Daily Bible Studies
|Series Theme: Studies in Joel|
Introduction to Joel
Who, when or where?
When we approach this book we find it leaves us with a number of questions. There is really no information as to who Joel is, and commentators speculate as to when it was he wrote. We just don't know. Where he was we don't know but we do know he writes about Judah and Jerusalem (therefore presumably in the later history of the divided kingdom) and also makes mention of Edom and Egypt . Beyond this we know little about the background of this book.
The Nature of the Book
Uniquely this book speaks about a plague of locusts that seems to have come on the land utterly devastating it. Chapter 1 speaks in the present tense about what has happened, although being prophecy, it could possibly be a prophetic picture yet to come with the prophet speaking as from the future being in the midst of it (just a possibility!)
When we reach chapter 2 we find him speaking of a plague that is yet to come. Some commentators speculate that this ‘army' is in fact the marauding armies of Syria or Babylon, but the language is so specific and the picture so clear that anything beyond an insect invasion seems unlikely – yet that makes it all the more terrible. There are few pictures so terrifying as a plague of locusts who fill the sky and then utterly devastate the land. A land that has been swept clean in this way has suffered a most serious judgement indeed.
Repentance seems to be able to avert a second plague and God's blessing is promised if that repentance comes. Following that, in the long term, there follows a promise of God's blessing complete with the outpouring of His Spirit, ushering in a new period of salvation. At the end of that period will come the restoration of Jerusalem and Judah , and the nations that had opposed them being brought to account for how they had treated Israel through the centuries.
Thus we will find in this short book, large sweeps of history as the plan and purpose of God is revealed for His people.
Because there are only eleven studies in all, we will do away with the usual ‘Recaps' and simply progress straight through the book. We hope you will find it instructive.
Chapter: Joel 1
Passage: Joel 1:1-4
A. Find Out:
1. Who is speaking and to whom does he speak? v.1,2a
2. What question does he ask? v.2b
3. What does he instruct them to do? v.3
4. What fourfold destruction has come?
1. What has obviously happened?
2. What is Joel's concern?
3. How may similar things happen to us?
Joel's cry may be paraphrased as, “Doesn't anyone realise what is going on?” He first of all calls on the elders, the leaders of the people who should be alert to what goes on in the nation, who should understand the times. Then he enlarges it to include everyone in the land. Excuse me, he says, you all seem very complacent about what is happening (implied); can you think of a time when something like this has ever happened before? What is he referring to? Well obviously there had been a tremendous plague of locusts come into the land which had devastated the vegetation. Put another way, there has been a natural disaster. Why is he so excited about it? He sees it as a wake-up call from God, a call to examine themselves.
Whereas the Bible does not ascribe every natural disaster to the Lord, it does show that He does bring such things to fit His purposes. We are told that in the ‘last times' there will be an increase of such things (Mt 24) in what is a time of godlessness. Whether we see such things as the direct hand of God, or of the work of Satan unleashed, or simply of the world going wrong as God withholds His hand of blessing in the face of ungodliness and unrighteousness, there does seem a clear link between the increase of such things and the moral state of the world. Now if that is so, then this wakeup call needs to come to all Christians to be alert and to pray when we see natural disasters occurring – for the casualties yes, but more for the state of the nation or the world.
1. Am I aware of the state of the world and our nation?
2. Do I pray as I see what is happening?
Chapter: Joel 1
Passage: Joel 1:5-12
A. Find Out:
1. Who does he call to do what, and why? v.5
2. What has happened to the land? v.6,7
3. What does he tell them to do? v.8
4. What has had to be stopped in the Temple ? v.9
5. What natural produce has gone? v.10-12
6. What has been taken away? v.12c
1. What has been the extent of the physical devastation?
2. Who are left mourning, and why?
3. How is what has happened, given a human touch?
The effect of the locusts is devastating. The land has been stripped. The vineyards have been stripped (v.5,7,9-12) so that wine production has ceased, existing stocks have dried up so that both casual drinker (v.5) and sacred drinker (v.9) have been brought to a halt. The fields have also been stripped (v.10) and the grain is gone. This is going to have long-term, ongoing effects. The fig trees have been stripped (v.7), as have all the other fruit trees (v.12). There is no palm oil (v.10). In every way, all of the nation's natural resources have been devastated and taken and there is nothing left. Both in the streets and in the Temple there is mourning. When something like this happens, no one is left untouched. Food and drink are the basics of life, but this isn't just the basics; this is everything. Israel was a land of plenty and the plenty brought a life of fullness and joy. Now all that has been snatched away, the joy of the land has gone (v.12c)
Is this just a locus plague or is the invader (v.6) another real, human nation? The specific description of the trees being stripped and the fields being stripped suggest it is more likely to be the insect variety of invader. Yet in some ways that is what makes it even more humbling. We so often think we have the world under our control and then along comes some pest or disease that wreaks havoc and we realise we aren't.
