[K:NWTS 7/3 (Dec 1992) 4-24]
STRUCTURE OF JOEL
(Based on the Hebrew text; English equivalent in [ ])
The book of Joel presents difficult historical, critical and interpretative problems. Its date remains in doubt. Scholarly estimates of the period of Joel have ranged from the ninth century B. C. to the Maccabean period. The basis for the early date stems from Joel's parallel themes with the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah and Amos. Edward J. Young maintains a pre-exilic date. R. K. Harrison favors the post-exilic date, citing certain post-exilic terms, including some Aramaisms found in the work. Both attest the difficulty of establishing a definite date due to a number of valid literary, traditional and historical factors.1
Although its integrity has been questioned by some, Hans Walter Wolff has written a masterful defense of the unity of the book.2 The major problem is interpretative. Opinion is divided with regard to 2:11ff., i.e., whether the prophet describes an apocalyptic army or a human army on the "day of Yahweh." Calvin, for instance, considers it a human enemy army,3 while Wolff insists that the passage describes a human army in apocalyptic terms. Others treat it merely as a locust invasion.
It is hoped that by paying careful attention to the structure of the book of Joel, the meaning of the writer will become clearer for interpreting the book as a whole. Bar-Efrat is of the opinion that by observing the literary/narrative art of the Old Testament writers, it is possible to attain a systematic and organized understanding of the text.4
The book of Joel is prophetic in nature. It is written like a lengthy poem, with the use of imagery, parallelism, repetition and colon-like sentences. Key words, alliteration and refrains hint at its effective oral communication. Similes and metaphors are encountered throughout the book, indicating that a merely literal interpretation may not unravel the profound revelation that Joel is attempting to communicate. Poetry has always been an efficient means of communicating not only important truths, but the emotions and insights of the writer as well. In this way, the whole being of the reader or listener is stirred up to respond to the truth.
It is apparent that Joel was written at least twenty-four centuries ago. Historical and cultural factors of the past must be taken into consideration. How it harmonizes with the organically unified structure of the redemptive revelation of God is important in its interpretation. (For example, it is indeed helpful that part of the prophecy is found in Acts 2:17-21 and declared to have been fulfilled.) Close study of the Hebrew text uncovers the themes and motifs in the book. Examination of the occurrences of these themes and motifs in the Old and New Testaments brings much to light. My study of Joel is implemented by means of Geerhardus Vos's idea of biblical theology5 as further exemplified by the writings of Meredith G. Kline and others.
Since the narrator does not use paragraphs or punctuation, he must have some means of communicating a structure. In an attempt to structure the book I have pursued multiple readings of the Hebrew text, observing clues in the context, the vocabulary and the syntax. In addition, I have used guidelines derived from S. Bar-Efrat, J. P. Fokkelman and Wilfred G. E. Watson.6 With reference to the structural outline, the book appears to have a chiastic pattern of A-B-C-B-A. The heart of the message begins when Yahweh ACTS for the first time in the prophecy—the Lord UTTERS his voice before his army (2:10-3:5) [2:10-32].7 He calls his people to repent and cry out to him (2:12-13). Then he pours out his Holy Spirit upon all flesh (3:1-5 [2:28-32], fulfilled at Pentecost—Acts 2:17-21) before the culmination of the ultimate judgment on the goyim ("nations") on the one hand and ultimate blessedness for 'ammo ("his people") on the other (4:14-16) [3:14-16].
The Introduction and the Conclusion are parallel to one another because the former asks a question and the latter provides a reply (1:1-3; 4:15-20 [3:15-20]). In the body of the prophecy thematic changes are marked by keywords such as yom yhwh ("day of the Lord"). Sentences repeated word for word demarcate the end or beginning of subject divisions. The contents of the paragraphs reinforce these perimeters. Changes of addressor and addressee (indicated by pronouns and the context) confirm these divisions (see the structural outline, pp. 4-5 above).
