Joel is a lively book. It attracts attention. We do not know an exact date for it. This is because there are no details of history in it. It does not speak about rulers or events of the time. But it does mention a time when locusts flew into the land.

[Note: Locusts are insects. Thousands of them fly together. When they land, they soon eat everything that is green. When they fly away again, there are no leaves, plants or grass left.]

Joel spoke about a time when locusts ruined the land. This could have been at any time. But the date is probably early. It could have been during the rule of Joash. He was a king of Judah. (Read 2 Chronicles 23:3; 24:1-25.)

However, its message is suitable for all time. This is the message. God must punish sin. But God always urges sinners to repent. He desires to forgive them. He wants to pardon them. But they must turn away from their evil ways first.

God's Punishment (Chapters 1:1−2:11)

Joel had a strong belief that God was in control. God controls all of nature. He sent the locusts. And he did this so that his people would trust him again. Notice something about the punishment. God was not being cruel to his people. He just wanted to correct them. God knew that this was the only way that would work. Nothing else would bring the people back to him. Sometimes God does this to us. (Read John 15:2 and Hebrews 12:5-11.)

Punishment to teach people (1:2-3). Families would continue to tell about this punishment. Other people would learn from it. And this would continue as the centuries went by.

Punishment that people could not escape (1:4-13). This passage shows that people cannot escape judgement. It will come to everyone, whatever his or her place in society. They may be religious leaders (1:9-10, 13). They may be farm workers (1:11-12). But punishment will still reach them. It will affect them in a serious way. This passage could also refer to locusts. It could be about the stages of their growth.

Punishment that was fair (1:14-20). This punishment was completely just. God did it. And he knew that it was necessary (1:15. ‘…punishment will come like an attack from God who has all-power’).

Punishment that people were expecting (2:1-11). This passage warned about a special time. It was ‘the day of the Lord’. The people had been expecting it. Amos is the next book in the Bible. And Amos spoke about it too. The people were expecting God to punish their enemies. But the prophets knew that ‘the day of the Lord’ had another meaning. Punishment was for their own sins. (Compare Amos 5:20.) Sometimes we are like this too. We see the sins of other people much more clearly than our own sins.

God's Personal Appeal (Chapter 2:12-27)

Sin brings punishment. The first section of the book of Joel showed this. In this section, Joel was very happy. This was because there was another truth. Both truths were important. God offered to forgive and to pardon his people. God urged them to return to him (2:12). Notice Joel's description of God. It is wonderful. He is a God who acts. He loved his people very much. And he wanted to have their friendship again.

Joel emphasises:

  • God's call of love (2:12). God was the first to act. He did not wait for people to come to him. He called them. (Read Ezekiel 33:11 and John 4:9-10.)
  • God's character of mercy (2:13-14). ‘He is kind and full of mercy’). It is God's nature to forgive. His desire was to restore friendship with his people. And God loves us like that too!
  • God's honour from everyone (2:17). ‘God's honour is in danger’. This was what God's people were saying. If awful things continued, the effect on other nations could be bad. Nations who did not believe in God would say, ‘Where is their God?’ Jews did care about this possible bad effect. Usually, the other nations thought that good times were a sign of God's pleasure. And bad times were a sign that God was not happy. It could even mean something worse to the other nations. Perhaps the Jews’ God was not able to do anything about bad situations! (Read Isaiah 37:18-20.) This subject comes up often in the Psalms. (Some examples are Psalm 44:13; 74:10; 94:2-7 and 115:1-2.)
  • God's kindness is generous (2:25). ‘I will put right the years that the locusts have ruined.’ [Note: This refers to the ‘years of trouble’, as well as to the actual locusts.] These words are full of hope, of certainty and of grace! God never deals with us as we deserve. But he often uses hard circumstances in life. He uses them to bring us back to himself. They help us to understand how selfish we are. We realize that we are not obeying God. And we can see our resistance against God. Hard circumstances show us something very important. It is this. We cannot be truly happy unless we put God first in our lives (Matthew 6:33).
  • God's promise of friendship (2:27). ‘You will know that I am with Israel.’ Because of all their hurt and pain, the Jews felt that God had left them. But, here, he promises them something. When they ask, he will forgive them. Then he will be with them.
  • God's sovereignty (his ruling power) is certain (2:27) ‘There is no other God’). It was a time of punishment and a time of correction. But there was a good result from this time. The Jews understood God's sovereignty in a new way. There must be no other gods in the nation of Israel. In the same way, there must be no idols in our lives.

God spoke first to each person (2:12-14). Then he spoke to the nation of Israel (2:15-16). And it was for the sake of the world. But their repentance must be:

  • sincere repentance (2:12)
  • united repentance (2:15)
  • immediate repentance (2:16).

God's Promise (Chapters 2:28−3:21)

In this passage, God promised future benefits. The main word is ‘afterwards’ (2:28).

God promised that ‘afterwards’ there would be:

Special events (2:28-32. Things would happen that only God could do). We are familiar with this passage. This is because Peter used it at Pentecost (Acts 2:16. ‘Joel the prophet spoke about the things that you see happening here today’).

Universal Punishment (3:1-16). God will punish the nations. This is because of all their sins against his people. God chose his people. And other people cannot go on sinning against God's people. If they do, they can expect punishment. (Compare 3:19.)

National success (3:16b-21). The prophet spoke about good times that would come. For a long time, things had been bad for his people. But they would enjoy peace and success again (3:18).

[Note: Some Jews stayed in Judah when others were exiles in Babylon. The people of Edom were especially cruel at this time. There is a reference to the land of Edom in 3:19. So, some people think that this shows a late date for the book of Joel. However, this may not be so. There was constant trouble between Jews and the people of Edom.]