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Very little is known about the historical context of Joel and his prophecy. Arguments have been made supporting dates from the 900s B.C. to the 200s B.C., but there is little in the book itself to be definitive. Conservatives generally opt for early dates, when possible, and Archer offers these clues. 1 First, the elders and priests seem to be in charge, with no mention of a king. While this could refer to post-exilic Israel, he also refers to Judah, which is more of a pre-exilic name. Since Joash was so young when he became king, the land was ruled by other elders in his place (2 Kings 11:4). Second, there are several parallel passages between Joel and Amos, who was a 8th century prophet. Others point to similarities between Joel and many other prophets, though, claiming that Joel quoted them rather than all of them quoting from him. Third, the primary enemies mentioned by Joel were not Babylon and Persia but Egypt, Edom, and Philistia, indicating an early date impossible for post-exilic Israel. Even the mention of the Greeks in Joel 3:6 conceives of them as very far away, hinting at an early stage of their global influence. This would not be true after Israel’s return from Persia and is probably the strongest argument for an early writing.
The theme of this prophecy is the day of the Lord, including both the judgments of that day and the final restoration of Israel to her land, so it is a prophecy of both judgment and hope.
Chapter one is a bold message to the people of Judah to return to God. Joel pointed to the devastating effects of a locust infestation to forewarn of a greater judgment yet to fall on Israel should they not return to God. In this chapter Joel addressed four groups of people, telling them to weep because of the judgment on them: 1) the elders and all inhabitants of the land, because of the complete destruction done by the locust (Joel 1:2-4); 2) the drunkards and wine drinkers, because of the loss of the vines, fig trees, and field crops (Joel 1:5-10); 3) the farmers and vinedressers, because everything had dried up (Joel 1:11-12); and 4) the priests, because there was no grain and wine left to offer in the Temple (Joel 1:13). Joel’s solution was for the priests to “announce a holy fast,” so the people would “cry out to the LORD” (Joel 1:14).
None of that, however, compared to “how awful” the coming judgment “will be” – “the day of the LORD” (Joel 1:15). Their situation was terrible – no food, empty storehouses, starving people and animals, wild fires, and dry river beds (Joel 1:16-18). Joel could only “call out for help” to God to save Israel from this dreadful drought and famine. Even more than the physical situation, Joel lamented the spiritual situation – no offerings at the Temple bringing joy to God and his people (Joel 1:9, 13, 16). God had warned Israel of this very thing if they chose to abandon him, and during this time he kept his promise. He did send drought and famine, but he also sent his man, Joel, graciously encouraging them to return to him.
- Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 339. ↩