THE prophecy of Joel is concerned with a natural calamity which had befallen his country, and from which, as his text, he educes a call to repentance, seeing in it the harbinger of the great day of judgment. Upon their repentance the people are promised present safety and blessing, and a future outpouring of the Spirit, not confined to them only, accompanied with a judgment on heathen nations, after which shall ensue an era of holiness and peace. This is the subject-matter of the book, stated generally.
The details are equally simple. The prophecy is usually divided into two parts, consisting respectively of Joel 1. — Joel 2:17, and Joel 2:18 to the end. These parts are, however, closely united, the latter growing naturally out of the former, and both forming one connected whole, representing chastisement, repentance, pardon, blessing, outpouring of the Spirit, punishment of enemies, final establishment of the kingdom of God. The book may be analyzed as follows: The prophet begins by calling attention to a terrible invasion of locusts, hitherto unparalleled in the land, which has cut off the vine and the fig tree, and all the fruits of the ground, so that there is left no material for offering and libation. For this he calls on Judah to weep "like a virgin girded with sackcloth" (Joel 1:8); the husbandman and the vinedresser must mourn over their stricken harvest, and the priests are themselves to lament, and to proclaim a fast and a solemn supplication for all the people. In this visitation is an omen of something greater, more terrible — "the day of the Lord" (Joel 1:15). This plague of locusts, accompanied by a long-continued drought, which destroyed all fodder for cattle and all hope of another harvest, was the harbinger of a severer judgment (Joel 1:16-20). For these ills the only remedy is true and immediate repentance. Before he dilates on this subject, the prophet again depicts the onslaught of the locusts and the fearful results of their devastations (Joel 2:2-11); and then he bids the priests sound their trumpets and summon the people to fasting, mourning, and prayer, that they may avert the wrath of God and prepare for the day of judgment (Joel 2:12-17).
The prophet's appeal was not ineffectual: priests and people fasted, mourned, and prayed, and the Lord accepted their repentance; so the second part of the book commences with the statement, "Then was the Lord jealous for his land, and had pity on his people" (Joel 2:18). He promises the removal of the scourge and the return of plenty, so that the heathen might no longer have cause to deride them (vers. 19, 20). Land and beasts and men may now rejoice; abundant rain shall fall, and the crops shall be rich; and barn and vat shall be full to overflowing; and, inspired by gratitude, the people shall praise the Lord, the Giver of all good (vers. 21-27). Then, some day, they shall receive large spiritual blessings; there shall be an effusion of the Spirit upon all flesh, which shall be attended by wonders in heaven and earth — a source of terror to the enemies of piety, but the deliverance and glorification of the Church of God. In those days shall be the judgment of the nations according to the attitude they have assumed towards Israel, according as they have yielded themselves unto, or resisted, the Spirit poured forth. The prophet mentions, as types of hostile nations, certain neighbouring peoples who have vexed and cruelly treated the Jews, and denounces on them just retribution (Joel 3:1-8). He calls on all who love goodness to engage in a holy war against the enemies of God; he cries to God himself to send his mighty ones forth for the final contest of good and evil; he sees the countless multitudes that throng the place of judgment, and the Lord himself coming in awful majesty to utter the final sentence and to be the Refuge of his people, who alone shall dwell in the new Jerusalem (vers. 9-17). The land shall overflow with Divine blessing, fertilizing the very valley of Shittim, the most unpromising spot; hostile powers shall be utterly overthrown; but Judah and Jerusalem shall abide for ever, and none shall evermore make them afraid (vers. 18-21).
Such is the argument of the prophecy. The question remains — Is this description of a plague of locusts to be taken as the narrative of a literal fact, or as a metaphorical representation of an invasion by a hostile army? It is supposed that the four kinds of locusts mentioned (Joel 1:4) adumbrate four enemies of the Jewish people, though all commentators are not agreed as to the particular nations intended. The earlier exegetes saw in them Tiglath-Pileser, Shalmaneser, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar; later critics find the Assyrians and Chaldeans, the Medes and Persians, the Macedonians, and the Romans; or, the Babylonian, Syro-Macedonian, Roman, and anti-Christian powers. Hengstenberg does not limit the metaphorical sense to any particular invaders, but refers it to all the enemies of the spiritual Israel in all ages of the world. We have no hesitation in asserting that the literal view is the correct one, though doubtless, under the actual visitation, other judgments and other truths are signified. The allegorical interpretation is maintained by great names, both ancient and modern, and is supported by the following arguments.
