“And the LORD shall roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake, but the LORD will be a refuge unto his people, and a strong hold to the children of Israel” (Joel 3:16). (All scriptures are from the Revised Standard Version.)
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Little is known about the background and family history of Joel other than he was the son of Pethuel (which means “A man of God” or “God delivers”). Joel’s name means “Jehovah is God.” He likely lived in Judah because his prophecies concerned Judah and Jerusalem. Joel probably lived in the country because he writes about vine dressers, husbandmen, fig trees, wheat and barley fields, etc. In contrast, the biblical commentator Adam Clarke suggests Joel was of the tribe of Reuben and lived in the city of Bethoran.
Most commentators suggest Joel was a prophet during the reign of King Uzziah between 783 and 742 BC. Others place him during the reign of King Jehoash or King Amaziah, just prior to Uzziah. Some suggest the book was written in 774 BC, nine years after Uzziah became king, due to the book’s placement between Hosea and Amos, Joel’s contemporaries. Joel was the second of 12 minor prophets and likely lived about 20 years after Hosea and about 60 years before Isaiah.
Overview of the Book of Joel
The book of Joel provides a summary of future events described in greater detail in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation. The book appears to have a threefold prophetic message:
● The successive invasions of Judah by Babylon over a number of years, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem (Joel 1:9,13).
● A description of the last days of this Gospel age (the primary message of Joel) including the invasion of Israel by a vast, disciplined army from the north. When Jerusalem’s capture is imminent, the Lord miraculously intervenes and destroys the invading army. Following this, Jerusalem is restored and abundance returns to Israel at the start of God’s Kingdom.
● A description of the judgments on Christendom, with its final destruction prior to the inauguration of God’s Kingdom.
Summary by Chapter
Chapter 1: Joel describes the invasion of Judah by Babylon as a foretaste of the greater trouble that closes this Gospel age. He exhorts all to hear his words and pass the prophecy down to successive generations (three generations are specified), perhaps because it will take a long time for the prophecy to be fulfilled (verses 1-3). The repeated invasion of Israel by four stages of the locusts causes total devastation. This passage describes not only a literal locust invasion but symbolically, four different army invasions, each more destructive than the last (verse 4).
The two-tribe kingdom of Judah is unaware of what is about to take place because they have been listening to false prophets rather than God’s true prophets (verse 5). The invading force is described as a lion, which typically represents Babylon (verse 6).1 The wasting of fields, vines, and trees, the ending of the Temple services, and the priests being in mourning are described in verses 7-20. Severe drought upon the fields, the cattle, and the lack of water and pasture mean temple offerings and sacrifices can no longer be made (verses 17-20).
(1) The evidence for a lion representing Babylon is suggested by the discovery in Iraq of the “Lion of Babylon” black stone statue in 1876 depicting a lion standing above a fallen human. Also, Jeremiah 4:7 describes Babylon as “a lion has gone up from his thicket.”
Chapter 2: Joel describes the destruction visited upon Israel by an invader from the north followed by the Lord delivering Israel. The blowing of the trumpet warns about the impending “day of the LORD” (verse 1). The “clouds and thick darkness” of this day indicates the coming trouble from an invasion of “a great and powerful people” (verse 2). The destruction of the land by fire is similar to the description caused by the four locust invasions in chapter 1. The invaders turn the prosperity lying before them into devastation (verse 3).
The Lord’s Great Army is a disciplined army that attacks Israel to take a spoil (verses 2-11). In response, God exhorts the people to return to worshiping him. If they do, God will show His mercy (verses 12-14). The faithful remnant of Israel responds by pleading to God to save them from their enemies (verses 15-17). Jehovah answers, showing them mercy and slaying the invaders between the Dead and the Mediterranean Seas (verses 18-20).2 After this, God blesses Israel with prosperity and abundance with the blessings spreading to the rest of mankind. The blessing of God brings a return of the early and latter rain, prosperity, and the abundance of food (verses 21- 27). God pours out the holy Spirit on all flesh, first on the church during the Gospel Age (verse 29) and then on the world of mankind during Christ’s earthly kingdom (verse 28).3 The great darkness of the sun and the moon turning red like blood will occur “before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.” This could be caused by a natural phenomenon like the eruption of a volcano (ash cloud) combined with an earthquake, or a total eclipse. Symbolically, it shows the general lack of faith in the Lord prior to the invasion. However, the faithful remnant of Israel in Jerusalem will survive the invasion due to their having faith in the Lord (verses 30-32).
Chapter 3: Joel’s vision is devoted to the end of the Gospel age when the nations gather for battle against Israel and God rescues Israel from them. God promises to restore “captivity” (prosperity) to Judah and Jerusalem by bringing them back to their land from where they were scattered. During the Gospel age, the Jews have been discriminated against, mistreated, and even killed by Gentile nations. Therefore, God punishes those nations by gathering them to the “valley of Jehoshaphat” for judgment (verses 1-3).4 Jehoshaphat means “God judges” the nations for their treatment of Israel. The separate punishment of Lebanon (Tyre and Sidon) and Gaza (Philistia) could occur prior to the invasion of Gog and Magog, perhaps in another war with the Arabs in that region (verses 4-8).5 Prior to the invasion by Gog and Magog, the nations prepare for war by using resources normally reserved for peaceful purposes (agricultural machinery) to make war materials (tanks, artillery, war planes, etc.). The weak nations will join the strong in this preparation. God’s judgment of the nations in the “valley of Jehoshaphat” will result in a devastating slaughter (verses 9-12).6
(2) Ezekiel 39:12 describes seven months being required for the burial of the vast number of dead bodies.
