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Bible Study, The Minor Prophets: Joel

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Posted on CCPC's website 2022

The Minor Prophets Study Index page.

      This is a long term, in depth, wide focus study of the Minor Prophets, drawing as much from the history of their times as possible, as well as looking at the original language of the prophet.
      As the Good News puts it:
"Afterward I will pour out my Spirit on everyone: your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your old people will have dreams, and your young people will see visions.”
Joel 2: 28 (also see Acts 2 : 17)

Joel Background
     There is none.
     We know absolutely NOTHING about Joel, including his name and his father's name. Joel (Yow·’el / Yeol) means “Jehovah is GOD”, his father's name is “Pethuel” (Vision of God). Both words could simply be a statement to reinforce that the message in this book is something special instead of the names of individuals.
     One of the things we can say is that he is very good at using military images in his description of these events. Charging horses pulling chariots, flashing swords, warriors, and fortified cities all appear in his book. It would almost be safe to say that the writer had a history in the military and interpreted his vision in those terms. Another thing he does is to repeat a few select images and phrases several times throughout each section for emphasis, you'll see those as we go.
     When was it written? There are precious few clues in the book, there are no named current kings or recent events to narrow it down at all (plagues of locusts happen with surprising regularity in the Middle East). While a “J” king, “Jehoshaphat” who was the son of Asa, is named in chapter 3 it is used to designate a valley, most likely the Kidron Valley near Jerusalem, where various kings were buried, which is no help at all. Also in chapter 3 is a reference to the Ionian Greeks, but, again, as that civilization on the western end of Turkey is ancient, even in the context of the people we're talking about, it doesn't help us set a date.
     Israel (the Northern Kingdom) is mentioned as having been “scattered” in 3 : 2, which happened prior to 720 BC.
     There's one direct reference to the Temple (1 : 14), and that there are still priests, 1 : 9, but that really doesn't mean a whole lot when you're looking for a firm date.

     The only thing certain is that Judah has a bug problem. And that is the least of their problems.

     Most of the book is presented as poetry. But there is a key section that is prose in the middle of chapter 3.

chapter 1

     “de bar” (words / speech) of YHWH came to “yo·w·’el” son of “pe·tu·’el” (as was stated in the opening, these two words may not be proper names)

     “sim 'u” (Hear 'this'!) you “haz·ze·qe·nim” (old people / elders) “we·ha·’a·zi·nu” (and listen / heed (pay attention, implies 'obey') everybody in the land. 'Has this happened in your life, or the days of your fathers'?

     Joel isn't talking just to the 'ranking senior adults' of the tribes, and implies that there has either been a period of prophetic silence, or, they've missed a cycle of swarming grasshoppers, or both.

     The translations are clear about the verbal generational transmission of the message.

     “Yeter” (remainder / remnant) “hag·ga·zam” (locusts) “'a kal” (eaten) - ....
     Joel repeats the same basic statement four times. A literary device used at the time, and today, for emphasis. The terms use describe the locusts as they swarm, crawl and consume.

     'Wake up' you “sik·ko·w·rim” (drunkard (alcoholics)) “u·be·ku” (weep in sorrow), “we” (and) “he·li·lu” (howl (theatrical level of mourning / crying)) you drinkers of wine, 'because the new wine has been cut off'.
     Remember “he·li·lu”, Joel uses it a lot.

6 and 7
     The translations do good talking about the 'lions' and what the locusts do to the foliage.

     They're also good here.
     The reference is a young girl who has been pledged to a boy in a traditionally arranged marriage agreement between families, if the boy dies, the girl is then a 'widow' without ever having been married.

     And good here. And why 'no drink offering'.
     Now the instruction is for the priests to mourn, implying that the temple is intact, but it is not directly stated.

     Except for the corn in the KJV which should be a generic 'grain', they've got this one too. The 'oil' is probably olive oil.

     “ho bi su” (feel shame (in the manner of 'public humiliation') “’ik·ka·rim” (farmer / farm hand), “he·li·lu” you vinedressers, 'because there is no grain in the field'

     'all the trees' “ya·be·su” and “ho bis” both mean to (dry up from the roots / wither)
     This is more than just locusts, this is implying a drought, which is confirmed later in this chapter.
     While the 'apples' of the Old Testament are not the Jonagolds or Honeycrisps we have today, the wild apple known as “Malus sieversii” is native to parts of Asia and is recognizable as an apple not unlike some smaller fruit varieties in stores today.

