Determining an approximate for Joel is not easy. Unlike the major prophets, who tell us the reigns of kings during which they were active, the minor prophets do not always afford us that courtesy. As a result, there has been a significant amount of disagreement on the topic of attempting to assign dates to some of the minor prophets, including Joel.
Over a century ago, Arno Gaebelein called Joel “the earliest of all the prophets,” and said that he was active was during the reign of Jehoash1, and as we are following the dating of Finkelstein and Silberman, we may say that Jehoash reigned 836-798 BC. That early date was rejected by many after the advent of literary criticism for various reasons, one of which was Joel’s reference to the walls of Jerusalem (Joel 2:7, 9), which was presented as evidence for a date after Ezra and Nehemiah. Furthermore, the mention of Greeks in 3:6 was also tauted as indicating a late date. Such arguments, however, were not totally convincing, especially since a Greek is already mentioned in the Amarna letters.2 Gaebelein also argued that since Joel says nothing of the Assyrian problem we encounter with the 8th century prophets, he must have preceded that period. He also said that Joel must have preceded Amos because the latter quoted him (Amos 1:2 = Joel 3:16).
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In order to suggest a possible time period for Joel, there are two things we can look at: the content of Joel’s message, and the language he uses to convey that message (i.e. the form of the Hebrew). Let us therefore first summarize his message. In the first chapter of Joel, he tells us about a coming invasion of Judah by locusts (and/or other pests). He says that the land will become quite desolate, and even the streams will dry up. It is not clear whether the locusts are meant literally, or whether they are figurative for invaders from the north. In 1:6 he calls them a “nation” (goi), which might suggest that he is talking about an invasion, but which invasion? The Assyrians in the 7th century BC? Or the Babylonians a century later? In this regard, we might even consider the possibility that he is not referring to either of those invasions, but rather to one to come in the end of days, such as that described by Ezekiel (chapters 38-39).
In the second chapter, Joel tells us about the coming of the day of Yahweh, and how it will end in victory for Yahweh and his people. If this is to be something in close chronological proximity to the invasion described in chapter 1, then perhaps the invasion Joel depicts is indeed the same as that of Ezekiel 38-39, for that seems to be the very same invasion as the one that Isaiah describes (Isa. 13), and Isaiah even uses the phrase “day of Yahweh” in connection with that event (Isa. 13:6). In the third chapter (in the English) he seems to be dealing with still another crisis in which God intervenes, and Yahweh judges the nations in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, or Valley of Decision (outside Jerusalem). Since the resulting victory for Yahweh and his people is connected temporally with the miracle of the water coming out from the temple (as in Ezekiel 47), this would appear to be the final battle over Jerusalem, or Armageddon.3
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How does this information help us in establishing possible dates for Joel? First, I would say that if we assume that he is seeing conflicts far in the future, then we are freed from the constraints of trying to place him in the 8th century BC as one describing the Assyrian invasion (which really affected the northern kingdom more than the southern kingdom anyway), or in the 7th or even early 6th century, as one describing the Babylonian invasion. In point of fact, neither one of those invasions ended in the kind of victory that he describes, either in chapter 2 or in chapter 3. Secondly, we may observe that if he is talking about the events which are also covered by Isaiah and Ezekiel, then the assumption must be that Joel preceded both those prophets, for if he had lived after them, it would have been a waste of time for him to describe in such brevity, what two other prophets had already described in great detail. Therefore, judging from the content, we can at least place Joel prior to both those prophets, and therefore no later than the 8th century BC, and perhaps even earlier.
In terms of the language itself, there are a couple of reasons for viewing it as very early. One is the use of nunation 4 in certain passages (2:4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11). This is a grammatical feature that appears in early Hebrew, and it is particularly interesting to note that in this regard, Joel has something in common with Job, which has traditionally been considered one of the earliest writings we have.5 Therefore, this grammatical feature speaks for an early date for Joel. Another, although perhaps weaker, piece of evidence is the fact that Joel uses some rare vocabulary items which only occur in other writings known to be early. For example, he uses the words גזם (a type of locust??), and עסיס (fresh wine??), which also occur in Amos, whom we can firmly date to the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC).
In view of the evidence presented above, I would say that we cannot date Joel any later than the 8th century BC, and a date during the 9th century would not be objectionable.