1. We need humility to be able to see our frailty and weakness.
Chapter: Joel 1
Passage: Joel 1:13-20
A. Find Out:
1. Who are called to do what, and why? v.13
2. What further are they to do? v.14
3. What is about to come? v.15
4. What is the present state of the land? v.16-18
5. What does the writer do? v.19a
6. What is the physical state of the land? v.19b,20
1. What again, is the present state of the land?
2. Yet of what is the prophet afraid?
3. So what does he call them to do?
Joel doesn't dwell on causes; he's simply concerned with what has happened and what he feels is about to happen. First, what has happened. He continues to make reference to the state of the land after the locust plague. It's meant, he repeats, that there is nothing to offer in the Temple (v.13c), the absence of food means absence of joy (v.16), there is nothing left in the storehouses (v.17) and the cattle and sheep are wandering about aimlessly, looking for something to eat. It's like a fire has cleared the land (v.19) and the land is like a barren wasteland (v.20). This is what the land is like after the locusts have been!
But Joel has an even greater concern. He fears this is merely a prelude for the coming of the Lord in a greater judgement. Joel, like a number of other prophets refers to the coming “day of the Lord” (v.15), a day of judgement and destruction. It's as if this present calamity is merely a warming up time for the Lord to come in even greater judgement, so something has to be done.
He thus calls on the priests (v.13), those at the heart of worship, those who should be closest to the Lord, to mourn the state of the land, and call a fast led by the leaders (v.14), to call out to the Lord. He himself does just that (v.19). Why cry to the Lord? In the hope that He will have mercy and judgement will be averted, that's why.
1. Prophets catch a sense of the ‘might-be' and cry out.
2. A threat of judgement calls for our action.
Chapter: Joel 2
Passage: Joel 2:1-6
A. Find Out:
1. What does Joel call for and why? v.1
2. What sort of day will that be? v.2a
3. What will cause it? v.2b
4. How do they transform the land? v.3
5. What are they like? v.4,5
6. What effect do they have? v.6
1. What does Joel clearly think about ‘the day of the Lord'?
2. Check 2:25 . What is this army?
3. Why do people turn pale at the sight or sound of them?
Accounts in history of the coming of a plague of locusts are terrifying. The accounts speak of a massive black cloud that comes with a thunderous sound and which descends and totally ravishes the land. You can try and kill or burn some of them but there are so many it is an impossible task. Joel is speaking of such a coming – again!
Joel, like some of the other prophets speaks of ‘the day of the Lord', a day of God's judgement and, as far as he's concerned, it is coming very soon. He believes these locusts that have come once already, will come again. (An alternative is that 1:4 and its surrounding verses is simply prophetic insight to what is yet to happen). Whatever is the truth here, he is sure there is coming a major devastation of the land and therefore there is a need to call an alarm to warn the people to do something (pray?).
When this ‘army' (described as the locusts in v.25) comes, the sky will go black, the hills will go black (v.2) and when they've gone it will look like a fire has left a desert wasteland (v.3). When they first appear there will be terror in the people (v.6), for there will be a recognition that the people are helpless before this incredible force and nothing can be done. Joel keeps on painting this picture for he wants everyone to understand what is God's plan for this nation!
1. None can withstand the judgement of the Lord.
2. Such judgement is only stopped by whole-hearted repentance.
Chapter: Joel 2
Passage: Joel 2:7-14
A. Find Out:
1. How are these invaders like an army? v.7,8
2. How irresistible are they? v.9
3. How do they seem to change everything? v.10
4. What is this? v.11
5. So what is the call that follows? v.12,13
6. With what hope? v.14
1. Why do you think Joel describes this ‘army' with such detail?
2. What is his ultimate hope?
Joel has been painting a picture of the coming of this invading ‘army' and its effect upon the land. Now he seeks to convey the awfulness of them as they approach, almost in individual detail. Locusts don't just come individually; it is as if they are a drilled army (v.8) that comes purposefully (v.7) and gets in everywhere (v.9). There are so many of them the sky goes dark and the earth vibrates (v.10). This is God's army (v.11), so many they cannot be numbered. This is the day of the Lord, the day of judgement, a terrible judgement that leaves the land naked.
