Michael Rydelnik


Author. Joel, whose name (yoel) means "Yahweh is God," is the author of this book (1:1). Although Joel is a common name in the OT, nothing is known of this Joel, except that he is the son of Pethuel. It is likely that Joel ministered in Jerusalem because he addressed his message to the priests and elders (1:2, 14; 2:16), and he referred to Judah, Jerusalem, and the temple (cf. 1:2, 9, 13–14, 16; 2:1, 14–15, 17, 23, 32; 3:1–8, 12, 14, 17–21). His authorship is corroborated in the NT (cf. Ac 2:16).

Joel’s place among the OT Minor Prophets (called the Twelve in Hebrew) has never been seriously questioned. Joel’s text in the Masoretic Text is clean and straightforward, with few textual variants and none that alter the overall message of the book. Joel is written in Hebrew poetry, like the Psalms. The language is rich in imagery, parallelism, and emotion.

Date. Because no specific dates appear in the text, the date of the book has been debated. Three possible dates are frequently proposed:

Early Preexilic Date. Some see Joel as early preexilic (ninth century BC) because Hosea and Amos are early preexilic prophets and Joel is placed between them in the Hebrew canon. Joel’s references to Tyre, Sidon, Philistia, Egypt, and Edom as enemies of Judah (3:4, 19) seem to indicate an earlier date, prior to the Babylonian threat. Finally, because Joel seems to emphasize elder and priestly rule rather than a strong monarchy (1:2; 2:16; 1:9, 13; 2:17) some suggest he wrote in the period of Jehoash, when the boy king was under the tutelage of the elders (835 BC; cf. 2Kg 11:1–12:21). These arguments, however, are not indisputable. The canonical position of the book is not absolutely conclusive for chronology. Also, the prophets delivered oracles against the nations mentioned, even during the Babylonian threat (cf. Jr 46–47; Ezk 27–30; Zph 2:4–7). Finally, the prophets mention elders and priests, even in periods of a strong monarchy (e.g., Is 3:14).

Postexilic Date. An alternative view dates Joel after the return from Babylonian captivity (539 BC). As support, some identify the temple Joel mentions as the postexilic sanctuary built by Zerubbabel (1:9, 13; 2:17). They also suggest that the emphasis on elder leadership (1:2; 2:16) indicates the lack of monarchy after the return from Babylon. Finally they maintain Joel’s interactions with other prophets (cf. Jl 2:3 and Ezk 36:35; Jl 2:10 and Ezk 32:7; Jl 2:27–28 and Ezk 39:28–39) as evidence of the later date. However, there is no evidence that the temple is Zerubbabel’s. Further, elders held powerful roles in the leadership of Judah even during the monarchy prior to the exile (cf. 2Kg 23:1; Jr 26:17). Finally, it is difficult to determine which prophet is quoting whom in closely dated literary references or parallels.

Late Preexilic Date. Dating Joel from the late preexilic period prior to the Babylonian captivity (597–587 BC) seems to have the greatest support from the text. The gathering of the nations against Judah and scattering of God’s people (3:1–3) would refer to the Babylonian invasion of 587 BC, when 10,000 of Judah’s finest men were deported (cf. 2Kg 24:10–16; Dn 1:1). There is no reason to question Joel’s reference being to Solomon’s temple (1:9, 13; 2:17) prior to the Babylonian destruction. The judgment passages are looking toward the soon coming final destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC (cf. 2Kg 25:1–21; Jl 1:15, 2:1–11). Furthermore, Joel’s prophecy of the "day of the Lord" (cf. Introduction: Theme) is parallel to other prophetic descriptions of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (e.g., Jr 5:17; Lm 1:12; 2:1; Ezk 7:19; 13:5; Zph 2:2–3). Joel’s mention of the slave trade with the Greeks (3:6), which flourished in the seventh and early sixth centuries, is historically linked to the late preexilic period (cf. Ezk 27:13). Thus, from the internal evidence it seems best to date the message of Joel from the late preexilic period, just prior to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem.

Regardless of the date of Joel, the book’s message remains. Indeed, "most of what Joel has to teach we can grasp without the precise knowledge of his times …" (David Allan Hubbard, Joel and Amos, TOTC [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1989], 23).

Recipients. The original recipients of Joel’s message were the inhabitants of Judah just prior to the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem. The message is especially to the faithful remnant of Israel, those who were open to the message of the prophet.

