Most Scripture links are to the NRSV Anglicized Version. On occasion, the chapter and verse numbering in the NRSV differs from that of the NAB, where this occurs, I also include a link to the NAB (with a few exceptions in the background material).
A. Authorship, Date, Place of Composition~
1. All that we know of Joel for certain is what we are told in the superscription (Joel 1:1), which is paltry indeed: his name was Joel, and his Father was Pethuel. The content of the book has led to the supposition that he was either a cultic prophet or a priest, due to his “familiarity with the Jewish liturgy (Joel 1:13-14; Joel 2:15-17), and devotion to the sancturary (Joel 1:8-9; Joel 2:27; Joel 4:16-17)”~Jerome Biblical Commentary 25:2.
It should be noted that their is nothing in the book to lead us to believe that Joel authored it himself, though this is possible. It is also possible that he had a scribe write down the prophecies (see Jeremiah 36), or, that the work exists like our Gospels: an inspired disciple was moved to record the teaching of the prophet.
2. Unlike most of the other works of the writing prophets Joel’s superscription (Joel 1:1) lacks any indication of when his ministry took place. This fact has caused a number of “guesses” to be made concerning this issue. Essentially, there are four major theories: (1) 9th century BC, probably during the reign of Joash. (2) During the last 5 decades of the Kingdom of Judah (David) which fell to Babylon in 587 BC. (3) circa 520-500 BC, during or after the return from Babylonian Exile. (4) During the Persian period, after the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, sometime between 530 and 350 BC. Most scholars today choose number four as the most likely time period and narrow time the date to circa 400.
3. The content of the book indicates that the work, or at least the prophet’s ministry, was conducted in Judah, and especially its capital of Jerusalem.
For about a century and a half the unity of the Book of Joel has been questioned, with some postulating that chapters 1 & 2 were written by a hand different from that which produced chapters 3 & 4. Other scholars maintain that the work is a unity, noting literary connection between the allegedly disparate parts (compare Joel 1:15 and Joel 2:1 with Joel 3:4 and Joel 4:14; also Joel 2:27 with Joel 4:17). I find the reasons for a single author more plausible (see the Joel commentaries in the Jerome Biblical Commentary and The New Catholic Commentary On Holy Scripture).
Most scholars divide Joel into two major sections, with the first corresponding to chapters 1 and 2, and the second with chapters 3 and 4. (But see Volume 1 of Marvin Sweeney’s The Twelve Prophets for a different structure). With Sweeney I think that the dividing point between the two major sections is at Joel 2:18.
C. Division of the Book~
The book opens with a superscription in the first person titular (or archival) style (Joel 1:1).
The first major part of Joel is chapter Joel 1:2-2:18:
Chapter 1 is divided thus: A plague of locusts has descended upon the nation, the likes of which had not been seen before (Joel 1:2-4). This leads to a call for liturgical lamentation to be done by drunkards (Joel 1:5-7); by the people in general Joel 1:8-10); by farmers and husbandmen (Joel 1:11-12); and priests (Joel 1:13) who are to gather together the people for the liturgy (Joel 1:14).
Chapter 2 opens with a statement of the threat posed (Joel 2:1-11). Inasmuch as chapter 1 has spoken of the threat as an existing reality we should perhaps see these verses as a threat of something to come, a worse locust plague or, more likely in my opinion, an army of men who would, like the locusts, destroy the land to such an extent that the former destructive invasions of Assyria and Babylon would look of little account. This is the army of Israel’s God, who, because of their infidelity, now uses a foreign army as his instrument of punishment (an idea not foreign to the Bible, see Isaiah 10:5-11)
Locusts were one of the punishments God said he would bring against Israel if they fell away from the covenant and its demands (Deuteronomy 28:38), and, apparently, if this didn’t check them an army of invaders would be sent (Deut 28:49-57). It is not then hard to see that a locust plague and an invading army could be closely associated in their effects (see Judges 6:5, Judges 7:12; Jer 46:23; Nahum 3:15-17). Indeed, as Theodoret notes, “If one carefully considers the head of a locust, he will find it very much like that of a horse.” In fact, the Italian word for locust (cavaletta) means “little horse;” and the German word (heupferd) means “hay horse.” The comparison of locust to war horses is not unknown in the Bible (Job 39:19-20).
