The Agora
Bible Commentary

1 2 3

Joel 1

Joe 1:1

See Lesson, Prophet, the.

See Lesson, Minor prophets, and their messages.

See Article, Joel, the problem of.

JOEL: Nothing is known of this man except his name. "Joel" may be a combination of the divine names: "YHWH is EL" (cp Elijah -- the same in reverse).

PETHUEL: "The prophet's patronymic provides little assistance, for the resemblance to Hebrew words for 'deceive' and 'sudden' are not exactly helpful. However, in LXX the name is: Bethuel (an easy confusion between B and P in Hebrew). This yields the obvious and very meaningful: 'laid waste by God' (sw Isa 5:6) with reference to the main theme of the prophecy. Such a meaning would be readily chosen by the prophet himself to prepare his readers for what is coming, the true patronymic being the much more likely: -- 'ben-Azariah' (2Ch 29:12). This would make Joel a Levite, and most probably a priest. What splendid appropriateness can now be seen in Joel 2:12ff!" (WJoel).

Joe 1:2

ELDERS: Old men, but here in the sense of leaders and rulers (cp v 14).

Joe 1:3

TELL IT TO YOUR CHILDREN, AND LET YOUR CHILDREN TELL IT TO THEIR CHILDREN, AND THEIR CHILDREN TO THE NEXT GENERATION: "In this simple way, by God's grace, a living testimony for truth is always to be kept alive in the land -- the beloved of the Lord are to hand down their witness for the gospel, and the covenant to their heirs, and these again to their next descendants. This is our first duty, we are to begin at the family hearth: he is a bad preacher who does not commence his ministry at home. The heathen are to be sought by all means, and the highways and hedges are to be searched, but home has a prior claim, and woe unto those who reverse the order of the Lord's arrangements. To teach our children is a personal duty; we cannot delegate it to Sunday School teachers, or other friendly aids; these can assist us, but cannot deliver us from the sacred obligation; proxies and sponsors are wicked devices in this case: mothers and fathers must, like Abraham, command their households in the fear of God, and talk with their offspring concerning the wondrous works of the Most High. Parental teaching is a natural duty -- who so fit to look to the child's well-being as those who are the authors of his actual being?" (CHS).

"The remembering of the outstanding acts of God on behalf of His people, or in furthering their discipline, must be carried on faithfully from generation to generation. From earliest days Moses had striven to establish this tradition: 'Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons; specially the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb' (Deu 4:9,10). If these exhortations of Joel and Moses had been heeded, would the day of Babylonian invasion some five generations later have ever happened?...

"You are to establish a tradition in your families, urges the prophet. From father to son to grandson this cherished message must be faithfully handed on. How many generations are involved here? Is it five or six? And how many generations of the Truth faithfully preserved are there in these Last Days, all of them scanning the horizon eagerly for the dawn yet to be seen rising over the Mount of Olives?

"In modern times the five generations of the New Israel, having such a Word, as others do not know and with its fulfilment so nigh unto them are yet content to set their children and their grandchildren a mediocre characterless example of diluted enthusiasm.

"Remember! Remember! Teach! Teach! These should be welcome duties. Yet Moses had learned that neglect might overtake them. Specially pointed and valuable is this precept: 'Teach them thy sons AND THY SONS' SONS!'

"Yet how often it happens that grandparents treat 'their sons' sons' as though they were a box of chocolates -- a luxury to be enjoyed now and then -- and not at all as a holy commission entrusted to their care; [vessels] to be filled with precious jewels of Truth.

"Alas, it is so much more comfortable to write Joel off as out-of-date and incomprehensible, and to bequeath THAT tradition to those whose future is one's own special responsibility!" (WJoel).

This is true, in general, but here the special emphasis is -- not upon the goodness of God's arrangements -- but upon the judgments that Joel is about to describe. So terrible are these that four or five generations cannot remember anything that compares

Joe 1:4

Description of locust invasion: LB 416-419.

"The prophet's language is truly horrific. Crops devastated, flocks and herds famished through lack of fodder, the sky is darkened with the spreading cloud of irresistible devastation, the husbandman miserable in his sense of helplessness, the inexorable advance of a hostile army disciplined to be ever closing ranks and marching with callous indifference to every obstruction.

"Another locust swarm, this time of commentators, has decided that Joel saw a recent locust invasion of the Holy Land as a judgment from God intended to warn His people of their need for repentance.

"The main idea, of a lesson to be learned from a harrowing experience, is certainly correct. But was this the horror of a locust swarm or of an invasion of pitiless Assyrians?

"When the details are considered carefully, it becomes clear that, if indeed there was a locust invasion, the prophet meant his people to see it as a God-provided warning of an imminent over-running of the Land by the worst enemy they had ever encountered [ie, the Assyrians of Sennacherib]...