The following sentences, clauses or phrases have been used to demarcate the sections. The symbols (*) are used in the Structural Outline to indicate the occurrences of word for word repetition:
1. *fast* – "Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly" (1:14; 2:15).
2. *trumpet* – "Blow a trumpet in Zion" (2:1, 15).
3. *great things* – "For he (YHWH) has done great things" (2:20, 21).
4. *Valley of Jehoshaphat* – "Valley of Jehoshaphat" (4:2, 12) [3:2, 12].
5. *THE SUN AND MOON GROW DARK AND THE STARS LOSE THEIR BRIGHTNESS*
This sentence occurs with the theophanic "the Lord utters HIS VOICE" (qol yhwh) which is the sound of divine advent in judgment (2:10-11; 4:15-16 [3:15-16]). There is a slight variation in 3:4 [2:31] in that the moon turns to blood.8
6. yom yhwh – "Day of the Lord" (1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:4 [2:31]; 4:14 [3:14]).
The content of 1:4-16 suggests that Israel is addressed (vv. 2-4). The byt yhwh ("house of the Lord") is found here (vv. 9, 13, 14), but not in 2:1-9. The two sections are divided by the prophet's cry unto God (1:16-20). The change in speaker and hearers here indicates the transition from the judgment theme to the deliverance theme. The byt yhwh ("house of Yahweh") is definitely the term for Solomon's temple, as it occurs sixty times in that context in I Kings 6, 7, 8. Priests, ministers of the altar, offerings and libations, and elders are mentioned (1:9, 13, 14), whereas the content of 2:1-9 suggests a universal address. Zion is mentioned in the latter, but not in the former, and there is no mention of anything relating to the cultic worship of the old covenant. This implies a discernible transition from the old covenant with Israel to the new covenant with Zion. This transition becomes clearer when exegetical study of 2:1-9 reveals the Divine Redeemer Warrior.
The imagery of the locust devastation serves as a vivid picture of apocalyptic destruction in the day of the Lord. In chiastic pattern Joel brings the eschatological judgment on all the nations (4:1-14) [3:1-14] to parallel the judgment on Israel (1:4-2:9). In the final analysis, the emphasis is on the eschatological judgment, but the prophet arranges it so that the judgment is seen to begin from the house of Israel.
The most important and urgent part of the message is in 2:10-14, 3:4-5 [2:31, 32], and 4:15-16 [3:15-16] where the sun, the moon and the stars lose their brightness because of God's theophanic glory. With each of the three theophanic pronouncements is the warning of an impending eschatological judgment and the offer of reconciliation, salvation, deliverance and refuge to those who repent, return and call upon the Lord. The unrepentant (goyim) will be destined to eternal desolation, and the repentant ('ammi) to restoration and refuge in Zion (where the Lord dwells and where there is eternal blessedness). These eschatological events are completely new creations of God—the revelation of the Divine Redeemer Warrior (2:1-11), the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (3:1-5) [2:28-32], and the Father on his throne who dwells in Zion (4:15-17 [3:15-17], 21 [3:21]; cf. Rev. 21:3-5).
Day of the Lord (Yom Yhwh)
The keywords "the day of the Lord" occur five times—1:15; 2:1,11; 3:4 [2:31]; 4:14 [3:14]—and determine the structural pattern of the poem, serving as transitional catchwords linking separate stanzas that feature a different addressor or addressee.
The "day of the Lord" is a special expression designating God's dreadful intervention in the course of redemptive history. It is a day of YHWH's triumph over his enemies. It is also specifically used to denote judgment, i.e., bringing destruction for the wicked, the enemies of God's people (Am. 5:18-20; Zeph. 1:14-17). New Testament references point to the day of Jesus Christ as the eschatological final judgment that will certainly come with the parousia of Christ (1 Cor. 1:7-8; Phil. 1:6, 10; 1 Thess. 5:1-10; 2 Thess. 1:7-10).