1. The description is too terrible to be used of any mere plague of locusts.
2. Many of the details do not apply to the known habits of locusts, or to the devastation caused by them, but could be used only of the attacks of hostile armies.
3. The agents in this plague are alluded to as responsible.
4. The scourge comes from the north, whereas locusts are brought into Palestine from the south.
5. The time of an invasion of locusts could never be described as "the day of the Lord." In reply to all such allegations, it must be observed generally that, although we hold that the prophet is depicting a calamity which had happened literally and truly, nothing forbids us from allowing that he beheld therein a figure of future events, and in his description of the past mingled terms which are appropriate to what he foresaw. As all the prophets, Joel was carried beyond the immediate present, and spoke words which had a sense deeper than he knew, and which had yet, or which have yet, to find their fulfilment. It cannot be denied that the actual language describes a present, not a future, judgment. The prophet calls the people to repentance in the face of an existing plague; he bids the old men bear witness that the calamity is unprecedented; he narrates the matter with simple perfects; he states historically (Joel 2:18, 19) the effect of the repentance which he had urged upon the people, and to which they had devoutly betaken themselves. There is here no prophetic use of a preterite in describing a future event; there is no mark of an allegory being intended; the prophet has before his eyes the infliction which he portrays in such fervent language; he calls on the people to fast and weep, not for a distant invasion of imaginary enemies, but to deprecate present ruin which was palpable and unmistakable. So much premised, we may briefly notice the arguments mentioned above, which are maintained by Hengstenberg, Pusey, and others.
1. and 2. The accounts of the effects produced by an invasion of locusts, which are given by modern travellers and naturalists, confirm in all points the picturesque description of Joel, and prove that it is not inaccurate or exaggerated. The following passage from Van-Lennep disposes of most of the objections which have been offered to the prophet's language.
"The young locusts," he says, "rapidly attain the size of the common grasshopper, and proceed in one and the same direction, first crawling, and at a later period leaping, as they go, devouring every green thing that lies in their path. They advance more slowly than a devouring fire, but the ravages they commit are scarcely inferior or less to be dreaded. Fields of standing wheat and barley, vineyards, mulberry orchards, and groves of olive, fig, and other trees are in a few hours deprived of every green blade and leaf, the very bark being often destroyed. Their voracity is such that, in the neighbourhood of Broosa, in the year 1856, an infant, having been left asleep in its cradle under some shady trees, was found not long after partly devoured by the locusts. The ground over which their devastating hordes have passed at once assumes an appearance of sterility and dearth. Well did the Romans call them 'the burners of the land,' which is the literal meaning of our word 'locust.' On they move, covering the ground so completely as to hide it from sight, and in such numbers that it often takes three or four days for the mighty host to pass by. When seen at a distance, this swarm of advancing locusts resembles a cloud of dust or sand, reaching a few feet above the ground, as the myriads of insects leap forward. The only thing that momentarily arrests their progress is a sudden change of weather; for the cold benumbs them while it lasts. They also keep quiet at night, swarming like bees on the bushes and hedges until the morning sun warms them and revives them and enables them to proceed on their devastating march. They 'have no king' nor leader, yet they falter not, but press on in serried ranks, urged in the same direction by an irresistible impulse, and turn neither to the right hand nor to the left for any sort of obstacle. When a wall or a house lies in their way, they climb straight up, going over the roof to the other side, and blindly rush in at the open doors and windows. When they come to water, be it a mere puddle or a river, a lake or the open sea, they never attempt to go round it, but unhesitatingly leap in and are drowned, and their dead bodies, floating on the surface, form a bridge for their companions to pass over. The scourge thus often comes to an end, but it as often happens that the decomposition of millions of insects produces pestilence and death. History records a remarkable instance which occurred in the year 125 before the Christian era. The insects were driven by the wind into the sea in such vast numbers that their bodies, being driven back by the tide upon the land, caused a stench which produced a fearful plague, whereby eighty thousand persons perished in Libya, Cyrene, and Egypt. The locust, however, soon acquires its wings, and proceeds on its way by flight, whenever a strong breeze favours its progress. Our attention has often been attracted by the sudden darkening of the sun in a summer sky, accompanied by the peculiar noise which a swarm of locusts always makes moving through the air, and, glancing upward, we have seen them passing like a cloud at a height of two or three hundred feet. Some of them are constantly dropping to the earth, and, after resting awhile, are driven by a common impulse to rise again and proceed with the wind, so that, besides the principal cloud, single locusts or a few together may be seen in almost any part of the sky. During a great flight, they sometimes drop so thickly upon the ground that it is impossible to step without treading upon some of them."