     “hig ru” (gird yourself (get dressed - especially a ceremonial belt)) “we·sip·du” (and lament / sing mourning song) “hak·ko·ha·nim” (you priests (same word as in 9) - “he·li·lu” “me·sa·re·te” (serve / minister) at the “miz·be·ah” (altar)! Come “li lu” ((literally) spend the night) “bas saq·qim” (in sackcloth), you who serve my GOD are “nim na” (are denied / withheld) “mib bet” (house) “’e·lo·he·kem” (your GOD) the grain and drink offerings.
     In short, the priests should be upset that they can't do their jobs because 'the stuff' isn't available.

     “qad·de su” (dedicate / set apart for sacred purpose) “so wm” (a fast), “qir 'u” (announce / call) “‘a·sa·rah” (solemn / sacred assembly), gather 'the old people' (the word from verse 2) and “yo se be” (the inhabitants) into the house of YHWH your GOD, and “za·‘a·qu” (call out for help) to YHWH.

     'Alas! For the day is at hand! The day of YHWH and devastation / ruin from The Almighty shall come.'

16 and 17
     Most of the translations get the tone of these two correct.
     The joy and gladness that were once in the House of God are gone because there is no food ('meat' if you're in the 1611).
     The farm buildings are in ruins, because the crops are all dead.
     For reference, see the images of the Dust Bowl years in the early 1930's in the western US and Canada.

18 (to paraphrase)
     even their animals suffer, .... the flocks of sheep “ne’·sa·mu” (suffer punishment / guilt).

19 (same)
     they cry out to YHWH because of... a wildfire.

20 (ditto)
     even their animals cry out because of a drought and the flames.

Chapter 2

     The translations are on target”
     “Blow the “so par” (ram's horn) in “Tsiyyon” (Zion), “we·ha·ri·‘u” (shout 'as a war cry') “be har qad si” (mountain 'my' holy)!” then the people tremble because....
     The verse is making a point that GOD considers “Zion” to be His Holy Mountain.
     It is worth noting that the hill in Jerusalem usually referred to as Mount Zion is NOT the Temple Mountain. So it most likely is referring to all of what was then Judah.

     Joel makes the point that this isn't a 'dark cloud' or an eclipse, both of which they knew about. This is something special. The translations are equally gloomy, which is one of the meanings of the word “wa·’a·pe·lah”, let's look at the darkness in the daytime.
     The most famous example is the darkness that spread over the land at the Crucifixion, Matthew 27, Mark 15, and Luke 23. Of course there is also the plague of darkness from the Exodus 10 that lasted for three days, and is revisited in Revelation 8.
     There is also a certain darkness in Isaiah 13, as well as Ezekiel 32. And Joel mentions it again in a verse to come in this chapter, which is quoted in Acts, and then again in 3. But we'll look at that when we get there.

     This one is hard to understand. The image is that the people are surrounded by fire, and yet before them is the Garden, while behind them is a wasteland. The phrase “and nothing escapes them” appears to be talking about the flames, and apparently, the 'flames' are the locusts. Read on.

     'they look like horses' - like “u·ke·pa·ra·sim” (war horses (elsewhere in the OT, the word is used to refer specifically to horses readied for battle)) so they run.

     The imagery of an invading army now has sound effects. Joel was only slightly exaggerating the noise a swarm can make. But when you are in the middle of one, it may feel like you're surrounded by charging horses.

     The second half of this one is in question.
     Before them “ya hi lu” (in anguish) the people, “pa nim” (presence / persons) “qib·be·su” (gathered / assembled) “pa rur” (?beauty? dubious meaning, is also used in a similar context in Nahum 2 : 10)

     The translations are good here.
     Now, instead of comparing grasshoppers to horses, Joel is describing them as soldiers.

