Study notes on
by Jeff Smelser

Outline of the Text

Rationale for Interpretation

Notes on the Text


Outline of Text

I. Joel 1:1 - 2:17, a picture of Judgment  
  A. Recent "natural" calamities are recalled, 1:1-20.  
    1. Locust invasion  
    2. Drought, and resulting fires  
    3. These signal a "Day of the Lord" yet to come, 1:15.  
  B. The Day of the Lord is described, 2:1ff.  
    1. The imagery of the recent "natural" calamities is used to depict the coming Day of the Lord, 2:1-11.  
    2. Repentance is called for in the hope that the judgment might be averted, 2:12-17.  
II. Joel 2:18-29, a promised Restoration  
  A. The effects of the judgment will be reversed, 2:18-27.  
  B. Included will be a spiritual restoration, inasmuch as God's Spirit will be poured out on all mankind. (Typically, the prophetic picture of restoration looked beyond a mere return to Palestine and included a spiritual return to God in the days of the Messianic kingdom. This is described in terms of God putting His Spirit in man, and his law in man's heart. Cf. Ezek. 36:22-28; 37:1-14, and Jer. 31:33.)  
III. Joel 2:30 - 3:21, a Judgment upon the enemies of God's people  


Rationale for Interpretation

The usual approach to interpreting the book of Joel is to take both chapters one and two in the same way, i.e., either both are describing a literal invasion of locusts (Keil), or both are describing a military invasion in the symbolic terms of a locust invasion (Hengstenberg). My reasons for understanding chapter one as describing a literal invasion of locusts, and then taking chapter two as a figurative description of an invading army are as follows:

  1. Chapter one seems to describe past, or then current events. The calamity being described is something the people can, by their own experience, recognize as unprecedented (1:2). Again in 1:16, the prophet appeals to the experience of the people.
  2. Chapter one seems to set the stage for chapter two, and therefore should not be taken as necessarily describing the same event. Although the Day of the Lord is signaled by what has already happened (1:15), it is yet future. In chapter two, we find the Day of the Lord itself described. Again, it is pictured as still in the future (2:1), and possibly even can be averted (2:14, 17).
  3. In chapter one, the prophet describes the very practical consequences of the calamity: The shortage of wine and grain have interrupted the temple service (1:9-10, 13), livestock suffer from lack of pasture (1:18), and from lack of water (1:20). On the other hand, the description of the Day of the Lord in chapter two is almost apocalyptic (2:2, 4-5, 10-11).
  4. The figures of chapter two do not make sense 1! understood literally. Fires, which break out in times of drought, would not precede a locust invasion (2:3), which is precipitated by heavy rains. Contrast with this the very logical picture in chapter one of a locust invasion followed by drought which results in widespread fires. (On the relationship of locust plagues and droughts, see National Geographic, August, 1969, pp. 203, 207, 209, 216, 223, and especially p. 226.)
  5. Finally, chapter two must be understood as a symbolic representation and not a description of a literal invasion of locusts, because it necessarily depicts the onset of the captivity. The Day of the Lord described in chapter two is pivotal in away that no judgment aside from the Assyrian/Babylonian captivity was. Locust invasions and fire precipitated by droughts were minor judgments compared to the captivity (Amos 7:1-11). And the judgment described in Joel chapter two would be no minor one. It would be climactic in that never again would such a reproach occur (2:19, 26-27). Furthermore, the restoration would not be merely outward, but God would pour his Spirit out upon mankind (2:28-29). Only the captivity can be described as such a turning point in Israel's history. Only the captivity is described in such terms by the other prophets.


