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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

- Joel

by Johann Peter Lange



Urach, Würtemberg.
Translated From The German, With Additional Notes And A New Version Of The Hebrew Text,
Chaplain And Professor Of Ethics And Law In The United States Military Academy, West Point, N. Y.
I. The Person and Time of the Prophet

The name Joel, יוֹאֵל, i. e., Jehovah is God, is one of frequent occurrence in the Old Testament, having been borne by many persons mentioned in sacred history. For this reason our Prophet, whose name is found only in the title of this book, is distinguished as “The son of Pethuel.” This is the only direct notice of him, and all the other incidents of his personal history must be inferred from the book that bears his name. He certainly lived in the kingdom of Judah, for in the call to the people to meet in the temple for the purpose of humiliation and repentance, Zion, and Jerusalem, and Judah alone are mentioned, Joel 2:15; Joel 2:23; Joel 2:32; Joel 3:1; Joel 3:6; Joel 3:16; Joel 3:18. Of these localities he speaks not in the tone of a stranger, but as one who was personally identified with them. He makes no allusion whatever to the state of things in the kingdom of Israel. It is, therefore, highly probable that he resided and prophesied not simply within the limits of the kingdom of Judah, but specially at Jerusalem. Again, the way in which he speaks of the temple, the sacrifices, and the priesthood, raises the presumption that he was himself a priest.

The Time in which he lived is nowhere expressly stated, and cannot be fixed with absolute certainty. But we may determine it approximately from the relation between him and Amos. The latter begins his prophecy (Joel 1:2) by a quotation from Joel 3:16, and there is also a close resemblance between Amos 9:13 and Joel 3:18. Hence it may be inferred that Amos had the prophecy of Joel before him when he wrote his own. Now the time when Amos flourished may be easily fixed by the inscription and by the contents of his book, namely, in the days of the Judaic King Uzziah, and of the Israelitic King Jeroboam II. Joel, therefore, cannot belong to a later period. The design of his prophecy, and the condition of things which it implies, warrant the inference that he lived at an earlier day. Ewald justly says, “A later prophet would not have been so deeply moved as Joel was, by the terrible visitation of locusts and drought, as to call for a solemn act of national repentance on this ground alone. He would rather have seized the opportunity to point out and impress upon the people their spiritual defects, and while exhorting them to repentance, he would have told them specially of the sins from which they should break off, and return to the Lord.” In Joel’s days there is no evidence of the general corruption of manners that obtained in the times of Amos and Hosea. He makes no marked reference to particular sins. He does not speak of idolatry; on the contrary, the worship of Jehovah seems to have been maintained in the temple, at least in comparative purity. Israel, indeed, is exhorted to repent, but is at the same time encouraged by precious promises. He does not exhibit the heathen nations as the instruments of God’s judgments on his own people; on the contrary, he ever sides with the latter, and he predicts the evils that shall overtake the heathen for what they have done to Israel. He makes no allusion to Assyria. The captivity of Israel by that power was an event beyond the horizon of the prophet. This much then is certain: that as the worship of Jehovah was still kept up in his day, Joel could not have belonged to the times of Joram, nor Ahaziah, nor Athaliah. He must have lived before or after their day. We cannot, however, place him very long before these kings, as this would not consist with the reference to the invasion of Judah by the adjacent nations (Joel 3:3-6), which implied a weakened condition of the kingdom, nor with his probable allusion to the pillaging of Jerusalem by the Philistines and the Arabians in the reign of Joram. Again, the revolt of Edom, which did not occur earlier than the time of Joram, must be taken into account. Nor must Joel be separated too far from the days of Amos. For as Amos speaks of drought and locusts as judgments which God was about to inflict, we may infer that he had in view the same calamities as those described by Joel. It is natural to suppose that they came upon the kingdom of Judah to which Joel belonged, and that of Israel, which was the special field of Amos. Again, Amos speaks of the Philistines, the Tyrians, and Edom (Joel 1:0), and of their hostility to Israel, in a strain very similar to that employed by Joel (Joel 3:0). Both prophets charge them with the same sin, and denounce against them the same punishment. Their sin was that of capturing Israelites and selling them as slaves; and although Joel names the Grecians as guilty of this crime, and Amos the Edomites, yet it is plain that they both had in view the same events. On this ground, Bleek holds that Joel, though older than Amos, was his contemporary, and places him in the time of Uzziah. Others think that as he nowhere alludes to Syria, whose capital Damascus is named by Amos (Joel 1:3), nor to the invasion of Israel by that power under Hazael, in the days of Joash, he must have flourished in the early part of that reign, between B. C. 870–850. Certainly if he lived in the time of Joash it must have been in the early part of his reign, while he was still under the healthful influence of Joihada the high priest, for at a later day he introduced the worship of Baal. To this view Bleek objects that while Joel might have been expected to refer to the Syrian invasion if his book had been written very soon after that event, there would be no reason for naming it if he wrote it in the days of Uzziah, fifty years after it happened, since Syria was remote from Judah, and separated from it by the then existing kingdom of Israel. But to this it may be replied that Tyre and Sidon were also separated from Judah in the same way. Hence as both prophets refer to the same heathen nations, while Damascus is mentioned by Amos alone, this difference becomes all the more remarkable, and seems to warrant the inference that Joel could not have lived during the Syrian invasion. Though the events detailed by Joel, on account of which the nations concerned in them would be punished, must have been in the view of Amos, yet there must also have been other occurrences, such as the war with Syria, nearer to his time, and more immediately affecting the kingdom of Israel to which he belonged. Hence if Amos prophesied about B. C. 810, Joel must have done so about B.C. 850. But while Joel was older than Amos, it does not follow that he is the oldest of the prophets whose writings we possess. He has many points of contact with Obadiah (comp. Obadiah 1:10, Joel 3:19; Obadiah 1:11, Joel 3:3; Obadiah 1:15, Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1; Joel 3:12; Joel 3:17; Obadiah 1:18, Joel 3:8). It is a question which of these two prophets is the elder. It is not improbable, though by no means certain, that Joel had before him the book of Obadiah, when he wrote his prophecy. But we shall not pursue the discussion.