New Testament writers considered themselves to be living in "the last days" (Acts 2:16-17) or in "the ends of the ages" (1 Cor. 10:11). What the Old Testament prophets perceived as one movement is revealed in the New Testament to consist of two stages in history—the Messianic age and the age of the future. "The last day," "the consummation of the age," still lies in the future (Mt. 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20; Jn. 6:39, 44, 54; 12:48; 2 Tim. 3:1; 2 Pet. 3:3; Jd. 18).9 And yet, the eschatological state has arrived with the one great eschatological intrusion that has broken in with the advent of Christ (Heb. 2:3, 5; 9:11; 10:1; 12:22-24). It is the first-fruits of the consummate eschatological state that will come with his parousia.
Accompanying the strong warning of the ultimate day of reckoning, the message of redemption is emphatically given with words concerning the supernatural signs of the sun, moon and stars (Joel 2:1-14; 3:1-5 [2:28-32]; 4:15-21 [3:15-21]). God's mighty act of redemption is portrayed in theophanic imagery describing the Divine Redeemer Warrior and his retinue (2:1-11). The people of Zion will know that the Lord is in Israel—qrb in (the very midst of) Israel (2:27). Following this will be the theophanic outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The root of the word qrb in 2:27 basically denotes being or coming into the most intimate proximity to the object (or subject). Its secondary meaning entails actual contact with the object.10 In the third divine theophany, YHWH dwells in Zion with his people in eschatological blessedness (4:15-21 [3:15-21]; cf. Rev. 21:3-5).
The Divine Redeemer Warrior executes judgment in the "day of the Lord," bringing destruction upon the enemies of God's people (4:1-14 [3:1-14]; Am. 5:18-20; Is. 2:12-21; 10:3-4; 13:6, 13; 34:8; Jer. 46:10; Ezk. 7:1-9; 30:1-19; Ob. 15; Zeph. 1:14-18; 2:2, 3; Mal. 3:24 [4:5-6]; I Thess. 5:2-3). Hence, this day is also visualized as a day of deliverance, joy, restoration and blessedness for God's oppressed people. There is the association of judgment on the one hand and salvation and deliverance on the other.11
The Locust Imagery
Locust devastation was one of the curses that would befall Israel if she disobeyed the stipulations of the Mosaic Covenant (Dt. 28:38, 42). The locust imagery, coupled with the rhetorical question in Joel 1:2, was a powerful reminiscence of God's judgment on the Egyptians at the Exodus (Ex. 10:2, 6, 14, 15). The annual Passover which commemorated their redemption from slavery to the Pharaoh of Egypt was observed by the devout (Ex. 12:24-28; Dt. 4:32-39). The historical event became an image to communicate the revelation of God concerning the eschatological consummation of the redemptive plan of God. The redemptive plan of God will be such a completely new creation that the most dramatic historical experience had to be drawn upon to describe it, i.e., the exodus. The new revelation builds upon revelation already given.
The eighth plague (the locust devastation) came up over all the land of Egypt and settled in all the territory of Egypt. Locusts covered the surface of the whole land (Ex 10:14, 15). The triple emphasis intimates that the judgment included everyone. The whole land was darkened, and nothing green was left on tree or plant throughout all the land of Egypt (Ex. 10:15). And just as supernaturally as the multitude of locusts came, even so they left. Not one locust remained. The totality of this plague was emphasized in Ex. 10:14. No mention is made that Goshen was excluded.
In the ninth and tenth plague, God made a distinction between the Israelites and the Egyptians, as well as a distinction between their dwellings. The Israelites had light, but for three days the Egyptians were in thick darkness that could be felt. Then came the plague upon the first born. Yet God redeemed Israel with the death of the Passover Lamb, and led his people forth like a Warrior, who fought and defended them, and gave them new life in a new land (Ex 13:18, 21-22; 15:3ff.; Josh. 5:14; Ps. 106:9, 10).
