The son of Phatuel, and second in the list of the twelve Minor Prophets. Nothing is known of his life. The scene of his labours was the Southern Israelite Kingdom of Juda, and probably its capital Jerusalem, for he repeatedly refers to temple and altar. The frequent apostrophes to the priests (1:9, 13-14; 2:17) also lead to the inference that Joel himself was of priestly descent.
The seventy-three verses of this small book, in the Massoretic text of the Old Testament, are divided into four, and in the Septuagint and Vulgate into three, chapters, the second and third chapters of the Massoretic text forming one chapter, the second in the Septuagint and Vulgate.
The contents of the Prophecy of Joel may be regarded, taken altogether, as a typical presentation in miniature of the chief themes of prophetic discourse: sombre warnings of the judgment of Jahweh, intended to rouse the people from the existing moral lethargy, and joyful, glowingly expressed tidings of Jahweh's work of salvation, designed to keep alive the faith in the coming of the Kingdom of God. These two fundamental thoughts seem to be united, as the misfortunes of the judgment are a process of purification to prepare the people for the reception of salvation, and are in reality only one aspect of the Divine work of redemption. In the first main division of the Book of Joel (1:2-2:17) the prophecies are threatenings of the day of judgment; the prophecies in the second division, which embraces the rest of the book (2:18-3:21), are consolatory descriptions of the day of grace. The first section is further divided into two discourses on the judgment: Chapter 1:2-20, describes a terrible scourge, a plague of locusts, with which the Prophet's land had been visited; these pests had so completely devoured the fields that not even the material for the meat- and drink-offerings existed. For this reason the priests are to utter lamentations and to ordain a fast. Chapter 2:1-17, repeats the same thought more emphatically: all these plagues are only the forerunners of still greater scourges in the day of the Lord, when the land of the Prophet shall become a wilderness. The people must, therefore, return to Jahweh, and the priests must entreat the Lord in the holy place. the prophecies in the second section are also divided into two discourses: in 2:18-32, the Lord is appeased by the repentance of the nation and gives the blessing of bounteous harvests. Just as in the earlier part the failure of the harvests was a type and foreshadowing of the calamity in the day of judgment, so now the plenty serves as an illustration of the fullness of grace in the kingdom of grace. The Lord will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, and all who call upon His name shall be saved. In chapter 3:1-21, the redemption of Israel is, on the other hand, a judgment upon the heathen nations: the Lord will take vengeance, in the four quarters of the earth, upon those who tyrannized over His people, upon the Philistines, Phoenicians, Edomites, and Egyptians, for the nations are ripe for the harvest in the valley of Josaphat .
Examined as to logical connexion, the four discourses of Joel show a closely united, compact scheme of thought. In regard to form they are a Biblical model of rhetorical symmetry. The law of rhetorical rhythm, which as law of harmony regulates the form of the speeches, also shows itself, particularly, in the regular alternation of descriptions in direct or indirect speech, as in the sections given in the first or third person, and in the apostrophes in the second person singular and plural. The first two speeches are alike in construction: 2:1-11 resembles 1:2-12, and 2:12-17, is like 1:13-20. Also in the latter two speeches there is a verbal similarity along with the agreement in thought; cf. in 3:17 and 2:27, the like expression. The language of Joel is full of colour, rhetorically animated, and rhythmic. The passages from 1:13 sq., and 2:17, are still used in the Liturgy of the Church during Lent. His prophecy of the pouring out of the spirit upon all flesh (2:28-32) was afterwards adopted as the first Biblical text of the first Apostolic sermon ( Acts 2:16-21 ). Joel's discourses of the day of judgment, and of the abundance of grace which Jahweh in the fullness of time shall bestow from Sion form one of the most beautiful pages in the eschatology of the Prophets. Some of his fiery pictures seem even to have been borrowed by the writer of the Apocalypse of the New Testament (cf. Joel 3:13 , and Apocalypse 14:15 ).
The swarm of locusts, which has so frequently received a symbolical interpretation, is no apocalyptic picture; neither is it a description of the progress of a hostile army under the figure of the imaginary advance of locusts. The passages in 2:4-7, "They shall run like horsemen . . . like men of war they shall scale the wall", make it absolutely certain that a hypothetical swarm of locusts was not taken as a symbol of a hostile army, but that, on the contrary, a hostile army is used to typify an actual swarm of locusts. Consequently, Joel refers to a contemporary scourge, and in the rhetorical style of prophecy passes from this to the evils of the day of judgment.
The most difficult problem in the investigation of Joel is the date, and the many hypotheses have not led to any convincing result. The first verse of the book does not convey, as other prophetic books do, a definite date, nor do the discourses contain any references to the events of the period, which might form a basis for the chronology of the Prophet. General history took no notice of plagues of locusts which were of frequent occurrence, and it is an arbitrary supposition to interpret the swarm of locusts as the Scythian horde, which, according to Herodotus (I, 103 sqq.; IV, i), devastated the countries of Western Asia from Mesopotamia to Egypt between the years 630-620 B.C. The Book of Joel has been variously ascribed to nearly all the centuries of the prophetic era. Rothstein even goes so far as to assign the discourses to various dates, an attempt which must fail on account of the close connexion between the four addresses. The early commentators, in agreement with Jerome, placed the era of composition in the eighth century B.C. ; they took Joel, therefore, as a contemporary of Osee and Amos. In justification of this date they pointed out that Joel is placed among the twelve Minor Prophets between Osee and Amos ; further, that among the enemies of Juda the book does not mention the Assyrians, who were anathematized by each Prophet from the time they appeared as a power in Asia. However, in a book of three chapters not much weight can be attached to an argument from silence. Those also who agree in placing the book before the Exile do not agree in identifying the king in whose reign Joel lived. The assignment to the period of King Josias is supported by the fact that Joel takes for his theme the day of the Lord, as does the contemporary Prophet Sophonias ; to this may be added that the anathema upon the Egyptians may be influenced by the battle of Mageddo (608 B.C. ). Later commentators assign the book to the period after the Exile, both because chapter iii assumes the dispersal of the Jews among other nations, and because the eschatology of Joel presupposes the later period of Jewish theology. It is, however, impossible for Joel to have been a contemporary of the Prophet Malachias, because of the manner in which the former looks upon the priests of his period as perfect leaders and mediators for the nation. None of the chronological hypotheses concerning Joel can claim to possess convincing proof.
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