JOEL (jō'ĕl, Heb. yô’ēl, Jehovah is God)
JOEL jō’ əl (יוֹאֵ֔ל, Yahu is God; LXX and NT ̓Ιωήλ, G2727). A common name widely distributed among the tribes of Israel and theologically significant considering its etymology. 1. Samuel’s first-born son (
2. A Kohathite Levite, son of Azariah (
3. A prince (nāsî) in the tribe of Simeon (
4. A man of the tribe of Reuben who lived on the eastern side of the Jordan (
5. A chief (rōsh) of the tribe of Gad in the land of Bashan (
6. A chief man (rōsh) of the tribe of Issachar (
7. One of David’s “
8. Chief (sār) of 130 brethren, all descendants of Gershom, who helped to bring the Ark of God to Jerusalem in the reign of David (
9. Son of Pedaiah and a chief officer (nāgîd) over the half-tribe of Manasseh during David’s reign (
10. A Kohathite Levite, son of Azariah, who helped to sanctify the Temple in the reform under Hezekiah (
11. Son of Nebo, a contemporary of Ezra, who had married a foreign woman (
12. Son of Zichri and overseer (pāqîd) of the people living in the postexilic community in Jerusalem (
B. T. Dahlberg, “Joel,” IDB, II (1962), 926.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(yo’el, popularly interpreted as "Yahweh is God"; but see HPN, 153; BDB, 222a):
(1) The firstborn of Samuel (
(2) A Simeonite prince (
(4) A Gadite chief, perhaps the same as (3) (
(5) A Levite ancestor of Samuel (
(6) A chief of Issachar (
(7) One of David’s mighty men (
(8) A Levite (
(9) David’s tribal chief over half of Manasseh (
(10) A Levite of Hezekiah’s time (
(11) One of those who had married foreign wives (
(12) A Benjamite "overseer" in Jerusalem (
(13) Ioel, the prophet (
David Francis Roberts
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 theLITERATURE
I. The Prophet.
The Book of Joe 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; 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 (
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
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
There is a sharp turn at
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, 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 Palestine and travel southward. So the wind which destroys the locust (
4. Indications of Date:
The Book of Joe 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 Joe 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 Joe has found a place so high up in the collection. The three indisputably post-exilian books stand together at the end. If Joe 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 Joe 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
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 Joe 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 Joe 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 Joe should have quoted from this little book or expanded thoughts contained in it. A very elaborate comparison of Joe 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 Joe 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 Joe 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 Joe 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 (
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 (
(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 (
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 (
(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":
(b) "Parted My Land":
Then again, the expression "parted my land" (
(c) "Scattered among the Nations":
Whether the expression "scattered among the nations" (
(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?" (
(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 (
5. View of Professor Merx:
In view of all these perplexing questions, Professor Ad. Merx had some reason for describing the Book of Joe as the "sorrow’s child" (Schmerzenskind) of Old Testament exegesis; and he published in 1879 a work, Die Prophetic des Joe 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 Joe is post-exilian, he makes a comparison of the book with preceding prophetical literature, in order to show that Joe 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 (
As to the precise date: not only is the second temple standing but the city is surrounded by a wall (
But now, if the older prophets were seriously studied (compare
To relieve his mind, Joe 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 Joe 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
Accordingly, in the view of Merx, the whole Book of Joe 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 (
6. Connection with the New Testament:
It is this last element in the prophecy of Joe 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 (
(Besides that cited above).--Credner, Der Proph. Joe ubersetzt u. erklart (1831); Wuensche, Die Weissagungen des Proph. Joe 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.