Purpose. The message of Joel is a call for repentance in light of the coming day of the Lord (Jl 3:1). However, the message and purpose of Joel pertain beyond preexilic Israel to all generations of God’s people who await the Lord’s return. The basis for Joel’s call to repentance is the "gracious and compassionate" character of the Lord, who is "abounding in lovingkindness" (2:13). Joel demonstrates that salvation will come for Zion (3:17). The emphasis on Zion (2:1, 15, 23, 32; 3:17, 21) links the day of the Lord to the messianic kingdom, when Messiah Jesus will rule on David’s throne in Jerusalem (cf. 2Sm 7:16; Is 9:6–7).

Theme. The "day of the Lord" is the key theological idea in Joel (mentioned five times: 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14) as well as an important theme in the OT prophets. The phrases "that day" or "the great day" may be synonymous expressions (cf. Is 13:6, 9; Jr 46:10; Ezk 13:5; 30:3; Am 5:18–20; Ob 15; Zph 1:7, 14; Mal 4:5).

In the OT, the phrase may mean a particular temporal judgment: e.g., the Assyrian invasion of the northern kingdom (e.g., Am 5:18, 20) or the Babylonian invasion of Judah (e.g., Ezk 13:5). However, it frequently refers to a future end-time period of eschatological judgment (e.g., Is 13:6–13). The eschatological day of the Lord follows the evening and morning of the Jewish reckoning of a day, with two aspects: (1) the darkness of the Great Tribulation of the Lord’s judgment (e.g., Is 2:12–19; 4:1; Mal 4:5) followed by (2) the light of blessing with the return of Messiah and His reign in the millennium (e.g., Jl 2:30–32; Is 4:2; 19:23–25).


I. The Plague of Locusts (1:1–20)

A. Call to Mourn in Light of the Coming Invasion (1:1–12)

1. The Judgment Will Be Unique (1:1–3)

2. The Judgment Will Be Complete (1:4–12)

B. Call to Repentance in Light of the Coming Judgment (1:13–20)

1. Way of Repentance: Priests Are to Mourn and Call a Solemn Assembly (1:13–14)

2. Reason for Repentance: The Day of the Lord Is Near (1:15–20)

II. The Day of the Lord (2:1–32)

A. Evening of the Day of the Lord: Judgment of Israel (2:1–17)

1. Fierceness of the Lord’s Army (2:1–11)

2. Call for Repentance (2:12–17)

a. Repentance Must Be Genuine (2:12–14)

b. Repentance Must Include the Whole Nation of Israel (2:15–17)

B. Morning of the Day of the Lord: Restoration of Israel (2:18–32)

1. The Lord Is Zealous and Merciful (2:18)

2. The Lord Will Respond to Repentance and Restore the Land (2:19–27)

3. The Lord Will Provide Spiritual Renewal (2:28–32)

III. Judgment of the Nations (3:1–21)

A. The Lord Will Judge the Nations for Their Mistreatment of Israel (3:1–15)

B. The Lord Is a Refuge for His People (3:16–17)

C. The Lord Will Bless Judah and Jerusalem Forever (3:18–21)


I. The Plague of Locusts (1:1–20)

The book opens with a description of a recent locust plague that was characterized as a judgment by God. The prophet’s purpose was to use this temporal judgment to prefigure the future "day of the Lord."

A. Call to Mourn in Light of the Coming Invasion (1:1–12)

1. The Judgment Will Be Unique (1:1–3)

1:1. The opening phrase the word of the Lord that came to Joel, indicates the prophetic nature of the message, a frequent formula in the prophets (e.g., Jr 1:2; Ezk 1:3; Hs 1:1).

1:2–3. The command to hear God’s message is to the elders (the leaders of Judah) and inhabitants of the land of Judah. The rhetorical question, "has anything like this (this locust plague) happened before?" requires a "No" response. Its uniqueness, like the events of the exodus, should cause them to tell it to their sons, who should likewise tell the next generation (cf. Ex 10:2; Ps 78:4).

2. The Judgment Will Be Complete (1:4–12)

A destructive locust swarm was a familiar event in the Middle East, but it was a specific reminder of God’s judgment on the Egyptians at the time of the exodus (Ex 10:1–20). Now, however, this locust swarm was in Israel, and the judgment was against God’s people.

1:4–7. In describing the judgment of the locust invasion, the prophet first emphasized its complete destruction. The gnawing, swarming, creeping, and stripping locust (v. 4) may describe one species of locust in various stages of development or four different kinds. Regardless, they bring complete devastation as they move across the landscape, devouring every plant in their path. The call to the drunkards and wine drinkers (v. 5) may suggest that self-indulgence is disastrous. However, the emphasis is that they are to wail because the source of their sweet wine will be cut off, as all the vineyards have been destroyed. Likewise, ultimately everything we depend on, apart from the Lord, will not survive His judgment.

