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Joel 2:23–32

23 October 2022

Exploring the Scripture

References and evidence within the Book of Joel suggest the prophet probably lived during the time after the return of the Jewish exiles to Jerusalem from Babylon. Joel may have been a “cultic prophet,” who worked with the priests in the temple after it was completed. He appears to be involved in the worship life of Jerusalem, and his voice rings with authority when he encourages the people to repent, fast, and worship.

In Chapter 1 and the start of Chapter 2, we learn a plague of locusts devoured the crops in Judah, causing hunger for both people and animals. Joel refers to the locusts as an army, destroying the land, in punishment for the sins of the Jews. He begs the people to gather to worship God, pray for relief from the plague of locusts, and repent of their sins.

He presents the locusts as the instrument of punishment in God’s hands for the sins of the people. He tells them to fast, mourn, and sanctify all the people, even the aged, infants, and wedding couples who are not usually included in fasting.

Today’s scripture passage begins with a word of hope. The people listened to Joel’s instructions, and repented. God heard their prayers and saw the devastation caused by the locusts.

In response, God sent the rainfall early, to restore the land so crops will grow once again. People will enjoy plenty of grain, wine, and oil. They will eat in plenty. Because of God’s blessings and bounty, the people will worship and praise God. They will know that God is with them. The covenant, which was broken by the people, will be re-established and God will be in their midst. Furthermore, the restoration of their fortunes will be proof there is no god but the Lord.

Verse 28 shifts from the promise of restoration following the plague of locusts to a prophetic vision of the last days, when the Spirit will envelop all the Jews. The people understood the Spirit to be the source of life, prophetic utterances, and revelation. Sons and daughters will prophesy; elderly men will have spiritual dreams; and young men will see visions.

In other words, all people will receive divine revelation directly, instead of relying on the word of prophets. Even slaves, who were considered property rather than people, will experience the Holy Spirit. Joel’s hearers understood the revelations to be visions and dreams of God’s reign.

Verse 30 moves to the cosmic realm, telling of signs in the heavens and on Earth that suggest the last days were arriving. Blood, fire, and smoke were common omens of end times. The sun will be dark, and the moon will turn blood red “before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” (v. 31).

Although the image is a fearful one, the message is still one of salvation. God will save those who have been faithful. The conditional nature of the promise is consistent with the Mosaic covenant. If the people obey God’s commandments, they will be saved and blessed. If not, they will be punished. In this case, the people were repentant, and Joel delights in affirming salvation in the present and in the day of the Lord to come.

Central Ideas

  1. Joel presents a plague of locusts as God’s instrument to punish the Jews for their sins and faithlessness.
  2. When the people repented, Joel called for celebration and rejoicing.
  3. God’s blessing and bounty are evidence that God is truly their God, and the people respond with praise and worship.
  4. In the last days, God’s Spirit of revelation will rest on all people, and even during terrifying disasters, salvation is sure.

Questions to Consider

  1. What is the modern equivalent of a plague of locusts? How are people responding to natural disasters, ecological crises, and global health emergencies?
  2. Read through the Day of Pentecost experience (Acts 2:1–21) noticing Peter’s reference to the Joel scripture in his remarks. What similarities and differences are there in these two situations? Can you think of a modern context for Joel’s words that would be meaningful and helpful?
  3. What kinds of things separate your congregation from God’s presence? What would a call to repentance sound like today?
  4. What is the evidence of God’s bounty and blessing in your congregation? How aware of God’s blessing are the people? How do they respond?
  5. How can you express salvation’s assurance in modern terms?

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