Book of Joel
|Light iron-age reading
|Gabbin' with God
The Book of Joel is one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament. It is a small writing, only a handful of pages. It does however manage to convey some powerful messages while employing imagery found throughout the Old Testament. It manages to prophesy an extremely cliché apocalyptic event, describing some cosmic aberrations preceding a final judgement. Joel is also notable for its description of a coming army of "northerners", an idea that also dominates the first few chapters of the Book of Jeremiah. In both of these texts, the coming northern army is considered to be a symbol of impending doom brought on by the Israelites religious apostasy and corruption of justice.
The coming army is described as follows in Joel 2:1-11:
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations. Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but after them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them. Their appearance is like the appearance of horses, and like war horses they run. As with the rumbling of chariots, they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle. Before them peoples are in anguish, all faces grow pale. Like warriors they charge, like soldiers they scale the wall. They march each on his way, they do not swerve from their paths. They do not jostle one another, each marches in his path; they burst through the weapons and are not halted. They leap upon the city, they run upon the walls; they climb up into the houses, they enter through the windows like a thief. The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his host is exceedingly great; he that executes his word is powerful. For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; who can endure it?
Extremely similar language fear-mongering about the coming 'northerners' is used in Jeremiah.
Despite the elaborate threat directly above, God makes a U-turn halfway through the book and ends up promising them his mercy in Joel 2:12-17:
“Yet even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare thy people, O Lord, and make not thy heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
Joel is also interesting for its laughable prophecy that Egypt will become desolate. Joel 3:19 declares the following:
Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the people of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land.
Unfortunately for Joel, Egypt hasn't been made desolate yet.
The Book of Joel also contains a small piece of apocalyptic literature that is dramatic enough to warrant an analysis. Joel 2:30-3:2 reads as follows:
And I will give portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will enter into judgment with them there, on account of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations, and have divided up my land.
Here we find the mythological motif of cosmic aberrations, something which is very common in apocalyptic literature. These cosmic aberrations, mainly an eclipse-like event and a blood moon, will apparently precede a universal judgement. All the nations will be gathered in a particular valley and be judged. Writing, images, and concepts like this exist throughout the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. See Biblical prophecies.
Day of Pentecost
One of the more important aspects of Joel is that it is cited in the New Testament as having prophesied the Day of Pentecost, an event in which the Holy Spirit descended upon many of the disciples and caused them to speak in tongues.
The writing referenced is Joel 2:28-29, which reads as follows:
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, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
Acts 2:14-21 cites this as having prophesied the Day of Pentecost. The writing is slightly altered. Acts changes the first verse to read "And it shall come to pass in the last days", yet Joel makes no such distinction.