Bible History Online
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. THE PROPHET
II. THE BOOK
1. Literary Form
2. Outline of Contents
4. Indications of Date
(1) Place in the Canon
(2) Language and Style
(4) The Situation
(5) Foreign Nations Mentioned or Omitted
(6) Some Notable Expressions
5. View of Professor Merx
6. Connections with the New Testament
I. The Prophet.
The Book of Joel stands second in the collection of the twelve Prophets in the Hebrew Canon. The name (yo'el), meaning "Yahweh is God," seems to have been common, as we find a dozen other persons bearing it at various periods of the Biblical history. Beyond the fact that he was the son of Pethuel, there is no intimation in the book as to his native place, date, or personal history; nor is he mentioned in any other part of the Old Testament; so that any information on these points must be matter of inference, and the consideration of them must follow some examination of the book itself.
II. The Book.
1. Literary Form:
This takes largely the form of addresses, the occasion and scope of which have to be gathered from the contents. There is no narrative, properly so called, except at one place (Joel 2:18), "Then was Yahweh jealous for his land," etc., and even there the narrative form is not continued. Yet, though the earlier portions at least may be the transcript of actual addresses in which the speaker had his audience before him, this would not apply to the later portions, in which also the direct address is still maintained (e.g. Joel 3:11, "Haste ye, and come, all ye nations round about"). This form of direct address is, indeed, characteristic of the style throughout (e.g. Joel 2:21; 3:4,9,13). There is this also to be said of its literary character, that "the style of Joel is bright and flowing," his "imagery and language are fine" (Driver, LOT); "his book is a description, clear, well arranged, and carried out with taste and vivacity, of the present distress and of the ideal future. Joel may be reckoned among the classics of Hebrew literature. The need of a commentary for details, as is the case with Amos and Hosea, is here hardly felt" (Reuss, Das Altes Testament).
2. Outline of Contents:
The book in the original consists of 4 chapters, which, however, are in our version reduced to 3, by making the portion which constitutes chapter 3 in the Hebrew the concluding portion (3:28-32) of chapter 2. The book begins in gloom, and its close is bright. Up to Joel 2:18 there is some great trouble or a succession of troubles culminating at 2:28-32 (Joel 3 in Hebrew). And the concluding portion, Joel 3 (Joel 4 in Hebrew), in which the prophet projects his view into futurity, begins with judgment but ends with final blessedness. There is a progression in the thought, rising from the solid, sorely smitten earth to a region ethereal, and the stages of advance are marked by sudden, sharp calls (1:2,14; 3:9), or by the blasts of the trumpet which prelude the shifting scenes (2:1,15).
Joel 1 begins with an address, sharp and peremptory, in which the oldest inhabitant is appealed to whether such a calamity as the present has ever been experienced, and all are called to take note so that the record of it may be handed down to remotest posterity. The land has suffered from a succession of disasters, the greatest that could befall an agricultural country, drought and locusts. The two are in fact inextricably connected, and the features of both are mixed up in the description of their effects. The extent of the disaster is vividly depicted by the singling out of the classes on whom the calamity has fallen, the drinkers of wine, the priests,
the vine-dressers, the husbandmen; and, toward the close of the chapter, the lower animals are pathetically introduced as making their mute appeal to heaven for succor (1:18-20). Specially to be noted is the manner in which the priests are introduced (1:9), and how with them is associated the climax of the affliction. The prophet had just said "my land" (1:6), "my vine" and "my fig-tree" (1:7); and, though many modern expositors take the pronoun as referring to the nation or people, it would appear more appropriate, since the people is objectively addressed, to regard the prophet as identifying himself with the God in whose name he is speaking. And then the transition to Joel 1:8 becomes intelligible, in which certainly the land is personified as a female: "Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth." The underlying idea seems to be the conception of the land as Yahweh's and of Yahweh as the ba`al "lord," or husband of people and land. This is the idea so much in evidence in the Book of Hosea, and so much perverted by the people whom he addressed, who ascribed their corn (grain) and wine and oil to the Canaanite Baals. The idea in its purer form is found in the "land Beulah," "married land" (Isa 62:4,5). If it was this that was in Joel's mind, the mention of the priests comes naturally. The products of the land were Yahweh's gifts, and the acknowledgment of His lordship was made by offerings of the produce laid on His altar. But if nothing was given, nothing could be offered; the "cutting off" of the meal and drink offerings was the mark of the widowhood and destitution of the land. Hence, the pathetic longing (Joel 2:14) that at least so much may be left as to assure the famished land that the supreme calamity, the loss of God, has not fallen. Thus the visitation is set in a religious light: the graphic description is more than a poetic picture. It is the Lord's land that is wasted; hence, the summons (Joel 1:14) to "cry unto Yahweh," and in the verses that follow the supplication by man and beast for deliverance.
Joel 2 up to verse 17 seems to go over the same ground as Joel 1, and it has also two parts parallel respectively to two parts of that chapter: 2:1-11 is parallel to 1:2-12, and 2:12-17 to 1:13-20. The former part in both cases is chiefly descriptive of the calamity, while the latter part is more hortatory. Yet there is an advance; for, whereas in 1:2-12 the attention is fixed on the devastation, in 2:1-11 it is the devastator, the locust, that is particularly described; also, in 2:12-17 the tone is more intensely religious: "Rend your heart, and not your garments" (2:13). Finally it is to be noted that it is at the close of this portion that we get the first reference to external nations: "Give not thy heritage to reproach, that the nations should use a byword against them: wherefore should they say among the peoples, Where is their God?" (2:17 margin). If the view given above of 1:6-8 be correct, this is merely an expansion of the germinal idea there involved. And so it becomes a pivot on which the succeeding portion turns: "Then was Yahweh jealous for his land, and had pity on his people" (2:18).
