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by Milton Spenser Terry
We first direct attention to the apocalyptic form and method of the Book of Joel. His prophecy is arranged in two leading divisions. The first part consists of a twofold revelation of judgment. Each revelation is accompanied by words of divine counsel and promise (chapters 1:1–2:27). The second part goes over a portion of the same field again, but delineates more clearly the blessings and triumphs which shall accompany the day of Jehovah (chapters 2:28–3:21; Hebrew text, chapters 3 and 4). These two parts may be entitled appropriately: (1) Jehovah’s impending judgments; (2) Jehovah’s coming triumph and glory. The first may again be subdivided into four sections, the second into three, as follows:
- Chap. 1:1–12. After the manner of Moses, in Exod. 10:1–6, Joel is commissioned to announce a fourfold plague of locusts. One swarm leaves behind another devour (verse 4) until all vegetation is destroyed, and the whole land is left in mourning. As a beginning of sorrows in the impending day of Jehovah, this fourfold scourge should be compared with the four riders on different colored horses and the four horns of Zech. 1:8, 18, the four war chariots of Zech. 6:1–8, the wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes of Matt. 24:7; Luke, 21:10, 11, and the four horses of Rev. 6:1–8. It is thus a habit of apocalyptics to represent punitive judgments in a fourfold manner.
- Chap. 1:13–20. After the manner of Jehoshaphat, when the combined forces of Moab, Ammon, and Seir were marching against him (2 Chron. 20:1–13), the prophet calls upon the priests to lament, and proclaim a fast, and gather the people in solemn assembly to bewail the awful day that is coming as a destruction from Shaddai. Under this head other features of the calamity are incidentally mentioned, as the distress of beasts, cattle, and flock, and the ravages of fire (verses 18–20.)
- Chap. 2:1–11. In this section, the prophet proclaims the day of Jehovah in still more fearful aspects. Under the blended imagery of darkness, devouring fire, numberless locusts, and rushing armies (all of which are represented in a plague of locusts), the earth and the heavens are shaken, and the sun, moon, and stars withhold their light. The formal elements of this terrible apocalyptic picture deserve special examination. There are a few more sublime descriptions to be found in the literature of the world.
- Chap. 2:12–27. The second portrayal of the great and terrible day is in turn followed by another call to penitence, fasting, and prayer, and also the promise of deliverance and glorious recompense. So the double proclamation of judgment has for each announcement a corresponding word of counsel and hope.
The second part of the prophecy is distinguished by the words, “And it shall come to pass afterward” (וְהָיָה אַחֲרֵי־כֵן), a formula which simply indicates the indefinite future.
- Chap. 2:28–32 (Hebrew text, chap. 3). In accordance with the prayer of Moses (Num. 11:29), Jehovah promises a great outpouring of his Spirit upon all the people so that all will become prophets. This token of grace is followed by wonders in heaven and earth (מוֹפְתִים, prodigious signs, like the plagues of Egypt):
Joel 2:30-32 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Those Calling on the Name of Jehovah Will Be Saved
30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood Before the coming of the great and awe-inspiring day of Jehovah. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, just as Jehovah has said, The survivors whom Jehovah calls.
- Chap. 3:1–17 (Heb. 4:1–16). The great day of Jehovah will issue in a judgment of all nations (comp. Matt. 25:31–46). Like the combined armies of Moab, Ammon, and Seir, which came against Judah and Jerusalem in the time of Jehoshaphat, the hostile nations shall be brought down into “a valley of Jehoshaphat” (verses 2, 12), and there be recompensed according as they had recompensed Jehovah and his people (comp. Matt. 25:41–46).
Joel 3:14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
14 Multitudes, multitudes,
in the valley of decision!
For the day of Jehovah is near
in the valley of decision.
- Chap. 3:18–21 (Heb. 4:18–21). The judgment of the nations shall be followed by a perpetual peace and glory, like the composure and rest which God gave the realm of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 20:30). The figures of great plenty, the flowing waters, the fountain proceeding from the house of Jehovah, Judah, and Jerusalem abiding forever, and “Jehovah dwelling in Zion” are in substance equivalent to the closing chapters of Ezekiel and John.
Joel’s Prophecy, a Generic Apocalypse
Thus this oldest Apocalypse virtually assumes a sevenfold structure and repeats its revelations in various forms. The first four sections refer to a day of Jehovah near at hand, an impending judgment, of which the locust scourge had, perhaps, already appeared as the beginning of sorrows; the last three stands out in the more distant future (afterward = the last days, Acts 2:17). The allusions of the book to events of the reign of Jehoshaphat have led most critics to believe that Joel prophesied soon after the days of that monarch, but beyond those allusions, this ancient prophet is unknown. The absence of anything to determine his historical standpoint, and the far-reaching import of his words, render his prophecies a kind of generic prophecy capable of various applications.