The time period in which the book of Joel was written is debated amongst scholars, much like the time periods of other prophets. What scholars can agree on is the genre, characters, and narrative of Joel and what it means. The following is an excerpt from The Lutheran Bible Companion.
Joel is written as a series of poetic oracles with prose included at 2:30–3:8. In critical circles, it was widely held (and still often is) that Joel himself was responsible for only the first half of the book (1:2–2:27; the locust plague itself). The latter half (2:28–3:21) was supposed to have been contributed by some later writer (“Deutero-Joel”), who linked his work to the first half by adding a reference to the day of the Lord at four points (1:15; 2:1b, 2a, 11b). Such opinions are mere speculation. The real issue here is the relationship between present and future or between historical events mentioned in the book and those anticipated by its prophecies.
Two main characters speak in the Book of Joel: (1) the prophet, who is the main speaker at the beginning of the book, and (2) the Lord, who is the main speaker at the close of the book. Both the Lord and His prophet call the people of Judah to repentance. The object of their message is first of all the elders and priests of Judah, along with the people of the land who gather at the temple to fast and pray.
Narrative Development or Plot
Although Joel is not written as a story, one can detect a storyline in the pronouncements from the prophet and the Lord, for whom the prophet speaks.
The people are losing their crops with which they worship the Lord at His temple. Although no specific sins are described, the prophet calls for their
repentance and prayers so that the Lord might preserve their sustenance with which they worship Him. As total disaster seems inevitable, the people respond to the prophet’s message and gather in prayer. The Lord has pity on them and restores the bounty of the land. As the people know and confess Him as their God, He also promises a future restoration when He will pour out His Spirit and deliver His people while the world is beset with turmoil and war.
Summary & Commentary
Joel summons the people of Judah to assemble and hear the Lord’s judgment for their sin: successive waves of locust swarms will come and devastate their land. Then wildfires and drought will dispose of what remains.
Desperation and starvation will result from the people’s refusal to repent. The locust hordes that God threatens to unleash on Judah will be as devastating as the invasion of a human army. In light of the impending locust plague, Joel urges the people to repent of their sin and return to the Lord, offering the hope that He might yet relent and hold off the disaster.
Along with dire predictions about a locust plague and famine, Joel assures the people that the Lord will not abandon them or allow them to be mocked by their pagan neighbors. After the devastation, the Lord promises to pour out His life-giving Spirit. His purpose in so doing is to deliver the gifts of salvation. Prophesying about Judgment Day, Joel announces that the Lord will punish His enemies, while vindicating and finally delivering His people. Given the inevitability of judgment, dreadful punishments await those who reject God and His purposes.
Read more on Joel.
Blog post adapted from Lutheran Bible Companion, Volume 1: Introduction and Old Testament, pages 869–71, copyright © 2014 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.