Footnotes from intro
2. Gaebelein 1923:86.
3. See Appendix 4.
4. Hebrew, like Classical Arabic, originally had a final “n” at the end of certain verb forms, but that was dropped already during historical times, so it appears in the Old Testament primarily in very old sections, or in poetry where archaic forms are used. There are detailed treatments of this phenomenon, many of which are listed in the bibliography of DeCaen 2003.
5. For a more detailed discussion of nunation in Joel, see DeCaen 2003.
Famine and drought are predicted
- 1. The word of Yahweh, which came to Joel, the son of Pethuel.
2. Hear this, Oh elders, and give ear, all inhabitants of the land. Did this take place in your days, or in the days of your fathers?
3. Tell about it to your children, and your children to their children, and their children to another generation.
4. What remained from the gazam, the locust swarm has devoured, and what remained from the locust swarm, the yeleq has devoured, and what remained from the yeleq, the hasil has devoured. 1
5. Wake up, Oh drunkards, and weep and wail, all you wine drinkers, because of the sweet wine, for it has been cut off from your mouths.
6. For a nation has come up upon my land, mighty and innumerable; its teeth are the teeth of a lion, and it has incisors (like) a lioness.
7. He has made my vine a desolation, and (turned) my fig tree into splinters; he stripped it bare and cast it aside. Its twigs have turned white.
8. Lament like a virgin girded in sackcloth for the husband of her youth.
9. The meal offering and the libation have been cut off from the house of Yahweh; the priests (and) the ministers of Yahweh have mourned.
10. The field has been plundered, the ground has mourned, for the grain has been plundered, the new wine has dried up, the fresh oil has languished.
11. Be ashamed, Oh farmers; wail, Oh vine-dressers, because of the wheat and because of the barley, for the harvest of the field has been lost.
12. The vines have dried up, and the fig trees languish; the pomegranates, even the date palms and the apples; all the trees of the field have dried up, for joy has dried up from the sons of man.
13. Gird yourselves and lament, Oh priests; wail, Oh ministers of the altar. Come, lodge in sackcloth, Oh ministers of my God, for the offering and the libation have been withheld from the house of your God!
14. Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; come together Oh elders; all the inhabitants of the land to the house of Yahweh, your God, and cry out to Yahweh.
15. Alas for the day, for the day of Yahweh is near, and it will come like devastation from the Almighty.
16. Is not the food cut off from before our eyes, (and) joy and rejoicing from the house of our God?
17. Seed grains have shriveled up under their cribs, storehouses have become desolate, granaries have been torn down, for the grain has dried out.2
18. How the cattle groan. Herds of cattle wander aimlessly because there is no pasturage for them; flocks of sheep are also punished.
19. I call to you, Oh Yahweh, for a fire has consumed the dwellings of the wilderness, and a flame has kindled all the trees of the field.
20. Even the beasts of the field long for you, because the water channels have dried up, and fire has consumed the dwellings of the wilderness.
2. Three of the first four words in the Hebrew text of this verse do not occur anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible, and the LXX has something totally different, so it is no help, and the above translation (like any others!) is pure guesswork. If we accept an emendation recommended in the footnotes of the BHS, we might translate the first part of the verse as “They have snatched away the seed from the threshing floors. . .”
Invasion is followed by eventual redemption of Zion
- 1. Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain; all the inhabitants of the land will quiver, because the day of Yahweh is coming, for it is near.
2. A day of darkness and gloom, a day of a cloud and thick darkness, like dawn spread over the mountains; a people numerous and mighty. There has never been anything like it, and after it there will not be again for the years of many generations.
3. Before it a fire consumes, and behind it a flame blazes. Before it the land was like the Garden of Eden, but after it a desolate wasteland, and not even a single person will escape it.
4. Its appearance is like the appearance of horses; and like cavalry, so will they run.
5. Like the sound of chariots on the mountain tops they leap about; like the sound of a flame of fire consuming stubble, like a mighty people arrayed for battle.
6. Because of it 1 the peoples are firm;2 all faces gather (their) glory.3
7. They run like mighty men, they climb the walls like men of war, and each one goes his way, and they do not pervert their ways.4
8. And no one oppresses his brother; each man goes on his own path, and (when) they throw themselves in among5 the weapons, they (i.e. the weapons) do not impede (their course).
9. They rush about in the city; they run upon the wall; they go up upon the houses; they come through the windows like a thief.
10. Before them the earth has quivered, the sky has trembled; the sun and the moon have darkened, and the stars have withdrawn their brightness.
11. And Yahweh gave forth his voice before their army, for his camp is very great, for he is powerful who performs his word, for the day of Yahweh is great and very terrible, and who can endure it?
