Study of the Prophets #27: Joel (Introduction)

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue

                              Study of the Prophets #27: Joel “YHVH is Elohim”  


Joel is known as one of the writing prophets; those G-d used to write books. As such, few of the writing prophets appear in the historical books of the Old Testament to provide information to as to their occupations before, and possibly during and after their ministries. Therefore, their characters cannot be as easily described as in the case of some of the earlier prophets. For now, we will concentrate on the ninth century, when Joel and Obadiah whom we already studied, ministered.

Joel does not date his ministry, so we must gain our knowledge from his book. Conservative scholars date his ministry to the time of King Joash (835-796 B.C.E.). Liberal scholars favor a later date, usually after the exile. The earlier date is preferred because of the information in Joel’s writings.

One of the more significant evidences is found in reading about the enemies of Judah listed in Joel’s writings. These are Tyre and Sidon to the north (3:4), Philistia to the west (3:4), Egypt to the southeast (3:19), and Edom to the south (3:19). Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia are not mentioned yet they were perpetual enemies of Judah after the first contacts of Assyria with the northern tribes in the latter half of the ninth century.  The Arameans of Damascus are not mentioned, and they were very aggressive toward Israel during the time of Jehu ad Jehoahaz of Israel and finally forced Joash of Judah to pay a very heft tribute in the latter days of his reign (II Kings 12:17, 18; II Chron. 24:23,24). The enemies mentioned are easily accounted for in the earlier date (835-796 B.C.E.) held by the conservative scholars. The Philistines waged a severe attack against Jerusalem in the days of Jehoram, and in his time the Edomites revolted and went out from under Judah’s control. The Egyptians made their position known in the earlier attack of Shishak during the fifth year of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14;25,26). There are no attacks recorded from Tyre or Sidon during either time period, so their mention does not provide an argument for either timeframe.

A second evidence is deduced simply from the placement of the book in the sacred canon. It is among the six earlier minor prophets. This suggests that all six are to be placed at an earlier date rather than a later time. If Joel was written during the post exilic time, it would be logical to expect its location to be in the latter part of this group of six prophets, rather than in an earlier part.

Conservative scholars also refer to an apparent dependence by later prophets on Joel’s prophecies. Amon 1:2 seems to refer to Joel 3:16, and Amos 9:13 to Joel 3:18. Isaiah 13:6 echoes back to Joel 1:15. It is difficult to prove this directional dependence, because it could be the reverse. That Amos and Isaiah are early books of the eight century suggests that, whatever the relationship, Joel was written early and not after the exile.

Liberal scholars find evidence for a late date by the lack of mention of a king in the book. They maintain there was no king; a situation that followed the exile. However, the fact that Joel did not mention a king could reflect the situation in the time of King Joash. He came to the throne at age seven, so that the ruler in fact was the godly high priest Jehoiada, and the book makes reference to elders and priests in keeping with the idea that this type of leadership was prominent.

Additional support for the liberal perspective is that there is no mention regarding the sin of idolatry, which is stressed in the book of Hosea and Amos of the eighth century. They argue that this is consistent with the conditions following the exile, after the people had been punished. However, the lack of mention of the sin of idolatry when looking at the reign of Joash. When the good high priest, Jehoiada, was in control. Athaliah’s sinful reign had been terminated, and significant reform was brought to the land, resulting in the cessation of idol worship.

Liberal scholars cite further evidence from the mention of Greeks in 36. It is believed that such a reference could not be expected until after the conquest of Alexander the great in 333 B.C.E. But this does not provide a solid argument; the reference to Greeks in this passage is in the context of describing the Greeks as a far distant people. In fact, after Alexander’s conquest, the Greeks were not a distant people at all; they were in control of the land. The Judean’s could easily have known of them in a pre-exilic time, something witnessed by early references to them in Assyrian inscriptions.

Another argument for a late date is taken from Joel 3:2 that refers to what is believed to be the Babylonian captivity. Since the captivity is implied as being in the past, it is asserted that the book must have been written after this event. However, it must be understood that this comes in a definite eschatological context, in which the ingathering of the nations in the last days is in view. The captivity mentioned is in reality, the time when Israel has been dispersed throughout the world, as it is to this day.

Considering the previous facts and scenarios, it would be logical to place Joel’s writings during the reign of Joash, while the high priest Jehoiada was his advisor. Perhaps the most likely timeframe is around 830-825 B.C.E.

The background history of Joel follows that of Obadiah. They may have been acquainted, and their ministries may have overlapped a few years. Joel was the younger of the two and the prime of his ministry occurred 10-20 years later. He lived during the time that Athaliah seized the throne after the death of her son Athaliah. Jehoram, her husband, had died earlier when G-d inflicted him with and incurable disease of the bowels (II Chron.21:18,19). Ahaziah only ruled for one year and was killed on a visit to Israel. Athaliah subsequently killed her grandchildren with the exception of Joash, so she could assume the throne in Judah. Joash was rescued by Jehosheba (II Chron.22;11), sister of Ahaziah, who hid him and his nurse in a bedchamber. He assumes the throne at the young age of 7 through arrangements made by the high priest, Jehoiada. He brought the leaders and rulers at the time together to share his plan. He divided the group into three sections, assigning each group a task. He declared that the priority was to make sure Joash was not harmed during the coronation process. The crown was placed on his head and the people assembled and cried “G-d save the king.” Only then did Athaliah become aware of what happened.  She ran to the temple and exclaimed “Treason, treason.” Jehoiada immediately commanded the officers to seize and kill her. Joash therefore became the rightful king of Judah at seven years old.