[Wünsche, the most recent expositor of this book,1 fixes the time of Joel as somewhere between b. c. 860–850, and the grounds on which he bases his opinion are these:—

1. Joel charges the Philistines with having invaded Judah, captured the inhabitants, and sold them as slaves. Now according to 2 Chronicles 21:10, this happened under Joram, b. c. 889–883. And they suffered the punishment predicted for their crime, under Uzziah, 2 Chronicles 26:6. Hence Joel could not have written this book before b. c. 889, nor later than 732.

2. The Phœnicians, i. e., those of Tyre and Sidon, who in the days of David and Solomon were the allies, had in later times become the enemies of Judah. They too had been guilty of selling Jewish prisoners to the Grecians. Joel predicts that they also shall be punished for this crime,—a prediction fulfilled in the time of Uzziah, b. c. 811–759. This proves that Joel must have prophesied before the days of Uzziah.

3. The Edomites (Joel 3:19), are ranked among the enemies of Judah. They came from the same stock as the Jews, and on account of their sin against their brethren, their country was to become a perpetual desolation. From 2 Kings 8:20, comp. with 2 Chronicles 21:8, we learn that they became independent of Judah in the time of Joram, b. c. 889–883. They were again subdued, and their capital city Petra captured, b. c. 838–811, though the southern and eastern parts of their territory were not conquered until the reign of Uzziah, about b. c. 830. The prophet must have exercised his ministry, therefore, prior to the latter date.

4. The fact that no mention is made of the invasion by the Syrians of Damascus, proves that Joel was one of the early prophets. This occurred in the latter part of the reign of Joash, b. c. 850–840.
5. The high antiquity of Joel is proved by the fact that he makes no reference to the Assyrian invasion of the two Jewish kingdoms in b. c. 790. On the other hand, Amos clearly alludes to it (Joel 6:14).
6. Another proof is derived from the relation between Joel and Amos. The latter was certainly well acquainted with and used the writings of the former.
7. The mention of the Valley of Jehoshaphat is a circumstance leading to the same conclusion. It took this name from the memorable victory there gained over Moab and Ammon. The way in which Joel refers to it shows that this event must have been a comparatively recent one, and that the memory of it was still fresh.
On these grounds we conclude that in fixing the time of this prophet, we cannot take for our terminus a quo an earlier date than b. c. 890, nor for our terminus ad quem a later one than 840. It most probably falls between b. c. 860–850. Joel therefore is the oldest of the Minor Prophets.—F.]