12. And even now, says Yahweh, return to me with all your heart, and with fasting and weeping, and with lamentation.
13. And rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to Yahweh your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and full of charity, and he will relent from the evil. 6
14. He who knows, will repent and be sorry, and he will leave a blessing behind him, an offering and a libation for Yahweh, your God.
15. Sound the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call an assembly.
16. Gather the holy people, assemble the elders, gather the infants and sucklings, let the bridegroom go forth from his room, and the bride from her canopy.
17. Let the priests (and) the ministers of Yahweh weep between the vestibule and the altar, and let them say; Have pity on your people, Oh Yahweh, and do not make your heritage a reproach, so that the nations make an example of them. Why should they say among the peoples, Where is their God?
18. But Yahweh was jealous for his land, and he pitied his people.
19. And Yahweh answered and said to his people, Behold, I am sending you the grain and the new wine, and the fresh oil, and you will be satisfied with it; and I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.
20. And I will separate the northerner7 from you, and I will drive him toward a land barren and desolate, (with) his face toward the Dead Sea, and his back toward the Mediterranean Sea, His foul smell will rise, and his stench will ascend, for he did horrible things.8
21. Do not fear, Oh land, rejoice and be happy, for Yahweh will do great things.
22. Do not fear, Oh beasts of the field, for the dwelling places of the wilderness are covered with grass, (and) the trees have borne their fruit; the fig tree and the vine have yielded their strength.
23. And children of Zion, rejoice in Yahweh, your God and be glad, for he has given you the teacher9 for righteousness, and he has brought down rain for you, the early rain and the late rain in the first (month). 10
24. And the threshing floors will be filled with grain, and the vats will overflow with new wine and fresh oil.
25. And I will repay you for the years that the locust has eaten, (and) the yeleq, and the hasil and the gazam, 11 my great army which I sent against you.
26. And you will eat and be filled, and you will praise the name of Yahweh, your God, who has performed wonders with you, and my people will never be ashamed.
27. And you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and I am Yahweh, your God, and there is no other, and my people will never be ashamed.
28. And it will come to pass afterwards, (that) I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy; old men will dream dreams; your young men will see visions.12
29. And even upon the servants and upon the hand-maids will I pour out my spirit in those days.
30. And I will provide wonders in the heavens, and on the earth: blood, and fire, and pillars13 of smoke
31. The sun will turn to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and dreadful day of Yahweh.
32. And it will come to pass that anyone who calls upon the name of Yahweh will be delivered, for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as Yahweh has said, and among the survivors whom Yahweh invites.
2. The verb here is יחילו, which is from a root meaning “to be strong.” The KJV rendering “much pained” can only be explained as having been due to an assumption that the word was from the root חלה, meaning “to be weak, sick.” But that is not correct. In fact, an identical form (יחילו) occurs in Ps. 10:5 in the phrase, “his ways are always firm.” This phrase was also mistranslated in the KJV, but cf. the BDB sub II.(חיל, חול). There was also an apparent assumption on the part of the translators of the KJV (as well as many modern translators), that the peoples referred to in this verse are the ones being invades, but as the previous note explains, it actually refers to the people who are with the invaders.
3. This word is also uncertain, but it seems to come from the root פאר, which is associated with the concept of glory, and has nothing to do with blackness, or gloom, or any such thing.
4. This rendering assumes that the Hebrew root is actually עבת rather than עבט as appears in the MT.
5. For this use of בעד and this specific interpretation of this entire phrase see the BDB sub בעד.
6. Meaning, “from the evil which he has brought upon you.”
7. A quick glance at the KJV will show that those translators assumed that the reference here was to some armies, probably the Assyrian armies. Rashi, on the other hand, thinks “northerner” could refer to either the Assyrians, or to the locusts, which are going to be driven to a desolate land.
8. The phrase is literally “did great things,” but the term “great things” has a positive connotation in English, whereas in Hebrew it can be used in a negative sense to mean things that are “greatly bad.” Hence, the rendering of “horrible things.”
9. The Hebrew word here is moreh, which normally means “teacher.” However, in the KJV it was translated as “former rain.” That is based on the assumption that this is a variant of the normal word for “early rain” which is yoreh, but the only other place where moreh could possibly be construed in the sense is in Ps. 84:7 (Hebrew numbering, in the English it is Ps. 84:6), but that text is very doubtful, therefore there is really no support for interpreting it as “early rain” in this verse of Joel. In fact, it becomes a redundancy.