There is a sharp turn at Joel 2:18, marked by the sudden variation of the verbal forms. Just as in Am 7:10, in the midst of the prophet's discourse, we come upon the narration, "Then Amaziah the priest of Beth-el sent to Jeroboam," etc., so here we have obviously to take the narrative to be the sequence of the foregoing address, or, more properly speaking, we have to infer that what Joel had counseled had been done. The fast had been sanctified, the solemn assembly had been called, all classes or their representatives had been gathered to the house of the Lord, the supplication had been made, and "then was Yahweh jealous for his land, and had pity on his people." In point of fact, as the Hebrew student will perceive, all the verbs from 2:15 may be read, with a change of the points, as simple perfects, with the exception of the verbs for "weep" and "say" in 2:17, which might be descriptive imperfects. But no doubt the imperative forms are to be read, expressing as they do more graphically the doing of the thing prescribed. And, this sharp turn having been made, it will be noticed how the discourse proceeds on a higher gradient, forming a counterpart to the preceding context. Step by step, in inverse order, we pass the former points, beginning opposite what was last the "reproach among the nations" (2:19; compare 2:7), passing the destruction of the great army (2:20; compare 2:1-11), then touching upon the various kinds of vegetation affected (2:21-24; compare 1:12,10, etc.), and ending with the reversal of the fourfold devastation with which the prophet began (2:25; compare 1:4). So that what at the outset was announced as a calamity unprecedented and unparalleled, now becomes a deliverance as enduring as God's presence with His people is forever assured.
Up to this point there has been an observable sequence and connection, so that, while the prophet has steadily progressed upward, we can look down from the point reached and see the whole course that has been traversed. But now in Joel 2:28-32 (Joel 3 in Hebrews) he passes abruptly to what "shall come to pass afterward." And yet no doubt there was a connection of thought in his mind, of which we obtain suggestions in the new features of the description. There is "the sound of abundance of rain" (1 Ki 18:41) in this pouring out of the Spirit upon all flesh; in the sons and daughters, old men and young, servants and handmaidens, we seem to recognize the representative gathering of Joel 2:15 f, those engaged in the priestly function of, supplication here endued with prophetic gifts, "a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" (Ex 19:6), all the Lord's people become prophets (Nu 11:29). Again we see the sky overcast and sun and moon darkened before the great and terrible day of the Lord, as if the prophet had said: There shall be greater things than these; a new era is coming in which God's hand will be laid more heavily upon the world, and His people will be quickened to a clearer vision of His working. The "day of Yahweh" has yet to come in a fuller sense than the locust plague suggested, and there will be a more effective deliverance than from drought and dearth; but then as now there will be found safety in Mt. Zion and Jerusalem. This, however, implies some danger with which Jerusalem has been threatened; a "remnant," an "escaped" portion involves a disaster or crisis out of which new life comes. And so the prophet goes on in Joel 3 (Joel 4 in Hebrews), still speaking of "those days" and "that time," to tell us of the greater deliverance from the greater trouble to which he has been alluding. There is nothing in the antecedent chapters to indicate what "that time" and "those days" are, or what the prophet means by bringing again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem. These are questions of interpretation. In the meantime, we may note the general features of the scene now set before us. A great assize is to be held in the valley of Jehoshaphat, in which "all nations" there assembled by Divine summons will be judged for offenses against God's people and heritage (3:1-8). And again, just as in Joel 1; 2 the prophet exhibited the plague of locusts in two pictures, so here in 3:9-21 the picture of the great assize is transformed into a bloody picture in the same valley, not so much of battle as of slaughter, a treading of the wine-press. There is a confused multitude in "the valley of decision"; sun and moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining; the "day of Yahweh" has finally come; and, when the din is silenced and clear light again falls upon the scene, all is peace and prosperity, the last of the enemies destroyed, and the Lord dwelleth in Zion.
Thus the book forms a fairly intelligible and connected whole when we read in the literal sense of the language. That is to say: a time of continued drought combined with an unprecedented visitation of locusts gives occasion to the prophet to call his people to the recognition of the Divine hand and to earnest supplication that the threatened ruin of people and land may be averted. The removal of the calamity is interpreted as a mark of restored Divine favor and an assurance of prosperity based on God's unchangeable purpose of good to His people. But these great doings of Nature's God suggest yet greater deeds of Israel's God of a more spiritual kind, the outpouring, like copious showers, of Divine blessing, so that the whole community would be set on a higher level of spiritual apprehension. And thus the prophet is led on to speak of the "last things." Judah and Jerusalem, highly distinguished and signally protected, are bound up with a world-wide purpose; Israel, in a word, cannot be conceived apart from non-Israel. And as non-Israel had in the past been an opposing power, in the great "day of Yahweh," wrong should be at last righted, the nations judged, and Israel and Israel's God be glorified. No doubt the interpretation is not without difficulties. We may not be able to detect the motives of the sudden transitions, or to say how much of the purport of the latter part was in the prophet's mind when he was engaged on the former part. And the description of the locust is so highly poetical that there is a temptation to see in it a reference to a great invading army.
