Nothing is known of the prophet Joel other than his father’s name. However, internal evidence from the book reveals that Joel was an inhabitant of Judah or Jerusalem, as his prophecy is directed to Judah and Jerusalem, and that he lived during the usurpation of the throne by Athaliah and the restoration of the kingdom to David following her.
Before Athaliah’s reign, ever since the death of Jehoshaphat, the land of Judah had been increasing in idolatry, under Athaliah’s influence, first as the wife and then the mother of Judah’s king. During her illegal reign, even the nominal Temple service was neglected. This was not necessarily the wish of either the priests and Levites, or the people, but as the decline was by degrees, apathy among them as well as idolatry and wickedness increased by degrees.
Joel’s prophecy begins with a frightening picture of famine and lack (chapter 1); for, as the grain offering and the drink offering (which is bread, oil, and wine) has been neglected before the altar of the LORD, so the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem will experience a lack of grain and wine. The priests and Levites who are the religious leaders of the nation, are called to mourn and fast (Joe 1:13) for the evil that is coming on the land. Then they are to call for the elders and the people to gather together to mourn and fast before the LORD because of their sins (Joe 1:14).
Chapter 2 opens with the warning trumpet blast that wrath and judgment is coming. It paints the grim picture of the terrifying people who will come up to devour the land, and the LORD’s call for Judah to return to Him with all their heart. Chapter 3 describes a final confrontation between a restored Judah and the nations which have come up to devour her; brought up to devour Judah on purpose by the LORD, so that He can enter into judgment with them there. The book closes with as joyful a picture of abundance as it opened with as grim a picture of famine.
Joel’s prophecy is more than just a call for Judah during the reign of Athaliah to return to the LORD. It is painting a picture of everything that will take place in Judah from that time to the return of the LORD:
1. Famine and a conquering nation are coming to ruin the land (Joe 1:1-2:11), fulfilled when the Babylonians destroyed Judah and Jerusalem by degrees in 609- 586 bc;
2. Judah is called to repentance and restoration to the LORD, in which the former and latter rains are restored, and YHVH Himself will be in the midst of Israel (Joe 2:12-27). I believe this was fulfilled when Judah was returned to their land following the Babylonian captivity, and when Messiah Yeshua came (the former rain) and dwelt in the midst of Israel. It contains an unfulfilled prophecy of Messiah Yeshua coming again (the latter rain) to dwell in the midst of Israel.
3. The Spirit of God will be poured out on all flesh and salvation in His name will be abundantly available (Joe 2:28-32). We have been living in these days since the day of Pentecost recorded in Act 2; but I also believe there is an unfulfilled aspect to it, for the prophecy specifically proclaims salvation in Jerusalem among the remnant He has called (Joe 2:32). My opinion is that this is referring to the salvation of the Jews (Judah) in Messiah Yeshua which Paul explains will occur after the fullness of the Gentiles have been saved (Rom 11:25-26). And I believe that their salvation will be accompanied by a fresh outpouring of His Spirit that the world has not yet seen, so that as many as possible may come to salvation and relationship with YHVH as Father, and escape wrath before the final great and terrible day of the LORD comes.
4. The inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem will be restored to their land, and all nations will be gathered together there against them, so that the LORD can judge the nations (Joe 3:1-13). This was partially fulfilled when Judah was returned from Babylonian captivity after 70 years, and is being completely fulfilled in our day as Judah has been restored to its land increasingly since 1948. We are close to the time when all nations will come together against Judah in her land, and God will judge them.
Reference is made to the nations who have divided up the LORD’s land, something that is in the headlines every day these days, with the land of Lebanon (Tyre and Sidon) and the Gaza Strip (coasts of Philistia) specifically mentioned as retaliating against the LORD. In fact, the rockets that are fired into the land of Israel daily, come from Lebanon and Gaza. It is this issue which causes the proclamation among the nations to prepare for war and draw near for battle against Judah (who are the Jews, Joe 3:9-11).
5. The LORD Himself will defend Judah and His voice shall roar from Jerusalem; He will again dwell in Jerusalem in holiness among His people; abundance will reign in the land, but the nations who came against her will be in desolation; and Judah will be established forever, acquitted from her sins (Joe 3:14-21). Of course this will be fulfilled when Messiah Yeshua returns to Jerusalem bodily, delivering Jersualem from her enemies and establishing His reign over all in His millennial kingdom!
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!