Introduction to the Book of Joel

A Day of Judgment Is Coming

The book of Joel

Fred de Noyelle / Godong / Getty Images 

The theme running through the book of Joel is, "The day of the Lord is coming!" The prophet Joel echoed a warning of approaching judgment when God would punish the wicked and reward the faithful.

Book of Joel

  • One of the 12 minor prophets, Joel penned most of his 73-verse book in the form of a poem.
  • Joel means "Yahweh is God."
  • Locusts are similar to grasshoppers and can congregate in swarms of millions of insects, stripping bare crops, trees, and grass in their path. Both in ancient times and today, there was no way to stop them when they hit.
  • Bible scholars are divided over the meaning of the locusts in Joel. Some consider them symbolic of an approaching army while others think they were an actual plague of insects.
  • Joel mentions a blood moon (Joel 2:31), the subject of recent books predicting upcoming judgment, also mentioned in Acts 2:20 as an omen of the day of the Lord.

Background

The prophet Joel, son of Pethuel, is the author of the book of Joel. The book was written from Jerusalem between BC 835 - 796 to the people of Israel and to all later readers of the Bible.

Book of Joel
The prophet Joel by Michelangelo. Public Domain

Summary

The book of Joel opens with the telling of an impending locust swarm and its consequences. By the millions ravenous locusts will swoop over Israel, gorging themselves on every plant in sight. Joel describes them destroying wheat and barley crops, stripping trees down to their bark, ruining grape vines so no wine offerings could be made to the Lord. The once lush countryside quickly becomes a wasteland.

Joel calls the people to repent of their sin and begs them to put on sackcloth and ashes. He foretells of a mighty army, driving down from the north on the day of the Lord. Defenses fail against them. Like the locusts, they devastate the land.

"Return to the LORD your God," Joel cried, "for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity." (Joel 2:13, NIV)

God promised to restore Israel, once again turning it into a land of plenty. He said he would pour out his Spirit upon the people. In those days the Lord will judge the nations, Joel said, and he will dwell among his people.

According to the apostle Peter, this prophecy of Joel was fulfilled 800 years later at Pentecost, following the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:14-24).

Joel's prophecy also contained a foreshadowing of a far greater future day of the Lord: God’s final judgment on sin in the Great Tribulation. Looking still farther into the future, he also saw the blessings of the Millennium.

Themes in the Book of Joel

God is just, punishing sin. However, God is also merciful, offering forgiveness to those who repent. The day of the Lord, a term used by other prophets, figures prominently in Joel. While the godless have much to fear when the Lord comes, believers can rejoice because their sins have been forgiven.

God's call is not just to return to him, but to return with all your heart. Complete commitment is God's avenue to blessing.

The book of Joel reminds readers to be mindful of both the past and future judgments of the Lord and encourages them to seek God’s presence always and live to please him.

Key Verses

Joel 1:15
For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. (NIV)

Joel 2:28
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions." (NIV)

Joel 3:16
The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. (NIV)

Outline of the Book of Joel

  • Joel 1:1-20: Locusts invade Israel, signaling the coming day of the Lord.
  • Joel 2:1-17: A foreign army thunders in to deliver God's punishment.
  • Joel 2:18-32: Ever merciful, God restores Israel.
  • Joel 3:1-21: God judges the nations then dwells among his people.