The main theme in Joel is the Last Judgment that will come upon all, like the eighth plague. But as in the ninth and tenth plagues, God has a redemptive plan. This time he uses the imagery of the Divine Redeemer Warrior. The revelation of God continues to grow in profundity. The use of Messianic symbols in the death-to-life portraits hint at the nature of the redemptive plan. The parallel between the Passover lamb and the bridegroom's death is apparent (in the gospels, it is certainly a portrayal of Christ, the Messiah; cf. Jn. 1:29; 3:29; Mt. 9:15; 25:1-13; Mk. 2:19, 20; Lk. 5:34-35; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2, 9). Darkness to light is frequently a new creation motif (Gen. 1:1-2; Jn. 1:1-3). God will do something completely new—the Incarnation (Lk. 1:78; 2:32; Is. 42:6; cf. Joel 2:2).
Just as there was a differentiation between the Egyptians and the Israelites, so will there be differentiation of the ammi ("my people") and the goyim ("the nations") in the last judgment. There will be a complete "eastern sea to western sea" annihilation (2:20) of "the Northern One" (i.e., the enemy of Zion and Israel). This would be the result of the Divine Redeemer Warrior's triumph, the promise made to the redeemed, who are a byword and an object of scorn to the nations.
The Divine Redeemer Warrior
The prophets customarily describe eschatological events with the image of an analogous past, reviving the past to reveal the future. Joel 2:1-11 is a metaphorical elaboration of God's redemption, symbolically presented by theophanic merismus of a conquering, irresistible Redeemer Warrior and his retinue. Like the locusts, nothing can stop him. God's theophanic, eschatological intrusion will be unprecedented, unrepeatable like the eighth and tenth plagues in the Exodus (1:2; 2:2; Ex. 10:6, 14; 11:6). However, it will be so supernaturally new that the prophet must use the analogy of past experiences and metaphorical language to communicate it.
The adjectives Joel uses to describe the Divine Redeemer Warrior reveals YHWH himself. He descends from the mountains with the 'am rab and his purposes cannot be thwarted (2:2, 6-11). 'Am rab could refer to a myriad of innumerable angels or people. The word 'rpl translated "darkness" in the NIV, is used consistently in the Old Testament for the theophany of God all fifteen times it occurs (Ex. 20:21; Dt. 4:11; 5:19 ; I K. 8:12; Jer. 13:16; Ezk. 34:12; Joel 2:2; Zeph. 1:15; Is. 60:2; Ps. 18:10 ; 97:2-3; 2 Ch. 6:1; 2 S. 22:10; Job 22:13; 38:9). In the day of cloud and darkness ('rpl), YHWH himself will search for his sheep and look after them; he will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered (Ezk. 34:11-12; Jn. 10:3, 11, 14-16).
When God descended upon Mount Sinai to speak to Moses in the people's hearing (Ex. 19:3, 9, 10, 18), the description of his theophany consisted of exactly the same Hebrew vocabulary found in Joel 2:1-11:
day of clouds and darkness (Joel 2:2; Ex. 19:9; 20:21)
the loud trumpet sound (Joel 2:1; Ex. 19:19; 20:18)
trembling of the people (Joel 2:1; Ex. 19:16, 17)
the earthquake [synonyms used] (Joel 2:10; Ex. 19:18)
the fire (Joel 2:3-5; Ex. 19:18)
The Lord's qol ("voice") (Joel 2:11; Ex. 19:19)
Holy hill, mountain (Zion in Joel 2:1; Mt. Sinai in Ex. 19:3, 18)
In Dt. 4:11-13, 24, as Moses recounted this day when he had received God's stipulations (Ex. 20), he again used similar vocabulary to describe the theophanic phenomena—the blazing fire, the clouds and darkness, the qol of the Lord. He states that "the Lord your God is a consuming fire" (cf. Dt. 5:22, 25). In Heb. 12:18-22, 29, the same theophanic description connects Mt. Sinai with Mt. Zion in the transition from the Old to the New Covenant.