Of the Ministry of our Prophet, i. e., as to the way in which he exercised it, we know nothing beyond what may be gathered from this book. Whether he first appeared simply as a preacher, or worked at the same time in other ways, cannot be determined. From what we know respecting the other prophets, it is more than probable that his prophetic teachings were originally oral, but if so, they must have been soon reduced to writing in the form in which we now have them. That he exerted a commanding influence on the popular mind is clear from Joel 2:18, especially if this verse be taken in a historical sense. But in any view of it the passage shows that the prophet was conscious of his power; for he not only exhorts the nation to repentance, but imperatively demands it, and he does so with the evident assurance that he will be obeyed. For this reason we are inclined to think that he belonged to the order of the priesthood, and that his exhortations were, in the first instance, addressed to his brethren in that office.

II. Of the Book

There can be no question that the book bearing the name of Joel was written by himself. Not only is there no ground for doubt on this head, but all the positive evidence in the case is strongly on the same side; as, for example, the perfect unity that marks the book, one chapter fitting into another with the most complete exactness. Even if we admit, what some assert, that Joel 2:10, etc., belongs to a later date than the other parts of the book, our remark holds good, for it is most closely connected with what precedes and follows it. Whether we have the discourses of the prophet precisely as they were delivered (supposing it to have been orally), or only the substance of them, is a point which cannot be determined, and is really one of no practical importance. Most probably we have them in the latter form, as the high finish and poetical diction of the book, specially in the first two chapters, suggest the idea of literary elaboration, rather than that of a simple reporting of oral discourses.

[Of the Style of the. Prophet, the chief characteristic, says Dr. Pusey, is perhaps its simple vividness. Everything is set before us, as though we ourselves saw it. This is alike the character of the description of the desolation in the first chapter, the advance of the locusts in the second, or that more awful gathering in the valley of Jehoshaphat described in the third. The prophet adds detail to detail; each clear, brief, distinct, a picture in itself, yet adding to the effect of the whole. We can without an effort bring the whole of each picture before our eyes. Sometimes he uses the very briefest form of words, two words, in his own language, sufficing for each feature in his picture. One verse consists of five such pairs of words, Joel 1:10. Then again the discourse flows on in a soft and gentle cadence, like one of those longer sweeps of an Æolian harp. This blending of energy and softness is perhaps one secret why the diction also of this prophet has been at all times so winning and so touching. Deep and full, he pours out the tide of his words with an unbroken smoothness, carries all along with him, yea, like those rivers of the new world, bears back the bitter restless billows which oppose him, a pure strong stream amid the endless heavings and tossings of the world. Poetic as Joel’s language is, he does not much use distinct imagery. For his whole picture is one image. They are God’s chastenings through inanimate nature, picturing the worse chastenings through man. Full of sorrow himself, he summons all with him to repentance, priests and people, old and young, bride and bridegroom. The tenderness of his soul is evinced by his lingering over the desolation which he foresees. It is like one counting over, one by one, the losses he endures in the privations of others. Nature to him seemed to mourn; he had a fellow feeling of sympathy with the brute cattle which, in his ears, mourn so grievously; and if none else would mourn for their own sins, he would himself mourn to Him who is full of compassion and mercy. Amid a wonderful beauty of language he employs words not found elsewhere in the Holy Scripture. In one verse (Joel 1:16), he has three such words. The extent to which the prophecies of Joel reappear in the later prophets has been exaggerated. The subjects of the prophecy recur; not, for the most part, in the form in which they were delivered. The great imagery of Joel is much more adopted and enforced in the New Testament than the Old,—of the locust, the outpouring of the Spirit, the harvest, the wine-treading, the wine-press. To this unknown Prophet, whom in his writings we cannot but love, but of whose history, condition, rank, parentage, birthplace, nothing is known, nothing beyond his name, save the name of an unknown father, of whom, moreover, God has allowed nothing to remain save these few chapters,—to him God reserved the prerogative, first to declare the outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon all flesh, the perpetual abiding of the Church, the final struggle of good and evil, the last rebellion against God, and the Day of Judgment.