But then comes a call from the Lord. It is a call to whole-hearted repentance, accompanied by fasting and tears (v.12). Don't just make a show of it with torn clothes (v.13), says the Lord. Make sure it's an anguishing heart, a real repentance. Why do this? Because the picture that has been conveyed is so terrible we can't just sit around doing nothing; we must cry out to the Lord for help, but as we do that we must realise how far from Him we have gone. We must do this in the hope that the Lord will relent from bringing this judgement (v.13c) for we know from of old, His nature, and we know He would rather bless than curse. It may just be that He will heed our heart felt repentance and will turn and bless us instead of bringing this terrible judgement upon us. This must always be the hope. This prayer is driven by the awfulness of the judgement portrayed, but also our knowledge of the Lord.
1. Face the truth about the nation and call on the Lord.
2. Trust in the Lord's goodness as you call on Him.
Chapter: Joel 2
Passage: Joel 2:15-22
A. Find Out:
1. What call is repeated? v.15
2. Who are told to come? v.16
3. What are the priests to do? v.17
4. What will be the Lord's response? v.18,19
5. What will He do with the army? v.20
6. Who are told not to be afraid and why? v.21,22
1. What is the part the people of Israel are to play?
2. Of what confidence has Joel when they do that?
A second time Joel calls for the trumpet to be blown to warn of impending disaster (v.15). The trumpet blown was the equivalent to our modern air raid siren. It let people know something was about to happen and action was needed. The action needed here is seen in a call for everyone to gather to God, whoever they were, however young or old, or whatever they were doing (v.16). Nothing was so important that they should not respond. The priests whose role it was to present the people to God, were to gather in the temple and weep and pray before the altar and cry out to God for Him to spare His inheritance.
Then comes something quite remarkable: Joel's knowledge of the Lord leads him to declare what he is sure will happen – God will respond favourably. In other words, whenever God's people cry out to Him in heart-felt repentance, He always responds favourably and relents from his judgement and will, instead, bring a blessing. The Lord will drive away the army of locusts (v.20) and will restore the land speedily so that grain, wine and oil will be readily available again (v19), and so that the wild creatures will find pasture (v.22) and the fruit trees will bear much fruit again. Observe: on the one hand Joel brings this terrible picture of judgement with a call to repentance, but on the other he offers a vision of the outcome if they do repent, as encouragement to repent, and to bring hope for a new future, life with God's blessing.
1. Do we see that repentance is necessary to counter godlessness?
2. When repentance is heart-felt, God will bless.
A. Find Out:
1. What will the Lord give? v.23
2. What will result? v.24
3. For what will the Lord repay them? v.25
4. What will be their state? v.26
5. What will they then know? v.27
1. What is the threefold order of God's provision?
2. How will that contrast with the disaster?
3. What is it to show them?
The focus of the prophecy now turns whole heartedly to the theme of restoration after the natural disaster. The disaster is mentioned (v.25) but only to remind them that it had been at God's hand, and also to contrast with the greatness of His subsequent provision. As much as the disaster had been terrible, now the blessing of provision will be wonderful. This needs observing carefully.
The first element of the Lord's provision is rainfall (v.23). There is nothing like rain to restore the eaten down vegetation. We mustn't take rain for granted for there could have been drought brought by the Lord, but instead He's bringing plenty of rain to restore the Land. The second element of His provision is abundant fruitfulness (v.24). Note the words ‘filled' and ‘overflow'. There is nothing half hearted about this and that in itself is a sign of the Lord's blessing. The final element of the Lord's provision is abundance of food for them to eat. There will be no shortage, they will eat until they are full (v.26). Again, don't take abundance for granted; it is the goodness of God.
The outcome is that these people will see the contrast between the disaster and the subsequent abundant provision and will praise and thank the Lord. They will realise that these contrasts are no mere chance, they are the hand of God that has brought both disaster and blessing to their land. He is the Lord.