The Divine Redeemer Warrior imagery in Joel 2:1-11 is a concrete sense-related old image given a new twist to describe the inexpressible (humanly speaking). Joel uses the acme and apex of all God's theophanic revelations given thus far to express to his contemporaries the theophanic glory of the Lord who will come with his retinue (cf. Dt. 33:2; Ps. 68:17; Dan. 7:13; cf. Joel 2:11). This descent of God seems to be a specific answer to Isaiah's prayer in Is. 64:1ff.
In the Hebrew text, Joel 2:3, 4a, 6, 10, 11a refer to a masculine, singular, third person. Verses 2:4b, 5, 7-9, 11b, refer to masculine, plural, third persons, distinguishing the Divine Redeemer Warrior from his retinue (who seem to be angelic beings in their invincibility). The appearance of the likeness of the glory of YHWH is described by Ezekiel to be like the qol of an army (Ezk. 1:24, 25a, 28b; cf. Joel 2:5, 11). The Divine Redeemer has his innumerable retinue, like obedient warriors and soldiers (2:2, 7), indefensible, unswerving, disciplined, supernatural and mighty (2:7-9). This description indicates the certainty of God's sovereignty and that his decree will certainly be carried to fulfillment. The Redeemer will come, and the people are thus exhorted to have faith in him and repent and call upon him (2:12-17).
Lest the people confuse this Redeemer with Hadad or Baal, YHWH distinguishes himself by stating the revelation of himself in exactly the same words as those given to Moses: ". . . the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love" (Joel 2:13; Ex. 34:6). None of the ancient near eastern gods or goddesses would fit this description, nor the attributes of God implied in his stipulations of the Mosaic Covenant. For the divine warrior motif, see also Ex. 15:3; Is. 59:15-20; Rev. 19:11-16; Josh. 5:13-6:2.
The Glory of God
"The sun and the moon grow dark and the stars lose their brightness" is word for word found in 2:10 and 4:15 [3:15], but with some variation in 3:4 [2:31]. The sun, moon, and stars, objects of idol-worshippers, lose their glory in the presence of God's glory (Is. 60:19; 24:23; Acts 26:13; Rev. 21:23; 22:5). Such worship was forbidden by God (Dt. 4:19; 17:3; Jer. 8:2). It is a phenomenon of the day of God's cosmic extermination of sinners (Is. 13:10-11).
The first occurrence of this sentence comes right after the revelation of the Divine Redeemer Warrior in 2:1-11. The triple occurrence underscores YHWH's action for his people and each occurrence focuses attention on the urgent message that follows: the warning of the dreadful yom YHWH immediately followed by YHWH's call to his people to repent and to return to him, to be reconciled to him, for he will be their refuge in that dreadful day (2:10-14; 3:4-5 [2:31-32]; 4:14-16 [3:14-16]). Joel 4:14-16 [3:14-16] is different in that there is a solemn warning for the unrepentant instead of the call for repentance. God himself will save. He will pour forth his Spirit to give regenerating life to flesh incapable of divine life in order that they may commune with him (cf. Rom. 3:9-19).
YHWH's command to his people to gather to him is given in a sevenfold series of imperatives that form an alliteration with the q syllable (2:15-16). Note also the nasal m syllable that forms a somber rhyme with the imperatives. The stress is upon urgent obedience:
|Blow the trumpet in Zion!||tiq'u shopar bsiyon!|
|Declare a Holy Fast!||qaddoshu som!|
|Call a sacred assembly!||qir'u 'asarah!|
|Gather the people!||'ispu 'am!|
|Consecrate the assembly!||qaddoshu qahal!|
|Gather the elders!||qibsu zqnim!|
|Gather the children and those nursing at the breast!||'ipsu 'olalim wyonqi shadayim!|
These imperatives are followed by a threefold series of jussives (commands) concerning the Bride and Bridegroom leaving their marital chambers, and the priests weeping and praying between the entrance and the altar of the temple. All this is made possible because God will provide a substitutionary offering which will replace the grain offerings and the drink offerings at the altar. God will meet his people at the entrance of the temple as he said he would at its inauguration (Joel 2:14-17; cf. Ex. 29:38-44). The Divine Redeemer Warrior is the Good Shepherd who gathers his sheep, the Bridegroom who claims his bride, the substitutionary Sacrifice of sacrifices, the true Vine, the Heavenly Bread of Life.