Joel described the insects poetically, as if they were a nation and not a swarm of insects (cf. Pr 30:25–26). They are mighty and without number, like the locust plague at the exodus (cf. Ex 10:4–6; Ps 105:34). They destroy like a lion/lioness who devours with teeth/fangs, leaving the landscape an agricultural wasteland. The image of locust as destroyers is even more graphic in the NT (cf. Rv 9:8). Identifying Israel as my vine, Joel used a metaphor that Isaiah used (Is 5:1–7; 27:2–6). The pronouns my vine and my fig tree, used here and throughout the book, indicate the Lord’s personal relationship with His people (cf. 1:6, 13–14; 2:13–14, 17–18, 23, 26–27; 3:2–5, 17). These plants will be strippedbare, so that they are left white, without even any bark remaining.

1:8–12. Having described the complete destruction of the locust plague, the prophet next emphasized the complete sorrow associated with the judgment. The people of Judah are called to wail as a virgin mourning the death of her bridegroom (v. 8), an expression of profound grief at the death of her husband who had died during the engagement period, since she is still a virgin. Additionally, the priests were to mourn (v. 9) because the locusts had destroyed the vineyards and without a grape harvest the house of the Lord would be without grain and drink offering (cf. Ex 29:38–42; Lv 23:13). Finally, the farmers and vinedressers (v. 11) were to be ashamed and wail because the field [was] ruined. This would cause the land to mourn, personifying the effect of the devastation (cf. Jr 23:10; Hs 4:3). There was total devastation: field, land, grain, new (grapes) wine, (olive) oil, fig trees, pomegranate, (date) palm, apple (lit., "apricot"), all the treesdry up (v. 12). "Grain, new wine, and oil" are frequently used together to epitomize the fruitfulness of the land of Israel (cf. 2:19; Dt 7:13; 11:14; 2Ch 31:5; Neh 10:39). There was a drought along with the locust invasion so the prophet poetically stated that not only did the plants dry up, but also rejoicing dries up from the sons of men.

B. Call to Repentance in Light of the Coming Judgment (1:13–20)

1. Way of Repentance: Priests are to Mourn and Call a Solemn Assembly (1:13–14)

1:13–14. To girdwith sackcloth is a sign of mourning or repentance (e.g., Gn 37:34; 2Sm 3:31; Est 4:1; Is 37:1). The priests, as spiritual leaders, should be the first to grieve, lament, and wail for the judgment. They could not even offer the required grain offering and the drink offering (cf. 1:9) because the locust had destroyed the grain and grapes. Their personal relationship with the Lord is evident in that He is called my Godyour God (cf. note on 1:4–7). Not only are the priests to mourn, they are to consecrate (set apart) a fast and a solemn assembly to cry out to the Lord for mercy. Fasting was required on the Day of Atonement (cf. Lv 16:29, 31) and often during times of calamity (e.g., Jdg 20:26; 2Sm 12:16; Est 4:16; Jr 14:12). It was time for all the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to gather in the temple, the house of the Lord your God.

2. Reason for Repentance: The Day of the Lord Is Near (1:15–20)

Introducing the key idea of the day of the Lord (cf. Introduction: Theme), this section gives a detailed description of the aftermath of the locust plague, and introduces the idea of the day as judgment.

1:15. They are to cry out in horror, Alas for the day! This phrase is used to describe the locust plague as a judgment and, as such, it foreshadows the eschatological day of the Lord ("the time of Jacob’s distress" [Jr. 30:7] and the day of the Lord’s judgment on the nations [Ezk 30:7]) described in chaps. 2 and 3. For the day of the Lord is near, and it will be a time of destruction from the Almighty (cf. Is 13:6).

1:16–18. The plague results in the cutting off of their food supply and of their gladness and joyseeds shrivel (dry up), storehouses are desolate, the barns are torn down, for the grain is dried up. Furthermore, beasts (cattle and livestock) and sheep would find no pasture and would suffer. Drought, as well as the devouring locusts, was destroying all food supply.

1:19–20. Judah should respond with a personal plea for mercy: To You, O Lord, I cry (cf. 2:32; Pss 28:1; 30:8). God’s coming discipline of Judah is presented as fire and flame, a common image of judgment (e.g., 2Kg 8:12; 13:3–7; 25:8–9; Jr 4:4; 15:14; 17:27; Ezk 5:4; 15:6–7; Am 1:4, 7, 10). Just as the Lord is the source of the judgment, He is also the sole source of help. Even beasts (livestock and wild animals) would pant for [Him] (i.e., for Him to provide water) when the water brooks are dried up.