These considerations, combined with the undoubted eschatological strain of the closing part of the book, led early commentators (and they have had followers in modern times) to an allegorical interpretation of the locust, and to regard the whole book as pointing forward to future history. Thus, in Jerome's time, the 4 names of the locust in 1:4 were supposed to designate (1) the Assyrians and Babylonians, (2) the Medes and Persians, (3) the Macedonians and Antiochus Epiphanes, and (4) the Romans. But, apart from the consideration that the analogy of prophecy would lead us to look for some actual situation or occurrence of his time as the starting-point of Joel's discourse, a close observation and acquaintance with the habits of the locust confirm the prophet's description, albeit highly figurative and poetical, as minutely accurate in all its details. It is to be observed that, though spoken of as an army (and at the present day the Oriental calls the locust the "army of God"), there is no mention of bloodshed. The designation "the northern one," which has been considered inappropriate because the locust comes from the parched plain of the eastern interior, need not cause perplexity; for the Hebrew, while it has names for the 4 cardinal points of the compass, has none for the intermediate points: Judea might be visited by locusts coming from the Northeast, or, coming from the East, they might strike the country at a point to the North of Israel and travel southward. So the wind which destroys the locust (Joel 2:20) would be a northwesterly wind, driving the forepart into the Dead Sea and the hinder part into the Mediterranean.
4. Indications of Date:
The Book of Joel has been assigned by different authorities to very various dates, ranging over 4 or 5 centuries; but, as will appear in the sequel, it comes to be a question whether the book is very early or very late, in fact, whether Joel is perhaps the very earliest or the very last or among the last of the writing prophets. This diversity of opinion is due to the fact that there are no direct indications of date in the book itself, and that such indirect indications as it affords are held to be capable of explanation on the one view or the other. It will be noticed also that, to add to the uncertainty, many of the arguments adduced are of a negative kind, i.e. consideration of what the prophet does not mention or refer to, and the argument from silence is notoriously precarious. It will, therefore, be convenient to specify the indications available, and to note the arguments drawn from them in support of the respective dates.
(1) Place in the Canon.
An argument for a very early date is based upon the place of the book in the, collection of the "twelve" minor prophets.
It stands, in the Hebrew Bible, between Hosea and Amos, who are usually spoken of as the earliest "writing prophets." It is true that, in the Septuagint collection, the order is different, namely, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah; which may indicate that as early as the time of the formation of the Canon of the Prophets there was uncertainty as to the place of Joel, Obadiah, and Jon, which contain no direct indication of their dates. But, seeing that there has evidently been a regard to some chronological order, the books being arranged according to the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian periods, it cannot be without significance that Joel has found a place so high up in the collection. The three indisputably post-exilian books stand together at the end. If Joel is late, it must be as late as the latest of these, possibly a great deal later. But if that is so, there was the greater likelihood of its date being known to the collectors. It would be a very hazardous assumption that prophetical books were not read or copied from the time of their first composition till the time they were gathered into a Canon. And, if they were so read and copied, surely the people who handled them took some interest in preserving the knowledge of their origin and authorship.
In this connection, attention is directed to the resemblances to the Book of Am before which Joel stands. These are regarded by Reuss as favoring the early date. That large and beautiful passage with which the Book of Amos opens dwells upon the thought that the threatenings, which had formerly been uttered against the nations, are about to receive their fulfillment, and that Yahweh could not take back His word. Now it is just such a threatening that fills the last part of the Book of Joel. Indeed Amos begins his book with the very phrase in which Joel opens his closing address, "Yahweh will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerus" (Am 1:2; Joel 4:16). At the end of Am also the happy fertility of Canaan is described in similar terms to those in Joel (Am 9:13; Joel 3:18). Reuss, moreover, draws attention to the remarkable expression found in Joel, and also, though in modified terms, in two Prophets of the Assyrian period: "Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears," says Joel (3:10), whereas we have the oracle in Isa 2:4 and Mic 4:3, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks"; and it is suggested that, if these were current phrases, they were more likely to have been coined in the form employed by Joel in earlier and less settled times, when sudden alarms of war called the peaceful husbandman to the defense of his fields and flocks. Further, it is pointed out that Amos reproaches the people of his day for impenitence, although Yahweh had given them "cleanness of teeth" and "want of bread" and had "withholden the rain .... when there were yet three months to the harvest," and smitten them with blasting and mildew and the palmer worm (Am 4:6-9); and all this is the more striking because Joel represents the distress of his day as unprecedented in magnitude.
To all this, advocates of the late date reply that we cannot determine the date of a book by its place in the Canon; for that the collectors were guided by other considerations. As to the resemblances to Amos, it may have been on the strength of these very resemblances that the Book of Joel, bearing no date in itself, was placed beside that of Amos. Moreover, it is maintained, as we shall see presently, that Joel has resemblances to other prophets, some of them confessedly of late date, proving that he was acquainted with writings of a very late time.
(2) Language and Style.
Another argument for an early date is based upon the purity of the language and character of the style. The book is written in what may be described as classical Hebrew, and shows no trace of decadence of language. It is no doubt true that "the style is the man," as is strikingly illustrated in the very different styles of Amos and Hosea, who were practically contemporaneous; so that arguments of this kind are precarious. Still, it is to be noted, that though there is nothing archaic in the style of Joel, neither is there anything archaic in the style of Amos, who would, by the exclusion of Joel, be our earliest example of written prophecy.
The advocates of the very late date reply that the style of Joel is too good to be archaic; and that his admittedly classic style is to be explained by the supposition that, living at a late time, he was a diligent student of earlier prophetic literature, and molded his style upon the classical.
Here, therefore, must be mentioned an argument much relied on by the advocates of a very late date. It is said that there are so many resemblances in thought and expression to other Old Testament books that it is incredible that so many writers posterior to the early date claimed for Joel should have quoted from this little book or expanded thoughts contained in it. A very elaborate comparison of Joel with late writers has been made by Holzinger in ZATW, 1889, 89-131; his line of argument being that, while resemblances to undoubtedly early writers may be explained as the work of a writer in the Renaissance imitating older models, the resemblances to others known to be late, such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, II Isaiah, Psalms, Nehemiah, Chronicles, etc., cannot be so explained if Joel is taken to be early. The principal passages in question are given in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, "Book of Joel," by Professor Driver, who also takes the view that Joel is late.
