Joel means “Yahweh is God.” He prophesied only to the southern kingdom of Judah. But his message is for all the world. This book ends with the certain future: “The LORD dwells in Zion” (3:21b).
I The Invasion of Locusts
Joel opens with a graphic description of an invasion of locusts in the land. Locusts invade in swarms, leave nothing green behind, they even eclipse the sun and create darkness in the land as they fly together. The devastation is terrible. It takes many years for a land to recover which has been hit by an army of invading locusts.
II A Call to Repentance
Joel sees spiritual significance in earthly disaster. He says that it is God’s judgement on the people. So he gives urgent summons to all kinds of people”Wake up,” “Wail,” “Mourn,” “Grieve,” “Despair,” “Put on sackcloth,” “Come,” “Declare a holy fast,” “Summon the elders,” “Cry out to the Lord” etc. The call is for repentance. Repentance means to have a broken heart because of one’s sin and the Lord’s judgement upon it and turn away from evil and walk in the ways of God. Joel says, as a result of the invasion of locusts which is God’s judgement, “Surely the joy of mankind is withered away” (1:12b). Chapter 2 therefore opens with a call to “Blow the trumpet in Zion” and “Sound an alarm” on God’s holy hill!
III The Day of the LORD
This phrase is used five times (1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14. See also 3:18, “that day.”) in this short book. It talks about God’s judgement. The people are asked to tremble because that day is near. It will be “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (2:2). The effects of the day of the Lord on nature is vividly described (2:10). Jesus too spoke along similar lines (Ref. Matthew 24:29) and Revelation affirms that these things are true. It is said that the Lord thunders at the head of his army. “The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?” (2:11b). It is clear that no one can stand (Ref. Revelation 6:16, 17).
IV The Call to Return to God in Repentance
When you’ve gone far away from God the best thing to do is to return to God like the younger son in Luke 15 who returned to his father. “What is my motivation to return?” you might ask. See the invitation and call to return is from God Himself: “Even now . . . return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning” (2:12). Joel affirms that the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. And He relents from sending calamity. That means He does not desire to send judgements on you. So if you repent, perhaps, God will send blessing instead of judgement that was planned.
Joel gives an urgent call to the elders, the children even those nursing at the breast, the bridegroom and bride, and the priests to weep and pray to God. The call is specifically made to the priests to weep and pray saying, “Spare your people, O Lord” (2:17). The people used to tear their garments to symbolically signify their brokenness of heart. This was a practice in the land of Israel from days of old. But Joel asks them to “Rend your heart and not your garments” (2:13). Remember friends, outward show is useless because God always looks at your heart.
V Blessings Promised
In answer to the cry of His people, God promises to send them earthly blessings in abundance as well as spiritual revival. He says that He will turn away the surrounding nations who inflicted punishment on His people and judge them. Joel says, “Be not afraid, O land; be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things.” He again tells the people to be glad and “Rejoice in the Lord your God.” Joy is to be found in God alone and not in the blessings that will be given to them. Joel underlines that precious truth.
Then comes one of the grand promises found in the entire Bible: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you” (Joel 2:25 NIV). Dear child of God, are you in despair today because your life has been devastated by misfortune one after the other? Seek your God in earnest in your despair. Return to Him with all your heart. He will make this promise good to you. You need not ask how God is going to do it. But you need to trust that God can and God will repay you the years that have been eaten away. Surely He will do it for you!
VI The Great Spiritual Blessing Foretold
Joel 2:28 to 32 is a grand portion of the Old Testament Scripture. It gave the people a marvellous promise—the promise of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all people. This would have taken the people by shock and pleasant surprise because the Holy Spirit came only on select people and that too on select occasions in Old Testament times. So Joel was here predicting the inauguration of a new dealing of God with men. After Jesus ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit was poured out on the people waiting in prayer, Peter said to all that what had happened then was the prophesy of Joel being fulfilled.
Catherine Marshall comments, Scriptures make it plain that the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and ever since is the result of Jesus’ exaltation and glorification and crowning in heaven . . . In other words, the outpouring of the Spirit is earth’s evidence and proof of what happened after Jesus’ ascension, not only of the magnificence of His crowning in Heaven, but of His very real coronation power” – The Helper.
Watchman Nee comments, “The Holy Spirit has not been poured out on you or me to prove how great we are, but to prove the greatness of the Son of God.”
The new era of the Holy Spirit would make it possible for all who call on the name of the Lord to be saved. We’re living in those times now. Spiritual gifts are promised. The ability to prophesy, dream dreams and seeing visions are all part of it. Peter made it clear that the promise of the Holy Spirit is for all whom the Lord will call (see Acts 2:39). It is for you too.
VII The Valley of Decision
Chapter 3 of Joel speaks of this valley. It is first called The Valley of Jehoshaphat (Jehoshaphat means “Yahweh Judges) (vv. 2 and 12). God speaks of judgement in this valley. Here He will judge the nations who dealt cruelly with the nation of Israel. In verse 12, God says, “There I will sit to judge all the nations on every side.” Surely this speaks of the time when the Messiah Jesus Christ will judge the nations. V. 13 speaks of the harvest of judgement.
This valley is also the Valley of Decision (v. 14). It is here that the great divide between the righteous and the wicked will be made (see also Matthew 25:31—33). According to the decisions they had made in their lifetime; now God will make the decisions for or against them. Those who chose to love and serve the Son of God in their lifetime will be given a favourable verdict: “But the Lord will be a refuge for his people” (v. 16b). But those who rejected God will face the wrath of God: “The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem” (v. 16a).
All blessings in the life of God’s people is related to holiness (v. 17). The place of God’s dwelling will be holy and no one will defile Jerusalem again with evil. Matthew Henry points out three aspects of blessings promised at end of the Book of Joel. They are purity, plenty and perpetuity.
1. Purity: Through the blood of Jesus Christ, God will pardon the guilt of the people (v. 21). A day is thus coming when everything will be put right.
2. Plenty: There will be a fountain that will flow out of the house of God and water the valley of acacias. This not only speaks of the material blessings that will available in the land but also of the spiritual blessings that is found in Jesus Christ.
3. Perpetuity: Perpetuity means “for all time in the future.” “Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem through all generations” (v. 20). A time is coming when God’s people will continue to enjoy God’s blessings without interruption and without end.
IX The Hope and Messianic Expectation
The Book of Joel, the first book and prophet to foretell the outpouring of God’s Spirit on all people instead of a select few, closes with a Messianic expectation—That one day the Lord will dwell in Zion and then there will be great blessing. A world evangelization as a result of the pouring out of God’s Spirit which further results in a great harvest at the Valley of Decision is portrayed in this book with clear conviction. We live near the day of complete and final fulfilment of the hope and expectation painted in this book. Are you ready for it?