II. The Day of the Lord (2:1–32)

Taking a late preexilic date (see Introduction: Date) has caused some to conclude that the invasion prophesied here refers to the coming Babylonian invasion. However, the earthly and celestial upheavals (2:10–11) and incomparable nature of the judgment (2:2) more likely point to the eschatological day of the Lord. That Joel is part of the Twelve Prophets, a work compiled in the postexilic period, indicates that the prophecy was not yet considered fulfilled but seen as pointing to events in the future.

Like a "day" in the Bible, the day of the Lord would have two components, evening and morning. The evening would consist of judgment and is described in Jl 2:1–17. The day would consist of blessing, and is described in 2:18–32.

A. Evening of the Day of the Lord: Judgment of Israel (2:1–17)

1. Fierceness of the Lord’s Army (2:1–11)

The invading force depicted here uses terms that might describe locusts, but the images seem to be of a literal army. This depiction links the eschatological judgment to the temporal judgment of locusts described in chap. 1.

2:1. The suddenness of judgment called for repentance. Hence, the command to blow a trumpet means to sound an alarm because of unexpected judgment (cf. Jr 4:5–6; Ezk 33:2–6) that should have made all the inhabitants of the land tremble. Each time the phrase the day of the Lord isnear is used, it refers to sudden and terrifying judgment (cf. Jl 1:15; 3:14; Is 13:6; Ezk 30:3; Zph 1:7, 14). The focal point of the judgment will be in Zion, a place name synonymous with Jerusalem (cf. 2:15; 3:17; 1Kg 8:1; Ps 2:6).

2:2. The judgment will not only be sudden but also horrific, a day of darkness and gloom (cf. Is 5:30; 8:22; 50:3; Jr 2:6, 31; Ezk 34:12; Am 3:6; 5:18–20). The words clouds and thick darkness evoke OT images of God’s presence (Ex 20:18; Ps 17:2) and judgment (Jr 13:16; Zph 1:15). That judgment is expressed through an overwhelming, unparalleled military presence as pervasive as the dawn spreading over the mountains. The judgment again is described as unique: There has never been anything like it, nor will there be again after it (cf. Jl 1:2).

2:3. The invaders sent to judge Zion are described as coming as fire before them and behind them, thereby alluding to the Lord’s fire of judgment (e.g., Pss 50:3; 97:3; Is 66:15). The contrast of the condition of the land before and after judgment is like the difference between the garden of Eden and a desolate wilderness like Sodom after its destruction (cf. Gn 2:8, 15; 13:10).

2:4–5. The coming judgment will be as swift as war horses (cf. Jb 39:19–20; Jr 51:27) and as destructive as military chariots. This agile military force is able to traverse mountains as quickly as a fire consumes stubble. They are a mighty (meaning "vast in number and strength") people arranged for battle.

2:6–9. Everyone in the path of this army will be in anguish, and their faces will turn pale. The phrase before them is literally "before Him," indicating that the Lord is the power behind the army. These soldiers on their orderly march are compared to a swarm of locusts, who do not break ranks in their rush on the city, methodically stripping every leaf in their path. Nothing can stand in the way of this conquering force.

2:10–11. Literally, before Him (cf. 2:6 comment), identified as the Lord (2:11), the earth quakes (cf. 68:8; 77:18; Is 24:18–20; Jr 4:23–24), the heavens tremble (cf. Jl 3:16; Is 13:13), and the sun, moon, and stars will grow dark (cf. Is 13:10; Ezk 32:7; Zch 14:6–7). The Lord Himself will command His army (cf. Jdg 5:4; Pss 18:7; 77:18; Is 13:13; Jl 3:16) on the day of the Lord, making the day great and very awesome, just as He Himself is (cf. 2:31; Dt 7:21; Neh 1:5; 4:14; Ps 99:2; Dn 9:4).

2. Call for Repentance (2:12–17)

a. Repentance Must Be Genuine (2:12–14)

2:12–13. The Lord desires a relationship with His people. Yet even now He invites repentance, that none should perish (Ezk 18:23; 1Tm 2:3–4; 2Pt 3:9). Return to Me is a powerful call to a restored relationship (v. 12). The requirement is genuine faith with all your heart, not with false humility. They were to rend [their] heart and not [their] garments as a sign of genuine mourning for sin (cf. Pss 34:18; 51:17; Is 57:15), and not just perform the external actions of grief, like the tearing of garments, as was customary (e.g., Gn 37:34; 2Sm 1:11; Jb 1:20). The Lord wanted true repentance, indicated by fasting (cf. comments on 1:13–14), weeping and mourning.

The call to return to the Lord your God (v. 13) is a plea for the restoration of personal relationship. To return is the key OT phrase for "repentance" for sin (e.g., Dt. 30:2; 1Sm 7:3; Is 55:7; Hs 6:1). The Lord calls for repentance because He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness (cf. Ex 34:6–7).

