JOEL. The second book among the minor prophets in the Bible is entitled The word of Yahweh that came to Joel the son of Pethuel, or, as the Septuagint, Latin, Syriac and other versions read, Bethuel. Nothing is recorded as to the date or occasion of the prophecy. Most Hebrew prophecies contain pointed references to the foreign politics and social relations of the nation at the time. In the book of Joel there are only scanty allusions to Phoenicians, Philistines, Egypt and Edom, couched in terms applicable to very different ages, while the prophet’s own people are exhorted to repentance without specific reference to any of those national sins of which other prophets speak. The occasion of the prophecy, described with great force of rhetoric, is no known historical event, but a plague of locusts, perhaps repeated in successive seasons; and even here there are features in the description which have led many expositors to seek an allegorical interpretation. The most remarkable part of the book is the eschatological picture with which it closes; and the way in which the plague of locusts appears to be taken as foreshadowing the final judgment—the great day or assize of Yahweh, in which Israel’s enemies are destroyed—is so unique as greatly to complicate the exegetical problem. It is not therefore surprising that the most various views are still held as to the date and meaning of the book. Allegorists and literalists still contend over the first and still more over the second chapter, and, while the largest number of recent interpreters accept Credner’s view that the prophecy was written in the reign of Joash of Judah (835–796 B.C.?), a powerful school of critics (including A. B. Davidson) follow the view suggested by Vatke (Bib. Theol. p. 462 seq.), and reckon Joel among the post-exile prophets. Other scholars give yet other dates: see the particulars in the elaborate work of Merx. The followers of Credner are literalists; the opposite school of moderns includes some literalists (as Duhm), while others (like Hilgenfeld, and in a modified sense Merx) adopt the old allegorical interpretation which treats the locusts as a figure for the enemies of Jerusalem.
There are cogent reasons for placing Joel either earlier or later than the great series of prophets extending from the time when Amos first proclaimed the approach of the Assyrian down to the Babylonian exile. In Joel the enemies of Israel are the nations collectively, and among those specified by name neither Assyria nor Chaldaea finds a place. This circumstance might, if it stood alone, be explained by placing Joel with Zephaniah in the brief interval between the decline of the empire of Nineveh and the advance of the Babylonians. But it is further obvious that Joel has no part in the internal struggle between spiritual Yahweh-worship and idolatry which occupied all the prophets from Amos to the captivity. He presupposes a nation of Yahweh-worshippers, whose religion has its centre in the temple and priesthood of Zion, which is indeed conscious of sin, and needs forgiveness and an outpouring of the Spirit, but is not visibly divided, as the kingdom of Judah was between the adherents of spiritual prophecy and a party whose national worship of Yahweh involved for them no fundamental separation from the surrounding nations. The book, therefore, must have been written before the ethico-spiritual and the popular conceptions of Yahweh came into conscious antagonism, or else after the fall of the state and the restoration of the community of Jerusalem to religious rather than political existence had decided the contest in favour of the prophets, and of the Law in which their teaching was ultimately crystallized.
The considerations which have given currency to an early date for Joel are of various kinds. The absence of all mention of one great oppressing world-power seems most natural before the westward march of Assyria involved Israel in the general politics of Asia. The purity of the style is also urged, and a comparison of Amos i. 2, Joel iii. 16 (Heb. iv. 16), and Amos ix. 13, Joel iii. 18 (iv. 18), has been taken as proving that Amos knew our book. The last argument might be inverted with much greater probability, and numerous points of contact between Joel and other parts of the Old Testament (e.g. Joel ii. 2, Exod. x. 14; Joel ii. 3, Ezek. xxxvi. 35; Joel iii. 10, Mic. iv. 3) make it not incredible that the purity of his style—which is rather elegant than original and strongly marked—is in large measure the fruit of literary culture. The absence of allusion to a hostile or oppressing empire may be fairly taken in connexion with the fact that the prophecy gives no indication of political life at Jerusalem. When the whole people is mustered in ch. i., the elders or sheikhs of the municipality and the priests of the temple are the most prominent figures. The king is not mentioned—which on Credner’s view is explained by assuming that the plague fell in the minority of Joash, when the priest Jehoiada held the reins of power—and the princes, councillors and warriors necessary to an independent state, and so often referred to by the prophets before the exile, are altogether lacking. The nation has only a municipal organization with a priestly aristocracy, precisely the state of things that prevailed under the Persian empire. That the Persians do not appear as enemies of Yahweh and his people is perfectly natural. They were hard masters but not invaders, and under them the enemies of the Jews were their neighbours, just as appears in Joel. Those, however, who place our prophet in the minority of King Joash draw a special argument from the mention of Phoenicians, Philistines and Edomites (iii. 4 seq., 19), pointing to the revolt of Edom under Joram (2 Kings viii. 20) and the incursion of the Philistines in the same reign (2 Chron. xxi. 16, xxii. 1). These were recent events in the time of Joash, and in like manner the Phoenician slave trade in Jewish children is carried back to an early date by the reference in Amos i. 9. This argument is rather specious than sound. Edom’s hostility to Judah was incessant, but the feud reached its full intensity only after the time of Deuteronomy (xxiii. 7), when the Edomites joined the Chaldaeans, drew profit from the overthrow of the Jews, whose land they partly occupied, and exercised barbarous cruelty towards the fugitives of Jerusalem (Obad. passim; Mal. i. 2 seq.; Isa. lxiii.). The offence of shedding innocent blood charged on them by Joel is natural after these events, but hardly so in connexion with the revolt against Joram.