The people have sinned against the covenant and punishment has come (Joel 1), but an even greater threat looms (Joel 2:1-11), thus the call to repentance which forms the heart of our first reading for Ash Wednesday (Joel 2:12-17, with 18 capping off the passage and providing a transition to the second major part, Joel 2:19-3:21, [NAB 2:19-4:21]).
Some scholars divide part two into two major sections:
Others (e.g., the original NAB) divide it into three major sections:
D. Division of Joel 2:18-27~
Joel 2:19-20. Part 1 ended with a call to gather the people for a liturgy of repentance; these verses give us God’s response to that.
Joel 2:21-23. Land (vs 21) and beasts (vs 22) are told not to fear, and the people (vs 23) are told to be glad, for the situation of punishment highlighted in part 1 has been (or is being) reversed.
Joel 2:24-27. Builds upon verse 23, what God has done for his people.
MY NOTES ON JOEL 2:18-27
Joe 2:18 Then was the LORD jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.
This verse is transitional, capping off, as it were, the preceding verses and preparing for what follows. Jealous means burning zeal, and is related to several words used in verse 13 (gracious, rich in mercy, both implying familial love). Pity is the Hebrew word chamal, which means softness. God’s love and His openness to the repentant belies his seemingly hard edges.
The second major part of Joel opens with Joel 2:18 and basically describes God’s response to Israel and the nations in light of what they have suffered (chapter 1), and avoided (Joel 2:1-11), by repentance (Joel 2:12-17). The produce of the land will once again be plentiful (Joel 2:19a, 21-26), and the reproach of nations will become a thing of the past (Joel 2:19b-20, 26b-27). Sometime after this more blessings will come (Joel 2:28-29, [3:1-3 in NAB]). These blessings will be poured out on all mankind, not just Israel (Joel 2:30-32, [3:4-5 in NAB], see Acts 2:39. Also Rom 10:12-13:2 which ends with an appeal to Joel 2:32a, 3:5a in NAB). The salvation of the nations is also a time of judgment (Joel 3, chapter 4 NAB, ) for what the nations had done to Israel.
Joe 2:19 And the Lord answered, and said to his people: Behold I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and you shall be filled with them: and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.
I will send you corn, wine, and oil, and you shall be filled with them. Reversing the situation which had befallen them as a result of their sins (see Joel 1:5-12, and 1:15-17). The lack of grain, wine and oil, were the result of a locust plague (Joel 1:4), a punishment Moses told the people would befall them if they broke the covenant (Deut 28:38-40).
I will no more make you a reproach among the nations. Punishment for covenant infidelity included the rising up of enemies, military invasion, siege (Deut 28:49-57), and exile (Deut 28:63-68). This punishment had not yet fallen upon Joel’s audience, and he was preaching repentance to ensure that it didn’t (see Joel 2:17).
Joe 2:20 but I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive it into a land barren and desolate, its forepart into the eastern sea, and its hinder part into the western sea; and its stench shall come up, and its ill savor shall come up, because it hath done great things.
The northern army is often taken as a reference to the locusts mentioned earlier in Joel, though some scholars think it a reference to an invading army. In my opinion (for whatever it’s worth) the locusts were a harbinger of a worse fate-an invading army-but the invasion had not yet taken place. The people have turned to the Lord as a result of his punishment but the invasion of an army has not been averted, an attack will come. The fate of the locusts could be taken as an assurance that human enemies will be overcome by God on behalf of his faithful, repentant, people (for more on this see my notes on the phrase And its stench shall come up, and its ill savor shall come up, because it hath done great things).