(3) These scriptures are quoted in Acts 2:16-18, having a spiritual element with the calling of the Church in the Gospel age. In time sequence fulfillment, these verses would be in reverse order.
(4) This is likely the Kidron Valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives or the Valley of Berachah between Hebron and Jerusalem. This is very similar to the gathering of the nations described in Zechariah Chapters 12 and 14.
(5) While this may also be symbolic of the treatment of the Gentile nations toward the Jews, there could be a possible second fulfillment in a future war with the Arabs prior to Jacob’s Trouble as described in Psalm 83. The involvement of the peoples of “Philistia” (Gaza) and “Tyre and Sidon” (Lebanon) could result in the possible transfer of those people in that area to the Sabean region (Joel 3:8) — southwest Arabia, biblical Sheba, or what is now Yemen. Those two regions in recent years have been the most opposed to Israel — the Hamas government in Gaza and the Hezbollah influenced government in Lebanon — both raining rockets down on Israel.
The harvesting of grapes and the treading of the wine press (verse 13), based on the context of Joel 3, is symbolic of the destruction of the multitude of Gog and Magog in Israel. This language reminds us of Revelation 14:17-20, with the gathering of the grapes throughout the earth for destruction in the winepress, although the Revelation passage likely pictures the crushing of false Christendom. The multitudes destroyed in the valley of decision show God’s determination and judgment, perhaps caused by an earthquake with ash that darkens the sky (verse 14-15).
God restores favor to Israel giving them full control of Jerusalem and basing God’s earthly government there (verse 17). The abundance of food and water in Israel, while literal, could also picture the flow of God’s truth to Israel and all nations (verse 18). The punishment of Egypt and Edom for their violence toward Judah (verse 19) likely has both a natural and symbolic fulfillment. The punishment of Egypt is temporary while Edom’s is permanent (this is further expanded upon below). The book ends with the Jewish people in control of Israel and Jerusalem and the destruction of the nations that invaded Israel (verses 20-21).
The Plague of the Locusts — Four Judgments
The Law considers locusts as clean (healthy) for food (Leviticus 11:22). They are rich in protein and John the Baptist subsisted on a diet of locusts and honey (Matthew 3:4). Locusts can consume the equivalent of their own body weight each day and their life span is four to six months. The four stages of the locust plague described in Joel 1:4 and 2:25 are: the cutting or biting locust in the form of a palmerworm or caterpillar; swarming locusts; licking locusts; and the destroying or devouring locusts. They are mentioned again in Joel 2:2-5 as darkening the sky, symbolically representing the great armies of the north descending upon Israel. Joel 2:25 reveals the damage caused by the locusts will be reversed with the restoration of the land.
(6) This picture is similar to that in Zephaniah 3:8 (“gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation”) and Zechariah 14:2 (“For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle”).
The plague of locusts in Joel 1:4 may have numerous fulfillments throughout the ages, signifying both natural calamities and invading armies. The number four is repeatedly used in the scriptures to represent Divine judgment. Two suggestions as to what the four stages of the locust might represent are:
● In a January/February 1984 Bible Study Monthly article, it was suggested that the four different Kings who invaded the ten tribe northern kingdom of Israel and the two tribe kingdom of Judah are represented by: (1) Shalmaneser V of Assyria (2 Kings 18:9-12), (2) Sargon II of Assyria (Isaiah 20:1), (3) Sennacherib of Assyria (Isaiah 36 and 37), and (4) Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 24:1-4).
● Four invasions of Judah by the Babylonians: (1) Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, took Daniel and his friends captive, and Jehoiakim became Nebuchadnezzar’s servant for 3 years (2 Kings 24:1, Daniel 1:1-2). (2) Jehoiakim rebelled and bands of Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites came against Judah (2 Kings 24:1-9). (3) Jerusalem was besieged during Jehoiachin’s (Jehoiakim’s son) reign and he and his court were taken captive, including Ezekiel (2 Kings 24:10-16). (4) Zedekiah (installed by Nebuchadnezzar as king in Jehoichian’s place) rebelled, so Nebuchadnezzar came and laid siege to Jerusalem, completely destroying it (2 Kings 25:1-12).
Other Scriptural examples of four types of judgment or destruction are:
(1) Elijah standing on the mountain before the Lord observed four acts from the Lord: a great and strong wind, an earthquake, a fire, and a still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-12).
