How to Read Joel Theologically: Part One

Joel does not only call on people to return to the Lord and call on his name. His invitation to seek the Lord wholeheartedly is associated with a vision of God’s coming into his creation.

Joel begins with the awesome experience of the locust plague and transforms the experience into a transcendent message of the nearness and awesomeness of the Day of the Lord. Both the plague and the Day of the Lord occasion a renewed search for God without any pretense or self-justification. God promises his presence and vindication when God’s people seek him whole-heartedly and call on his name believing in his grace, truthfulness, and his promises.

 

The book of Joel is the second book in the Book of the Twelve.[1] Little is known of the prophet’s life or the context of his ministry.[2] He ministered God’s Word after a crisis, whether it be a literal locust plague or a metaphor for an invasion of enemy forces. The book of Joel breaks up the two prophets to the Northern Kingdom, Hosea and Amos. In the middle of the eight century BC, they spoke of the exile of Israel as God’s impending judgment. Joel prophesied in the post-exilic period. Given the close association of the two books, why does Joel come in between Hosea and Amos?

Joel as Intersection of Hosea and Amos

Hosea (ca. 750 BC) and Amos (ca. 760 BC) were contemporaries (Hos. 1:1; Amos 1:1) and should be read together. Hosea’s message shapes the interpretation of the Twelve and especially the book of Amos.[3] Why, then, does Hosea, a younger contemporary of Amos, open the Twelve and why is the book that bears his name separated from Amos? The book of Joel evidently is much later, though it lacks any chronological marker of the prophet’s ministry. Like Hosea, Joel makes a direct appeal to his prophecies being holy Writ. Compare Joel — “The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel” (Joel 1:1) with Hosea — “The word of the LORD that came to Hosea son of Beeri” (Hos. 1:1). Because of the temporal and geographical nexus between Hosea and Amos, these books must now be read in association with Joel or, even more appropriately, Joel must be read in association with Hosea and Amos. Joel intersects with both Hosea and Amos. The three prophecies share in three prominent images: God as a lion, the return of the remnant to the Lord, and God’s forgiveness. The intersection of Joel with Hosea and Amos encourages the reading of these three books in association with each other.[4]

Lion

In both Hosea and Joel, the lion is an image of dread and of hope. Hosea likens God to a devouring lion, “For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them. Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me” (Hos. 5:14 -15; 13:7-8). God rejects Israel’s pious liturgies (Hos. 6:1-3) and sacrifices (4:13-14; 8:3; 11:2).

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