Joel

Good morning! Today’s passage is the complete book of Joel, in three or four chapters. (Some translations consider chapter 3 an extension of chapter 2.) It’s quite difficult to date when Joel was written, but the general flow of the book is from an opening description of a locust plague and its consequences, to a theological assessment that the locusts are punishment from God, and finally to a promise of divine deliverance of God’s people.

Joel calls the plague of locusts an “invasion” in chapter 1, and it sounds like the terrible consequences of this devastation are as bad or worse than that of an enemy army. Consider how damaging it would be to have everything green consumed by clouds of countless flying insects, with nothing to do about it. All the weapons in the world at that time would be powerless against these bugs. They cause great misery, with people and animals dying from the lack of any food. With greenery gone from the landscape and typically scarce rain, the land would be susceptible to ground fires, consuming anything the locusts had not. In my understanding, it could take years to recover from an “invasion” of locusts.

Joel believes this infestation is no accident. His description of the “day of the Lord” connects the environmental devastation to judgment from God, and issues a call for lament. He tells priests and everyday people to wear sackcloth—a classic sign of mourning. It signals to God that the people have noticed their hardship, and repent from any sin that might have caused it. Amos commands visible remorse, one reason this text is traditionally associated with Ash Wednesday in the Christian tradition.

Nevertheless, Joel promises that God will rescue from such terrible conditions. Zion will again know an abundance of food, wine and oil, manifestations of God’s favor. The prophet foretells an outpouring of God’s spirit, which becomes one of the texts that Christians in the New Testament point to as explanation for the Spirit-filled phenomenon called Pentecost. God will also dress down other nations of the world for the poor treatment they have given to Israel, casting judgment on all the world. The traditional prophetic chorus by which weapons of war are remade for peace is here reversed: plowshares become swords and pruning-hooks become spears as God prepares vengeance on behalf of Israel. Joel closes with a description of the verdant paradise that Judah will become in God’s perfect future. Happy reading!

Read the book of Joel. Note that the link is only for chapter 1—for copyright reasons, you will need to click the button at the bottom of the linked page to read subsequent chapters.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Amos 1-5. Thanks for reading!

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