As regards the Philistines, it is impossible to lay much weight on the statement of Chronicles, unsupported as it is by the older history, and in Joel the Philistines plainly stand in one category with the Phoenicians, as slave dealers, not as armed foes. Gaza in fact was a slave emporium as early as the time of Amos (i. 6), and continued so till Roman times.
Thus, if any inference as to date can be drawn from ch. iii., it must rest on special features of the trade in slaves, which was always an important part of the commerce of the Levant. In the time of Amos the slaves collected by Philistines and Tyrians were sold en masse to Edom, and presumably went to Egypt or Arabia. Joel complains that they were sold to the Grecians (Javan, Ionians). It is probable that some Hebrew and Syrian slaves were exported to the Mediterranean coasts from a very early date, and Isa. xi. 11 already speaks of Israelites captive in these districts as well as in Egypt, Ethiopia and the East. But the traffic in this direction hardly became extensive till a later date. In Deut. xxviii. 68, Egypt is still the chief goal of the maritime slave trade, and in Ezek. xxvii. 13 Javan exports slaves to Tyre, not conversely. Thus the allusion to Javan in Joel better suits a later date, when Syrian slaves were in special request in Greece. And the name of Javan is not found in any part of the Old Testament certainly older than Ezekiel. In Joel it seems to stand as a general representative of the distant countries reached by the Mediterranean (in contrast with the southern Arabians, Sabaeans, ch. iii. 8), the farthest nation reached by the fleets of the Red Sea. This is precisely the geographical standpoint of the post-exile author of Gen. x. 4, where (assuming that Elishah = Carthage and Tarshish = Tartessus) Javan includes Carthage and Tartessus.
Finally, the allusion to Egypt in Joel iii. 19 must on Credner’s theory be explained of the invasion of Shishak a century before Joash. From this time down to the last period of the Hebrew monarchy Egypt was not the enemy of Judah.
If the arguments chiefly relied on for an early date are so precarious or can even be turned against their inventors, there are others of an unambiguous kind which make for a date in the Persian period. It appears from ch. iii. 1, 2, that Joel wrote after the exile. The phrase “to bring again the captivity” would not alone suffice to prove this, for it is used in a wide sense, and perhaps means rather to “reverse the calamity,” but the dispersion of Israel among the nations, and the allotment of the Holy Land to new occupants, cannot fairly be referred to any calamity less than that of the captivity. With this the whole standpoint of the prophecy agrees. To Joel Judah and the people of Yahweh are synonyms; northern Israel has disappeared. Now it is true that those who take their view of the history from Chronicles, where the kingdom of Ephraim is always treated as a sect outside the true religion, can reconcile this fact with an early date. But in ancient times it was not so; and under Joash, the contemporary of Elisha, such a limitation of the people of Yahweh is wholly inconceivable. The earliest prophetic books have a quite different standpoint; otherwise indeed the books of northern prophets and historians could never have been admitted into the Jewish canon. Again, the significant fact that there is no mention of a king and princes, but only of sheikhs and priests, has a force not to be invalidated by the ingenious reference of the book to the time of Joash’s minority and the supposed regency of Jehoiada. And the assumption that there was a period before the prophetic conflicts of the 8th century B.C. when spiritual prophecy had unchallenged sway, when there was no gross idolatry or superstition, when the priests of Jerusalem, acting in accord with prophets like Joel, held the same place as heads of a pure worship which they occupied after the exile (cf. Ewald, Propheten, i. 89), is not consistent with history. It rests on the old theory of the antiquity of the Levitical legislation, so that in fact all who place that legislation later than Ezekiel are agreed that the book of Joel is also late. In this connexion one point deserves special notice. The religious significance of the plague of drought and locusts is expressed in ch. i. 9 in the observation that the daily meat and drink offering are cut off, and the token of new blessing is the restoration of this service, ch. ii. 14. In other words, the daily offering is the continual symbol of gracious intercourse between Yahweh and his people and the main office of religion. This conception, which finds its parallel in Dan. viii. 11, xi. 31, xii. 11, is quite in accordance with the later law. But under the monarchy the daily oblation was the king’s private offering, and not till Ezra’s reformation did it become the affair of the community and the central act of national worship (Neh. x. 33 seq.). That Joel wrote not only after the exile but after the work of Ezra and Nehemiah may be viewed as confirmed by the allusions to the walls of Jerusalem in ch. ii. 7, 9. Such is the historical basis which we seem to be able to lay for the study of the exegetical problems of the book.