The tone of Joel’s writings, says Wünsche, indicates deep religious feelings, heartfelt experience, and warm sympathy. His moral ideas are lofty and pure, and testify to the religious knowledge and the holy life of the prophet. His poetry is distinguished by the soaring flight of his imagination, the originality, beauty, and variety of his images and similes. The conceptions are simple enough, but they are at the same time bold and grand. The perfect order in which they are arranged, the even flow and well compacted structure of the discourse, are quite remarkable. In his energy, power, and dignity, Joel reminds us of Micah; in his vivacity and lifelike freshness he resembles Nahum; in his originality and directness, in the bold range, and sublime strain of his ideas, he falls but a little below Isaiah: in his enthusiastic zeal for true religion, and his clear, earnest, penetrating insight into the moral disorders of his times, he resembles Amos. Joel threatens and warns; he descends into the innermost recesses of human nature, and he drags into the light of day, corruption, falsehood, and luke warmness in the worship of Jehovah. Of our Prophet, Umbreit finely says: The Prophetic mantle which enrobed his lofty form, was worthy of his majestic spirit; its color is indeed dark and solemn, like the day of the Lord which he predicts, yet we see sparkling upon it the stars of the eternal lights of love and grace.—F.]

The Occasion of this book was a terrible visitation of Judah by locusts and drought. The prophet describes the devastation produced, and viewing it as the beginning of a great judgment day of the Lord, he calls upon the priests to appoint a day for national humiliation and prayer. This must have been done, since he, by divine authority, promises the people the richest blessings for the present and the future, as well as complete deliverance from all their enemies.

The book consists of two Parts, which must be carefully distinguished. They are as follows:—

Part I. includes chaps, 1–2:17; Part II. extends from Joel 2:19 to the end of Joel 3:0. They are connected together by the historical statement (Joel 2:18-19).

Part I. The plagues already named, are described as a divine judgment. The call to repentance.
Ch. 1. The unprecedented plague of locusts and drought is described, and those on whom it fell are called upon to lament over the desolation of the land caused by it; one of the worst results of it being the necessity for suspending the daily sacrifices. For this reason the priests are required to mourn themselves, and to summon all the inhabitants of the land to join with them in their lamentation.
Ch. 2. This visitation is simply a token that a great judgment day of the Lord is coming. The army of locusts, of which a graphic picture is given, is the host of the Lord, sent to do his will (vers. 1–11). Still the threatened judgment may be averted by timely repentance (vers. 12–14). Hence the priests should appoint a day of humiliation and prayer, and should beseech the Lord to have mercy upon the nation as being his own people (vers. 14–17).

Part II. contains promises: (1) For the present (Joel 2:18-27). God will deliver his people from the plague and amply repair the evil done by it, by new blessings, and so prove that Israel is his people. (2.) For the future still greater things are promised. The day of the Lord is surely coming, but to Israel it shall be a day of salvation, and a day of terror only to Israel’s foes. This day shall be introduced by the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the whole people. There shall be at the same time terrible signs in the heavens and the earth, from which there is safety only in Zion. But there, all will be perfectly secure (Joel 3:1-8). The day itself is described as one of deliverance for Israel, and of destruction for their enemies, i. e., “the nations.” These nations are reproached for their crimes against Israel, and shall be punished on account of them (Joel 3:9-16). Infliction of the punishment. The Lord assembles Israel and the nations, in the valley of Jehoshaphat. At first it seems as if the nations were on the point of storming the holy city, but then and there, amid terrible signs, they are annihilated by the Lord at one blow. The dawning of Israel’s salvation described (Joel 3:17-20). Uninjured by their enemies, protected by their God, who dwells forever in the midst of them, his people enjoy the richest blessings.

What Joel says of the locusts is not to be taken simply as an allegory, nor as a merely figurative description of the hosts of war. Nor is the first chapter a prediction; on the contrary it describes his own experience.

