The prophet Joel has a lot of things going for him. He’s got some iconic verses about the Holy Spirit, he purposefully transcends a specific time period, and he writes poetry that feels like a horror story. He’s writing in Jerusalem, likely after the exile because he doesn’t mention a king or specific idolatry, although dating the book is somewhat difficult because he doesn’t give more context clues. This lack of specificity however allows the community of faith to find this book easily applicable to any given time period. It’s a lament over the need for God’s punishment and a warning against further repercussion, but ultimately hopeful with a prophecy that would find its fulfillment in Acts 2.
One of his biggest themes is the “day of the Lord”, a recurring phrase used five times. “Day” refers to any time that God’s presence is made known, both in judgment and deliverance. This could mean fear and punishment as well as hope and restoration. What is most important to Joel is God’s presence, not necessarily what the presence brings. He asks us a searching question; do we believe that even God’s presence in judgment is better than God’s absence?
Literarily the book is mostly poetic with exaggerated imagery to enhance Joel’s warning and urging to repent. He references a current situation of a locust plague and laments over this time of national tragedy. The locusts are likely literal and are also a prophetic forerunner of military invasion that could come like a swarming plague sent to get Israel’s attention.
Take 10-15 minutes to read it through. For additional context and themes check out The Bible Project’s short video.
- Are we willing to desire God’s presence even in judgment? Why would we think that even that is better than His absence?
- Look at the example of David in 1 Chron. 21:8-13. What does he know and believe about God to choose God’s hand over the other options?
- How does God often get our attention today when He calls us to repentance?
- Look over Acts 2 and the way Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32. How does God take the community of faith from lament and punishment to hope and continuous communion with the Spirit?
Other Minor Prophet study guides (in chronological order):