The style of Joel is clear (which hardly favours an early date), and his language presents peculiarities which are evidences of a late origin. But the structure of the book, the symbolism and the connexion of the prophet’s thoughts have given rise to much controversy. It seems safest to start from the fact that the prophecy is divided into two well-marked sections by ch. ii. 18, 19a. According to the Massoretic vocalization, which is in harmony with the most ancient exegetical tradition as contained in the LXX, these words are historical: “Then the Lord was jealous, . . . and answered and said unto his people, Behold,” &c. Such is the natural meaning of the words as pointed.
Thus the book falls into two parts. In the first the prophet speaks in his own name, addressing himself to the people in a lively description of a present calamity caused by a terrible plague of locusts which threatens the entire destruction of the country, and appears to be the vehicle of a final consuming judgment (the day of Yahweh). There is no hope save in repentance and prayer; and in ch. ii. 12 the prophet, speaking now for the first time in Yahweh’s name, calls the people to a solemn fast at the sanctuary, and invites the intercession of the priests. The calamity is described in the strongest colours of Hebrew hyperbole, and it seems arbitrary to seek too literal an interpretation of details, e.g. to lay weight on the four names of locusts, or to take ch. i. 20 of a conflagration produced by drought, when it appears from ii. 3 that the ravages of the locusts themselves are compared to those of fire. But when due allowance is made for Eastern rhetoric, there is no occasion to seek in this section anything else than literal locusts. Nay, the allegorical interpretation, which takes the locusts to be hostile invaders, breaks through the laws of all reasonable writing; for the poetical hyperbole which compares the invading swarms to an army (ii. 4 seq.) would be inconceivably lame if a literal army was already concealed under the figure of the locusts. Nor could the prophet so far forget himself in his allegory as to speak of a victorious host as entering the conquered city like a thief (ii. 9). The second part of the book is Yahweh’s answer to the people’s prayer. The answer begins with a promise of deliverance from famine, and of fruitful seasons compensating for the ravages of the locusts. In the new prosperity of the land the union of Yahweh and his people shall be sealed anew, and so the Lord will proceed to pour down further and higher blessings. The aspiration of Moses (Num. xi. 29) and the hope of earlier prophets (Isa. xxxii. 15, lix. 21; Jer. xxxi. 33) shall be fully realized in the outpouring of the Spirit on all the Jews and even upon their servants (Isa. lxi. 5 with lvi. 6, 7); and then the great day of judgment, which had seemed to overshadow Jerusalem in the now averted plague, shall draw near with awful tokens of blood and fire and darkness. But the terrors of that day are not for the Jews but for their enemies. The worshippers of Yahweh on Zion shall be delivered (cf. Obad. v. 17, whose words Joel expressly quotes in ch. ii. 32), and it is their heathen enemies, assembled before Jerusalem to war against Yahweh, who shall be mowed down in the valley of Jehoshaphat (“Yahweh judgeth”) by no human arm, but by heavenly warriors. Thus definitively freed from the profane foot of the stranger (Isa. lii. 1), Jerusalem shall abide a holy city for ever. The fertility of the land shall be such as was long ago predicted in Amos ix. 13, and streams issuing from the Temple, as Ezekiel had described in his picture of the restored Jerusalem (Ezek. xlvii.), shall fertilize the barren Wādi of Acacias. Egypt and Edom, on the other hand, shall be desolate, because they have shed the blood of Yahweh’s innocents. Compare the similar predictions against Edom, Isa. xxxiv. 9 seq. (Mal. i. 3), and against Egypt, Isa. xix. 5 seq., Ezek. xxix. Joel’s eschatological picture appears indeed to be largely a combination of elements from older unfulfilled prophecies. Its central feature, the assembling of the nations to judgment, is already found in Zeph. iii. 8, and in Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning Gog and Magog, where the wonders of fire and blood named in Joel ii. 30 are also mentioned (Ezek. xxxviii. 22). The other physical features of the great day, the darkening of the lights of heaven, are a standing figure of the prophets from Amos v. 6, viii. 9, downwards. It is characteristic of the prophetic eschatology that images suggested by one prophet are adopted by his successors, and gradually become part of the permanent scenery of the last times; and it is a proof of the late date of Joel that almost his whole picture is made up of such features. In this respect there is a close parallelism, extending to minor details, between Joel and the last chapters of Zechariah.