The list is not, perhaps, so formidable as its length would imply. Both writers confess that from several of the passages no conclusion of any value can be drawn, and that there is always a difficulty in determining priority when similarities in diction are found. Many of the expressions quoted look as if they might have been commonplaces of the prophetical literature; and, if it was possible for a very late writer to quote from so many antecedent writings, it was as possible and much easier for a number of late writers to go back to the very earliest prophets, especially if their words were memorable and germinal. We have heard of the man who objected to Shakespeare because he was full of quotations; and there is perhaps not a line of Gray's "Elegy" that has not been quoted somewhere, while some of his lines have become household words. But the strongest objection to this argument is this: if Joel had the minute acquaintance with antecedent writers and followed them so closely as is implied, he not only varies from them in essential particulars, but falls below them, as we shall see, in his anticipations of the future.
(4) The Situation.
We have now to look at features of a more concrete and tangible character, which promise to give more positive results. It is maintained by the advocates of the late date that the situation and immediate outlook of the prophet are not only consistent with the late date but preclude any preexilian date altogether. The elements of the situation are these: Whereas all the prophets before the downfall of Samaria (722 BC), and even Jeremiah and Ezekiel, mention the Northern Kingdom, it is not once named or referred to in Joel; for the occurrence of the name "Israel" in 2:27; 3:2,16 cannot support this sense. Judah and Jerusalem fill our prophet's actual horizon (2:1,32; 3:6,16 f.20); no king is mentioned or implied, but the elders with the priests seem to be the prominent and ruling class. Further, the temple and its worship are central (1:14; 2:15 f) and so important that the cutting off of the meal offering and drink offering is tantamount to national ruin (1:9,13,16; 2:14). Again, there is no mention of the prevailing sins of preexilian times, the high places with their corrupt worship, or indeed of any specific sin for which the people were to humble themselves, while fasting and putting on sackcloth seem to have a special virtue. All the circumstances, it is held, conform exactly to the time of the post-exilian temple and to no other time. The Northern Kingdom was no more, there was no king in Jerusalem, the temple was the center and rallying-point of national life, its ritual the pledge and guarantee of God's presence and favor; the period of legalism had set in. It is confidently averred that at no period prior to the regime inaugurated by Ezra and Nehemiah was there such a conjunction of circumstances.
In reply, it is urged in favor of the early date that there was a period in preexilian time when such a situation existed, namely, the early years of the reign of Joash, when that prince was still an infant; for Jehoiada the priest acted practically as regent after the death of Athaliah, 836 BC (2 Ki 11:1-17). This would sufficiently account for the absence of mention of a king in the book. At such a time the priesthood must have held a prominent position, and the temple would overshadow the palace in importance. The omission of the Northern Kingdom may be accounted for by the fact that at that time the two kingdoms were on friendly terms; for the two royal houses were connected by marriage, and the kingdoms were in alliance (2 Ki 3:6 ff; 8:28 ff). Or the omission may have no more significance than the fact that Joel was concerned with an immediate and near present distress and had no occasion to mention the Northern Kingdom. To show how unsafe it is to draw conclusions from such silence, it may be observed that throughout the first 5 chapters of Isa, larger in bulk than the whole Book of Joel, only Judah and Jerusalem are mentioned; and, even if it should be maintained that a part or the whole of these chapters dates from after the deportation of the ten tribes, still it is noteworthy that, when the prophet could have made as good use of a reference to the event as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, he does not do so.
The fact that there is no mention of specific national sins, and particularly of the worship of the high places, of which preexilian prophets have so much to say, is made much of by advocates of the late date, Dr. A.B. Davidson, e.g., declaring it to be "doubtful whether such a state of things existed at any time prior to the restoration from exile" (Expos, March, 1888); but perhaps this argument proves too much. If we are to deduce the state of religion in Joel's day from, what he does not say on the subject, it may be doubted whether at any time, either before or after the exile, such a condition prevailed. The post-exilian prophets certainly knew of sins in their time, sins, too, which restrained the rain and blasted the wine and oil and corn (Hag 1:11). For all that Joel says on the subject, the condition of things implied is as consistent with the time of Jehoiada as with that of Nehemiah. And what shall we say of Isaiah's positive description of the condition of Jerusalem before his time: "the faithful city .... she that was full of justice! righteousness lodged in her" (Isa 1:21)? When was that? So also his promise: "I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called The city of righteousness, a faithful town" (Isa 1:26). Higher praise could scarcely be bestowed, and there is nothing in the Book of Joel to imply that he assumed so much.
