How to Read Joel Theologically: Part Two

Joel moves from lament to awe, from concern with one’s future to a vision of that awesome day of salvation and judgment.

The book of Joel prospectively anticipates the fuller revelation of God in Jesus Christ. His resurrection is the firstfruits of the new creation, confirms the eternality and blessedness of Zion, and assures forgiveness by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

The incipit of Hosea suggests that Hosea and Isaiah (and Micah) are connected by the mention of Judah’s kings, “Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (Isa. 1:1; Hos. 1:1).[1] Hosea, a prophet to Israel, is to be read not only in connection with Amos, but also with Isaiah! Though Joel does not include any chronological markers, the opening of the book suggests an Isaianic association. Compare, Isaiah’s opening — “The vision … that Isaiah son of Amoz saw … Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken. … Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!” (1:1-2, 10, emphasis mine) with Joel — “The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel. Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land (1:1-2; emphasis mine).[2] The pathway of Joel takes his readers on a trajectory reminiscent of the great prophet Isaiah by the thematic developments of the Day of the Lord, the era of the Holy Spirit, and a new creation.[3]

The Day of the Lord

Joel’s imagery of the locust plague forms the background of the imagery of the Day of the Lord. The story of the devastating locust plague is a parable to be told and retold from generation to generation (1:3; cf. Psa. 78:1-4). It was to serve as part of Israel’s collective memory much like the story of Israel’s redemption from Egypt at which time the plague of the locusts, the eighth plague in Egypt (Exod. 10), saw God’s power over small creatures that appear to be infinite in number and in appetite. Everything edible was devoured by the locusts, “They devoured all that was left after the hail everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt” (Exod. 10:15). The “almighty” power of Egypt was broken by the God of Israel (Exod. 10:6, 14). The Egyptians suffered, and Israel was shielded.

Moses had forewarned Israel that God could also strike her with horticultural plagues: locusts, worms, and plant diseases (Deut. 28:38-40, 42) because of disobedience (v. 47). Israel would go into exile and was to be scattered among the nations (v. 49). Isaiah appropriated Moses’ judgment in describing the devastation on Judah and Jerusalem (Isa. 1:5-8). Compare Isaiah – “Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty” (Isa 13:6) with Joel – “Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty” (Joel 1:15; cf. 3:14; Ezek. 30:2-3; Zeph. 1:14-15). The description of the Day of the Lord is equally similar. Compare Isaiah – “See, the day of the LORD is coming   a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light” (13:9-10) – with Joel — “for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come. Before them the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine” (Joel 2:1b, 2, 10; cf. Rev. 6:12-13; 8:12).

The tragedy of the locust plague frames the theological theme of the Day of the Lord. Joel moves from lament to awe, from concern with one’s future to a vision of that awesome day of salvation and judgment. Several associations evoke a sense of wonder: the blowing of a horn as a call to arms, Zion/the holy hill, the proximity of the “Day,” darkness, war, fire, the transformation of creation to a wasteland, chariots, troop movements, invasion, burgling,  and earthquake (2:1-10). Theophanic imagery unveils the horror, destabilization, and dread associated with God’s coming into his creation, “The LORD thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command. The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?” (Joel 2:11; cf. Zeph. 1:14-15).

Read More