It will be seen from this extract that Joel's description is exact in every particular, though coloured by poetic fancy and enriched by ornamental diction. It is to be noted that in it no mention is made of injury to persons or buildings. If a hostile invasion were intended, this omission would not be found; the mischief would not be confined to cattle and vegetable productions. Many of the details of the locust-flight could only be applied to human enemies by a violent straining of metaphorical language or by assuming that the prophet used incongruous accessories in order to complete his picture.
3. As to the morality of the agent, proof of which the objectors find in its being called (Joel 1:6) "a nation" (goi), and being said to have "done great things" (Joel 2:20), we may remark that the locusts are figuratively represented as an army invading a land, marshalled in due order, and acting in concert. So in Proverbs 30:25, 26 the ants and the conies are called "a people" (am), and Homer ('Iliad,' 2:87) talks of "the nations of bees." In assigning, as the cause of their destruction, their exultation at the great ruin they had caused, Joel is using the language of poetry, and does not formally attribute responsibility to these irrational instruments of punishment. By the Mosaic Law, irrational creatures had to pay the penalty for injuries inflicted by them (Exodus 21:28, etc.), and it is no great effort of imagination to represent the locusts as boasting of their evil achievements, and suffering accordingly.
4. It is not true that this pest came only from the south. Any wind might bring it. Locusts are found in the Syrian desert above Galilee, and a north wind would spread them over Palestine; the same wind, continuing, would drive them into the wilderness of Arabia, "a land desolate and barren;" while, with a little variation of direction, part might be carried into the Dead Sea and part into the Mediterranean. If "the northerner," or "the northern army," could be taken to mean the Assyrians, because they usually attacked from that quarter, the rest of the description is wholly inapplicable. No Assyrian army was ever driven into the Arabian desert, with its van in the eastern sea and its rear in the western, and left to perish in the waters, tainting the air around.
5. The expression, "the day of the Lord," is not applied merely to the plague of locusts. The prophet speaks of it as" at hand," not as yet actually present. He sees in the existing calamity a token and a presage of a greater judgment, when all sin should be punished and all wrong righted — a foretaste of that fearful day of which Isaiah (Isaiah 2:12-17) speaks, to culminate some time in a final award given to all the world. Looking thus beyond the present affliction to what it portended and imaged, well might the prophet cry, "Alas for the day I" and mingle with the details of the scourge which lay upon the land the terrors that shall accompany the final consummation.
In Messianic prophecy we have generally to distinguish two ideas — the coming of Jehovah, and the coming of the Son of David. If we except the doubtful expression in Joel 2:23, where for "the former rain" of the Authorized Version some render" a teacher of righteousness" (which translation does not suit the immediate context), we have in Joel no plain allusion to the personal Redeemer; but he is very copious on the advent of Jehovah and the day of the Lord. This theophany brings with it a large outpouring of grace and a display of avenging judgment. Both these aspects are represented in this prophecy. The promise of the plentiful effusion of the Holy Spirit was held by St. Peter (Acts 2.) to have been fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost came down to dwell in the church, and his gracious influence was not confined to one nation or one class of people, but was poured alike on Jew and Gentile, and on the highest and humblest of society. Doubtless there had been partial fulfilments of this prediction before St. Peter's time, as doubtless there have been further fulfilments since; but the accomplishment, which was to continue to the end, began to be seen in larger measure then, and forcibly vindicated the apostle's notice. The appearance of Jehovah in judgement is described in awful terms, which are reproduced in our Savior's delineation of the judgement-day and in the Apocalypse of St. John. All nations are assembled before the Lord; the great contest between good and evil is being decided; all nature sympathizes in the unimaginable strife; the struggle ends; the enemies of the Lord are wasted and consumed, while God's people are victorious and largely blessed, their holy influence spreads widely around, for the Lord dwells among them and fills them with his grace.