The north was the traditional invasion route into the promised land (Jer 1:13-14; Jer 4:6; Jer 6:1; Ezek 38:6; Ezek 38:15; Ezek 39:2).
The invader will be driven into a land barren and desolate. What they have turned the promised land into will now become their home, while the promised land itself will be fruitful once again.
Concerning the invader we further read: its forepart (will be driven) into the eastern sea, and its hinder part (will be driven) into the western sea. Forepart and hinder part (front and back) designate the totality of the invaders; from first to last they will be driven into the sea. The eastern sea being the Mediterranean, the western sea being the Dead Sea. The punishments here (barren, desolate land, seas) is to be taken figuratively, indicating the removal (or destruction) of the locusts without necessarily telling us how it was done.
And its stench shall come up, and its ill savor shall come up, because it hath done great things. A better translation of great things (הגדיל) would be “proud things,” or “arrogant things. ” As I mentioned in the background section of this post, God sometimes uses invading armies to punish his people and bring them to repentance (Deut 28:49-57). Often, in their pride, these invaders go far beyond what the Lord had intended and bring down punishment upon themselves (Isa 10:5-34). Locusts, of course, are incapable of pride, but their fate is here being used as a warning against an invading army. God has decided not to punish his people with an invasion, but if his rod of anger and staff of wrath (a foreign potentate and his army, see Isa 10:5) have other ideas, they will come to naught.
Joe 2:21 Fear not, O land, be glad and rejoice; for the LORD hath done great things.
Joe 2:22 Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field; for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth its fruit, the fig-tree and the vine do yield their strength.
Announces the reversal of the situation described in Joel 1:5-10. The call to weep and wail (Joel 1:5, 11) is changed into an exhortation to be glad and rejoice. Joy and gladness, having been cut off from the House (Temple) of God (Joel 1:16), is to return. The groaning of beasts, the perplexity of the cattle, and the desolation suffered by the sheep due to the land’s barrenness (Joel 1:18) is at an end; the beasts of the field are bidden, be not afraid. The wasted ground (Joel 1:10) will become fruitful. The once starving beasts (Joel 1:20) will be fed. The Lord has done these great things, exalting himself and his people and land over the great things (arrogant things) done to them (Joel 2:20).
Joe 2:23 Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he giveth you the former rain in just measure, and he causeth to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain, in the first month. An alternate translation of this verse is given and commented upon below.
The fire (Joel 1:19-20) and the drought (Joel 1:12) which withered up the vines, fig trees, the date trees, pomegranates and apple trees-and joy among the people as well!-is now reversed. The former and the latter rain, which accompanied the spring and autumn growing seasons, will return.
Translation Given Above: Joe 2:23 Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he giveth you the former rain in just measure, and he causeth to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain, in the first month.
Alternate Translation (Douay-Rheims): Joe 2:23 And you, O children of Sion, rejoice, and be joyful in the Lord your God: because he hath given you a teacher of justice, and he will make the early and the latter rain to come down to you as in the beginning.
The differences are mainly minor and stylistic and/or the result of the translator’s decisions. The term former rain in the first translation becomes teacher of justice in the alternate. This alternate rendering is found in the Targums, Symmachus’ Greek Version and the Latin Vulgate. It is the rendering given by the famed Jewish commentator of the Middle Ages, Rashi, and is found as an alternate reading in the KJV margin. It is still employed by a number of modern translations, including the NAB. The differing translations arise from the fact that the Hebrew word המורה can mean both early rain or teacher (for teacher see 2 Kings 17:28; Job 36:22; Prov 5:13; Isa 30:20; Hab 2:18). In the Hebrew text the word is related to לצדקה, derived from צדקה, justice, righteousness. I’m not sure why this is so, but rain is sometimes used as an image of teaching: Let my doctrine gather as the rain, let my speech distil as the dew, as a shower upon the herb, and as drops upon the grass (Deut 32:2). And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither, but soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it (Isa 55:10-11).