The waw in v. 18 connects vv. 15-17 to vv. 18ff. God promises to consequently bless in response to his provision of a substitutionary sacrifice. His people's obedience to his sevenfold imperatives will bring about the consummation of blessing. Abundance is promised (the grain, new wine and oil imagery) and the enemy of Israel and Zion will be annihilated (2:20).
There will be blessing (vv. 23-24) and restoration (vv. 25-27). The switch from the future tense in vv. 18-20 to the past perfect tense in vv. 20c-21 (the twofold "Surely [ky] he has done great things"), coupled with the causative ky indicates that the future is possible because of the accomplished work of God. This is also indicated by the Hiphil used for "I will drive far the Northern one" and "I will push him from upon you" to his complete annihilation (v. 20). The signs of abundance and restoration, and the people's praising the name of the Lord their God, are evidently the result of God being qrb ("in their midst")—in Israel (v. 27). There is the connotation of the spatial proximity of God in Israel. This must occur before Pentecost, which is described in 3:1-4 [2:28-31] and fulfilled after the advent of Christ. Joel, by using the whyh 'ry kn ("and afterward," 3:1 [2:28]), marks a timespan between 2:27 and 3:1 [2:28].
The Three Portraits of Death-to-Life
The threefold call to yll ("wail") in the midst of the destruction and death of the land, animals and people (1:5, 11, 13); and the threefold call to the land, the wild animals and the people of Zion to rejoice (2:21, 22, 23), because of renewed life and restoration, is interposed by God's amazing act (2:1-14)—"such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come" (2:2). For God himself will redeem his people like a mighty warrior. Death is overcome by him.
Three traditional symbols of the Messiah are used in the three portrayals of death-to-life, the transition coming after the creation motif of light breaking forth like dawn through the darkness and spreading forth into a blazing flame descending down the mountains (2:2-3). The light of the world, the Redeemer, comes like dawn descending from Mt. Sinai to redeem his people.
First, there is the imagery of the ba'al ne'wureyha ("bridegroom") for whom the virgin mourns (1:8). The bridegroom dies in the brief span between the act of "acquiring" and the "act of taking into the home," the time of especially cruel separation (Num. 30:17 ; Hos. 2:17 ; Jer. 2:2). This is intensified by the mourning priests who minister before the Lord and his altar (1:9, 13). In 2:16 the bridegroom and bride are among God's people, called to gather, leaving their chamber of consummation. They are among the priests, elders and children to whom God promises restoration, blessing and total deliverance from their enemies (2:18ff.). The Lord refers to himself as the bridegroom (Mt. 9:15; Mk. 2:19, 20: Lk. 5:34, 35), who gave his life for the bride (the Church) in Rev. 19:7-9 (cf. Is. 54:4-8; 62:4-5). The Creator is Husband-Redeemer (Is. 54:5).
The second potent illustration is the minhah wnesek (grain and drink offering). This particular offering was inaugurated after the seven-day ordination of Aaron and his sons and the seven-day purification of the altar (Ex. 29:38-43). The altar had to be anointed and atonement had to be made for it in order to consecrate it as most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall be holy. This is the tamid or perpetual twice-daily sacrifice which is the heart of the later worship of Israel in the temple (Acts 3:1). A lamb sacrifice was offered also in conjunction with it. It was a preparatory sacrifice for communion with God that he might meet and speak with his people and consecrate the place by his glory (Ex. 29:44, 45, 46). It was the prerequisite to God dwelling among the Israelites and being their God. To have it "cut off" (Joel 1:9) or withheld (1:13) meant no atoning sacrifice for sins and the loss of communion with God.
