What is the book of Joel about?

Last updated on February 25, 2023

Blow a trumpet in Zion;
sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near.”
– Joel 2:1

Anyone who opens Joel’s prophecy is faced with threat. The threat of locusts, of enemies and of the day of the Lord. Whoever reads the book of Joel, however, also encounters prophecies of hope. Hope for restoration, for the outpouring of the Spirit and for the glorious future of Zion. Who was Joel and what is the message of the book of the Bible named after him?

Background of Joel

We know little more about Joel than what is written in the book itself. The book was included in the Bible as one of the twelve minor prophets. It is placed between Hosea and Amos. His name means: the Lord is God. Joel focuses primarily on Judah, the southern kingdom[1] (Joel 3:1; 3:6; 3:8; 3:18-20) and on the capital Jerusalem (Joel 2:32; 3:1; 3:6; 3:16-17; 3:20). The prophet knows what is going on in the temple and among the priests. This makes it likely that Joel was from Judah or even from Jerusalem.

It is not clear when Joel lived. Most Bible scholars believe it to be the time after the exile. The exile and the conquest of Jerusalem are described as events in the past tense (Joel 3:1-2; 3:17). Furthermore, no king is mentioned and the temple plays a positive role, unlike in the writings of prophets living before the exile, such as Hosea and Amos. One more reason to think Joel lived after the exile, is his prophecy of doom against Edom (3:19) which is also described by other prophets living after the exile such as Obadiah.

Content of Joel

The first part of Joel’s prophecy is a proclamation of judgment against Judah. God’s judgment is first described as a locust invasion, a drought and the advance of a great army. With an abundance of imagery, Joel portrays the devastation that has befallen the land. The locusts have left nothing. The land is withered, the people mourn. The prophet urges his hearers to cry out. He calls for awe with respect to the day of the Lord.

The day of the Lord is a major theme in Joel and other prophets. It indicates primarily the day of judgment for Israel and the other nations. For God’s people, however, it is also a day of salvation, blessing and of God’s special presence. In the New Testament, this theme is taken up again and applied to the day when Jesus returns to establish the kingdom in its final form (2 Peter 3:10).

The day of the Lord is also central to the second chapter. Joel reverts to the image of the plague of locusts to announce the invasion of an enemy army (2:5-9). The day of the Lord is accompanied by a trembling earth and a trembling sky. “The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” (2:11). Once again, the call to humility, repentance and prayer sounds. For God is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy (2:13).

In the second part of Joel (beginning at 2:18), the verb tenses change. God answers the prayer of his people in 2:17. He stands up for His people. God promises to bring order, restore the land and be present again by His Spirit. “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams.” (2:28). This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21). Finally, God gives reasons for His judgment on the enemy nations (3:1-8) and Joel describes the future climax in the battle between God and His enemies (3:9-16). God’s people, however, face a secure and blessed future. There will be security, peace and prosperity. The Lord will dwell in Zion!

Main points

  1. God’s judgment is awesome.
  2. God fulfills His promises, like he showed in the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost.
  3. The main fulfillment of prophecy about the Lord’s Day will be on the day of Jesus’ return.

[1] Note that after the death of Solomon, Israel was split into two kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. This happened around 931BC, ostensibly over a dispute involving taxation.

Share post