2:14. The question, who knows? reflects the Lord’s sovereign will. It leaves the possibility that after repentance the Lord could turn and relent concerning His plan for judgment, and He would leave a blessing behind Him. The offer is genuine, but is based on the requirement of repentance.

b. Repentance Must Include the Whole Nation of Israel (2:15–17)

2:15–16. Here the command to blow a trumpet is not a military alarm, but a call to proclaim a solemn assembly (e.g., Lv 23:24; 25:9; Nm 10:10; Jos 6:4–5; Pss 47:5; 81:3). This fast is urgent for all levels of their society, the peopleelders … the children … the infantsbridegroom[s], and bride[s].

2:17. The priests, the Lord’s ministers, and leaders are to weep in the temple between the porch and the altar. They are to plead for the Lord to spare His people Israel, who are His inheritance (cf. 3:2; Ex 19:5; Dt 7:6; 9:29; 32:9; Pss 94:14; 106:4–5). Otherwise, God’s name could become a byword (derogatory proverb) among the Gentile nations, maligning His character in failing to keep His covenants (cf. Ex 32:11–14; Nm 14:13; Dt 9:28; Jos 7:9).

B. Morning on the Day of the Lord: Restoration of Israel (2:18–32)

Joel’s emphasis on the day of the Lord includes a morning aspect, the restoration of Israel. The prophets generally present the Lord’s restoration of His people following their discipline (e.g., Is 40:1–2; 49:14–16).

1. The Lord Is Zealous and Merciful (2:18)

2:18. The section opens with the promise the Lord will be zealous (cf. Ex 20:5 and Dt 4:5) for His land and will have pity on His people. The Lord identified the people of Israel as His people and the land of Israel as His land, indicating His faithful covenant relationship with them (cf. Gn 12:1–3). The word zealous depicts the righteous, jealous ardor a husband would have for his wife, indicating God’s zeal for Israel. The word pity describes an emotional feeling that causes sparing from difficulty, indicating that God would come to Israel’s aid if they would turn to Him.

2. The Lord Will Respond to Repentance and Restore the Land (2:19–27)

2:19. The restoration of Israel follows their judgment. After the evening darkness will come the blessing of morning light, expressing both aspects of the day of the Lord. He will restore the blessings, including grain, new wine and oil. In the future, Israel will never again be a reproach among the nations, a promise not yet fulfilled with the advent of the modern state of Israel.

2:20. Along with blessing Israel, God will judge the northern army. The enemies of Israel most frequently came from the north, i.e., Assyria and Babylon. These northern enemies were presented as the final end-times enemy of Israel (cf. Ezk 38–39; Dn 11:40; Zch 14:2). This enemy will be driven to a parched and desolate land, the Negev Desert and into the eastern and western sea, i.e., the Dead and the Mediterranean seas. At the end of battle the stench of the multitude of slain will be apparent.

2:21–22. The land and the beasts are told, do not fear but rejoice and be glad. Here Joel describes the blessing associated with the Jewish people’s eschatological return to their land. As elsewhere in the prophets, the blessing on the land is synonymous with the great things the Lord has done for His people, indicating that more than agricultural blessing is in view (cf. Is 54:4; Jr 30:10; Zph 3:16, 17).

2:23. A clue to this greater blessing described here is in the phrase the early rain for your vindication. At issue is whether the Hebrew phrase hamoreh litsdaqah, should be translated as "early rain for your vindication" (as in the NASB and various other English translations) or as "the teacher of/for righteousness." The basis for translating this as early rain for your vindication is that the word moreh is found in the second half of the verse where it does indeed mean the early rain. But, for several reasons, the use of the word "rain" (moreh) in the second half of the verse does not compel translating it that way in the first part. (1) Even though moreh is indeed used in the second half of the verse to mean rain, it is an extremely unusual form—the normal form would be yoreh. (2) It seems that the author is using a deliberate play on words, indicating that when the teacher (hamoreh) came, so would the early rain (moreh). (3) Translating the word litsdaqah as "vindication" is virtually impossible. It is a moral/ethical term meaning "righteousness" and cannot describe rain.

The more likely translation should be "the teacher of/for righteousness," for several reasons. First, the word moreh in the singular form is used eight times in the OT and is translated "teacher" in all cases (cf. 2:23; 2Kg 17:28; 2Ch 15:3; Jb 36:22; Is 30:20 [2 times]; Hab 2:18, 2:19). Further, it is translated as "teacher" in several ancient texts (the Vulgate, the Targum, the Greek Symmachus and the DSS). Second, Joel’s use of the definite article with "the teacher" (hamoreh) indicates that it is speaking of a particular person. Third, the pairing of "the teacher" with the word "righteousness" and with the preposition "to" or "for" indicates that this teacher personifies righteousness.