God himself will provide a substitutionary, propitiatory sacrifice (2:14). This will be the divine, most holy sacrifice of his sinless Son to substitute for every sacrifice commanded in the Old Testament. Indeed the foreshadowing of the eschatological must fade in the fulfillment of its reality (2:14; Jn. 1:29; Heb. 9:8-26). The eternal life-giving sacrifice will replace the twice-daily death sacrifice.
The third portrait of death-to-life utilizes agricultural imagery. In 1:7, the vines are laid waste and the fig trees are ruined by the goy ("nations"). And in 1:12, the vine is dried up and the fig tree withered along with the bridegroom's death and the cutting off of the grain offerings and drink offerings. After the advent of the Divine Redeemer Warrior (2:1-11), the fig tree and the vine yield their riches because the Lord has done great things (2:21-22). Likewise the ruined fields and dried ground (1:10) become open green pastures (2:22). The dried up trees (1:12) are bearing fruit (2:22). Mourning (1:8) has turned to joy and gladness (2:21, 23). The suffering cattle, sheep and the wild animals (1:18, 20) are called to enjoy the revived pastures (2:22). There is abundance of rain.l2 These wondrous regenerative happenings are firmly attributed to YHWH in the repeated clause—ky higdiyl yhwh la'sot ("surely he has done great things," 2:20, 21).
It is no coincidence that "bridegroom and bride," the "vine and the fig tree," "grain and drink offering" are images used here. Christ referred to himself as the Bridegroom in Mt. 9:15; Mk. 2:19; Lk.5:34; Jn. 3:29; cf. Rev. 19:7-9; 21:9, 10; as "the true Vine" in Jn. 15:1. Could "the grain and wine offering," the blessing provided by YHWH in Joel 2:14, be this "bread which comes down from heaven" (Jn. 6:50), as well as the bread and wine used during the Passover feast which was referred to as his body and blood of the New covenant symbolizing his atoning death? Christ inaugurated this Holy Communion on the Passover, significantly relating it to the Passover lamb sacrifice (Mt. 26:17ff.; Mk. 14:22-25; Lk. 22:1ff.). The tamid is always offered with a lamb sacrifice and precedes the communion of God with his covenant people. Upon the death of Christ, the veil of the temple that separated the holy place from the most holy place was supernaturally and significantly torn in two from top to bottom (Lk. 23:45; Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38).
The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit
This event is to take place after the advent of the Divine Redeemer Warrior. There is a gender pattern of female and male in the five line structure. This inversion of gender matching emphasizes the unusual event:
I will pour out my Spirit (f) on all flesh (m)
and your sons (m) and your daughters (f) will prophesy
your ancients (m) will dream dreams (f)
your youths (m) will see visions (f)
even on slaves (m) and handmaidens (f)
A merismus of a global picture is presented emphatically this way, expressing also the inevitability of its prophetic fulfillment.l3 The redeemed will be given an overpowering measure of God's Holy Spirit and will be saved from God's wrath. The lost are like chaff thrown into the fire for destruction (Mt. 3:11-12).
Nation (goy) and God's People ('ammi)
Just as God differentiated Israel and Egypt in the plagues, particularly in the ninth and the tenth plague, here Joel clearly differentiates between the goy and the 'ammi. The Lord first used the term 'ammi when he spoke of Abraham's descendants. He had chosen and was identified with them by means of the covenant (Ex. 3:7ff.). Goy usually refers to the pagan Gentile nations, especially after the formation of the nation Israel. The goy whose invasion of Israel is likened to a locust invasion, is ironically to be ultimately destroyed by the Divine Redeemer Warrior in a final cosmic event. None will escape except his redeemed people ('ammi) (2:18, 20; 3:5 [2:32]-4:2 [3:2]; 4:12-16 [3:12-16]). The others (goyim) will face the judgment of God in the valley of decision without the refuge and stronghold of God for his people—YHWH's inheritance, once objects of scorn among the goyim. The Divine Redeemer Warrior is a devouring fire, dividing between the holy and the profane (2:3; cf. Gen. 3:24; Ps. 50:3, 5; 97:3; Ex. 14:19-20; Is. 66:15-16). For the 'ammi, there will be eschatological restoration to the Garden of Eden, but for the goyim there is eschatological judgment, death and desolation.