Joash began his rule under the guidance of Jehoiada. The Baal priest was killed and all of the idolatrous paraphernalia was destroyed. The personnel and offerings mandated by G-d in the sacrificial system were reinstituted. True worship of G-d was observed once again. As Joash matured to the point of independence, he gave orders for the repair of the temple (II Chron. 24:7). When the priests and Levites were slow to collect money for the task, Joash came up with the idea of placing a box at the side of the altar for people to donate when they came to make their sacrifices. The people responded enthusiastically and the repairs were made. As long as Jehoiada continued as high priest, Joash remained true to G-d. However, when Jehoiada died, things changed. Joash began listening to Baal worshippers (II Chron. 24:17,18). This was the time when Zechariah was stoned. Joel apparently wrote his book a few years after Joash was made king and Judah enjoyed spiritual reform, even if only temporarily. No doubt, Joel must have done everything he could to promote the spiritual reform that took place during his life and ministry. He was probably still living when Zechariah was stoned. According to II Chronicles 24:19, prophets were sent during this timeframe to rebuke the king and his advisors, perhaps Joel among them.

There is not much known about Joel’s personal life. He was the son of Pethuel, translated as vision. Therefore, Joel was the son of vision. Pethuel must have been a pious man, naming his son (YHVH is G-d). WE do not know where Joel was born or raised. He had a wonderful gift of writing, so he must have had an excellent education. His writing style is clear, lucid, powerful, full of dramatic expression and figures of speech. Evidently he witnessed the invasion of locusts, because this is the theme of his opening chapter with which he uses to make an illustrative basis for the rest of his book.  Just as G-d punished the land with this terrible event, so He would do in the near and distant future when a nation from the north would invade the Land.  Warning regarding this future event is a dominant theme of his book.  There is a parallel in general approach between Joel and Obadiah. Obadiah focused on the future destruction of Edom to the south of Judah; Joel scope if Israel’s future punishments. Joel speaks of the future judgment because of the people’s sin. G-d’s honor must be avenged. There is a great and continuous need for prayer, fasting, and repentance on the part of all mankind to avert if this would be possible.

The main emphasis of the book of Joel concerns the coming day of judgment, called ‘the day of the L-rd.” G-d will bring this day as a punishment for Judah’s sin with subsequent deliverance from it. Joel uses the scourge of the locusts to emphasize and illustrate this future event. The people are depicted in repentance as a result of this time of devastation (1:8-20) and Joel then describes the coming day of the L-rd itself, saying it will result in weeping by the people (2:1-17).

We may believe the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) Who inspired Joel had this time in mind because the language Joel used in describing the day of the L-rd is similar to the language used in other passages that predict the future time of the Tribulation. In 2:1-10, the assembling of a great Gentile army is described. This seems to be the army sequestered by the Antimessiah in the latter days of the Great Tribulation. Chapter 2:11 describes the destruction of this army, which corresponds to Yahshua’s destruction of the Antimessiah’s army at the climax of that period (Zech. 14:3,4; Rev. 19:17-21).

True to most if not all prophecies in the Torah, a partial fulfillment of this description occurred in the Assyrian attack under Sennacherib, which followed about 100 years after the day of Joel, but some of the language extends beyond the events of that time, supporting evidence for a future fulfillment. For example, Chapter 2:2 speaks of the prophesied occasion as worse than any preceding events or any that would follow; similar to the language used in Matthew 24:21, which most assuredly speaks of the Great Tribulation. Also Joel 2:10 speaks of the heavens trembling, and the sun and moon becoming dark with the starts withdrawing their shining. This is a phenomenon that did not occur in the time of Sennacherib.

The remainder of the book (2:18-3:21) primarily addresses G-d’s intervention on behalf of His people as a result of their repentance. Once again, there is a two-fold fulfillment: what YHVH would do for His people whenever they repented, and what He will do as Yahshua, the Conquering King following the Great Tribulation. Because Peter quoted 2:28,29, speaking of the outpouring of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), fulfilled in part at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-20), we may understand that certain events referenced were partially fulfilled at Yahshua’s first coming. Because the same reference will find its complete fulfillment only in the Millennium, as Judah are filled as never before with the Ruach HaKodesh, we may understand that the section generally will receive its complete fulfillment at that time.

A basic outline of the book of Joel is as follows:

  1. A symbolic plague of locusts (1:1-20)
  2. The plague depicted (1:1-7)
  3. Exhortation for repentance and prayer (1:8-20)
  4. The day of the L-rd symbolized (2:1-32)
  5. A great invading army (2:1-10)
  6. The army of G-d (2:11)
  7. Resultant repentance (2:12-17)
  8. The response of G-d (2:18-29)
  9. Signs preceding the day of the L-rd (2:30-32).
  • Judgment of the nations (3:1-16)
  1. Restoration of Israel (3:1)
  2. The nations judged (3:2,3)
  3. A foreshadowing of judgment on Phoenicia and Philistia (3:4-8)
  4. Assembly and destruction of the great army (3:9-16)
  5. Millennial blessings (3:17-21).


Next week we will begin with Chapter 1

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Tamah Davis

  • I would like to give credit to Leon J. Wood who wrote “The prophets of Israel” (1979) for some of the information used in this study.