10. Since the rainy season begins in Oct.-Nov. (early rains) and ends in March-April (late rains), if Joel is saying that the late rains come in the first month, then we see that for Joel, the year begins in the spring, not in the fall as is the case with the Jewish calendar now. Whether the Jewish year began in the fall or the spring in the Old Testament times is still much argued. Those who believe that it began in the fall in the Pentateuch cite Exod. 23:16 and 34:22 as showing that the “end” of the year was in the fall. However, I suspect that the reference in those two cases is actually to the end of the growing season, not to the calendar year. Furthermore, passages such as Exod. 12:1-6; Lev. 25:5; Numbers 9:1-5 show that during Mosaic times, the new year began in the spring. Adherents of “Higher Criticism” will object that these passages were post-exilic, and so the argument continues. There is also Lev. 25:9 which states that the day of Atonement (in the fall) is in the seventh month, therefore I believe that Joel’s mention of the latter rains being at the first of the year reflects an earlier, rather than a later, date for his writing.
11. Concerning these words, see the footnotes to Joel 1:4.
12. In the MT the last five verses of this chapter are included in a separate chapter (chapter 3 in the Hebrew).
13. The Hebrew word here for “pillars” is timaroth, which is a very rare word, and is derived from tamar “palm tree,” and is therefore used to describe a pillar that is spreading out at the top. In other words, this would be the perfect word to describe the mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion.
Judgment in the Valley of Decision; the final sanctification of Jerusalem; waters flow from the temple.
- 1. For behold, in those days and in that time when I rescind the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem;
2. I will gather all the nations and bring them down into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will contend with them there concerning my people, my heritage, Israel, which they scattered among the nations when they divided my land.
3. And they cast lots for my people, and they gave a boy for fornication, and they sold a girl for wine, and they drank.
4. And also, what are you to me, Tyre and Sidon, and all the territories of Philistia? Are you paying me a recompense? And if you are recompensing me, I will swiftly return your recompense upon your own head.
5. Because you have taken my silver and my gold, and you have taken my goodly treasures into your temples.
6. And the children of Judah, and the children of Jerusalem you have sold to the children of the Greeks, in order to remove them from your border. 1
7. Behold, I will arouse them from the place where you sold them, and I will return your recompense upon your heads.
8. And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hands of the children of Judah, and they will sell them to the people of Sheba,2 to a distant nation, for Yahweh has spoken.
9. Announce this among the nations, sanctify a war, arouse the mighty men; let all the men of war approach, let them arise.
10. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning knives into spears. The weak one will say, I am a mighty man!
11. Make ready and come, all you nations round about, and they will be gathered there. Bring down your mighty men, Yahweh!
12. The nations will be aroused and they will go up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for I will sit there to judge all the nations round about.
13. Stretch forth a sickle, for the harvest is ripe; come, come down, for the wine press is full, the vats are overflowing, for their evil is great.
14. Multitudes, multitudes in the Valley of Decision, for the day of Yahweh is near in the Valley of Decision.
15. The sun and the moon have darkened, and the stars have withdrawn their shining.
16. And Yahweh will roar from Zion, and from Jerusalem he will give forth his voice; and the heavens and the earth will quake; but Yahweh is a shelter to his people, and a refuge for the children of Israel.
17. And you will know that I, Yahweh, your God, dwell in Zion, my holy mountain, and Jerusalem will be a sacred place, and strangers will not pass through there any more. 3
18. And it will come to pass in that day, (that) the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk, and all the streams of Judah will flow with water, and a spring will go forth from the temple of Yahweh,4 and it will water the Valley of Shittim. 5
19. Egypt will become a desolation, and Edom will become a desolate wilderness, because of the violence of the children of Judah, who spilled innocent blood in their land.
20. But Judah will dwell (there) forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation;
21. And I will cleanse their blood (which) I have not cleansed, when Yahweh dwells in Zion.
2. Sheba was also mentioned by Jeremiah (6:20).
3. Cf. Isa. 4:3.
4. Cf. Ezek. 47:1-12.
5. Or “Valley of Acacia.” This may be a reference to the Wadi es-Sant (Arabic for Valley of Acacia), which is 14 miles southwest of Jerusalem. This was the scene of the combat between David and Goliath (I Sam. 17:2ff.). In any case, this would fit nicely with Ezekiel’s description (Ezek. 47:1-12).
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