Hence, Jl 2:23 indicates that the blessings described here will occur when God the Father will send the Messiah, "the Teacher of Righteousness" to the people of Zion, who should rejoiceand be glad. At the same time, God will send blessing to Israel in the form of the early (fall) and latter (spring) rains. Isaiah provides a parallel idea, predicting an eschatological Teacher who will guide Israel (cf. Is 30:20), and when He comes, God will send rain (Is 30:23). For a complete discussion, see Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 139–42, 172–73.

Jesus called Himself Teacher (Mt 10:25; 26:18; Jn 13:13), as did His followers (Mk 4:38; 9:38; 10:35) and opponents (Mt 9:11; 12:38; 22:16). Of the 90 times Jesus was addressed directly in the gospels, 60 times He was called "Teacher."

2:24–25. The blessings will include threshing floorsfull of grain and vats overflowing with the new wine and (olive) oil. The future blessing of the Lord will make up to you for the years destroyed by the great army that the Lord sent in judgment.

2:26–27. The result will be plenty to eat, and they will praise the name of the Lord [their] God Who has dealt wondrously with His people as He did at the deliverance from Egypt (cf. Ex 7:3). The assurance that they will never be put to shame (twice for emphasis) awaits fulfillment in the millennial kingdom (cf. Is 45:17; 49:23). The purpose of the restoration is that they will know that [God is] in the midst of Israel (cf. Ex 6:7; Dt 5:6; Is 43:3; Ezk 20:5), that He is their God, and that there is no other.

3. The Lord Will Provide Spiritual Renewal (2:28–32)

2:28–32. After this indicates events in the distant future. This prophecy relates not to the return from the Babylonian captivity but to the eschatological day of the Lord (Ac 2:17 renders it "and it shall be in the last days …"). There are three characteristics of the eschatological renewal promised here. First, there will be an outpouring of God’s Spirit on Israel (vv. 28–29). This will come upon their sons, daughters, old and young men, and male and female servants so that they all will prophecy and have prophetic dreams. This will be a change from a limited office of prophet to a wide range of people who will have the Spirit of the Lord and will fulfill Moses’ hope for Israel (cf. Nm 11:29).

Second, there will be supernatural phenomena in the skies: These cosmic wonders will include wonders in the sky and on the earth, blood, fire, and smoke, the sun and the moon darkened at the time of the great and awesome day of the Lord (vv. 30–31). Such events are often associated with the future tribulation (cf. Is 13:9–10; 34:4; Mt 24:29; Rv 6:12; 8:8–9; 9:1–19; 14:4–20; 16:4, 8–9).

Third, there will be great deliverance at that time for whoever calls on the name of the Lord. This seems to be an invitation to escape the wrath of God spoken of at the start of the chapter (cf. Jl 2:1–11). The prophet promises escape for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem (cf. Rv 14:1–5) and seems to refer to the eschatological deliverance, both physical and spiritual, of Israel at the return of Christ (Zch 12:10; 14:3–5; Rm 11:26–27).

At question is why Peter used this passage when explaining the disciples’ supernatural gift of speaking in unlearned foreign languages (Ac 2:14–21). Some have maintained that Peter viewed the events at Pentecost as being fulfilled directly. Hence, Joel’s predictions, while originally about God’s promises to Israel, find their fulfillment in the Church. Others have maintained that Peter viewed Jl 2 as partially fulfilled at Pentecost (or perhaps inaugurated) but will indeed be completely fulfilled for Israel at the end of days. Both of these views seem problematic in that the events described in Acts do not match Joel’s prediction. In Acts, the disciples spoke in unlearned foreign languages (2:6), but Joel predicted visions and dreams. Further, Acts does not indicate that there were any cosmic wonders or signs in the sky. Therefore, it is more likely that Peter cited Joel as a form of applicational fulfillment. This refers to finding a principle in Joel and applying it to the situation at Pentecost. At Pentecost, it was thought that the disciples were drunk (Ac 2:13). Therefore, Peter cited the principle from Joel that when the Holy Spirit falls, remarkable signs would follow. Thus, the disciples’ supernatural gifts should not be attributed to drunkenness but to the Holy Spirit. For a full discussion of NT use of the OT and the principle of applicational fulfillment, see Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 95–111, esp. 104–08.

III. Judgment of the Nations (3:1–21)

Chapter 3 moves from the more general context of judgment to details of judgment on specific Gentile nations for their mistreatment of Israel. The chapter concludes with a promise of deliverance and blessing for Israel.

