Life, Hope & Truth

Joel

Joel predicted the tumultuous Day of the Lord, followed by a time of universal peace, prosperity and abundance. When and how will these things come to pass?

Little is known about the prophet Joel, whose name means “the Lord is God,” apart from the name of his father, Pethuel (Joel 1:1). No other details of his personal history or background are recorded.

From references in his writings it is presumed that he was an inhabitant of Jerusalem, and he addressed most of his prophecies to Judah.

The date of Joel

The date the book of Joel was written has aroused a good deal of discussion among biblical scholars. Most agree that Judah had not descended into the extreme spiritual and moral depravity of its latter days. It appears, therefore, that Joel should be placed among the earlier prophets, likely during the reign of King Joash of Judah (around 835 B.C.). If this is correct, then Joel would have been a contemporary of Hosea and Amos.

Theme of Joel

A major theme of Joel’s prophecies is his teachings about the Day of the Lord, when God will severely judge His own people and the rest of the world. The prophet states: “Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty” (1:15).

The Day of the Lord is not a time to look forward to! The Bible reveals that it will be a period of unprecedented universal upheaval preceding Christ’s return, a time of divine punishment on the nations.

Prophecies for Judah

Joel’s primary focus is Judah. He makes reference to Jerusalem and the temple located there. Notice the following verses:

  • “The house of the LORD” and the “priests … who minister to the LORD” (1:9).
  • “Blow the trumpet in Zion … in My holy mountain” (2:1).
  • “Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar” (2:17).
  • “For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance” (2:32).
  • “When I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem” (3:1).
  • “Then Jerusalem shall be holy” and “Judah shall abide forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation” (3:17, 20).
  • “For the LORD dwells in Zion” (3:21).

The northern kingdom of Israel (2:27; 3:2, 16) and other nations (3:9) will not escape the calamitous events surrounding the Day of the Lord (3:1-17). Many of the signs and wonders pronounced against Zion and Judah have never happened before (1:2-3) and are predictions for times yet in the future.

Famine conditions will prevail

In those troubled times, even the animals will crave a time of peace. “How the animals groan! The herds of cattle are restless, because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep suffer punishment. … Fire has devoured the open pastures, and a flame has burned all the trees of the field. … The beasts of the field also cry out to You, for the water brooks are dried up” (1:18-20).

Extreme weather patterns such as severe cold or heat, floods and drought—and the wildfires that often accompany drought conditions—can devastate the agricultural production of any nation. This will lead to an inability of farmers to provide sufficient food for the vast numbers of people who live in our large cities. Shortages of basic food items will result.

God controls the weather

God controls the weather, and He can use this power to punish the nations that have flagrantly rejected Him and His laws. Joel uttered this warning: “Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God?” (1:16). Christ predicted that at the end time “there will be famines … in various places” (Matthew 24:7).

During the dedication of the temple, King Solomon understood that it was sin that caused such conditions: “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they [the people] have sinned against You” (1 Kings 8:35, emphasis added throughout).

Watch abnormal and destructive changes in weather patterns around the world.

Outline of Joel

Chapter 1: Crops utterly destroyed by a locust plague; call for repentance.

Chapter 2: The Day of the Lord begins.

Verses 1-11: Invading armies occupy the land.

Verses 12-17: God calls for national repentance.

Verses 18-32: If the people repent, God assures restoration and abundant blessings.

Chapter 3: Certain judgment proclaimed among all nations.

Verses 1-17: God’s punishment on the nations: the great battle in the Valley of Jehoshaphat.

Verses 18-21: Blessings abound when “the LORD dwells in Zion” (verse 21).

The disastrous locust plague

Joel describes a vast cloud of locusts darkening the sky, swarming upon the land and destroying every green thing in their path (Joel 1:1 through 2:27). The destructive swarm of locusts is used as an analogy of a future invading army, likely the Assyrians, which would occupy and devastate the nation.

Expositor’s Bible Commentary explains: “The ancient world abounded with examples of likening armies to locusts or vice versa. Indeed, the locust was a common figure of the armies of the Neo-Assyrians kings” (revised edition, p. 327).

God refers to the locusts as “His army” (2:11), and in Isaiah 10:5 He calls the nation of Assyria “the rod of My anger.”

“Prepare for war”

Joel describes a mighty invading army that has implications for the future: “For a nation has come up against My land, strong, and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion” (Joel 1:6). Furthermore, he describes a large army with immense military power: “A people come, great and strong, the like of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them, even for many successive generations” (2:2).

Joel 3:12 states: “Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.”

Some have mistakenly equated the Valley of Jehoshaphat with the name Armageddon, mentioned in Revelation 16:16. Armageddon is translated from the Hebrew name Har Megiddo, which means “Hill of Megiddo,” located in a large valley. This large, bowl-shaped Plain of Jezreel, situated about 55 miles north of Jerusalem, is the location where the armies will assemble, not where the final battle will take place.

Where will the battle be fought?