The teacher of justice (righteousness) is thought by some scholars to be a reference to Joel himself. For others it is a reference to the second Elijah predicted in Malachi 3:1 and Mal 4:5-6 [NAB 3:23-24]. It was interpreted in a messianic sense by the early Christians.
Even a Jew paraphrases, “But ye, O children of Zion, above all other nations, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God. For in Him ye shall have perfect joy, in the time of your captivity. For He will give you an instructor to righteousness; and He is the king Messias,which shall teach them the way in which they shall walk, and the doings which they shall do.” The grounds for so rendering the word are; 1 ) such is almost its uniform meaning. 2) The righteousness spoken of is most naturally understood of righteousness in man; it is a condition which is the result and object of God’s gifts, not the Righteousness of God. But “He hath given you the early rain unto righteousness,” i. e. that ye may be righteous, is an unwonted expression. 3) There is a great emphasis on the word, which is not used in the later part of the verse, where rain, (whether actual, or symbolical of spiritual blessings) is spoken of. 4) The following words, and He maketh the rain to descend for you, according to the established Hebrew idiom, relates to a separate action, later, in order of time or of thought, than the former. But if the former word moreh signified early rain, both would mean one and the same thing. We should not say, “He giveth you the former rain to righteousness, and then He maketh the rain, the former rain and the latter rain to descend; ” nor doth the Hebrew.
It seems then most probable, that the Prophet prefixes to all the other promises, that first all-containing promise of the Coming of Christ. Such is the wont of the Prophets, to go on from past judgments and deliverances, to Him Who is the centre of all this cycle of God’s dispensations, the Son manifest in the Flesh. He had been promised as a Teacher when that intermediate dispensation of Israel began, the Prophet like unto Moses (Deut 18:15). His Coming old Jacob looked to, I have longed for Thy salvation, O Lord (Gen 49:18). Him, well known and longed for by the righteous of old, Joel speaks of as the subject of rejoicing, as Zecharaiah did afterwards, Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion; behold thy King cometh unto thee (Zech 9:9). So Joel here, Exult and joy in the Lord thy God; for He giveth, or will give thee, the Teacher unto righteousness, i. e. the result and object of Whose Coming is righteousness; or, as Daniel says, to bring in everlasting righteousness (Dan 9:24); and Isaiah, By His knowledge, i. e. by the knowledge of Him, shall My righteous Servant justify many, i. e. make many righteous (Isa 53:11). How His coming should issue in righteousness, is not here said. It is presupposed. But Joel speaks of His Coming, as a gift, He shall give you; as Isaiah says, unto us a Son is given; and that, as the Teacher, as Isaiah says I have given Him a witness to the peoples, a Prince and a Commander unto the peoples; and that, for righteousness (Isa 54:4).
“It is the wont of the holy prophets,” says S. Cyril, “on occasion of good things promised to a part or a few, to introduce what is more general or universal. And these are the things of Christ. To this then the discourse again proceeds. For when was ground given to the earth to rejoice? When did the Lord do mighty things, but when the Word, being God, became Man, that, flooding all below with the goods from above, He might be found to those who believe in Him, as a river of peace, a torrent of pleasure, as the former and latter rain, and the giver of all spiritual fruitfulness?” (E.B. Pusey. The author was an Anglican who relied heavily on the Fathers of the Church in his interpretation of the Minor Prophets).
Joe 2:24 And the floors shall be filled with wheat, and the presses shall overflow with wine, and oil.
Reverses the situation of Joel 1:5, Joel 1:17. Wheat, the basis for bread, wine and oil were considered the stay and staff of life. Basic to all the needs of man’s life are water and fire and iron and salt and wheat flour and milk and honey, the blood of the grape, and oil and clothing (Sirach 29:26 RSV see also Ps 104:14-15). The wise man goes on to note: All these are for good to the godly, just as they turn into evils for sinners (Sirach 39:27 RSV). No doubt he has in mind the fact that wheat, wine, oil, etc., were promised in abundance to the Israelites if they maintained covenant fidelity(Deut 7:12-13); their absence would be the curse for covenant infidelity (Deut 28:38-48).
