Introduction to Joel; Joel's Warnings (Joel 1) February 12
In its introductory notes on this prophecy, The Nelson Study Bible states: "Scholars have offered various dates for the writing of the Book of Joel, from early preexilic times [that is, before the exile of Judah to Babylon] to as late as 350 b.c. Some believe that internal evidence in the Book of Joel indicates that the book was written during the reign of Joash king of Judah (835-796 b.c.), and in the time of the high priest Jehoiada. This view is based on the following considerations: (1) The location of the book between Hosea and Amos in the Hebrew canon suggests a preexilic date of writing. (2) The allusion to the neighboring nations as Judah's foes rather than Assyria, Babylon, or Persia points to an early date for the book. (3) The book does not mention any reigning king, which may suggest a time when the responsibility for ruling rested upon the priests and eldersas was the case during the early reign of young king Joash (see 2 Kin. 11:4-12:21)." This dating seems reasonable.
It is possible that the prophet Joel, prophesying during the reign of Joash, gave his warnings in chapter 1 during the time when, as we saw in our previous reading, the Levites and the people were slow in doing God's work (see 2 Chronicles 24:5). Although the prophecy is clearly for the end time, the "day of the Lord" (Joel 1:15), it does carry a secondary relevance for the days when ancient Israel and Judah would be overthrown by Assyria and Babylon.
Joel pictures the inhabitants of the land as being concerned only with eating and drinking (verse 5), and so it will be that the fields will be wasted, and the wine will be dried up (verses 10-12). Joel also admonishes the priests to lament and mourn, as the necessary sacrifices have been withheld from the house of God (verse 13). Such a message may well have stricken fear in the hearts of the Levites and priests, who were slow in gathering money to repair the damaged temple, and also in the hearts of the people who were apparently slow in responding to the king's appeal.
Of course, this warning should strike home today as welland even more so, as we are fast approaching the primary time described in Joel's prophecies. We too must be concerned about the work of God. If our priorities are directed toward personal pursuits and pleasures, God will take those away from us. "Alas for the day," Joel writes, "for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty. Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God?" (verse 15). Terrible times are ahead. That is why Christ wants us to have the same sense of urgency that He had while here on earth. He told His disciples, "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4).
Likewise, He tells all of us, especially those in His ministry: "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards [see Joel's admonitions above], the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of it, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:45-51).
Rather than straying into compromises, self-centeredness, apathy and indifference, an urgent sense of concern and genuine compassion for others are needed. Through His prophet, God exhorts people in this first chapter of Joel to weep and wail (verse 5), lament (verse 8), mourn (verses 9-10), lament, wail and wear sackcloth (verse 13), fast (verse 14), and cry out to God (verses 14, 19-20).
In verse 19, we find Joel's remarkable lament: "O Lord, to You I cry out." The Bible Reader's Companion states in its note on this verse: "Unable to move any in Judah by his urgent words, Joel sets a personal example. Others will not call on the Lord, but Joel does. What should you and I do if the leadership of our churches seems insensitive to God? How should we react if no one listens to our urgent warnings? Just as Joel did! We don't despair. We don't strike out angrily at others. We turn to God, and in so doing model the response that the Lord wants all of his people to make to Him."
As we approach the end of this age, it is increasingly vital that each of us develop a personal relationship with God, learning to obey Him and trust Him completely. It may even be that our example will lead others to do the same.