Importance of this Book. We find that it was held in high consideration by the later prophets. We have already mentioned the use made of it by Amos. It is also quite plain that Isaiah used it (comp. Isaiah 13:3; Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 13:8; Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 13:13, and Joel 2:1-11; Joel 3:15-16). That other later prophets had the book before them will be obvious to any one who examines a Bible with parallel references. Delitzsch, therefore, justly says, “Among the prophets who flourished from the time of Uzziah to that of Jeroboam, Joel unquestionably holds the position of a type or model, and after Amos, there is not one whose writings do not remind us of him.” We may even claim for Joel (and Obadiah also if we regard him as one of the earlier prophets), a sort of fundamental significance for the whole series of later prophets, not only on account of his clear and precise prediction of the coming of the day of the Lord, but also because of the way in which he connects Israel with it. Even God’s covenant people must look well to see how they stand, for in that day, repentance alone can help them. If this is wanting, if Israel departs from God, escape from the coming judgment will be impossible,—a truth which the later prophets exhibit with an ever-growing emphasis and distinctness. The prophecies of Joel are, it seems to me, fundamental in another sense, namely, in the promises they give respecting Israel’s future. Though Israel must first suffer on account of their sins, yet the prophet anticipates with confidence the time when they shall return in penitence to God, and predicts that they shall win a glorious triumph, while all their enemies, i. e., the world, shall be utterly destroyed. Thus Joel (uniting himself, as it were, with Obadiah in unfolding and confirming the prophetic promises on this head), fixes with an assured faith the position of Israel, as God’s own people, and foretells their glorious victory over all their foes, though the latter may, for the present, bring upon them much shame and sorrow. What the eye sees cannot be an object of faith, which has to do with things for the time being invisible. Accordingly Joel has given a key-note (much more full than that of Obadiah’s), which was repeated by the later prophets; he unfurled a standard, so to speak, which shall never cease to wave on high. The later prophets would witness the deep humiliation of God’s people by the nations, i. e., the world power; they would have to announce the total overthrow of the commonwealth of Israel, the annihilation of its political existence, as a well-deserved punishment for their sins. But notwithstanding this, all that Joel had promised would be realized; the day of the Lord was surely coming for the heathen,—a day of fearful recompense to them, but to his own people a day of deliverance and eternal salvation. So we find that in spite of the denunciations against the chosen people on account of their apostasy, in spite of the judgments to be inflicted upon them through the agency of the heathen, the faith and hope of the prophets in regard to the future of Israel are never shaken. They perpetually recur to the promise that the Lord will not cast off his people. A remnant shall survive. In this remnant Jehovah will be glorified, and will show that his ultimate design was not to destroy his people, but to bestow upon them fresh favors, yea far higher ones than their fathers enjoyed. This promise becomes more and more closely allied to the hope of a Messiah, and gives to it a more and more positive shape. This hope of a Messiah is the solid basis of all other hopes of Israel’s future and glorious destiny. Joel, indeed, does not in express terms describe this Messianic foundation, as it may be called, but he has a general conception of it, and for this reason we have said that his prophecy may properly be called a fundamental one, i. e., with reference to those on the same subject, in later times.

III. Literature of the Book (exclusive of Commentaries on the Minor Prophets as a whole)

Sebast. Tuscani, Erem. Augustin. Comment. in Joel, Colon., 1556; Joel cum Adnot et Versione trium Rabbin, per Gilb. Genebrand, Paris, 1563; Eli Schadæus, Synopsis Joel, Argent, 1588; F. Bunny, Enarratio in Joel, Lond., 1588, 1595; J. Mathiæ, Prælectiones in Joel, Basil, 1590; S. Simonidis, Comm. in Joel, Cracov, 1593; Sol. Gesner, Comm. in Joel, Viteb., 1614; J. H. Ursinus, Comm. in Joel, Francov., 1641; Ed. Pocock, Comm. in Proph. Joel, Lips., 1695; Haseus, Joel Illustrata, Bremen, 1697; J. J. Schurrman, Proph. Joel, Wesel, 1700 (also Holland version, 1703); Sam. Chandler, Paraphrase and Critical Comment. on Joel, London, 1735; C. F. Bauer, Introd. in Joel, Wittemb. 1741; G. N. Richter, in Joel, Viteb., 1747; Baumgarten, Auslegung des Joel, Halle, 1756; P. Conz, Dissert de Charact Poet Joels, Tub., 1783; J. Buttner, Joel olim Hebrœus, Coburg, 1784; J. R. Eckerman, Joel metrisch übersetzt und erklärt, Lubeck und Leipzig, 1786; Justi, Joel iibersetzt und erhlart, Leipzig, 1792; A. Svanborg, Joel Latine Versus, et Notis philol. illustrata, Upsal, 1806; F. A. Holzhausen, Comment., 1829; K. A. Credner, 1831; A. Wünsche, Die Weissagungen des Propheten Joel, übersetzt und erklärt, Leipzig, 1872. Among practical expositors, may be named, J. Diedrich, der Proph. Joel, kurz erklärt, Leipzig, 1861.


1[Die Weissagungen des Propheten Joel, ubersetzt and erklart, von Aug. Wünsche, Leipzig, 1872. A very elaborate work.—J.F.]

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