Joe 2:25 And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the canker-worm, and the caterpillar, and the palmer-worm, my great army which I sent among you.
I will restore. The Hebrew word ושׁלמתי (and its Greek equivalents) is vow terminology, usually used in reference to what man owes God: When thou hast made a vow to the Lord thy God, thou shalt not delay to pay it (ושׁלמתי): because the Lord thy God will require it. And if thou delay, it shall be imputed to thee for a sin (Deut 23:22. See also 2 Sam 15:7; Ps 50:14; Isa 19:21). Grain, wine and oil were used as sacrificial offerings to God, and these had been cut off (Joel 1:13). In chapter 2 the people had been called to repentance in these words: Now, therefore, saith the Lord. Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and mourning. And rend your hearts, and not your garments and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil. Who knoweth but (NAB “Perhaps”) he will return, and forgive, and leave a blessing behind him, sacrifice and libation to the Lord your God? (Joel 2:12-14). The question “who knoweth?” will be answered; the “perhaps” will become reality. God is vowing that the people will be able to offer their vows (sacrifice and libation) again, having been purified of their hypocritical approach to God.
Years is probably a reference to the growing seasons in the promised land, not to actual years.
The canker-worm, and the caterpillar, and the palmer-worm. Translation of these words differ among the various English versions, but the reference is to the various types of locust which reeked havoc on the land (see Joel 1:4). Some think the names are not intended to designate different type of locusts, but, rather, designate stages of their growth, like “infant,” “toddler,” and “adolescent,” in the human species.
Joe 2:26 And you shall eat in plenty, and shall be filled and you shall praise the name of the Lord your God; who hath done wonders with you, and my people shall not be confounded for ever.
Joel never tells us explicitly why the people need to repent, but the punishments (drought, locust, invasion) suggest he had in mind the covenant curses of Deuteronomy, and, consequently, the warning against letting their God given prosperity go to their heads, thus causing the punishment. In Deut 8:10-14 the people were warned not to forget God and his commands in their abundance and prosperity: And thou shalt eat and be full, and thou shalt bless the LORD, thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware lest thou forget the LORD, thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his ordinances, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: lest, when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thy heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD, thy God…(see the entire context, Deut 8:1-20). The people will once again eat their fill, having repented and returned to God, praising him for all his goodness, not the least of which is the fulfillment of the promise to the repentant in Deut 30:1-10~Now when all these things shall be come upon thee, the blessing or the curse, which I have set forth before thee, and thou shalt be touched with repentance of thy heart among all the nations, into which the Lord thy God shall have scattered thee, And shalt return to him, and obey his commandments, as I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul: The Lord thy God will bring back again thy captivity, and will have mercy on thee, and gather thee again out of all the nations, into which he scattered thee before. If thou be driven as far as the poles of heaven, the Lord thy God will fetch thee back from hence, And will take thee to himself, and bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it: and blessing thee, he will make thee more numerous than were thy fathers. The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed: that thou mayst love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, that thou mayst live. And he will turn all these curses upon thy enemies, and upon them that hate and persecute thee. But thou shalt return, and hear the voice of the Lord thy God, and shalt do all the commandments which I command thee this day: And the Lord thy God will make thee abound in all the works of thy hands, in the fruit of thy womb, and in the fruit of thy cattle, in the fruitfulness of thy land, and in the plenty of all things. For the Lord will return to rejoice over thee in all good things, as he rejoiced in thy fathers: Yet so if thou hear the voice of the Lord thy God, and keep his precepts and ceremonies, which are written in this law: and return to the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul (see the entire chapter).
Joe 2:27 And you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: and I am the Lord your God, and there is none besides: and my people shall not be confounded forever.
See Joel 4:17 [NAB 3:17]. No more shall the nations ask: “Where is their God?”. No more will the heritage of Israel be a reproach (see Joel 2:17). The drunken stupor of the people (Joel 1:5) has come to an end, no longer will they be confounded.