Notes on the Text

1:1 The reference to "elders" is cited by some as evidence of a late date for the authorship of Joel. However, see Is. 3:3, 14.
1:2-3 Here is indication that a particular event is being described, for it is incomparable. Locust plagues in general are not the subject.
1:4 Some suppose 4 empires (cf. Dan. 2, 7), and characteristics of each, are represented by the four groupings of locusts. Rather, complete desolation is suggested by the mention of progressively more severe stages of the locust plague. Note Dt. 28:38; Joel 1:1ff depicts just such a literal devastation by locusts. On the stages through which the locust progresses, see National Geographic (hereafter referred to as NG), April, '53, pp. 554-556, 559 (caption), and August, '69, p. 214.
1:5 Described here is a profligate lifestyle. Compare Amos 6:4-7. Perhaps this would be an indication of a relatively early date, at least pre-captivity, for Joel.
1:6 Here, a nation represents the locusts. In chapter 2, the locusts represent the invading armies of a nation.
1:7 Hailey refers to the Dec., 1915 issue of NG where photographs confirm such results of a locust invasion as are described in this verse. Also see August '69 NG, p. 220.
1:9-10 Cf. Ex. 29:38-40.
1:10-12 The KJV's "withered" is שׁיב which can mean "ashamed" (2 Sam. 19:5, Hos. 2:5) or more frequently, "dried up", as in 1:10. Here, the latter meaning should probably be understood. Cf. 1:11. If the former meaning is intended, the description of the locust invasion and its consequences is possibly continued through verse 13. If the latter meaning is intended, the description of the drought begins with verse 8.
1:15 The Day of the Lord is near. What has already happened was not it, but was merely a prelude. Note the similar passage, Is. 13:6.
1:17 The KJV's "rotten" is שׁעב. It is used only here. The NASB translates it "shrivel". So also BDB (A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, edited by Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, & Charles A. Briggs) wherein the phrase is translated, "the grains have shrivelled." Strong gives the meaning, "dry up".
1:19 These fires were precipitated by the drought. See verse 20. (In chapter 2, the imagery of the catastrophes just recounted is used to figuratively describe the coming desolation at the hands of foreign armies. Another example of an invading army symbolically represented as an insect invasion is found in Is. 7:17-20.)
2:1ff The Day of the Lord mentioned in 1:15 is now described.
2:2 For darkness as a symbol of judgment, see Amos 5:18-19, Joel 2:10-11, 30-31. Clouds are often used to depict God's awesome presence: Ex. 13:21, 19:16, Lev. 16:2, 1 Kings 8:10-11, Ps. 18:9-12, Ezek. 1:4. When associated with judgment upon the wicked, we should think of these clouds as dark storm clouds. Note the allusion in this verse to Joel 1:2.
2:3 The images of fire and locusts are intertwined here, each graphically conveying devastation in the minds of the people, for each had literally been experienced (chapter 1).
2:5 With the phrase, "noise as of chariots," compare Robert Conley's experience with a locust swarm: "I yelled too, but my voice was lost in the rush of wings" (NG, Aug. '69, p. 202).
2:9 "Homes become fortresses when hoppers mass by thousands and seep in like water if a crack allows." ("Report from the Locust Wars" NG, April '53, p. 557, caption) .
2:10 See comments on verse 2.
2:11 This is the Lord's army. See also 2:25. Compare Is. 13:1-5.
2:12-13 An inward change is called for.
2:14 The possibility that the judgment could yet be averted would suggest an early date for Joel.
2:15 Compare 1:14. Surely the call is even more imperative now.
2:17 This is a major battleground between those who interpret the passage as a literal description of a locust invasion and those who understand it is a symbolic picture of a military invasion. Where the KJV has, "that the heathen should rule over them," the NASB has, "A byword among the nations." The key word is משׁל, translated either "rule" or "byword". In the sense of "rule," see Ps. 106:41, Dt. 15:5-6, and Lam. 5:8. In the sense of "byword," see Dt. 28:37 where it is translated "proverb." Some have suggested , that Joel had in mind Dt. 28:37 on the basis of Dt. 28:38, and therefore opt for the latter meaning. Either meaning would suit the context if the interpretation of the book set forth here is valid. On the phrase, "Where is their God?" compare Ezek. 36:20.
2:18 At this point, the prophet brings into view the restoration.
2:20 Israel's enemies were typically pictured as coming from the north: Jer.1:14; 3:18; 4:6; 6:1, 22; 10:22; 46:24; Zeph.2:13; Zech. 2:16. The question of direction from which a literal locust horde would come into Palestine is irrelevant.

On the phrase, "a parched and desolate land," compare the words from a photograph caption which accompanied Conley's article in the August, 1969 National Geographic: "Ironically, the final solution, one that stops the locusts from hatching in prolific numbers, is another catastrophe - drought" (p. 226). Conley quoted a field officer from the Anti-Locust Research Centre in Ethiopia: "the only thing that can really end one [a locust plague] is a whacking great drought" (p. 226). On the phrase, "its vanguard into the eastern sea; and its rear guard into the western sea," compare these statements from Tony and Dickey Chapelle's article in the April, 1953 National Geographic: "Some swarms inexplicably commit suicide, flying out to sea after veering away from good feeding areas" (p. 556); "Billions fly out to sea and perish" (caption, p. 557).
2:23 This verse presents some translation difficulties, as evidenced by the various treatments of it found in recognized, standard translations. Given below is a comparison of translations of the difficult phrases.
early rain
for your vindication
former rain
former rain
in just measure
for righteousness
rain rain rain showers
early [rain] former rain former rain autumn [rains]
latter rain latter rain latter rain spring rains
2:28 Compare Ezek. 36:22-28; 37:1-14; and Jer. 31:33. Note that the prophetic idea of God's Spirit being in man was that God's law is written on man's heart. In Acts 2, we find one of two occurrences of Holy Spirit baptism, and Joel 2:28ff is quoted in Acts 2:16ff to the effect that what had occurred was an example of the fulfillment of Joel's promise. But Joel's promise was not limited to this occasion any more than Ezekiel's statements and Jeremiah's statement were. With this understanding, perhaps we can see a reference to Joel's promise in Acts 2:38-39 without fear of the Pentecostals.
2:29 Compare Jer. 31:34 ("from the least of them to the greatest of them") & Gal. 3:28
3:1 The events described in the following verses necessarily belong to the messianic age. This can be shown by
  • the chronology of the text
  • a comparison with the similar prophecy in Ezek. 38-39, and
  • the phrase, "restore the fortunes."
3:2 For the idea that the enemies of God's people are gathered by Jehovah himself, see Ezek. 38:4. These enemies have already in their minds divided up God's land. Compare Ezek. 38:12.
3:9-11 Compare Ezek. 38:4.
3:12 "Jehoshaphat" means, "God will judge." Compare Ezek. 38:22. This passage is parallel to Dan. 2:44 & 7:26-27.
3:17 "Then you will know..." Compare Ezek. 38:23; 39:7,21-24.

"And strangers will pass through it no more." Isaiah makes a similar statement (Is. 52:1). However, the strangers in Joel, and the uncircumcised in Isaiah, are such spiritually. This is evident, for even Isaiah anticipates the entrance of foreigners in a fleshly sense into the holy city (Is. 56:6-7, 2:2-4). These, however, are not strangers in a spiritual sense, for as God said, "They shall all know me" (Jer. 31:34). Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Joel were all speaking of a day when God's people would be those who do know him. Thus this would be a people who did indeed have God's Spirit in them. Notice the concept of the messianic kingdom, the church, seen in these passages. It is not an organization made up of people, some devout, some lukewarm, and some utter hypocrites. It is simply those who are truly people of God, truly righteous, truly holy.