Joel and other biblical authors give the answer. From their gathering place on the Plain of Jezreel, the troops will advance southward toward Jerusalem into the Valley of Jehoshaphat (which means “judgment of the Eternal”).

Notice that God “will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem” on the day when He returns, and His feet “will stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zechariah 14:1-4). These places describe an area in the proximity of Jerusalem where the battle will be fought, and are not located near Armageddon or the Plain of Jezreel.

Jerusalem will be the focal point of the armies of the “whole world” who gather “to the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (Revelation 16:14), and that is the location where Christ at His return will overcome and destroy the opposing forces (Revelation 17:14; Zechariah 14:12-15).

Joel and the book of Revelation

Certain prophecies from Joel have an association with descriptions in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, as the following verses show:

  • Joel 1:4-5: The locust plague and famine (Revelation 9:1-11; 6:5-6).
  • Joel 1:6; 2:1-11: Unprecedented warfare (Revelation 6:4).
  • Joel 2:30-31: Heavenly signs (Revelation 6:12).
  • Joel 3:9-14: The battle of the great day of God Almighty (Revelation 16:14).
  • Joel 3:17, 21: Christ returns to Jerusalem (Revelation 19:11-21).
  • Joel 2:21-27: God pours out abundant favors and blessings (Revelation 21:1-7).

The moon turned to blood

How are we to understand Joel 2:31, “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood”? Some have equated this with solar and lunar eclipses and the so-called “blood moon” sometimes seen in a lunar eclipse, in an attempt to predict the exact time Christ will return.

One of the principles to avoid misunderstandings when studying the Bible is to consider the context and the time setting with the help of other scriptures. The book of Joel, though, like many prophecies, sometimes jumps from one time period to another. Verses 30 and 31 are clearly “before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD” (verse 31), while the surrounding verses are about the time after Christ’s return.

However, we can find the time setting more clearly explained in Revelation 6:12, which refers to the same incident: “And the moon became like blood.” Since Revelation 6 is recorded in chronological order, it becomes clear that this sixth seal occurs after the five seals listed earlier in Revelation 6 and at the time “a great earthquake” occurs.

The final fulfillment of the first four seals (see “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”) and the fifth seal described in Revelation 6:9-11 and Matthew 24:21-22 (see “Great Tribulation”) have not been completed, and neither has the great earthquake of Revelation 6:12. So the event of the “moon [turning] into blood” cannot happen until the world-shaking incidents described in the first five seals have taken place.

All-important to God in the process of repentance is a contrite heart. Outward show of worship needs to be accompanied by a genuine change of the heart.Jesus confirmed this in Matthew 24:29: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” This clearly refers to supernatural events, not just predictable eclipses. Jesus also said we don’t know the day and hour of His return, so those who try to predict it using eclipses can’t be correct (Matthew 24:36).

A call to repentance

In the shadow of impending doom and destruction, God pleads with the people to humbly seek and worship Him. God said, “‘Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ So rend your heart, and not your garments” (Joel 2:12-13). He continued: “Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm” (2:13).

All-important to God in the process of repentance is a contrite heart. Outward show of worship needs to be accompanied by a genuine change of the heart. Christ condemned the religious leaders of His day for having a form or outward show of religion that did not come from the heart: “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25-28). He stated that such worship of Him is done in vain (Mark 7:7-9).

Bountiful blessings will follow heartfelt repentance

Upon repentance, God promises that He “will be zealous for His land, and pity His people” (Joel 2:18). God’s goodness and kindness will be poured out upon the people:

  • Joel 2:19, 24: Inhabitants will be satisfied with grain, new wine and oil.
  • Joel 2:23: Rain in due season.
  • Joel 2:26: Abundance of food for all. “And My people shall never be put to shame.”

After Christ returns

Major changes will occur once Jesus Christ returns to govern the entire earth (Revelation 11:15).

  • Joel 2:27: He will return to dwell “in the midst of Israel,” and no other false god will ever be worshipped again.
  • Joel 2:28: “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh.” Notice He stipulates all peoples and nations.
  • Joel 2:32: Those who call upon God will be offered salvation.
  • Joel 3:17: God will dwell in Zion, and because He dwells in Jerusalem, the city will be declared “holy,” or set apart from other cities. The city shall abide “from generation to generation” (3:20).
  • Joel 3:18: Agricultural blessings will abound.
  • Joel 3:21: God again emphasizes that He will live in Jerusalem.

These scriptures are prophecies of joyful end-time events that have not yet occurred.

Biblical prophecies are sure to happen

Under inspiration, the apostle Peter stated that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

It may be disturbing, but we have to acknowledge that the Bible predicts world-shaking events for the near future. God inspired these prophecies, and they are sure to occur. Yet be ever mindful of the many prophecies that promise hope, joy and happiness as well.

Jesus Christ desires that we “watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).

The choices we make will determine if this promise becomes a reality in our lives.

Study more in these related articles:

For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.

About the Author

André van Belkum

Andre van Belkum

Andre van Belkum currently serves as the pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in New Zealand and the Pacific region. Previously he pastored congregations in southern Africa, including South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

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