A. The Lord Will Judge the Nations for Their Mistreatment of Israel (3:1–15)

In this opening section, seven times the Lord identifies the people of Israel and the land of Israel as "My" (3:2–5) indicating His personal relationship with them (cf. 2:7).

3:1. In those days and at that time indicates an eschatological period when the Lord will restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, initiating that blessing by judging Israel’s enemies. God will gather all the Gentile nations, who have oppressed God’s people, Israel (cf. Pss 83:1–12; 110:6; Is 66:18; Jr 25:32; Ezk 39:21; Mc 4:11–12) to Jerusalem. As the final part of the campaign of Armageddon (cf. Rv 16:16), they will have besieged the city and been defeated by Messiah (Zch 14:2–4). Afterwards, the Lord will judge the nations in the valley of Jehoshaphat (lit. "Yahweh Judges" cf. 3:12), not a place name but a descriptive title for the Kidron Valley, east of Jerusalem. There God will judge the Gentile nations for their treatment of the Lord Jesus’ Jewish brothers during the tribulation ("these brothers of mine" cf. Mt 25:31–46, esp. v. 40). The "sheep" in the parable of the sheep and the goats are those who, as an expression of their faith in Jesus, aided the Jewish people and the "goats" are those who lacked faith and therefore harmed them (Mt 25:41–46).

3:2–3. In response, the Lord Himself will enter into judgment with them on behalf of My people and My inheritance Israel (cf. comments on 2:17; Dt. 32:9; 1Kg 8:53; Ps 94:14; Jr 10:16). The sins of the Gentile nations are identified as having scattered the Jewish people among the nations and divided up My land and cast lots for My people by selling the children into slavery (cf. 3:6).

3:4–5. God’s future judgment of Israel’s enemies is presented through the impending judgment of Tyre, Sidon and all the regions of Philistia, areas that range from the northern to the southern coastline of Israel. God rhetorically asked these nations, in courtroom style, if they believed they were rendering Him a recompense (i.e., "giving Me what I deserve") by their treatment of Israel. He pronounced judgment upon them swiftly and speedilyreturn your recompense on your head. They will be judged for the theft of His precious treasures, the wealth of Israel, which they took to their own pagan temples.

3:6–8. They were also guilty of selling the sons of Judah and Jerusalem as slaves to the Greeks. In a stroke of justice in kind ("an eye for an eye," Lv 24:19–21) God declared He would sell their children into slavery. Some have suggested that this was literally fulfilled by Artaxerxes III in 345 BC and Alexander the Great in 332 BC who took the children of Tyre and Sidon captive as slaves. This is unlikely, since these nations are mentioned here merely as representatives of all the Gentile nations that will gather against Israel at the end of days. These verses describe the judgment of the nations when the Lord vindicates His people (Gn 12:3; Pss 43 and 54). It will certainly occur because the Lord has spoken.

3:9–10. The nations are called to prepare a war, summoning soldiers to draw near and commanding them to beat their plowshares into swords and their pruning hooks into spears to prepare for the battle in the valley of Jehoshaphat (cf. 3:2ff.). This call to war is prior to the future of everlasting peace (Is 2:4; Mc 4:3). Before there can be everlasting peace, there must be ultimate judgment of the enemies of Israel, who are the enemies of the Lord (cf. Ps 83).

3:11. Further, all the surrounding nations are beckoned to engage in the battle (cf. 3:2; Ezk 38–39; Rv 16:12–16). To match the massive array of military power assembled against the Lord, Joel called for God to Bring down, O Lord, Your mighty ones, an army of angels to battle His enemies (cf. Ezk 38–39; Rv 19).

3:12. The phrase, let the nations be aroused summons the nations to do their worst, yet they will be no match for God and His mighty ones (Mc 4:11–5:1; Rv 19:11–19). They are to assemble in the valley of Jehoshaphat, the "valley of Yahweh’s judgment," where the Lord will sit to judge them (cf. 3:2). Charles Feinberg noted that, although the nations gathered in the valley of Jehoshaphat "in the white heat of wrath against Israel," it is there that "they will meet the blessed King of Israel, their Protector through the ages, and their Champion in their darkest and blackest hour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will sit ready to judge once and for all the accumulated sins of the nations against Israel" (Charles Lee Feinberg, Joel, Amos, Obadiah [New York: ABMJ, 1948], 35).