2. AUTHOR AND DATE.
"Joel the son of Pethuel" — that is all that we know for certain concerning this prophet; every other detail about him is inferential or conjectural. His name is explained by St. Jerome to mean "beginning," or "God is;" but is better interpreted "Jehovah is God." Other persons in Holy Scriptures have borne the name, e.g. Samuel's eldest son, who did not walk in his good father's steps (1 Samuel 8:2), a son of Josibiah (1 Chronicles 4:35), one of David's warriors (1 Chronicles 11:38), and a Levite under the same king. (1 Chronicles 15:7). Pseudo-Epiphanius, who, in his 'Lives of the Prophets.' gives many legendary stories concerning these personages asserts that he was of the tribe of Reuben, and born at Bethom, or Bethhoron, identified with Beit Ur, a place ten miles north-west of Jerusalem. Here, too, he is said to have been buried. We know not the grounds on which this tradition rests. Equally insecure is the opinion held by many that he was a priest or Levite; the only argument in favour of the notion being that he often mentions the offerings and festivals of the temple service; while, on the other hand, he addresses the priests as a class to which he did not belong; "Ye priests... . ye ministers." he says (Joel 1:13). and he calls upon them officially to proclaim the fast which he enjoined. We may affirm with tolerable certainty that he was a native of Judaea, and exercised his prophetic office in that quarter of the Holy Land, probably at Jerusalem. His mission was to Judah, as Hosea's had been to Israel. He exhorts the priests as though living among them (Joel 1:13, 14); he speaks of the sacrifices of the temple (Joel 1:9, 13); he addresses the inhavitants of Jerusalem (Joel 2:23); it is Jerusalem which he sees surrounded and threatened (Joel 2:9); the trumpet is to be sounded in Zion (Joel 2:15); the house of the Lord is before his eyes (Joel 1:9); deliverance is to be in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem (Joel 2:32); the captivity of Judah is to be brought again (Joel 3:1); the nations are to be chastised for their treatment of the Judaeans (Joel 3:2-8); the promised blessings are all destined for Zion (Joel 3:20, 21). There is throughout the book no mention of Israel, no recognition of its separate existence. So it is evident that we have strong ground for affirming that the scene of Joel's prophecy was Jerusalem.
But when we come to inquire the date of our prophet, we are at once landed in a very difficult question. Joel himself tells us nothing definite concerning this matter. He does not, as so many of his brother-prophets do, say under what king or kings he prophesied; and we are left to gather our conclusions from internal evidence. How uncertain this is, and how likely to lead one astray, may be inferred from the widely differing results at which critics have arrived. Some consider Joel to be the earliest of all the prophets; others regard him as the latest, alleging that he composed his book after Nehemiah's reformation, and that the prophecy is only a concoction of earlier writings, especially of Ezekiel (see Merx, 'Die Proph. des Joel'). St. Jerome asserts that he was a contemporary of Hosea, and tradition generally assigns him to the early part of that period. There seems no reason to doubt that Amos quotes Joel in Amos 1:2, when he says, "The Lord will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem;" for he brings in the sentence abruptly, and as if citing from some writing well known; whereas in Joel (Joel 3:16) it occurs naturally as part of a whole paragraph in due connection with what precedes and follows. Also Amos concludes with promises of blessings very similar to those of Joel, and quite in the same strain (comp. Amos 9:13 and Joel 3:18). Other passages, too, seem to be reminiscences of the older prophet; e.g. Amos 7:3 compared with Joel 2:13; Amos 7:4 with Joel 1:20. As Amos prophesied during the time that Uzziah and Jeroboam II. were contemporaneous, Joel must have lived earlier, before the beginning of Uzziah's reign, thus exercising his office previously to Hosea. Other facts lead apparently to the same conclusion. The only enemies mentioned in the book are the Phoenicians, Philistines, Edomites, and Egyptians; the author says nothing of invasions of Assyrians, Babylonians, or Syrians. It seems incredible that he should not have enumerated these among hostile nations, if he had prophesied after their attacks. The most serious Aramaean invasion of Judah occurred at the end of the reign of Joash, when "the host of Syria came up against him: and they came to Judah and Jerusalem, and destroyed all the princes of the people from among the people, and sent all the spoil of them unto the King of Damascus" (2 Kings 12:7; 2 Chronicles 24:23). Had this great blow been struck lately, Joel could not have refrained from noticing it; he therefore lived before this catastrophe. Further, the sin of idolatry is nowhere mentioned, and the regular worship of Jehovah is everywhere presupposed. Under the three monarchs preceding Joash, idolatry was prevalent; and under Joash himself pure worship was lamentably degraded as soon as the reverent hand of Jehoiada the high priest was withdrawn; so that it is concluded that Joel's prophecy must be set in the earlier part of Joash's reign, when the young king was under tutelage. This