"The mention at the outset of four different kinds of locust is usually taken to indicate different stages of development of these creatures. [In fact, the Heb words mean, successively, gnawer", "swarmer", "devourer", and "consumer"!: GB.] But it seems not unlikely that these four names are introduced to suggest the four great Assyrian monarchs whose campaigns all included onslaught on the people of God: Tiglath-pileser III, Shalmanezer V (who died at the siege of Samaria), Sargon II (Isa 20:1) and Sennacherib, the worst of the lot...

"In the mind of Sennacherib there was evidently such an implacable hatred of Israel and Israel's God that his campaign of destruction was pursued with almost lunatic ferocity. A conqueror that has his wits about him will subjugate in order to harness the prosperity of the victim people to the further enhancement of the civilisation of his own land and people. Other empire builders had the sense to do this to the progressive glory and luxury of their reigns. But not so Sennacherib on this occasion! He was set on reducing Israel to a wilderness. He would show the world what he thought about the God these Jews worshipped. But Isaiah and Joel knew him to be the instrument of Jehovah (Isa 8:7,8; 10:5-7). His army was 'MY army' (Joel 2:11)" (WJoel).

(LD) Another possible reason for the FOUR types of locusts: four separate Arab invaders of Israel; the names mentioned later in the prophecy suggest Tyre and Zidon (Lebanon); Philistia (the Palestinians); Egypt; and Edom (Jordan and/or Saudi Arabia).

GREAT LOCUSTS: "Arbeh". The two words arbeh (locust) and arbi (Arab) are almost identical in the Heb. "Etymologically, an Arab and a locust are almost the same in radicals and pronunciation... In Jdg 6:5, in the original, the locust is used to designate the number and character of invading Arab hosts..." (cp also Jdg 7:12) (Eur 2:458). JT also wrote that the locust is a well-recognized symbol of the Arab nations, and that "Mohammedan tradition speaks of locusts having dropped into the hands of Mohammed, bearing on their wings the inscription, 'We are the army of the great God'." Notice that the locust invasion of Joe 1; 2 is particularized in Joe 3, ref Tyre, Philistia, Egypt, and Edom (Joe 3:4,19). Cp also Rev 9:1-11.

EATEN... EATEN... EATEN: "They [the Assyrian armies] know the military technique of living off the land. Indeed that is what they are there for. Always, as they go, they are eating, eating, eating. Before them, the Land is a Garden of Eden, God's own garden; behind them there is only a desolate wilderness (Joel 2:3) -- vines, fig trees (v 7), cattle and sheep (v 18), all are lost" (WJoel).

Joe 1:5

Of course, there was a reason for God being on the side of the big brutal battalions. Apart from a faithful remnant (Joel 2:32) the nation was well on the way to forgetting Hezekiah's great reformation (2Ch 29,30) which for a time at any rate had pulled the nation back from the brink of complete apostasy. Priests and aristocrats, for example, were a drunken worldly lot (cp Isa 28:7,8).

Drunkenness also sym slavery to false doctrine: Isa 19:14; 24:1-9,20; 28:1,3; Job 12:25; Jer 51:7.

(LD) The corruption of western society has found its way into modern Israel. There is the same inequality between rich and poor, the same decadent indulgence in drink and sex and drugs; and the same corruptness of religion.

WAIL... WAIL: Heb "yalal" = to cry out, to lament, to howl: sw Isa 13:6; 15:3; Jer 25:34; Amo 8:3. This word echoes the Heb "hallel": to praise, as in "Halleluyah". Cries of praise to God had turned, so easily, into howls of pain and indignation.


Joe 1:6

A NATION HAS INVADED MY LAND, POWERFUL AND WITHOUT NUMBER: "These invaders are ruthless cruel empire-building Assyrians. In fact, not one nation only, but a confederacy of several nations willing to cooperate with the Assyrians rather than suffer from their matchless cruelty and barbarism. 'All nations' is Joel's phrase (Joel 3:2)" (WJoel).

MY LAND: Israel, of course: Deu 11:12; Lev 25:23; Jer 23:39.

IT HAS THE TEETH OF A LION, THE FANGS OF A LIONESS: Not reasonable, of course, about literal locusts. But easily identified with Assyria: "Layard and other archaeologists have brought to light that these Assyrians thought of themselves as a pride of lions. It was a symbol, which the Babylonians were glad to take over after the collapse of Nineveh (Dan 7:4)" (WJoel).

Lion, generally, sym strength (Num 23:24) and cruelty (Pro 28:15).

Joe 1:8

MOURN LIKE A VIRGIN IN SACKCLOTH GRIEVING FOR THE HUSBAND OF HER YOUTH: Or, more reasonably, as the mg: like a young woman (recently married) lamenting for the death of her young betrothed. "The figure is an easy and obvious one -- a young woman betrothed to a husband and looking forward to a full and satisfying married life, finds herself bereft of the joyous prospect. Within a short while her husband-to-be wilts and dies, and she is left alone, pathetic and helpless. But the reader can hardly help wondering if there is not a special aptness about this simile: just as at the time of the Assyrian invasion the nation was left without the leadership of its king on whom so much depended (because of Hezekiah's grievous sickness: Isa 38:1), so also in the final crisis, soon to come, help against Arab invaders will come too late. For a good while, the sympathy and material aid so lavishly provided for Israel by USA and American Jewry has shown signs of drying up. This trend will go further. How long before Israel finds herself friendless?" (WJoel).