Too much has been made of the references to ritual, as if they necessarily implied a post-exilian date. It is not legitimate here to assume that the idea of centralization of worship originated in Josiah's days, and that the priestly legislation is post-exilic. The mention of "old men" or "elders" is no such indication. Wellhausen himself maintains that the expression everywhere in Joel means nothing more than "old men"; and, even if it had an official connotation, the official elders are an old tribal institution in Israel. It may be noted here again that in the first 5 chapters of Isa elders also are mentioned, and more indubitably in an official sense, although the time was that of the monarchy (Isa 3:2,14). And as to the sanctity of the temple, it will hardly be denied that in the time of Jehoiada the Jerusalem temple was a place of far more importance than any supposed local shrine, and especially when there was a call to a united national supplication (see 2 Ki 11). In point of fact the alleged references to ritual are very few and in most general terms. The "fast" is not denoted by the phrases in the legal codes, and was evidently on the footing of such observances as are common and instinctive at all times and among all persons (Jdg 20:26; 1 Sam 7:6; 2 Sam 1:12; Jon 3:5 ff). And where in any law-code are priests enjoined to lie all night in sackcloth (Joel 1:13)? Or what prescription in any code requires young and old, bridegroom and bride, to press together into the temple (Joel 2:16)? And why should not any or all of these things have been done in face of a sudden emergency threatening the ruin of an agricultural people? Moreover, Joel, so far from ascribing virtue to these outward marks of humiliation in a legalistic spirit, immediately after mentioning them says: "Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto Yahweh your God" (Joel 2:13).
The only ritual references are to the meal offering and the drink offering (Joel 1:9,13; 2:14), and these were not characteristically post-exilian. Indeed, they may be regarded as primitive forms of offering, the produce of the ground without which, among an agricultural people, we can hardly imagine a system of offerings to exist. They are both ancient. Amos regards the meal offering as well known (Joel 5:22,25), and Isaiah uses the word "vain oblations" in speaking of its abuse (Isa 1:13). And though the noun for drink offering is not mentioned in the older prophets, Hosea knows the related verb and the act of pouring out wine to the Lord (Hos 9:4), and it may be asked whether it is likely that the people performed the act and had no name for the offering itself. Moreover, in an undisputed passage (2 Ki 16:13,15), both offerings are mentioned in the time of Ahaz. As for the contention that our prophet regards these offerings of so much importance that the cessation of them would be fatal, if our interpretation of Joel 1:8 f above be correct, the earlier date would be much more appropriate. It was not because the offering threatened to cease, but because the thing offered threatened to be cut off, that Joel was so perturbed. The popular view as to the relation of Yahweh to His land was ancient, and had a foundation of truth; and in fact Hosea's teaching would fitly follow and complete that of Joel. Finally it is to be said that Joel's fine forecast of the outpouring of the Spirit, and of the universal extension of prophetic activity is as far removed as possible from the "legalistic" tendency that set in after the exile. And if the argument from silence is of any force at all, it is surely a very remarkable thing that in a book of post-exilian times, there should be no mention of prince or governor, or even of high priest.
(5) Foreign Nations Mentioned or Omitted.
Allusions to foreign nations, or the absence of allusion, would obviously promise to afford indications of the time of the prophet; and yet here also the allusions have been adduced in support of either of the divergent dates. The facts here are as follows: In the first two chapters, where the prophet, as is generally understood, is speaking of his own time and its pressing distress, there is no mention of any foreign nation, not even the kingdom of the ten tribes. The only expression which has been taken to be significant in this connection is the word translated "the northern" army (Joel 2:20), which some refer to the Assyrians, while others explain it of a northern army in late or apocalyptic time. In Joel 3, however, when the prophet is speaking of "those days" and "that time" in the future, when the Lord "shall bring back the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem," there is to be a gathering of "all nations" in the valley of Jehoshaphat (3:1 f); and later on "all the nations" are summoned to appear in the same valley for judgment (3:11 f). "Tyre, and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia" are specially reproached (3:4) because they have carried into their temples the sacred treasures, and have sold the children of Judah and Jerusalem unto the "sons of the Grecians" (3:6); in recompense for which their sons and daughters are to be sold into the hand of the children of Judah, to be sold by them to "the men of Sheba, to a nation far off" (3:8). Finally, at the close (3:19 f), "Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land."
It is acknowledged that, on either hypothesis, there are difficulties in accounting for the presence or absence of names of foreign nations in this presentation. Those who advocate the late date point with confidence to the silence as to the kingdom of the ten tribes, or to the kingdom of Damascus, which, on their hypothesis, had passed away, and the equally significant silence as to Assyria, which had long ago been superseded by the Babylonian and Pets empires of the East. As to the mention of Tyre and Sidon and the coasts of Philistia (Joel 3:4-6), Driver says: "The particular occasion referred to by Joel must remain uncertain: but the Phoenicians continued to act as slave-dealers long after the age of Amos: and the notice of Javan (Greece) suits better a later time, when Syrian slaves were in request in Greece" (Cambridge Bible, "Joel," 17). The same writer says on Jole 3:19: "There is so little that is specific in what is said in this verse with reference to either Egypt or Edom, that both countries are probably named (at a time when the Assyrians and Chaldeans had alike ceased to be formidable to Judah) as typical examples of countries hostile to the Jews." It is pointed out, moreover, that the enmity of Edom was particularly manifest at a late period when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Chaldeans, and that this was remembered and resented long afterward (Ob 1:10-16; Ezek 25:12 ff; 35; Ps 137:7).