would account for his not being mentioned amongst the various classes whom the prophet summons to penitence, in ch. 1. and 2. Plainly, also, the Assyrians had not yet endangered the peace of Judah. From the enumeration of the enemies too an argument is drawn. The Philistines and Edomites attacked Judaea in the days of Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:10, etc.), but they were not punished for their revolt till the times of Amaziah son of Joash, and Uzziah his successor (2 Chronicles 25:11; 26:6). Therefore Joel's mission falls between the sin and its chastisement; i.e. between the reigns of Jehoram and Amaziah. The above arguments have seemed to many critics sufficient to fix the date of Joel's prophecy. But they may be pressed too far. Little importance must be attached to the prophet's silence concerning the Assyrians. He speaks (Joel 3:2) of all the nations who are hostile to Judah, and, though he selects four for special mention, he does not by this exclude all others. And, in fact, it is certain that the Assyrians were a peril to all the dwellers in Palestine long before the period now under review. Balaam had spoken (Numbers 24:22) of captivity at their hands; and the monuments show that Ahab had encountered them when he joined Benhadad of Damascus in his confederacy against Shalmaneser II., and was defeated with great loss on the Orontes. Jehu, too, who lived in the same time as Joash, paid tribute to the Assyrians. And as to the three nations named by Joel — the Philistines, Edomites, and Phoenicians — the same are denounced by Amos (Amos 1:6-15), who lived later still; and therefore no definition of time can be derived from their mention by our prophet. They were at most only petty, vexatious enemies, whose plundering raids were not to be compared with the onset of great nations, such as the Assyrians and Chaldeans. Nothing certain can be inferred from the place of Joel in the Hebrew canon, which is not arranged in accurate chronological order. In the Septuagint, Joel stands fourth, being placed after Micah, who stands third; and, although the present order may be supported on traditional grounds, these will not bear the investigation of modern criticism.
We have seen that, if it be conceded that Amos quotes Joel, a limitation as to the date of the latter is at once afforded. Some late writers, e.g. Scholz and Merx, have assigned him to post-exilian times, and one indeed relegates him to the Maccabean period. Their arguments may be seen in Knaben-bauer, pp. 189-194; they are very far from convincing, and are shattered by the fact (if it be fact) that Isaiah quotes Joel, or has him in mind when he writes certain passages. The paragraph in Isaiah (Isaiah 13:6), "The day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty," is cited verbatim from Joel, including the alliteration in the original, and the remarkable use of the name Shaddai," Almighty." In the same chapter of Isaiah there are other reminiscences of the earlier seer: as Isaiah 13:10 compared with Joel 2:10, 31, where the substance, if not the words, are similar; Isaiah 13:13 with Joel 3:15, 16; Isaiah 13:8 with Joel 2:6. Other prophets must have made use of Joel, unless we consider him a wholesale plagiarist, who composed a cento from various writers, and claimed inspiration for a mere collection of extracts — an idea dishonouring and inconceivable. Thus Obadiah has many points of contact with Joel. Comp. Obadiah 1:11, "cast lots upon Jerusalem," with Joel 3:3; Obadiah 1:10, "violence against thy brother Jacob," with Joel 3:19; Obadiah 1:15 with Joel 1:15, etc. So, again, Zechariah has many similarities of wording and meaning. This will appear at once on a comparison of Joel 2:30-32 with Zechariah 12:2, 9; 14:1, 5-11. The internal indications of date being so far precarious, we must not omit anything that may help towards some conclusion. One such hint is found in the name, "the valley of Jehoshaphat" (Joel 3:2), which is possibly a proof that Joel lived after that king, and, by the symbolical use of that locality, refers to some event that had happened there, and this can be nothing else than the defeat of the Moabites and their allies, narrated in 2 Chronicles 20:22, etc. This disposes of the theory of Bunsen ('Gott in der Geseh.,' 1:321), that Joel prophesied soon after the schism of the ten tribes, when Jerusalem had been plundered by Shishak, in the middle of the tenth century B.C. This critic supports his position by a reference to the statement in Joel 3:19, that Egypt and Edom shall be chastised for their violence against the children of Judah, the violence being the capture of Jerusalem by Shishak, in which event he supposes that the Edomites took part. And he deems that the punishment of this onslaught was effected when Asa defeated Zerah the Ethiopian at Mareshah (2 Chronicles 14:9, etc.), and that, as this judgment is represented as future, Joel lived before Asa's time. But there is no proof whatever that the Edomites took part in Shishak's attack; nor were they punished at this time, as they ought to have been; nor would the defeat of the Ethiopian have been in Joel's eyes a judgment on the Egyptians. The unfavourable mention of the Philistines and Phoenicians is accounted for by their capture of Jerusalem in the reign of Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:16, 17).
