The prophecy of Joel may seem unimportant as it contains only three brief chapters. However, this little book is like an atom bomb—it is not very big, but it sure is potent and powerful.
We know very little about the prophet Joel. All we are told concerning him is in Joel 1:1, “The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.” Joel means “Jehovah is God,” and it was a very common name. There have been some people who have jumped to the conclusion that the prophet Joel was a son of Samuel because 1 Samuel 8:1–2 says, “And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel …” But if we read further the next verse tells us, “And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment” (1 Sam. 8:3). Samuel’s son could not have been the same as the prophet Joel.
We can be sure that Joel prophesied in Jerusalem and the Jerusalem area. Throughout his prophecy he refers again and again to “the house of the LORD.” For instance, in Joel 1:9 we read, “The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the LORD; the priests, the LORD’S ministers, mourn.” He also mentions Jerusalem in Joel 3:20, “But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation.” And then again, in Joel 3:17, we read, “So shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more.” Therefore we know that this man was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah.
Joel prophesied as one of the early prophets. Actually there were quite a few prophets—at least fifty—and it is generally conceded by conservative scholars that Joel prophesied about the time of the reign of Joash, king of Judah. That would mean that he was contemporary with and probably knew Elijah and Elisha.
Joel’s theme is “the day of the LORD.” He makes specific reference to it five times: Joel 1:15; 2:1–2; 2:10–11; 2:30–31; and 3:14–16. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel all refer to the Day of the Lord. Sometimes they call it “that day.” Zechariah particularly emphasizes “that day.” What is “that day”? It is the Day of the Lord, or the Day of Jehovah. Joel is the one who introduces the Day of the Lord in prophecy. Yonder from the mountaintop of the beginning of written prophecy, this man looked down through the centuries, seeing further than any other prophet saw—he saw the Day of the Lord.
The Day of the Lord is a technical expression in Scripture which is fraught with meaning. It includes the millennial kingdom which will come at the second coming of Christ, but Joel is going to make it very clear to us that it begins with the Great Tribulation period, the time of great trouble. If you want to set a boundary or parenthesis at the end of the Day of the Lord, it would be the end of the Millennium when the Lord Jesus puts down all unrighteousness and establishes His eternal Kingdom here upon the earth.
The Day of the Lord is also an expression that is peculiar to the prophets of the Old Testament. It does not include the period when the church is in the world, because none of the prophets spoke about a group of people who would be called out from among the Gentiles, the nation Israel, and all the tribes of the earth, to be brought into one great body called the church which would be raptured out of this world. The prophets neither spoke nor wrote about the church.
James, at the great council of Jerusalem, more or less outlined the relationship between the church age and this period known as the Day of the Lord. He said, “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up” (Acts 15:14–16). James says, “After this”—after what? After He calls out the church from this world, God will again turn to His program with Israel, and it is to this time that the Day of the Lord refers. James went on to say, “That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things” (Acts 15:17). Today God is calling out of the Gentiles a people; in that day, all the Gentiles who will be entering the Kingdom will seek the Lord. I think there will be a tremendous turning to God at that time unlike any the church has ever witnessed.
Someone may question,“Why is God following this program?” James said, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). Don’t ask me why God is following this program—ask Him, because I do not know and nobody else knows. He is following this program because it is His program and it is His universe. He is not responsible to you or to me. God doesn’t turn in a report at the end of the week to tell us what He’s been doing and to receive our approval. My friend, all I can say is that it is just too bad if you and I don’t like it because, after all, we are just creatures down here in this world.
There are several special features about the prophecy of Joel which I would like to point out. Joel was the first of the writing prophets, and as he looked down through the centuries, he saw the coming of the Day of the Lord. However, I do not think he saw the church at all—none of the prophets did. When the Lord Jesus went to the top of the Mount of Olives, men who were schooled in the Old Testament came and asked Him, “What is the sign of the end of the age?” Our Lord didn’t mention His Cross to them at that time. He didn’t tell them then about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t tell them about the church period or mention the Rapture to them. Instead, the Lord went way down to the beginning of the Day of the Lord. He dated it, but it’s not on your calendar or mine; the events He predicted will identify it for the people who will be there when the Day of the Lord begins: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)” (Matt. 24:15). That is how we are to know the beginning of the Day of the Lord. Joel will make it clear to us that it begins with night—that is, it begins as a time of trouble. After all, the Hebrew day always began at sunset. Genesis tells us, “And the evening and the morning were the first day” (Gen. 1:5). We begin at sunup, but God begins at sundown. The Day of the Lord, therefore, begins with night.
It is remarkable to note that, unlike Hosea, Joel says practically nothing about himself. In Hosea we find out about the scandal that went on in his home, about his unfaithful wife. We do not know whether Joel had an unfaithful wife or not; we don’t even know if he was married. The very first verse of the prophecy gives us all that we are to know: “The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel” (Joel 1:1).
Unlike many of the other prophets, Joel does not condemn Israel for idolatry. Earlier in their history, at the time Joel was prophesying, idolatry was not the great sin in Israel. Joel will only mention one sin, the sin of drunkenness.
Joel opens his prophecy with a unique description of a literal plague of locusts. Then he uses that plague of locusts to compare with the future judgments which will come upon this earth. The first chapter is a dramatic and literary gem. It is a remarkable passage of Scripture, unlike anything you will find elsewhere in literature.
Finally, Joel’s prophecy contains the very controversial passage in which he mentions the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which was referred to by the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost (see Joel 2:28–29). There is a difference of interpretation concerning the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and we will look at that in detail when we come to it.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 27: Hosea & Joel. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)