The ingenuity of this poem, so remarkably worded and structured, attests to its divine inspiration. The revelation unfolds like a blossom in redemptive history, giving more details that would ultimately help the faithful to recognize their Messiah. It is so interwoven with the whole canon of Scripture that its interpretation could not be misconstrued, for it "grows" upon revelation given to the Israelites, a people consecrated to go through extraordinary experiences. God spoke through his unmistakably authentic spokesmen, the prophets. For absolutely new future truths had to find common ground in the analogously known truths in order to be effectively communicated to mankind.
God continued to unfold the profound truth of the incarnate Christ, his death and resurrection, for the new creation of a regenerated people, and the awesome judgment that would be the consummation of wickedness in the world. The graphic description of the devastating locust invasion ever instills one with the awesome fear of God and his judgment. God decrees his redemptive plan. It is divinely executed, and this is emphasized by the symbolical use of the number three, and the description of the invincible, innumerable retinue of God. Therefore, the people must turn to God in repentance and obedience.
He is the Lord Sabboath, "the Lord of Hosts," sovereign over every man and all creation. His commands (given by alliteration in seven consecutive imperatives) emphasize the urgency of the moment for the gathering of his people—the day of YHWH draws near. The only hope of refuge in that day of consummation is God's provision of justification through the Redeemer, the Good Shepherd, the Substitutionary sacrifice of sacrifices, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the True Vine, the Light of the World, who outshines the sun, the moon and the stars in his glory. Joel alludes to these images of Christ and these images are confirmed in the New Testament.
He will battle the northern one to complete annihilation and the nations that are in allegiance to the enemy will face the judgment of God and be sentenced to eternal damnation and desolation. The Divine Redeemer Warrior divides the 'ammi from the goyim. Like the cherubim with the flaming sword, he guards the Garden of Eden faithfully from fallen man. His new creation (his people) are those who will respond to his gracious call in repentance and obedience to his commands. They will receive the seal of the Holy Spirit as the foretaste of the eternal life of restoration and eschatological blessedness with God. They will be resurrected from death that no longer has dominion over them. The Old Testament saints had this faith and witnessed to it with their lives (Heb. 11). God's redemptive plan is revealed through the person of the Divine Redeemer Warrior, the seed of the woman, from the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God. Joel ends with a triumphant note for God and his saints—FOR GOD DWELLS WITH THEM IN ZION!
1. Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 255-56; Roland Kenneth Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 876-79.
2. Hans Walter Wolff, Joel and Amos (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 6-12.
3. John Calvin, Joel, Amos and Obadiah (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), 43ff.
4. Shimon Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible (Sheffield: Almond Press, 1989), 10-11.
5. Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980), 30.
6. See Bar-Efrat, note 4 above; J. P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel, Vol. 1 (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1981); Wilfred G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poety (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984).
7. Throughout this essay, passages from Joel in parenthesis ( ) refer to the Hebrew text; passages in brackets [ ] refer to the English versions. Hence, (2:10-3:5) refers to the Hebrew text of Joel, while [2:10-32] refers to the numbering in the English versions.
8. Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 98-102.
9. Vos, op. cit., 26.
10. Harris, Archer, Waltke, Theological Workbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:2065. See also Ezk. 37:7, the Piel imperative in Ezk. 37:17; cf. Gesenius, Kautsch, Cowley, Gesenius Hebrew Grammar(Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1910) 52n (p. 143), 64h (p. 171); also perhaps, Ex. 14:20; Jdg. 19:13.
11. Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1979), 80-83.
12. Autumn and spring rains are important for the Israelite terrain (2:23, cf. Jam. 5:7) because of the lisedakah (justification) of God.
13. Wilfred G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984), 189.