On the hypothesis of the early date, it is urged that there was no occasion to refer to the Northern Kingdom. If it was friendly, the inclusive name of Israel for the whole people was sufficient to denote this, and that it was not hostile in the early days of Joash has already been pointed out. As to Damascus, it was not till the last years of the reign of Joash that Hazael showed hostility to Jerusalem (2 Ki 12:17 f); and danger from Assyria had not yet emerged, and appears only faintly in Am (Joel 3:11; 6:14). Then it is pointed out that history records how, in the reign of Jehoram, the grandfather of Joash, "Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah, and made a king over themselves" (2 Ki 8:20; 2 Ch 21:8), and the historian adds that the revolt continued "unto this day." It may well have been that in such a revolt the resident Judeans in the land of Edom suffered the violence referred to in Joel 3:19. Moreover, the Chronicler mentions that, in the same reign, "Yahweh stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines, and of the Arabians that are beside the Ethiopians: and they came up against Judah, and brake into it, and carried away all the substance that was found in the king's house, and his sons also, and his wives," etc. (2 Ch 21:16 f). This might be what is referred to in Joel 3:4-6. If the royal family were carried away there would most probably be a deportation of other prisoners, who, taken by the seaboard Philistines, would, through the great maritime power of the day, be sold to the distant Greeks. And here it is pointed out that Amos singles out the very nations mentioned by Joel: Philistines, Tyre and Sidon and Edom, and reproaches them with offenses such as Joel specifies (Am 1:6-12). And then, it is added, if the book is as late as Nehemiah, why is nothing said of Samaritans, Moabites, and Ammonites, who showed such marked hostility in his days (Neh 2:19; 4:7; 6:1)? For Ezekiel also, from whom it is supposed Joel derived his reference to the Edomites, mentions also Moabites and Ammonites as hostile to Israel (Ezek 25:1-11). And so far were Tyre and Sidon from being hostile in the days of Nehemiah that we read of similar arrangements being made with them, as in the time of Solomon, for the supply of materials for the rebuilding of the temple (Ezr 3:7). And why is not a word said of the Babylonians, at whose hands Israel had suffered so much? So strongly, indeed, are these objections felt by Reuss, that he declares that, should the view of the late origin come to be finally accepted as the more probable, he would decide for a date after the Persian domination, i.e. subsequent to 332 BC. For, he says, the names of peoples introduced at the end of the book, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Philistines, Edomites, must surely in some way have had an actual significance for the author, who cannot out of caprice have passed over Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Persians. Accordingly, if we are to have nothing to do with the pre-Assyrian period, we must come down to the late Seleucidan and Ptolemean dynasties, by whose hostile collisions Judea was certainly involved in severe trouble. But then, how are we to account for the position of Joel so high up in the collection of prophetical writers? For, on this supposition, we should expect his book to stand in the third division of the Canon.
(6) Some Notable Expressions.
There remain to be noticed some significant expressions which have a bearing on the question of date and, at first sight, seem to indicate a late origin. And yet there is a difficulty. For there is no doubt that our familiarity with the details of the great downfall of the Jewish state leads us to think of the destruction of Jerusalem when we read of the captivity or scattering of the people. There is, however, a saying in the Talmud that a greater distress makes a lesser one forgotten; and the question is whether there may not have been national experiences at an earlier time to which such expressions might be applicable: or, in other words, how early such phrases were coined and became current.
(a) "Bring Back the Captivity":
There is, first of all, uncertainty as to the origin of the phrase "bring back the captivity." Some connect the word "captivity" (shebhuth, shebhith) with the verb "to take captive" (shabhah), while others make it the cognate noun of the verb "to return" (shubh), with which it stands connected in the phrase "bring back the captivity of Judah and Jerus" (Joel 3:1). In the former case the reference would be to the return of captives taken in war, or the return of exiles from captivity; and that view has led to the translation in our version. On the latter view, the expression would mean the restoration of prosperity, of which use we have an undoubted example in the words: "Yahweh turned the captivity of Job" (Job 42:10). We can conceive either of the views to have been the original, and either to be quite early. A main feature of early warfare was the carrying away of prisoners, and the return of such captives was equivalent to a restoration of prosperity. Or again, the relief from any illness or trouble might be expressed by saying that there was a restoration, as e.g. in Scotland a sick person is said to have "got the turn." As to the significance of the phrase in Joel, it is pointed out by the advocates of the early date that, in Nehemiah's time, the exile was at an end, and the captivity "brought back" (Ps 126). On the other side it is said that, though the new order was set up at Jerusalem, there still remained many Israelites in foreign lands, and Joel, not satisfied with the meager community in Israel, looked forward to a fuller restoration; or otherwise, that the words are used in the wider and more general sense of restored prosperity. That the phrase was in early use, and in the sense of bringing back captives, is seen in Am 9:14 and Hos 6:11. And it may be observed that the phraseology used by Am to denote going into captivity (Am 1:5,15; 5:5,27; 7:17) is employed by the Jews to denote the Babylonian captivity, and is even used by modern Jews to express the present dispersion. And yet Amos speaks of an "entire captivity" of people in his day (Am 1:6,9 margin).
(b) "Parted My Land":
Then again, the expression "parted my land" (Joel 3:2) does not seem very applicable to the breaking up of the state, for the land was not parted but absorbed in the great eastern empires; nor does Joel single out Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians, by whom, if by any, a post-exilian parting of the land was effected. The expression would more fitly apply to such movements as the revolt of Edom and Libnah (2 Ki 8:22), and the successive losses of territory by which the great dominion of David and Solomon was reduced. This process, described as "cutting Israel short" (literally, "cutting off the ends," 2 Ki 10:32 the King James Version) is recorded as having begun in the time of Jehu, before the reign of Joash, when outlying parts of territory were smitten by Hazael of Damascus; and Joel, speaking in God's name, may have used the expression "my land" as referring to the whole country.
(c) "Scattered among the Nations":
Whether the expression "scattered among the nations" (Joel 3:2) would be applicable to the Israelite inhabitants of such conquered territories or to those sold into slavery (Joel 3:6) may be disputed. The expression certainly suggests rather the dispersion following the downfall of the state. And yet it is noteworthy that, if so, Joel is the only prophet who uses in that sense the verb here employed, a very strange thing if he followed and borrowed from them all; for, both in Jer and Ezk, as well as in Deuteronomy, other verbs are used. Jeremiah indeed uses the verb in comparing Israel to a scattered (or isolated) sheep which the lions have driven away (50:17); but the only other passage in which the word is plainly used of Israel being dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of Persia is Est 3:8.
