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Joel 2:23-32

Joel 2:23-32

Literary Background to the Book:

The book is very small, only three chapters in all (divided into four chapters in Hebrew). Up until 2:18 the message talks about the devastation the country is experiencing by locusts and the need for repentance. After 2:18 the message is reversed completely with God announcing personally that the country will be saved. The Day of the Lord changes from devastation to a time that will bring cosmic upheaval and God's deliverance (Mason:104). There has been quite a lot of debate about this complete reversal from natural devastation to cosmic deliverance and a number of scholars talk about a pre-exilic author and post-exilic (Vermes, Duhm, Ploger). On the other hand many scholars see the Book of Joel as a unity (Rudolph, Wolff, Ogden). I think we deal with the book as a whole recognising that it could contain oral traditions and/or written sources from another time and place. there are a number of close parallels with other prophetic material: Joel 1:15 // Isa 13:6, Joel 3:16 // Amos 1:2, Joel 3:18 // Amos 9:13. Joel 3:10 is an ironic reversal of the oracle common to Micah (Mic 4:3) and Isaiah (Isa 2:4). The Book of Joel uses the "Day of the Lord" tradition in a similar fashion to Amos as the impending judgement on God's people before reversing it post Joel 2:18 to declare judgement on the enemies of Israel (Joel 3:14-16). Furthermore there are a number of striking similarities of thought between Zech 9-14 and the Book of Joel.
The Book itself gives very few clues about the historical situation although there is a general consensus that it has its present form in the post-exilic period. Certain towns and countries are mentioned in 3:4, 19 but in general terms as the enemy of Israel. There are no kings mentioned as often the case in the prophetic material (Hos 1:1, Isa 1:1 et al) but the priests get a mention.

Context of Joel 2:23-32

The Lectionary cuts into two sections (Joel 2:18-27 & 28-32) and begins five verses after we read of God's change of heart. Joel 1:1- 2:17 announces the coming devastation from locusts and the need for the priests to call the people to fast and prayer. This coming devastation via the locusts is named as "The Day of the Lord". Warlike images of the locust plague in Joel 2:1-11 set the scene for the description of the impending disaster. It is a very graphic and any one who has been in the path of a locust swarm will identify with the images presented here.

After Joel 2:32 the description now talks about the "Day of the Lord" and how it will affect the enemies of the Israel. God will punish them for what they have done to God's people. Signs which will accompany the "Day of the Lord" are: 'the spirit of prophecy poured out on all people, cosmic upheavals, and salvation for all those who call on the name of the Lord' (Mason:99). As the nations are gathered God will punish those who have cause problems for the Israel in the past. The imagery of the end time, with the sun and moon darkened before the reverse picture for God's people. This picture is that of a land of milk and honey. Joel 3 moves back and forward between the darkness of destruction for the enemies of the nation and the bountiful creation which will be the living conditions for Israel in the future.

Insights/Message of Joel 2:23-32

Literary structure:

Joel 2:23 begins part-way into an oracle of salvation which is an answer to the people's lamentation in the previous verses. The command to "fear not" in vv.21 is followed by the command to "be glad" and this is picked up again in v.23. The images of fertility and plenty in the land are the opposite to the images in Joel 1:10ff which describe the terrible damage of a locust plague. This section, vv.21-27, finishes with the promise that God will be their in their midst. It is followed by the gift of the spirit and the signs of the new age for those who call on the Lord. Nature and salvation come together, both land and people are healed. Achtemeier thinks "afterwards" in v.27 does not mean that the signs in vv.28-32 will occur after the restoration promised in v.18-27, but the signs in vv.28-32 will proceed the salvation described in vv.18-27 (Achtemeier:326). "All flesh" does indicate a wider audience than Judah alone and v.29 indicates the extent to which God's spirit will be poured.

The signs described here belong in that genre called apocalyptic, which speaks about a supernatural event at the end time as God's reign become known through these signs and events. This understanding of God's reign has changed from the prophetic material which proclaims the need for change within history and God's reign seen by the nations in the way God is at work in Israel as in vv.24-27. It is precisely these two elements we see within Joel 2 - salvation within history and salvation as a future event (vv.28-32).

Message / Theology:

People on the land who have experienced a locust plague will be able to identify with the imagery here in Joel. God's promises are the exact opposite of a locust plague - the land will be bountiful and everyone will enjoy the wondrous time. This picture then moves into the well known prophecy about God's spirit poured out on all people. The images of the end time bring in the Day of the Lord which includes punishment on all of Judah's enemies (Joel 3). Fifteen verses describe what will happen to these nations before the final verses of the book reassure the people of Israel that God will be a refuge for them. Not only a refuge, but will provide this land overflowing with milk and honey together with the promise that Jerusalem will be inhabited forever.

Vv.28-32 have been quoted in Acts 2:17-21 and applied to the person of Jesus Christ as the one whom God has sent to bring in the kingdom. We note that the end day in Joel brings judgement on the nations and the plough shares become swords which wreck vengeance on the enemies of Judah. The salvation is directed to Judah alone. In Acts, the pouring out of the spirit brings in the kingdom of Jesus' reign on earth as well as heaven. We need to note when the NT writers used material from the Old Testament the new context nearly always gives it a new meaning centred around Christ.

Joel as in Obadiah 17, has a remnant who escape the punishment because they have called on the name of the Lord.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 18:9-14, verse 9 is picking up and echoes the comment in Ezekiel 33:13 which also criticises those who trust in their own righteousness. The references to fasting and tithing clearly have a background in some of the Old Testament festivals.

Resources/Worship for Joel 2:23-32

Because this reading is associated so much with Acts 2 it would be helpful to point out the differences between the Day of Lord in Joel which includes punishment of Judah's enemies compared with the announcement of the kingdom in Jesus Christ. People might be interested to have shown to them the two ways in which God is seen to function, within history (vv.18-27) and at the end of time (vv.30-32).
Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Achtemeier, Elizabeth. 'The Book of Joel', NIB, VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996, pp.301-336.
Allen, Leslie C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah. NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976.
Birch, Bruce. Hosea, Joel, and Amos. WBC. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997.
Mason, Rex. Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Joel. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1994.
Stuart, D. Hosea- Jonah. WBC. Waco, Tx:Word Books, 1984.
Thompson, J.A. 'Joel', NIB, VI. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956, pp.729-762.
Wolff, H.W. Joel and Amos. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:


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