1. Title. The book is named after the man whose prophecies it bears. Joel, Heb. YoХel, probably means, “Yahweh is God.”
2. Authorship. We know nothing of Joel beyond what is revealed in his book. His father was Pethuel, for which the LXX reads Bathoueµl (ch. 1:1), but who Pethuel, or Bathoueµl, was we do not know. Joel seems to have been a native of Judah. His prophetic mission concerned Judah and Jerusalem (chs. 2:1, 15; 3:1, 6, 18, 20, 21). Throughout his prophecy there is no mention of Israel.
3. Historical Setting. Joel himself tells us nothing about the time of his writing. He does not, as is true of many other prophets (see Isa. 1:1; Hosea 1:1; Amos 1:1; etc.), state under what king or kings he prophesied. It is necessary, therefore, to depend upon the internal evidence of the book to establish the date. Nothing certain can be inferred from the position of the book in the canon, for we cannot be sure that the books are arranged in exact chronological order. In the Hebrew the book stands as it does in the English, between Hosea and Amos. In the LXX it stands fourth in the list of the so-called Minor Prophets, being placed after Micah, which there stands third. Some consider Joel to have been the earliest of the major and minor prophets; others regard him as postexilic. A third view places Joel in the 7th century, in the early years of Josiah. For a summary of the arguments for these different dates see pp. 20, 21. Though no date can be proved conclusively, this commentary has adopted the 7th century date for reasons listed on pp. 20, 21.
Joel occupies a high place among Hebrew prophets and has been classed with Isaiah and Habakkuk in sublimity and elevation of style. He is noted for his vividness of description and picturesqueness of diction. His style is pure and clear.
4. Theme. The book is divided into two parts: (1) chs. 1:1 to 2:17, a description of a terrible “locust” invasion (see on ch. 1:4), apparently accompanied by a drought; and (2) chs. 2:18 to 3:21, the promise of restoration to divine favor. Two interpretations have been given to the description of the “locust” plague: (1) the literal, which regards actual swarms of invading locusts as the basis of the prophet’s appeal; and (2) the allegorical, which views “locusts” as a metaphorical representation of the invasion of hostile armies. In general, the literal view seems to have more in its favor (see on ch. 1:4).
Whichever view is adopted, the teachings of the book remain materially unchanged. The national disaster, whether actual or in figurative description, is made the basis of an earnest appeal to repentance (chs. 1:13, 14; 2:1, 12–17), and of a dissertation on the “day of the Lord” (chs. 1:15; 2:1, 2, 11, 31; 3:14). The vision of future glory sees the Jews established in their land, with that land restored to productiveness, enjoying Heaven’s favor both temporally and spiritually. It sees further the opposition that would be aroused, and the attempt of enemy nations to crush the thriving nation, and finally God’s judgment upon these enemies and the subsequent continued prosperity of the Jewish nation.
In applying the eschatological teachings of the book the principles outlined on pp. 25–38 should be observed (see on chs. 2:18; 3:1, 18).
I. The Plague of Locusts and the Call to Repentance, 1:1 to 2:17.
A. The frightful devastation of the plague, 1:1–12.
B. The call to prayer and solemn assembly, 1:13, 14.
C. The effect of the plague on man and beast, 1:15–19.
D. The drought accompanying the plague, 1:20.
E. The day of the Lord, 2:1, 2.
F. The locusts compared to a well-disciplined army, 2:3–11.
G. The call to genuine repentance and to prayer, 2:12–17.
II. The Promise of Restoration, 2:18 to 3:21.
A. The removal of the locust army, 2:18–20.
B. Reparation for locust damage, 2:21–27.
C. The promise of the Holy Spirit, 2:28, 29.
D. Physical signs accompanying the day of the Lord, 2:30–32.
E. Jehovah’s judgment upon the heathen nations, 3:1–17.
F. Judah’s bright future, 3:18–21.