(d) "Reproach of the Nations":
Then there is the passage: "Give not thy heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them" (or "use a byword against them"): "wherefore should they say among the peoples, Where is their God?" (Joel 2:17,19; compare margin). Here it is to be noted that the idea involved is certainly much older than the time of the exile. In the time of Hezekiah, the ambassadors of Sennacherib delivered their taunting message, which is described as reproaching the living God (2 Ki 19:4). It was the method of ancient warfare, as is seen in the boasting of Goliath; for it is the same word that is used in that narrative, though rendered in our version "defy" (1 Sam 17:10,25 f,36). And, if we read between the lines of the historical books, we shall see how common was this habit of "defying" or "reproaching," and how sensitive the people were to it (e.g. 1 Ki 20:2 f,5 f,13,18). All this is anterior to the earliest possible date of Joel, and proves that, at an early time, there was a consciousness in Israel that the fortunes of the people were bound up with the honor of the national God. It is not to be overlooked that it is in the early part of the book, when he is concerned with the drought and locust, that Joel uses this expression.
(e) "Strangers Passing Through":
Toward the close of the book it is predicted that, in the time of final glory, strangers shall no longer pass through Jerusalem (Joel 3:17). This again would certainly be applicable to a late time, after the land had suffered many hostile invasions. Yet it can well be understood how a prophet at a very early period, thinking of the glorification of Zion, should imagine a state in which no "stranger" or foreigner should have a footing on the sacred soil, and Israel should dwell in solitary and preeminent exclusiveness. If so, the idea again is of a more primitive kind than the late date would suggest, especially if we postulate a prophet who had deeply studied earlier prophets, to whom Jerusalem of the future was the religious metropolis of the world, and Zion the place to which all nations would flow (Isa 2:3; 56:7).
(f) "Day of Yahweh":
A word must be said, in conclusion, in regard to the "day of Yahweh" which figures so prominently in the Book of Joel. In whatever sense it may originally have been employed, whether betokening weal or woe, the expression was an ancient one; for Amos refers to it as current in his day (5:18); and almost all the prophets refer to it in one way or another (Am 5:18-20; Isa 2:12; 13:6,9; 34:8; Jer 46:10; Lam 2:22; Ezek 30:3; Ob 1:15; Zeph 1:8,18; 2:2,3; Zec 14:1; Mal 4:5). So far as it bears upon the date of Joel the question is: How does his usage compare with those of the other prophets? We find that he uses the expression twice in connection with the visitation of the locust (1:15; 2:1), once after speaking of the outpouring of the Spirit (2:31), and once again near the close of the book (3:14). Now, in regard to the earliest occurrences, it will be perceived that Joel is on a lower plane than succeeding prophets. He associates the approach of the day of the Lord with a heavy visitation upon material nature, precisely as the simple Oriental of the present day, on the occurrence of an eclipse, or at a visitation of locust or pestilence, begins to talk of the end of the world. And, though the point of view is shifted, and the horizon wider, at the close, it is to be remarked that the highest point attained is the conception of the day of the Lord as the deliverance and glorification of Israel: there is not a hint of that day being a time of testing and sifting of Israel itself, as in Amos and elsewhere (Am 5:18-20; Isa 2:12). In fact, so far is he from going beyond the other prophets in his conception, that we may say Joel leaves the matter at the point where Amos takes it up.
5. View of Professor Merx:
In view of all these perplexing questions, Professor Ad. Merx had some reason for describing the Book of Joel as the "sorrow's child" (Schmerzenskind) of Old Testament exegesis; and he published in 1879 a work, Die Prophetic des Joel und ihre Ausleger von den aeltesten Zeiten bis zu den Reformatoren, in which, besides giving a history of the interpretation, he combated the method hitherto employed, and put forth a novel view of his own. Concluding, on the grounds usually maintained by the advocates of the late date, that Joel is post-exilian, he makes a comparison of the book with preceding prophetical literature, in order to show that Joel derived his ideas from a study of it, and especially that he followed step by step the prophecies of Ezekiel. Now in Ezekiel's outlook, the overflowing of Judea by the northern people, Gog, plays an important part (Ezek 38:2,3,16,18; 39:11), and this explains Joel's reference in 2:20.
As to the precise date: not only is the second temple standing but the city is surrounded by a wall (Joel 2:9); and this brings us down to the government of Nehemiah, after 445 BC; and the book of Nehemiah shows that other prophets besides Malachi lived and found acceptance in those days (Neh 6:7,14). The circumstances were these. Not only the exile, but the restoration, is a thing of the past. We are to think of Jerusalem and Judah in the narrowest sense: the elders and all the inhabitants of the land are addressed, a sort of senatus populusque Romanus, and with them are the priests presiding over an orderly ritual service at the temple. Judah is unaffected by political movements; the conflict with the Samaritans has died down; Judah is leading a quiet life, of which nothing is recorded because there is nothing to record; and the people of the ten tribes have practically disappeared, being swallowed up among the heathen: This undisturbed period is employed in literary labor, as may be inferred from the well-known notice regarding Nehemiah's collection of books (2 Macc 2:13 f), and from the production of such works as Esther, Jonah, Qoheleth, Malachi, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, etc. The making of books (Eccl 12:12) had not come to an end.