It remains to notice the arguments of those critics who assign Joel to post-exilian times. They are thus summarized by a recent commentator (Knabenbauer).
1. The commonwealth is supposed to be so small that the sound of a trumpet blown in Zion would summon all the inhabitants to a solemn assembly; and that one invasion of locusts produced a dearth of corn and wine; and the authority was vested in the elders and priests; which state of things could be found only after the return.
2. A strict observation of the Law and of ceremonies is taken for granted; there is no idolatry; the people's sins are not censured; and no sincere conversion to God is urged, as in earlier prophecies. Such a condition suits no age before the Captivity.
3. In plain contrast to the prophets of preceding times, Joel confines himself to enjoining external acts of penitence; he is at one with the most prejudiced of Jews, and thinks that salvation belongs to them alone.
4. His whole prophesy is derived from the writings of previous prophets.
5. There is no order or method in his book, because he merely compiled "an eschatological edifice" from the study of other authors, without any attempt at logical arrangement.
How false and frivolous are most of these allegations is apparent from what has been already said, but they may be answered seriatim.
1. Nothing can be inferred from Joel's mention of the call of the trumpet, except that, being in Jerusalem, he summons the inhabitants to assemble. Besides, the summons may have extended much further; as in Leviticus 25:9, the trumpet is bidden to sound "throughout all the land." The priests are described merely as ministers of the sanctuary, whose duty it was to take the lead in the offices of religion. No especial authority is attributed to the elders; they are simply bidden to join with the others; and the king is not mentioned, either because he was then a minor, or because his special interference was not necessary at this agricultural crisis. The calamity was accompanied with drought, and the devastation of the locusts would destroy the future crop, so that national scarcity might well be expected for some time to come.
2. The prophet is careful to bid the people not to be content with outward signs of penitence. "Rend your heart," he says (Joel 2:13), "and not your garments,... turn to me with all your heart." The very exhortation to turn to God implies the leaving sins, whatever they are. No special mention of idolatry was needed at other times besides the post-exilian era; and there were earlier periods of reformation of religion in Judah, when the Law was carefully observed.
3. This is already partly answered by (2). The external acts enjoined are intended to express the fervour and reality of the repentance, with due regard to the position of the priests as intercessors for the people. Far from restricting God's blessing to the Jews alone, the prophet foretells the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh, and proclaims that "whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be delivered" (Joel 2:32).
4. Joel certainly founds himself upon the history and enactments and warnings of the Pentateuch; as God's revelations occur in orderly development, he would have been no true prophet if he had not done so. But he nowhere shows traces of deriving anything from Ezekiel, or Jeremiah, or Isaiah; rather, as we have seen above, and as we note further on, some of these writers probably made use of him.
5. We have already shown that the book is one whole, methodically arranged, and capable of logical distribution. We are, therefore, quite safe in refusing to assent to the theory of a post-exilian date for the prophecy of Joel.
No date that is given is without difficulties, nor is it allowable to dogmatize in a matter so uncertain; but on the whole it seems safest to assign to Joel a period antecedent to Amos, and, if we must fix the time more precisely, we may offer our adherence to the opinion which has the greatest weight of authority, that he exercised his ministry during the minority of King Joash, and aided Jehoiada in re-establishing and in maintaining the pure worship of Jehovah in the southern kingdom. We may account for the indefiniteness of Joel's prediction by remembering that he is first of all comforting his people under a certain material calamity, and showing them how to avert and remedy it; and that, in his prophetic foresight seeing in this visitation a token of God's judgment, he gives a sketch of what was in store, leaving to other hands the details. This is just what might be expected from an early prophet, and is in exact concordance with the orderly development of revelation.