1. Do we take our provision for granted?
A. Find Out:
1. What will the Lord then do? v.28a
2. Who will be recipients? v.28b,c,29
3. What will be in the skies? v.30,31a
4. When will that happen? (Be careful!) v.31b
5. Who will be saved? v.32
1. When will God pour out His Spirit?
2. What will follow?
3. What will all that precede?
There are FOUR things (events/seasons) to be noted here. First there is all that has been spoken about previously, repentance of Israel followed by the blessing and restoration by the Lord. We might suggest this is the period between the prophecy and the day of Pentecost. Then, second, there is coming a time when God pours out His Spirit (v.28,29), first seen on the day of Pentecost and then on numerous revivals during the period of church history. The third period is of that near the very end times when they will be increasing natural catastrophes (v.30,31 & Matt 24:29) and this will act as a signpost warning that the ‘day of the Lord', the day of the Lord's final judgement (v.31c) is very near, for that will be the fourth and final phase mentioned here.
We should note that verse 32 would appear to apply to both that present time and the time of blessing and restoration that would follow and the time of the church history that would follow that. The great day of the Lord would appear to be (from Scripture generally) the time of final judgement when it is too late to repent, but up until then, at any time, crying out to the Lord in repentance brings salvation. However dark the times are, there will always be survivors, a remnant called by the Lord, who will remain on the earth as a testimony to the Lord. It happened then and it happened subsequently. Salvation will always be seen on the earth.
1. God is working out a long-term plan. Are we aware of that?
2. At any time before the end, repentance will bring salvation.
A. Find Out:
1. What does the Lord also say He is going to do then? v.1
2. Who will He gather to where? v.2a
3. What will He do there? v.2b
4. Why? v.2c,3
5. Who also is the Lord against? v.4
6. Why? v.5,6
1. What event is being referred to here?
2. Read 2 Chron 20:22-30. What had God done for Jehoshaphat?
3. Why was God bringing this destruction again?
The Lord has just been speaking about the end-times and He now declares that these will be times of restoration of Israel (v.1). Now whether we are living in those times, with Israel having been restored in the middle of the 20th century to the land, or whether this is still yet in the future, only time will tell. Alongside this, possibly after the restoration, is coming a judgement on the nations of the world, (v.2) reminiscent of the destruction that the Lord brought on Jehoshaphat's enemies. There is a reason for this particular judgement; it is because of all that has been done to Israel through the centuries. Israel were the Lord's people, and when nations rise against Israel they are rising against God. In AD70 Jerusalem was destroyed again and Israel scattered to the nations. Whether it happened then or at the earlier destruction in 586BC we don't know, but at the earlier destruction at least, the people of Jerusalem (v.2c,3) were sold off as slaves (see Ob 11) and treated as chattels. They were the Lord's people!
Then the Lord holds Tyre, Sidon and Philistia to account for they too over the centuries had been a thorn in Israel 's side as they had time and time again plundered Israel . They too carried people off into slavery and for that they will have to give an account to the Lord. The curse of this judgement goes with the land, even to the end.
1. Even if we discipline at God's bidding, will we exercise mercy?
2. All nations will have to account for how they dealt with God's people.
A. Find Out:
1. How is the Lord going to judge these other places? v.7,8
2. What is the Lord telling the nations to do? v.9-11
3. Where are they to come and for why? v.12
4. What imagery is used? v.13
5. What physical things will occur? v.15,16a
6. Yet what assurance is given? v.16b
1. How were verses 7 & 8 very specific?
2. How were the following verses far more wide reaching?
3. What is the Lord describing in verses 9 to 16?
The subject of this chapter is primarily judgement. The first seven verses are in respect of specific nations who have dealt badly with Israel when God had been using them to bring discipline or judgement on Israel . That had been no excuse to treat them so badly. This is judgement on the surrounding nations.
When we come to verse 9 we find what seems a much wider call to the nations of the world, to gather together before the Lord to face His judgement. Will the nations realise what is happening? Probably not! It would seem that the Lord is stirring up the nations to rise up in war against Israel , to come intent on destruction until they reach the valley of Jehoshaphat . There, whether they realise it or not, they will encounter the Lord and His judgement. The reference to the sun and moon and stars could perhaps refer to a tremendous destructive storm that the Lord will bring upon these armies. It could be some other destructive force. Whatever it is, it will bring great destruction for all those who would oppose the Lord. That is the clear implication of these verses.