But now, if the older prophets were seriously studied (compare Dan 9:2), what impression would they make on the mind of a man like Joel? Was the daily life that followed the time of Nehemiah in any degree a fulfillment of the hopes of a Deutero-Isaiah, a Jeremiah, an Ezekiel, a Zechariah? Could a member of the restored community contemplate without painful feelings the lamentable condition of existence under the Persian government, the limitation of the people to a narrow territory, the separation from those still in the Dispersion, the irritation of the worship of the half-heathen Samaritans, the mixed marriages and general low condition, as contrasted with the glowing pictures of the prophets who had spoken of the last days? Such a contradiction between prophecy and event must have disturbed the minds of the more thoughtful; and so, while some said, "It is vain to serve God" (Mal 3:14), "They that feared Yahweh spake one with another" (Mal 3:16), waiting in hope, believing that the present restoration could not be the true and final bringing back of the captivity.
To relieve his mind, Joel will write a book, the result of his study; and it must depict the full and final consummation. Living as he did, however, in quiet times, he had not, like earlier prophets, a historical situation to start from. Here, according to Merx, the genius of Joel comes into play. Seeking for a type of the end of the world, which was to be the antitype, he found one in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt in the distant past. Just as at that great crisis the people were rescued from bondage and brought into a wide and fertile land, so in the end Yahweh would subdue all Israel's enemies and place them in a noble land, uncontaminated by strangers, while He Himself would be enthroned in majesty on Zion. But just as that deliverance was ushered in by plagues, so also will be the "great day of Yahweh"; and as a signal type of the wholesale destruction of Israel's enemies, he seizes upon the plague of locusts and models his introduction upon Ex 10:4 ff. Joel had, no doubt, seen many a visitation of locusts; but what we have before us in Joel 1 and 2 is not actual description but idealized picture, the groundwork of his eschatology.
Accordingly, in the view of Merx, the whole Book of Joel is one piece. There is no historical transition at 2:10; in fact, there is no historical element in it at all. The end of the book being apocalyptical, the beginning, which forms with it a unity, must also relate to no event in Joel's days, but moves likewise in the period at the close of time. The people addressed are not the men of Joel's day, but those who shall be alive when "that day" is imminent: in a word, the reader is at 1:2 lifted into the air and placed at the beginning of the final judgment, at the moment when the apocalyptic locusts appear as heralds of the day.
Merx's view may be taken as an extreme and somewhat fanciful statement of the case for a late post-exilian date; and it does not seem to have found acceptance by the critics who start from a historical basis. Merx himself is fully aware that it is a revival of the allegorical and typical interpretation which had its vogue in earlier stages of exposition. But he defends himself on the ground that it was not the ancients who imposed the allegorical interpretation upon Scripture, but the original writers who were the first typologists and allegorists, as is notably seen in later books like Ezekiel and Daniel. Whatever opinion may be held on that subject, we must at least recognize the strongly marked eschatology of the book. But this does not of necessity imply a late date. It is no doubt true that the fully developed eschatology, as we see it in the apocalyptic literature of the extra-canonical books, came in after the cessation of prophecy proper. Yet prophecy, in its earliest phases, contemplated the distant future, and had its support in such an outlook. Professor A.B. Davidson has said: "Isaiah is the creator of the eschatology of the Old Testament and of Christianity, and it comes from his hand in a form so perfect that his successors can hardly add a single touch to it" (Expository Times, V, 297). The ancient oracle, found both in Isa and Mic (Isa 2:2-4; Mic 4:1-5), testifies to the triumphant and far-reaching hope of the older seers; and, before Isaiah's time, both Amos (9:11-15) and Hosea (14:4-8) have their outlook to the final future. The remarkable thing about Joel, which makes the determination of his date so difficult, is that he seems now to go beyond and now to fall short of other prophets. If he is later than Ezekiel and Jeremiah, he has nothing to say of the inclusion of Gentiles in the inheritance of Israel, but contemplates the final destruction of all Israel's enemies. If he is a contemporary of Malachi or later, he is less legalistic than that prophet; and whereas in Malachi we see the beginning of the fading away of prophecy, Joel looks for the time when the Spirit shall be poured out on all flesh, and the sons and daughters shall prophesy (2:28).
6. Connection with the New Testament:
It is this last element in the prophecy of Joel that links his book particularly with the New Testament, for Peter quoted Joel's words in this passage as fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured forth on the assembled multitude (Acts 2:16 ff). Yet, even as the Old Testament prophets one after another caught up the idea, unfolding and expanding it, so the New Testament writers see the approach of the day of the Lord in their own time (1 Thess 5:2; 2 Pet 3:10); for that day is always coming, always near, though still in the future. Paul saw the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain, as Joel did, and the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was part of, and also more than, the effusion seen by Joel What Joel said he said truly, though he could not say all. For "that day" has grown in significance as the ages have rolled on; men have seen its approach in the various commotions and upheavals of the world, depicting its features in the colors of the changing times, now praying for it, now dreading its approach; and how far from precision are our thoughts in regard to it still! Yet, early or late, unerring is the sure word of prophecy in its essential burden. The concrete historical situations crumble away and leave the eternal truth as fresh as ever: "Yahweh reigneth; let the earth rejoice" (Ps 97:1); it is the hopeful burden of Old Testament prophecy, for "righteousness and justice are the foundation of thy throne" (Ps 89:14).
(Besides that cited above).--Credner, Der Proph. Joel ubersetzt u. erklart (1831); Wuensche, Die Weissagungen des Proph. Joel ubersetzt u. erklart (1872); the commentary on the Minor Prophets by Pusey, Orelli, Keil, Wellhausen, G.A. Smith; Meyrick in Speaker's Commentary; Nowack, in Handkommentar zum Altes Testament; Marti, in Kurzer Hand-Commentar zum Altes Testament.
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'joel (2)'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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