyre and Zidon, Edom and Egypt (Joel 3:4,19). Egypt was the natural enemy of Assyria, but that did not stop the Egyptians from using Judah's misfortune as a chance to ravage their share of Judah's south. Would the Assyrian hordes also destroy Jerusalem, along with Temple of the LORD? Or would God at last spare His own city? The answer lay in Israel's reaction to this great invasion of human "locusts" (Joel 2:12-14). True repentance and faith would save Jerusalem from the Assyrians. Led by their fine king, Hezekiah, the people did repent, and the Assyrian confederation was destroyed by the Angel of the LORD (2Ki 19; Isa 38): "Then the LORD will be jealous for his land and take pity on his people" (Joel 2:18). "And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls" (Joel 2:32; cp Joel 2:20; 3:16).

Last Days application?

But this historical fulfillment is, as we have come to expect, only half the picture. The normal pattern of Bible prophecy, with few exceptions, is the presentation of a two-fold message:

How do we know that this great alliance of the Last Days will be Arab? (a) In Hebrew, the words for "locust" (arbeh) and "Arab" (arbi) are practically identical. (b) The nations actually mentioned by Joel (the ones "on every side": Joel 3:12) are Tyre and Zidon (Lebanon and Syria, in modern terms) and Philistia (exactly equivalent, linguistically, to the "Palestinians"!) in Joel 3:4; and Egypt and Edom (modern Jordan and/or Saudi Arabia) in Joel 3:19. In order to defeat Israel, these will line up with "Assyria" (modern equivalent: Iraq, or just possibly Syria, or even both). (c) The phrase "Prepare for [or make holy] war" (the literal meaning of Joel 3:9) suggests a jihad, or Moslem holy war. The first attack, in Joel's day, by Assyria and its allies was seen by its leaders as a "holy war" -- between Ashur the god of Nineveh and Jehovah (or Yahweh) the God of Israel (Joel 2:17; 2Ki 18:22,25,30-35; 19:14-19). And now, in our day, though the Arab "god" is called by a different name, the controversy is the same: whether "Allah" the god of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, et al is greater than Yahweh the God of Israel.

Temple Mount controversy

The controversy of the Last Days, between Arab and Jew, is preeminently about:

...where, after Israel's defeat and true repentance, a great Divine deliverance will come, and where the LORD God will dwell once again "in the midst of Israel... and my people shall never again be put to shame" (Joel 2:26,27).

A great deal of language in Joel (regarding sacrifices and services) suggests that the Last Days will see a resurgence of religion in Israel. It is possible that a revived Judaism will accelerate and exacerbate a controversy with the devotees of Islam -- over their own "holy places" on Mount Zion, in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. To what extent such Temple worship may develop before Christ returns (even to the removal or destruction of the ancient "Dome of the Rock" to provide the site for a modern Jewish Temple), one cannot be certain. But many other Last Days prophecies point to a controversy in or over God's holy place or mountain or Temple -- so many, in fact, that this possibility must loom large: Eze 25:3; 36:2,3; Psa 79:1-4; 83:12; Rev 11:1-3; 2Th 2:3,4; Isa 14:13,14; Oba 1:16,17; Mal 3:1; Dan 9:24-27; 11:31,45; 12:11; Mat 24:15; Mar 13:14; and Luk 21:20-24.

Revelation parallels

There are numerous and striking correspondences between Joel 1,2 and Revelation 8,9:

Locusts
Joel 1:4
Rev 9:3
Like a nation?
Joel 1:6
Rev 9:4,7
Teeth like lions' teeth
Joel 1:6
Rev 9:8
Trees, pasture burnt up
Joel 1:12-20
Rev 8:7
Destruction from God
Joel 1:15;
Rev 9:11
Fire
Joel 1:19; 2:3,5
Rev 8:7; 9:17
Rivers of water dried up
Joel 1:20
Rev 8:10; 9:14
Blowing of trumpets
Joel 2:1,11,15
Rev 8:6
Darkness
Joel 2:2
Rev 9:2,18
Horses
Joel 2:4
Rev 9:7,9
Chariots
Joel 2:5
Rev 9:9
Torment
Joel 2:6
Rev 9:6
Earthquake
Joel 2:10
Rev 8:5
Sun, moon, and stars are darkened
Joel 2:10,31; 3:15
Rev 8:12; 9:2
"Turn to me," says God!
Joel 2:12
Rev 9:20,21
The "locusts" go back to the abyss
Joel 2:20
Rev 9:1
Day of Atonement
Joel 2:15-17
Rev 8:2-4
Deliverance for the faithful remnant
Joel 2:32
Rev 9:4

It is reasonable to conclude that Joel and Rev 8; 9 describe the same events. Therefore it is possible to deduce a Last Days application: a battle for Jerusalem and its holy places, fought by Jew and Arab, which ends with Christ returning to Israel to save the faithful remnant who call upon him (Joel 2:32; 3:20). This interpretation is supported by the observation that the sounding of the first six trumpets (Rev. 8; 9), with their sense of immediacy and urgency, culminates in the sounding of the Seventh Trumpet (Rev 11:15-19) and "the time for the dead to be judged". And so Joel contributes his share of details to the ever-changing (and sometimes mysterious) mosaic of future events, a challenge and consolation for every student of Bible prophecy.

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