from WL Worcester (H Blackmer, ed.), 
The Sower.  Helps to the Study of the Bible in Home and Sunday School
(Boston: Massachusetts New-Church Union, n.d.)

Table of Contents


Lesson 57

Joel: Judgment Foretold

Historical Study

Students of the prophets have been unable to assign a definite date to the book of Joel, as they have done, for example, to the books of Hosea and Amos. The reason is the paucity and vagueness of historical references. If written about the time of Hosea or Amos, then it contains no reference to the Assyrians. Nor does Joel mention Babylon. These two great nations were so prominent between 760 and 537 B.C. in their relations to Israel, that it seems hardly possible for anyone to write within that period and not mention either nation. Hence, some critics place the date of Joel's prophecy before 760 B.C., while others assign it to varying dates subsequent to the fall of Babylon, 537 B.C. There is not sufficient evidence to prove conclusively the one date or the other. But this is a matter of little moment. Its place in prophecy, however, is manifestly contemporaneous with Hosea and Amos, or pre-exilic. The strength of the prophecy is lost if we take it as belonging to any other time. For it is a prediction of the portending judgment. Surely it should be quite possible for a prophet in these days to be assured that a judgment awaits his people on account of their sinfulness, without referring to the particular sins (like Amos and Hosea), or the instrument to effect the judgment, but simply placing all emphasis upon the terrible nature of that judgment. This is just what Joel has done, and this also distinguishes his prophecy from the rest. He accentuates the horrors of the judgment, and says nothing about the cause or the instrument. To describe these horrors, he resorts to a great plague of locusts for an analogy. It is probable that he witnessed such a plague. At any rate, his description of the hordes devouring everything in their way and assailing the holy city - making allowance for his use of poetic hyperbole - is not considered overdrawn. The prophet uses several of the names given to locusts in Hebrew (Joel 1:4), evidently to describe more fully the destructive power of the insect. They are called palmerworm, locust, cankerworm, and caterpillar. The root meanings of the four words are respectively, to cut off, to be many, to lick or lap, and to devour. As they refer to the same insect - the locust - they might be translated "the shearer, the swarmer, the lapper, and the devourer." The locust is a fit instrument to produce a plague. Its saw-like teeth attack everything that comes in its way. Its voracity is incredible. It proceeds in immense numbers. One African traveler says, "For the space of ten miles on each side of the Sea Cow River and eighty or ninety miles in length, the whole surface might literally be said to be covered with locusts." Another writer on South Africa says that "the whole air, to twelve or even eighteen feet above the ground is filled with the insects, reddish brown in body, with bright gauzy wings:  - myriads of insects that blot out the sun above, and cover the ground beneath, and fill the air whichever way one looks. The breeze carries them swiftly past, but they come on in fresh clouds, each of them a harmless creature which you can catch and crush in your hand, but appalling in their power of collective devastation." They are worst in very hot summers, followed frequently by great drought and forest fires. Now read the description in Joel 1-2:10. Their work of devastation should surely waken the drunkards. It should cause mourning because it has cut off the daily offering, the symbol of the Lord's presence in worship. It has wasted their lands. It is also accompanied by destroying fires that affect the supplies for their cattle. It is a sad day: a picture of the day of the Lord, the day of judgment. The description of the havoc following the pest is continued in chapter 2. At 2:18, however, we read that the Lord had pity on the people. They are promised a release from the plague and restoration of their harvests, and after that a great manifestation of the Holy Spirit. (Joel 2:28-32) In connection with this passage, read Acts 2:14-21. The signs, the sun turned into darkness and the moon into blood, which were not fulfilled literally, were almost identical with those predicted for the second coming. (Matt. 24:29) Work out the significance of the symbolism: the sun being a type of love to the Lord, and the moon faith in Him. Joel 3 deals with the judgment upon the heathen which is to take place in the valley of Jehoshaphat. It is also called the vale of decision. (Verse 14) Jehoshaphat means "Jehovah judges." The name therefore is symbolic, though probably the subject for the picture of it was supplied to Joel in the valley of the Kedron, which is sometimes called the valley of Jehoshaphat. Tyre, Zidon, and Philistia shall suffer because they robbed the Jews and sold them into slavery. Egypt and Edom shall suffer for shedding innocent blood. The book closes with a beautiful picture of the restoration.

Spiritual Study


The chief feature of the book of Joel is the judgment awaiting Israel typified by the plague of locusts. "The day of Jehovah is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come." (Joel 1:15) "Locusts signify falsity from evil in the outmost things - falsities which are in the outmosts in man, and which are more earthly and corporeal than all other falsities; and by which men can be easily deceived and seduced." (A. 7643) They signify such falsities "as are with those who have become sensuous, and who see and judge all things from fallacies." (I.) Fallacious sensuous judgment! How easy it is to judge wrongly from appearances, in science, morals, manners, and even Divine truth as expressed in the letter of the Word! How easy to be misled! When we have misjudged another according to appearances and given open expression to our judgment or opinion, we do not always relish correction. (Work out an illustration.) If we refuse to admit correction and argue against it, the fallacy then springs from evil. How serious a matter this is when it affects the truth taught in the Word - not theoretical truth but living truth. This is the theme of Joel's prophecy. Sinfulness creates the appearances that lay waste all the beautiful and useful ideas of conceptions in the garden of the mind. They destroy worship of the Lord. The devouring fire accompanying the plague is the picture of the consuming evil passion back of the appearance. This passion causes the good affections to suffer, and destroys the perception of truth (the trees of the field). What a day of darkness it is! The light of truth is cut off; love and faith in the Lord are blotted out of the soul. Yet after the righteous have suffered trial on account of their tendencies to give way to this evil, the soul of the regenerating person will be purified. Tyre and Zidon and Philistia, representing those in false knowledges, shall be judged. The spirit of judging by appearances readily takes hold of the knowledges of truth in the Word to support it, and scatters the goodó"My silver and gold." (Joel 3:5) This tendency must be laid bare and condemned. We must fight against it to the death. (Verses 9-14) This we acknowledge as the Lord's work. He is the judge (verses 16, 17), who will thus remove all falsifications of the truth, and will restore the soul to its original purity. (Verses 18-21) It is useless to depend upon our own judgment for determining what is true and what is false. We can make whatever we please appear true or false according to our will. We must therefore resort to revelation - the Divine Word - for guidance, seek the truth from the Lord for the purpose of cleansing the life, and the Lord will grant the insight and the power to keep it. The restoration promised after the captivity is the picture of victory after temptation, when "captivity is led captive."

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