But then come words of assurance for God's people. All of this may be taking place but the Lord will still protect His people. He will guard them, protect them and keep them safe.
1. Do we understand the world's folly that speaks against God.
2. Do we realise that all such people will be held accountable.
A. Find Out:
1. What will be the end outcome of all this? v.17
2. What signs of following blessing are given? v.18
3. Yet where will be desolate and why? v.19
4. What about Judah and Jerusalem ? v.20
5. What will the Lord do for them? v.21
1. What is the end state of Jerusalem shown to be?
2. What is the picture given of Judah at this time?
Whenever this takes place, the outcome will be clear: the nations that had come against Israel will be destroyed at this particular location and the outcome will be so clear that everyone will know that this was a work of God. They will know that Jerusalem is special and that the Lord protects it.
The picture of end-time Judah and Jerusalem is one of great blessing. The picture in v.18 referring to wine, milk and water in abundance shows a land that is receiving the blessing of God. Whether it is literal or figurative, there is coming a supply from God's presence that will transform the desert (v.18c).
In stark contrast to the blessing of Judah and Jerusalem, Egypt and Edom, two nations that had previously been against Israel, will be desolate as a result of the judgement of God.
Note three aspects of the end picture of the land. First, the future of Judah and Jerusalem (v.20) is assured and future generations will dwell there secure. Second, the Lord will pardon the past guilt of the Land. Even their guilt, as the guilt of all men's sin, will come under the Cross. Finally, the Lord Himself will dwell there, His place with His people being restored. The final picture is of the Lord dwelling with His people. No wonder there is blessing, no wonder there is a new security, no wonder there will be future generations. It is all because God is in the midst of His people.
1. Where God is with His people, there is blessing.
2. There is no more secure place than with the Lord.
In these chapters we have seen:
A. The Present & Impending Judgements - the Locust Plague
B. A Future Judgement – the end times & the Day of the Lord
The timing of these events is unclear. Chapter 1 seems to record a disaster that HAS happened but then chapter 2 seems to speak of a similar disaster that is about to happen.
After that ‘second' disaster there is promised a time when God pours out His Spirit on all people, a time of salvation – sure the period of church history. Chapter 3 seems to follow on that time with a time when Jerusalem and Judah are restored and all those nations that were against them are judged. Yet there still seems history after this time, so it is not the ultimate end of all things, this day of the Lord.
As we come to the end of this short book, the following are some of the things we might consider further:
Natural or Divinely Supernatural Disasters
As we commented in the opening studies, we are confronted in this book with the whole concept of natural disasters being, possibly, the specific judgement of God. Keep your eyes open as you read through the Old Testament in particular for such examples.
Nations Not “Getting away with it”
One of the difficult concepts that comes through in this prophecy (especially if we see it in the long-term and not as an immediate challenge) is that of God holding modern nations responsible for things done by their predecessors against Israel. Although that seems true, it is perhaps also true that the modern nations surrounding Israel still hold those same wrong attitudes as their ancestors. There does seem to be seen in Scripture and history a truth that God allows and allows a person or nation leeway up to a point, but then brings judgement, not merely for the most recent wrongs, but also for the accumulated wrongs of longer term history.
Prophetic Long Time Spans
As we just commented in the Summary, the time frames of Joel are uncertain. Peter, filled with the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, declared that that day was a fulfilment of the Joel prophecy (Acts 2:16 -21). Thus Joel seems to have been speaking into a time when he lived and into the time of church history and into some yet future time when there will be a specific judgement of God brought on the nations at the place referred to in this prophecy.
The Significance of our role
Within this prophecy comes a call to repentance and the blessing that is promised to follow is dependent on that repentance. Thus our response, or otherwise, to God's word clearly does determine the future outcome.
The Sovereignty of God
Throughout this prophecy is the clear sense that God is the Lord and that He is working out His sovereign purposes. The disaster of Chapter 1 is attributed to Him, the army of chapter 2 is attributed to Him, and the judgement of chapter 3 is clearly His. Thus there are three disasters being spoken about, one apparently past and two apparently ahead of the prophecy in time, and they are all the work of God dealing with sinful people. The lesson is clearly there: God will not let sinful people and nations escape justice.
Yet within all this is also the picture of the Lord who pours His Spirit out on all who will turn to Him, and who provides salvation for all who will repent and turn to Him. Judgement there certainly is, but also the hope of salvation, restoration and blessing. He is Lord!