3. GENERAL CHARACTER.
All competent critics agree in assigning to Joel a very high rank among the Hebrew prophets, placing him but little below Isaiah and Habakkuk, who are confessedly first in sublimity and elevation of style. For vividness of description and picturesqueness of diction he is, perhaps, unequalled. It would be difficult to find passages surpassing in vigour or colouring the account of the invasion of the locust-army and the desolation wrought by it, and the gathering of all nations in the valley of judgment. As we read these verses we feel that we are in the presence of an accomplished poet, one who was a master in the art of language, and understood rhetorical effect. The style is pure and clear; the meaning is expressed simply and distinctly; there is no ambiguity, there are no dark riddles to solve. Brief as Joel is at times, expressing much in a very few words, he is always intelligible. Even where he uses only pairs of words to delineate his picture, he is not obscure. See, for instance, Joel 1:10, "The field is wasted, the ground mourns; the corn is wasted: the new wine is spoiled, the oil decays." What a scene of desolation! yet how briefly and forcibly depicted! We see it all; we want nothing more to present it to our eyes. He is very touching amid all his energy and awfulness. The tenderness of his nature shows itself in many an unexpected hint. He has a feeling for family affection when he bids the bridegroom go forth from his chamber and the bride from her closet, to come before the Lord in sorrow and penitence, or when he summons Israel to mourn like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth. He sympathizes with the very cattle in their sufferings from scarcity and drought; in the prospect of better times he cries to them, "Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field." Of the prevalent sins which have called down the judgment, he says little or nothing. This one important element in prophetic addresses is absent from Joel's utterances. He speaks of chastisement, of repentance, of pardon and reconciliation, of a grand future in store for his people; but he refrains from dwelling upon past misconduct; in the face of the present visitation he is gentle and merciful in rebuke and complaint. As for his language, it is pure and, as we may call it, classical. He sometimes introduces uncommon words (see Joel 1:16), but generally the diction is such as was used in the best ages of Hebrew composition, and has in many respects served as a model for succeeding writers. The idea of a fountain flowing from the house of the Lord has been taken up and expanded by Zechariah (Zec. 14:8) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47:1, etc.); our blessed Lord himself used Joel's imagery to adumbrate the terrors of the last day; the pouring forth of the Spirit is adopted by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 39:29) and Peter (Acts 10:45) and Paul (Romans 5:5); the army of locusts is seen in the Revelation of St. John (John 9:2, 3); the ripening of the harvest is found applied to Babylon by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 51:33); the wine-treading is used and amplified by Isaiah (Isaiah 63:1, etc.). To Joel first it was given to tell of that great day of the Lord which filled the thoughts of many, as seen in after time; to him among the prophets belongs the first statement of the strange truth that, though salvation should come to Zion and spread from thence to all the world, only a remnant of Israel should be saved (Joel 2:32).
If, turning from the influence which Joel exercised on his successors, we ask what he had learned from his predecessors, we see at once that he has based himself on Moses. The plagues of locusts and drought, whose effects he so graphically depicts, are the very punishments which the Law denounced upon disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:23, 24, 38, 42); the scattering of Israel, and its captivity (Joel 3:2, 3), are what Moses foretold in punishment of rebellion (Deuteronomy 28:49, 64, etc.). He too intimates the repentance and consequent restoration of the people (Deuteronomy 30.), which Joel rejoices to contemplate. It was in development of Moses' idea of the retribution which awaited the enemies of Israel that Joel beheld the final judgment, with all its terribleness. To people conversant with the language of the Pentateuch, and with the ideas contained therein, these and such like traits must have come home with startling applicability, and have proved that they were moving in the sphere of God's providence, and themselves bearing witness to the truths of inspiration.
The chief commentators on Joel are these: Hugo a St. Victore, 'Annotationes;' G. Genebrard, with Chaldaic and Rabbinical annotations and versions; Tarnovius, 'Commentarius'; Pocock, 'Works,' 1.; Chandler, 'Paraphrase,' etc.; Leusden, 'Joel explicatus'; Baumgarten; Schurman, 'Scene prophetique'; Vonder Hardt; Bauer; Svanborg, 'Latine Versus'; Holzhausen, 'Die Weissagung. d. Proph. Joel; Credner; Meier; Wunsche; Merx, 'Die Prophetie des Joel'; Scholz, 'Commentar zum Buche des PP. J.'.