Notes on the Prophet Joel
Crenshaw, James. Joel. Part of the Anchor Bible Commentary series edited by W. F. Allbright and David Noel Freedman. (Doubleday, NY, 1995).
Joel’s primary ‘claim to fame’ rests on a single passage – where Joel announces that at some point the LORD would pour out his spirit on humanity. The author of Acts interpreted the events of Pentecost as the fulfillment of that prophecy.
Crenshaw p. 12: Joel has only 73 verses. There are only 7 shorter books in the Bible:
- Obadiah 21
- Haggai 38
- Nahum 47
- Jonah 48
- Zephaniah 53
- Malachi 55
- Habakkuk 56.
Crenshaw p. 13: “After an initial verse introducing the prophet Joel, the focus of attention falls quickly on a disaster more destructive than anything preserved in the people’s collective memory.” What? a swarm of locusts has devoured every green plant, wave after wave of them, as if they were a professional army, until there was nothing left for people or animals to eat, and nothing left to sacrifice to the LORD. And, on top of that, there was a severe drought.
Deprived of things to sacrifice the priests can only offer an oblation of the lips – prayer. The prophet also calls for days of fasting and mourning. He sees this current disaster as the precursor to the Day of the LORD – a time of great battle and a final settling of accounts with the whole world. This is, however, pre-apocalyptic. Apocalyptic literature emerges with fantastic visions and symbols around the year 200 BCE and persists through the time of Jesus.
This onslaught must be from the LORD therefore repentance and prayer / appeal to the LORD is the appropriate thing to do. They have reason to be confident in the power and mercy of God. They have reason to believe that those neighboring countries who gloat over their fate now will themselves be put down by God later, and Israel restored to its proper and promised place.
Crenshaw suggests sometime in the 400’s (BCE) based on internal evidence in the text. Some of these things are circumstantial – Israel and Judah are so identified as one and the same that it must be well after the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 727BCE, there is no reference to a king over Judah while the priests and religious leaders are presented as the authorities of the community, …
“Joel” in Hebrew YA (short for YHWH) is El. The LORD is God.
“Valley of Jehosophat” is a symbolic name, in Hebrew – “The LORD will enter into judgment”
Crenshaw p. 38: “The book is rich in simile and metaphor. The invasion by locusts conjures up various images – horses, chariots, fire, the ruining of a lush garden, an army, a thief, a lamenting ‘virgin’. These comparisons of locusts with dreaded foes of various kinds enhance the concrete details of the description.”
Crenshaw p. 44: “We can infer that Joel addresses a struggling agrarian society in a tiny province including Jerusalem and its environs.” This is NOT the glorious times of Saul, David, and Solomon. The second temple was quite inferior in design and scale to the first temple and to the third temple completed just before the time of Jesus.
Cutter, locusts, grasshopper, devourer – all refer to the same event – locusts according to Crenshaw. (He translates as the chewer, locust, jumper, finisher.) Use of four names for the same thing an ancient technique to emphasize completeness – the four winds, the four directions, the four agents of destruction in Jeremiah (pestilence, sword, famine, captivity). May have been an infestation that lasted as long as 2 years.
It is possible that it refers to 4 stages in the life of a locust, emphasizing that the plague took time (mature ones come, lay eggs which hatch, the young ones jump around, they begin to chew, etc.). Possible, Crenshaw thinks not too likely.
The normal adult life of a locust is about 75 days. They are driven off / die by drought – then even they have nothing left to eat. There are numerous stories of plagues of locusts in the middle east region. They are the 8th plague in Egypt (Exodus 10).
The use of vineyard – often a reference to Israel in the prophets, in the gospel parables.
If there was nothing to offer in the temple the priests were doubly affected – no work and no share of the offered sacrifices for them and their families to eat. In addition, the people are now deprived of their normal cultic way of asking the LORD for forgiveness, for sin offerings etc.
This is the description of the event that Chapter 1 presumes. Or possibly, it is year two of infestation – with this one being even worse than the first.
References to darkness, gloom, fire etc. are typical of theophanies, of God revealing his presence (Exodus, etc.). The image is of the dawn or precursor of the Day of the LORD with the initial anger directed at a faithless Israel, but with the hope / expectation that it will soon turn toward her oppressors, exploiters, and scoffers.
But even now – reprieve is possible if the repentance is sincere enough. At least that is the hope.
Does the vision of a restored land, with all that was lost, represent a vision of the future or actuality after repentance (which is presumed)? Nobody knows.
In Exodus Moses speaks of those prophesying – would that all our people would be prophets.
When the Day of the LORD comes – first the nations are gathered and judged. Israel is considered judged already, punished already via what they have suffered.