This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction
WHO IS JOEL?
“The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel.”
And that’s the sum total of our knowledge about the prophet. There are some theories about him (he lived in Judah, he lived in Jerusalem, he was a Levite) but it’s all conjecture based on the sort of things he writes about. Joel was a common name at the time – there are a dozen other Joels in the OT but none can be connected with the author of this book.
WHEN WAS JOEL WRITTEN?
There are many theories, none of them conclusive, about the date of writing. Most are based on the fact that he talks about priests, but not kings, and external sources which are similar enough that it seems they have quoted Joel or Joel has quoted them. Here are the three main theories:
1) Joel was written around 800 BC – when the boy king Joash was on the throne, hence the lack of talk about kings. this puts him as an early prophet, around the same time as Amos (they talk about some similar conditions – drought etc) who was then quoted by others.
2) Joel was written around 400 BC – after the exile in Babylon, when there was no longer a king of Israel, roughly the same time as Malachi. This makes him a very late prophet, who was quoting other prophets in his work.
3) The book was written at two different times – the first section around 800 BC by the prophet Joel, and the second section around 400 BC by a different person.
WHAT IS JOEL ABOUT?
The first half of the book is a narrative by Joel. Through all of Joel 1:1-2:17 God speaks only once, in verse 12. Joel describes the current state of the nation, crippled by a natural disaster. Then he shares a vision he receives of a worse disaster yet to come. He calls Israel to react to the situation they are in by crying out to God.
The second half of the book is mostly God speaking. Joel only breaks in to respond to God’s message twice (a total of six verses – 3:9-11, 14-16). The first section is all talking about disaster, but the second section is more encouraging. God speaks mostly of the restoration of his people. The big difference between these two sections is part of the reason some scholars believe they were written at different times, by different people.
Joel breaks down into five main parts, within the two basic sections.
Section 1 – Joel speaks
1:1 – by Joel. And that’s all we know about him.
1) Current Disaster
1:2-1:12 – a record of the present disaster
1:13-1:20 – call to respond
2) Coming Disaster
2:1-2:11 – prophecy of coming disaster
2:12 – God speaks
2:13-2:17 – call to respond
Section 2 – God speaks
3) Blessings after Reconciliation
2:18-2:27 – God promises blessings
2:28-2:32 – But wait, there’s more!
3:1-3:8 – God speaks of coming judgment of nations
3:9-3:11 – Joel responds
3:12-3:13 – God speaks
3:14-3:16 – Joel responds
3:17-3:21 – God speaks a promise of restoration
KEY VERSE: “Wake up, your drunkards, and weep!” (verse 5)
There are two sections in this passage. Verses 1-12 are a description of the current state of the nation – in the midst of a crisis. Verses 13-20 are Joel’s response, his call to the people to react.
This is a wake up all to the people. Joel is calling them to open their eyes to the mess they’re in. Crops have failed. They can’t make money. They can’t make offerings to God. They can’t even FEED themselves. The promised land of milk and honey is failing them. Joel begs them to response to the misery they are in. He wants them to recognise their need for God’s intervention, and in their desperation, to turn to Him.
How did things get so bad without anyone calling out to God? Why is it crisis time and Joel still has to beg the people to go to God? God’s people have stopped depending on him. In the Tanya Paraphrase this passage might go something like this:
“Wake up and see the mess you’re in! Despair over your desperate situation! You might not care about your spiritual poverty, your distance from God, but when your material life is threatened you notice that! So wake up and take a look around! You can’t support yourselves anymore, you’ve lost God’s promise. You are far from him, and maybe now you’ll realise that.”
Sometimes things have to get really bad before I stop and realise that I can’t do it alone. Until I recognise how bad things are, how powerless I am, I don’t recognise my need for God. When I see things as they really are, I realise that I can’t fix it all by myself. I need God to intervene in my life.
What I LOVE about this passage is that it encourages me to cry out to God when life is hard. Crying out to God is not something those less-than-perfect Christians* do because they’ve screwed up and forgotten about God. Again. (*That wouldn’t be any of us, would it?!)
Crying out is the reaction God WANTS from us. Over and over throughout the Old Testament God promises to hear when his people cry out to him. He WANTS us to cry out to him! Crying out to God should be our first response when life is tough. Trouble reminds us that we NEED him. The benefit of troubles is that they can usher us into new depths with God. When things go wrong and I KNOW I can’t fix it I have a desperation that prompts me to seek God with an EARNESTY and INTENSITY I don’t have at other times.
In good times we relax and enjoy God. In hard times, however, we grow into new DEPTHS. Instead of blaming God when life sucks, we are to see an opportunity. Our instant response should be to turn to God with all our hearts – all our emotion and passion and intensity – and SEEK Him.
- Can you think of an example from your own life where problems you experienced actually deepened your understanding of/relationship with God?
- Think of an area of your life that is troubling you right now. What new depths might God be wanting to lead you into through this hard experience?
- Take a minute to try crying out to God about your troubles. You can speak out loud, or write down your thoughts – it doesn’t matter how you express your cry. Sometimes I turn my cries into songs. The important thing is to be honest – to see your situation for what it is, to recognise your need for God to come and change things. Cry out to God from that place of honesty, and ask him to do what only he can.