Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Prophecy of Joel: The Prophet's Message, Beliefs, and Prophetic Style

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Prophecy of Joel: The Prophet's Message, Beliefs, and Prophetic Style

Article excerpt

The Prophet Joel has a book in the Tanakh named for him and devoted exclusively to his prophecy. His prophecy is the major source for the annual supplemental reading (haftarah) in the synagogue service on the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Nevertheless, Joel remains virtually unknown by most people today. In an effort to help correct this situation, at least some what, this article will review Joel's message by focusing on three of its aspects: Joel's beliefs about the people of Judah as they face the crisis that prompted the prophecy; the connection of the prophecy to the covenant made at Mount Sinai between the Israelites and the Lord; and the unique prophetic style of Joel.


Joel, like other biblical prophets, such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zephaniah, offers a familiar message to his audience concerning their weakened relationship with the Lord. (Jer. 3:14-15, Ezek. 33:10-11, Zeph. 2:1-3). The theme of Joel's message is a familiar one, and here it is prompted by a locust attack combined with a drought. According to Joel, the Children of Israel need to strengthen their relationship with the Lord pursuant to the covenant they made with the Lord at Mount Sinai in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt (Ex. 19: 1-8). The covenant is a conditional agreement, structured in "if ... then" terms. In brief, the Lord said to the Israelites, through Moses, Now therefore, if ye will hearken unto My voice indeed, and will keep My covenant, then ye shall be Mine own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine; and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex.19:5-6). When the people heard what the Lord had spoken to Moses about the covenant, together as one they said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do (Ex. 19:8). Further details of the obligations of the Lord and of the Israelites, which are part of the conditional terms in the covenant, appear in Leviticus 26:1-13, Deuteronomy 7:12-26, Deuteronomy 8:1-20, Deuteronomy 10:12-22, and Deuteronomy 28:169.

Surely Joel, as a prophet speaking the word of the Lord (1:1), is aware of the terms of the covenant when he begins his prophecy. The essential point of the prophecy is that Joel tells his audience to return to the Lord completely as the only means of surviving the awesome consequences of the locust attack and drought that are occurring in Judah (1:2). For Joel the locusts and the drought are examples of what the Lord can do when the people break the covenant (Lev. 26:14-45).

Joel is so confident about what he believes, sees, and says, that he feels he must direct the people to perform the traditional acts of repentance for having turned away from the their covenant with the Lord. Also, Joel views the attacking locusts and the drought as the first signs that the feared Day of the Lord, a day of dreaded judgment, is near and coming soon (2:1). On the Day of the Lord, as announced by other prophets, the Lord will judge the nations of the world, including the Children of Israel (most notably in Amos 5:18, Isa. 13:6).

Despite the terrifying current conditions and the nearness of judgment day, Joel states that there still is time for the people to return to the Lord. He commands the people to mourn, weep, sanctify a time of fasting, call a solemn assembly of all inhabitants from young to old, sanctify the congregation, and rend their hearts. Who knows?, asks Joel, whether the Lord will relent? (2:14).

Then without any apparent transition in time after commanding a return to the Lord, Joel states that the Lord has relented and has had pity on His people because they have returned to Him (2:18). Through Joel the Lord promises a bright future with fresh crops and plentiful rainfall. There will still be judgment against those nations which had warred against His people, the Children of Israel. Judah will remain inhabited forever and the Lord will dwell in Zion because the covenant between the Lord and the House of Jacob now continues in force (4:16-21). …

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