3:13–15. This is the harvest of judgment on the nations that are ripe and ready for the sickle and wine press. The vats overflow because their wickedness is great and now ready for reaping in the day of the Lord (cf. Jr 25:12–25; Rv 14:18–19). There will be multitudes, multitudes gathered to face Him in the valley of decision. At that time the sun and moon grow dark and the stars lose their brightness (cf. Jl 2:10; Is 24:21–23), indicating that the heavens themselves will feel the force of the Lord’s judgment.

B. The Lord Is a Refuge for His People (3:16–17)

The closing section of Joel highlights two important themes: First, that the Lord’s salvation and blessing will come from Zion (cf. Gn 14; 2Sm 7), and second, that the Lord is present in Zion (cf. Pss 48; 133).

3:16. The Lord is the mighty lion of Judah and like a lion He will judge and destroy His enemies (Jr 25:30; Rv 5:5). The Lord roarsand utters His voice, making the heavens and the earth tremble (cf. 2:10). He utters His voice from Zion and Jerusalem (cf. Am 1:2), His royal city (cf. Ps 48:2).

3:17. Israel will take refuge in the Lord because they will know that [He is] the Lord [their] God. This is the centerpiece of His taking up residence in Zionso Jerusalem will be holy (Is 11; Zch 14:20–21). In the future, strangers, those who do not worship the Lord, will pass through it no more (cf. Is 35:8–10; 52:1; Nah 1:15; Zch 14:20–21).

C. The Lord Will Bless Judah and Jerusalem Forever (3:18–21)

3:18. In that Day, in the millennial kingdom (the Messianic Age), the blessings of Jerusalem are for the land and the people who will enjoy the land. The mountains dripping with sweet wine and the hills flowing with milk go beyond even the blessing mentioned at the exodus (Ex 3:8; 13:5; 33:3; Lv 20:24; Dt 6:3; Is 55:1). Furthermore, all the brooks of Judah will flow with water—the rains will be plentiful (cf. Jl 2:23) as a sign of God’s blessing (cf. Dt 28:12).

Significantly, Ezekiel also speaks of the time when a spring will go out from the house of the Lord. During the Messianic Age there will be a stream of water flowing south from the temple toward the Dead Sea, growing deeper until the Dead Sea itself becomes fresh water, and along its banks will be all kinds of fruitful trees (cf. Ezk 47:1–12; Rv 22:1–21). The valley of Shittim (Acacia trees) is the streambed west of the Jordan where waters from Jerusalem are carried down the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea.

3:19. In stark contrast to the Lord’s blessings on Israel, the perpetual enemies of God, personified by two of Israel’s most notorious enemies, Egyptand Edom (e.g., 1Kg 14:25–26; 2Kg 23:29–34; Is 34:5–17; Ezk 25:12–14) will become a waste and a desolate wilderness. The cause of their judgment is clear: for the violence done to the sons of Judah, in whose land they have shed innocent blood. The judgment on Egypt and Edom is a fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham (cf. Gn 12:3).

3:20. At this time of final blessing, Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem for all generations in fulfillment of God’s promises (Gn 12:1–3; 15:1–5; 17:1–8; 2Sm 7:16; Ps 105:8–13; Jr 33:24–26).

3:21. The book ends with a summary statement of two ideas. First, the Lord will avenge their blood (cf. Rv 6:10–11). No enemy of Israel will escape the judgment of the Lord. Second, God’s ultimate protection of Israel is certain because He perpetually dwells in Zion as King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Pss 48:2; 87:2; Rv 19:16).

Thus Joel’s prophecy, focusing on the day of the Lord, foresees not only the coming judgment of Israel for her unfaithfulness (1:1–2:11), but also Israel’s deliverance and restoration, when the nation turns and trusts in the Lord (cf. 2:12–32; 3:18–21; Rm 11:26–27). Moreover, it predicts the Lord’s judgment of the nations for their enmity toward Israel (see 3:1–15) for the Lord dwells in Zion (3:21; cf. 2:27; 3:17).


Achtemeier, Elizabeth. Minor Prophets I. The New International Bible Commentary. Vol. 17, edited by Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., and Robert K. Johnston. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996.

Allen, Leslie C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, edited by R. K. Harrison. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976.

Barton, John. Joel and Obadiah. The Old Testament Library, edited by James L. Mays, Carol A. Newsom, and David L. Peterson. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets (2 volumes). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006.

Dillard, Raymond Bryan. "Joel." In The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary, edited by Thomas Edward McComiskey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009.

Feinberg, Charles Lee. Joel, Amos, Obadiah. New York: ABMJ, 1948.

———. The Minor Prophets. Chicago: Moody, 1990.

Hubbard, David Allan. Joel and Amos. The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Vol. 22b, edited by D. J. Wiseman. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1989.

Patterson, Richard D. Joel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 7, edited by Frank E. Gabelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985.


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