That Joel’s delineation of the final deliverance and glory attaches itself directly to the deliverance of the nation from a present calamity is quite in the manner of the so-called prophetic perspective. But the fact that the calamity which bulks so largely is natural and not political is characteristic of the post-exile period. Other prophets of the same age speak much of dearth and failure of crops, which in Palestine then as now were aggravated by bad government, and were far more serious to a small and isolated community than they could ever have been to the old kingdom. It was indeed by no means impossible that Jerusalem might have been altogether undone by the famine caused by the locusts; and so the conception of these visitants as the destroying army, executing Yahweh’s final judgment, is really much more natural than appears to us at first sight, and does not need to be explained away by allegory. The chief argument relied upon by those who still find allegory at least in ch. ii. is the expression haṣṣephōnī, “the northerner” [if this rendering is correct], in ii. 20. In view of the other points of affinity between Joel and Ezekiel, this word inevitably suggests Gog and Magog, and it is difficult to see how a swarm of locusts could receive such a name, or if they came from the north could perish, as the verse puts it, in the desert between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. The verse remains a crux interpretum, and no exegesis hitherto given can be deemed thoroughly satisfactory; but the interpretation of the whole book must not be made to hinge on a single word in a verse which might be altogether removed without affecting the general course of the prophet’s argument.
The whole verse is perhaps the addition of an allegorizing glossator. The prediction in v. 19, that the seasons shall henceforth be fruitful, is given after Yahweh has shown his zeal and pity for Israel, not of course by mere words, but by acts, as appears in verses 20, 21, where the verbs are properly perfects recording that Yahweh hath already done great things, and that vegetation has already revived. In other words, the mercy already experienced in the removal of the plague is taken as a pledge of future grace not to stop short till all God’s old promises are fulfilled. In this context v. 20 is out of place. Observe also that in v. 25 the locusts are spoken of in the plain language of chap. i.
See the separate commentaries on Joel by Credner (1831), Wünsche (1872), Merx (1879). The last-named gives an elaborate history of interpretation from the Septuagint down to Calvin, and appends the Ethiopic text edited by Dillmann. Nowack and Marti should also be consulted (see their respective series of commentaries); also G. A. Smith, in The Book of the Twelve Prophets, vol. i. (1896), and S. R. Driver, Joel and Amos (1897). On the language of Joel, see Holzinger, Z. A. T. W. (1889), pp. 89-131. Of older commentaries the most valuable is Pocock’s (Oxford, 1691). Bochart’s Hierozoïcon may also be consulted. (W. R. S.; T. K. C.)
- In the A.V. of ii. 17 it appears that subjection to a foreign power is not a present fact but a thing feared. But the parallelism and v. 19 justify the rendering in margin of R.V. “use a byword against them.”
- The hypothesis of an Arabian Javan, applied to Joel iii. 6 by Credner, Hitzig, and others, may be viewed as exploded (see Stade, “Das Volk Javan,” 1880, reprinted in his Akad. Reden u. Abhandlungen, 1899, pp. 123–142). The question, however, has to be re-examined; later interpreters, e.g. the LXX translators, may have misunderstood. The text of the passages has to be critically treated anew. See Cheyne, Traditions and Beliefs of Ancient Israel (on Gen. x. 2).
- Compare Movers, Phönizisches Alterthum, iii. i. 70 seq.
- See Ewald on Jer. xlviii. 47, Kuenen, Theol. Tijdschrift (1873), p. 519; Schwally, Z. A. T. W., viii. 200, and Briggs on Ps. xiv. 7.
- Stade not unreasonably questions whether 2 Kings xii. 1–3 implies the paramount political influence of Jehoiada.
- See Wellhausen, Geschichte Israels, p. 78 seq.; Prolegomena zur Gesch. Israels (1883), p. 82 seq.
- It has been suggested that Ṣaphon, which is often rather troublesome if rendered “the north,” may be a weakened form of ṣibʽōn, a current popular corruption of shimoʽn = Ishmael. In Ezek. xxxviii. 15 it is distinctly said that Gog is to come from the recesses of Ṣāphōn. “Meshech” and “Tubal” are no hindrance to this view, if the names of the so-called “sons of Japheth” are critically examined. For they, too, as well as Ṣāphōn, can be plausibly shown to represent regions of North Arabia. See Cheyne, Traditions and Beliefs of Anc. Israel, on Gen. x. 2–4.