Israel has played the harlot to her betrothed, that is, to Yahweh: Jer 3:1-4; Eze 23:3.

Joe 1:9

GRAIN OFFERINGS AND DRINK OFFERINGS ARE CUT OFF FROM THE HOUSE OF THE LORD: The result of the "locust invasion", or the Assyrian invasion -- with its terrible depredations.

THE PRIESTS ARE IN MOURNING: Not so much for the sins against God, which these suffering suggest -- but because the source of their livelihood has been dried up (cp v 13)!

Joe 1:10

Vv 10-12: The destruction of all the different crops of the land, all together, suggests much more than a single locust invasion -- which might be over and done with in week or two. The effects of this "invasion" last for many months, all through the various harvests of the year -- such was the Assyrian invasion of both Israel and Judah.

Joe 1:12

APPLE: The Heb "tappuwach" is prob derived from the Hebrew rt meaning "scent, breath" which is related to the Arabic rt meaning "fragrant scent" (HAL). Hence, the term ref to a fruit with a fragrant scent. The term occurs 4 times in Song (Song 2:3,5; 7:8; 8:5) and twice outside (Pro 25:11; Joe 1:12). It may ref to "apples" or "apricots" -- known esp for their fragrance. "...Sometimes associated with the 'apple' tree, but while domesticated apple trees are now found in Israel, wild specimens are not believed to have grown there in biblical times since it is a tree native to the northern hemisphere. Apricots, however, grow in warmer climes and are native to China; they have long been abundant in Israel and most prob were introduced in Bible times. Apricots in Cyprus are still known as 'golden apples' [poss ref to Pro 25:11?]" (ABD).

Joe 1:13

SACKCLOTH: Sym bitterness and reproach (Amo 8:10; Jer 6:26).

WAIL: Heb "yalal" (cp v 5).

YOU WHO MINISTER BEFORE THE ALTAR: Num 8:16-19; 18:1-7,20-24; Lev 17:10,11; Mal 1:7-12; Eze 41:22; 44:16.

Joe 1:14

FAST... SACRED ASSEMBLY: Prob written at or just before the Day of Atonement. A time of solemn reflection, self-examination, repentance, and renewal.

SACRED ASSEMBLY: Heb "atserah". As at the feast of tabernacles, in the 7th month (Lev 23:36).

Joe 1:15

ALAS FOR THAT DAY!: Isaiah similarly described the Assyrian invasion as an act of God (Isa 10:5,6; 8:6-8).

FOR THE DAY OF THE LORD IS NEAR: "The day of the LORD is coming! It is near. There is a real urgency about this message from the prophet Joel. The day of the LORD could be here at any moment -- and you are not ready. You need to repent and plead with God for deliverance from the day of His wrath, Joel told the people of Israel, and you need to do it now before it is too late!

"This message to the people of Israel and Judah is just as applicable to us in our lives today. In the days Joel spoke, Israel and Judah were about to be taken into captivity. Nations had invaded them and had sapped their strength and the final day of the LORD was just around the corner.

"We know that we live in the last days. Nearly everything God has said will happen before the return of Christ, has happened. When the rest begins to happen we may find ourselves caught up in what is going on, and it may be too late for us to do anything about it. The day of the LORD is coming for us. The message is urgent because we must act while we still have the time -- but time will run out.

"Will you be ready for the day of the LORD?" (RP).

DESTRUCTION FROM THE ALMIGHTY: A pun: 'like destruction (shod) shall it come from the Almighty (shaddai).' This meaning of this divine name occurs frequently in Job and Psalms (contrast the alternative derivation 'prosperity, fruitfulness' in the Book of Genesis: WBS 15:01).

Joe 1:17

THE SEEDS ARE SHRIVELED BENEATH THE CLODS: " 'Under their clods' is little more than a translator's guess. A cognate word appears in Jdg. 5:21 (and there is no other occurrence): 'The river Kishon swept them away.' This might suggest: 'The seed is rotten under their sweeping advance' (another guess -- by this translator). LXX adds here: 'What shall we lay up for ourselves?' " (WJoel).

THE STOREHOUSES ARE IN RUINS, THE GRANARIES HAVE BEEN BROKEN DOWN: "The picture of desolation continues to be painted in lurid colours, and with special emphasis on food and fodder scarcities. But one detail serves to reinforce the conclusion already reached that it is the devastation brought by war and not by locust plague that is being described here, for barns and granaries are not broken down by a travelling swarm of locusts. Instead, what is suggested here is the wilful destruction of farm buildings" (WJoel).

Joe 1:19

Vv 19,20: "Even the best-regulated families of locusts do not burn up pasture or trees" (WJoel) -- suggesting that this "locust" invasion is really a human army. (The alternative would be that the effect of the locust invasion would be the same as a great fire!: cp Joel 2:3.)

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