Have you read the prophet Joel lately? Many people nowadays don’t like to read the Old Testament prophets because they think they were pessimists, and too much negativity runs about our world today. They prefer a happier biblical resource, like Mark, which in reality is a book that’s fairly negative in its message about the disciples. So not reading Joel because you perceive his message as probably too negative for you is on flimsy footing.
We’re not certain when Joel lived, but his home base was probably in Judah, the southern portion of the holy land after Solomon’s kingdom was divided. Judah’s reputation was good, at first, since it was faithful to the Lord. As time moved on, however, the nation grew less loyal in its allegiance. So Joel rose to speak God’s will to the community.
He began his prophetic ministry around the time of a locust invasion, when Judah’s crops and livelihood were nearly ruined by the insects. Joel saw this invasion as a picture of the coming invasion of Judah’s enemies, which he interpreted as an act of judgment by God. A drought soon followed the locusts, adding to his sense of judgment. His message called for repentance and change, a return of loyalty to the Lord. Perhaps God’s judgment might be averted.
A major idea in the book of Joel is “the day of the Lord,” which appears in 1:15, 2:1, 11, and 3:14. In 2:31, this day is called “the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (NIV). This day of terrible judgment was close at hand, and “…it will come like destruction from the Almighty” (1:15, NIV). Signs of its coming were visible in the scarcity of food, seed, and grain. The nation’s food supply was in jeopardy. This signaled God’s wrath. Plus, enemy armies gathered to march as the locust had marched, scaling walls and plunging through defenses. This was a time to tear your garments in remorse. “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:13, NIV). This was his hopeful message. If people repented, God might relent. Disaster was avoidable.
Joel promised a time of blessing by God if the people and nation repented. The bounty of nature could be restored (see 2:20-25). Also, Joel’s most memorable prophecy shouted hope to the nation. The Holy Spirit would come upon the repentant people. The day of the Lord could be, not a time of judgment, but a time of renewal when “…I will pour out my Spirit…” (2:29). There might be portents in the sky (the moon turning to blood), but all who should happen to call on the Lord’s name would be redeemed (2:32).
Joel’s message for Judah is clearly one of hope. The nations at large will be judged but God will protect those faithful to him. He will live on Mount Zion. Judah and Jerusalem will be blessed with inhabitants for eternity (3:20).
Joel is a hopeful prophet, whom you would do well to read.