(2) Four kinds of destroyers or acts of judgment, coming upon Judah: (a) Death, sword, famine and captivity (Jeremiah 15:2). (b) Sword to slay, dogs to tear, birds of the air, and beasts of the earth to devour and destroy (Jeremiah 15:3). (c) Deliver children to famine, power of sword, meet death by pestilence, and young men slain by the sword (Jeremiah 18:21). (d) Famine, wild or evil beasts, pestilence, and the sword (Ezekiel 5:17 and 14:21).
(3) Four Beasts coming out of the sea: A lion with eagle’s wings, a bear with 3 ribs between its teeth, a leopard with 4 heads and 4 wings on its back, and a terrible and dreadful ten horned beast (Daniel 7:3-7).
(4) Four seals and four horses: White horse, Red horse, Black horse, and Pale horse (Revelation 6:1-8).
The Great Army and its Descent into the Valley of Jehoshaphat
The vast army from the north in Joel 2:1 seems to have a fulfillment at the end of this Gospel age when the disciplined northern army of Gog and Magog come down from the north, nearly destroying Israel and Jerusalem, and in turn being destroyed by God.
This valley of Jehoshaphat has been identified by some commentators as the Valley of Berachah between Jerusalem and Hebron (to the south), and by others as the Valley of Kidron between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives (to the east). Joel 2:2-11 describes this army as “a great and powerful people; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again” (verse 2) and “exceedingly great” (verse 11). Zechariah 14:2 also describes this gathering of the nations against Jerusalem. Perhaps the spoil that the “great and powerful people” seek is food or energy supplies, like oil (Ezekiel 38:12).
As Babylon came down to execute judgment on the sinful nation of Judah (between 607 and 587 BC), so, too, will the armies of Gog and Magog come down upon Israel at the end of this age, possibly to punish Israel for their lack of acknowledgement of God’s hand in their restoration. While Babylon was later defeated by the Medo-Persian empire, this vast unrighteous army will be destroyed by the Lord.
The Faithful Remnant in Israel at the End of the Age
In Joel 2:12-14, the Lord exhorts those to show faith in him and to humble themselves “with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” If they do this, God would in mercy halt the devastating attack on them. Verses 15 and 16 exhort the faithful to “sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people … assemble the elders.” Let the priests weep and say in verse 17, “Spare thy people, O Lord, and make not thy heritage a reproach.”
The faithful remnant in Judah respond to God’s exhortation. The Lord hears them and will become “jealous for his land, and … pity … his people” (verse 18). The Lord vows, “I will remove the northerner far from you, and drive him into a parched and desolate land” (verse 20). Since the army of Babylon was not defeated when they conquered Judah and Jerusalem, verse 20 must indicate a miraculous defeat of the forces of Gog and Magog.
Joel 2:30-32 and 3:14-15 describe the darkening of the sun and moon perhaps by an earthquake and volcanic eruption, aiding the escape of the faithful remnant (Zechariah 14:4-5) and defeat of the invading force. These verses seem to parallel Zechariah 14:12-13 which speaks about “the plague with which the Lord will smite all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem” and a “great panic … each will lay hold on the hand of his fellow.”
This is similar to when the enemies of Jehoshaphat fought against each other and destroyed themselves. In 2 Chronicles chapter 20, an alliance of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites (inhabitants of Mount Seir), was described as: “a great multitude is coming against you from Edom” (verses 1-2). King Jehoshaphat sought the Lord and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. Then he assembled the people to seek help from the Lord. They were told to stand still and watch the victory over their enemies. Ammon and Moab rose against Mount Seir, and once they destroyed the inhabitants of Seir, they destroyed each other. Afterwards, Judah spent three days taking the spoil from their enemies. At the end of the Gospel age, when the invading army is defeated by God, the spoil left by them (the armaments of war) will be used by Israel in rebuilding their nation (Isaiah 2:4).
The latter parts of Joel Chapter 2 (verses 21-29) and Chapter 3 (verses 17-21) both describe the return of God’s favor to Israel, gaining control of Jerusalem, and the return of prosperity to the land. “The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil” (Joel 2:24).
“The mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk … and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord” (Joel 3:18). Wine represents doctrine, milk the beginning instructions in God’s doctrines, and the flow of water and fountain represent truth and life. Similar language is in Revelation 22:1: “then he showed me the river of the water of life … flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
One commentator 7 suggests Joel 3:19 (“Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness”) has both a spiritual application and a natural application. Egypt represents the world of mankind, and Edom the nominal Christian world. Edom (southern Jordan) will remain a desolate wilderness symbolizing the everlasting destruction of Christendom. In contrast, Egypt will be desolate for a time due to lack of rain until they go to Jerusalem to honor Israel and the Lord (see Zechariah 14:17-19). Egypt represents mankind, some of whom will incur punishment until they honor Israel and the Lord.
While Joel is full of darkness and gloom and describes drought, destruction, and invading armies, the book closes with the Lord delivering the faithful remnant in Israel. This is followed by an abundance of water and food in Israel with God’s earthly kingdom being centered in Jerusalem. This spiritual and physical restoration of Israel will be the start of the blessings that will eventually flow to the rest of mankind.
(7) Joel 3:19 comments from a 1992 verse-by-verse study on Joel led by Br. Frank Shalllieu.