Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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The Book of Joel is undated and its introductory verse, or colophon, gives no context, but most commentators favour a second temple setting. It seems to be about various disasters which have befallen the land, the city of Jerusalem, and its temple, and focuses on the topos ‘the day of YHWH’ (1: 15; 2: 1–2, 11). Laments about disasters which have reduced the land to famine and disrupted the temple services are mixed with declarations of hope that YHWH will act soon to restore the fortunes (AV: ‘bring again the captivity’) of Judah and Jerusalem. Like many of the collections of ‘oracles against the nations’ in the prophetic books, Joel represents a similar pattern of belief in the restoration of Jerusalem and the concomitant destruction of other nations (3). The disasters may be summed up in the words: ‘Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth. The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the priests, the Lord's ministers, mourn. The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth. Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished’ (1: 8–11). In response to these disasters the people are commanded to repent and seek the return of YHWH (2: 12–17). If the people will do so, perhaps YHWH will turn to them again (2: 14). This proclamation of repentance and weeping may well reflect a liturgy set in the Jerusalem temple (cf. the reactions of the men of Nineveh to the preaching of Jonah). The prophet, or temple preacher, reassures the people of YHWH's change of heart and proclaims the restoration of the well-being of the community: ‘Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things. Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength. Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil. And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmer-worm, my great army which I sent among you’ (2: 21–5). It is far from clear whether the reference here to an army refers to a recent invading army, or is a metaphor for the invading locusts, caterpillars, and worms which have destroyed the crop, or a combination of both. Whatever is meant by the figures of 2: 25, the proclamation that ‘I will restore to you the years that the locust have eaten’ is clear enough. Judah and Jerusalem will be restored, the divine spirit will be poured out on all flesh (2: 28; 2: 28–32 is cited in Acts 2: 16–21), and the great and terrible day of YHWH will come. The figures used to describe ‘the great and terrible day of the Lord’—‘The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood’ (2: 30–1; 3: 15)—would later contribute to the imagery of apocalyptic catastrophe presaging the end of the world. When that day comes the nations will be gathered into the valley of Jehoshaphat (‘YHWH's judgement’), where YHWH will judge them and protect Judah and Jerusalem forever. ‘Then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more’ (3: 17). In one of the most common features of the prophetic books, the destruction of Egypt and Edom will be paralleled by the cleansing and permanent protection of Judah and Jerusalem.

Chapter.  688 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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