     And “'a hiw” (brothers / kin) they do not “yid·ha·qun” (crowd / afflict), every one in his “bim·sil·la·tow” (way / path (word also means 'highway')) “ye le kun” (walks / marches)- “u·be·‘ad” (through / round about) weapons, “yip·po·lu” (they fall / are cast down) not “yip·po·lu” (cut / broke off).

     The verse implies that they take the city without resistance.

10 and 11
     Translations are back on track.

     Now, go back and read these verses again, but instead of thinking about horses and chariots, think in terms of a modern army with mechanized infantry, tanks, and helicopters, such as the Arab invasion during the 1973 war when Israel's neighbors launched a surprise attack.

     'weeping, fasting, theatrically dramatic mourning'

     “we·qir·‘u” (rend / tear to pieces (not 'rent' 1611, wrong tense)) your heart, not your “big·de·kem” (garments / clothes) and return to YHWH....
     This calls to mind the similar statement from Hosea 6 : 6, which was restated by Christ in Matthew 9, proving the Pharisees still didn't get it. During Christ's ministry, the religious leaders did everything EXCEPT 'rend their hearts'.

     Differences again.
     “Mi yo·de·a‘” (who knows) “ya sub” (He restore / 'turn' back) “we·ni·ham” (comfort / compassion), and leave behind a blessing, “min hah” (gift / tribute (meal offering)), “wa ne sek” (wine as drink offering) for YHWH your God.
     Leviticus 23:13 is one of the verses that specifies that one type of drink offering was to be wine. There were others as well.

     A repeat of 1:14, complete with ram's horn trumpet.

     The translations make a point of including everybody that needs to be included from the Hebrew, including the bride in her “me·hup·pa·tah” ('private dressing room' / closet).

     Welcome to one of the the longest verses in Joel, and the translations do it justice.
     Let's look at it and the message that takes 49 words to state in the 1611.

     The point is made that the priests are the ones that minister before the LORD. They are told to cry as they enter the temple, and to ask God to spare the people, and why.
     We're also reminded about something from Exodus 32 about how the Egyptians would gossip about Israel. The reputation of the nation wasn't just their reputation, it reflects on God to outsiders. This verse uses “go·w·yim” for foreigners, which some translations render as 'heathens'.

     “way·qan·ne” (and be jealous / provoked to jealousy (envious)) YHWH for His land, “way·yah·mol” (and have compassion on / will spare) His people.

     The translations do good listing the coming blessings in this one and the relocation in the next verse.

20 (another really long verse, 55 words in KJV)
     Item by item.
     The “northern army” that could be removed could well be the Assyrians. At the time where (“ ... we think ...”) Joel may have been writing, the Mycenean 'early Greeks' and the Hittites are long gone, the Persians are still under the Assyrians, and there's nobody else 'to the north' that Judah would have to worry about. Except for the army discussed earlier in his book, insects. Now as to where this army is going to go that is a desert with a sea to the east and west... well, the Sinai answers nicely while the Arabian mainland could be so considered except it is a bit big.
     As for the 'stink', the first word is the 'masculine' term “ba·’e·sow” (rotting corpses (as seen in Isaiah 34:3)) and the second is a feminine part of speech “sa·ha·na tow" (foul smell (only place in the OT this term is used). This is another of Joel's repetitions for emphasis.
     Now... WHO has done the “hig dil” (great things) in the last clause?
     It would appear to be The Lord as He made the army of grasshoppers go out into the desert, and die, and stink.

21 through 25
     The translations are still good.
     In 23 they are told to rejoice for the rain in its season. Which will yield the bounty listed in 24 and following as it is confirmed that things will get better.

     They will Praise GOD because of 'plenty to eat' and 'no shame'.

     Then you will know that “be·qe·reb” (among / in the midst / inner / middle) of yis·ra ’el “'a ni” (I Am), and I am YHWH “e·lo·he·kem” (Your GOD), and “we 'en” (naught / nothing) “'o wd” (other (besides / around / etc)), and never again will My people be shamed.

     Acts 2.

     No, really, go read Acts 2. Also see Acts 10:44-48

     The idea from 28 continues.
     The Spirit will be “’es·po wk” (poured out) “ha·‘a·ba·dim” and “has·sa·pa·ho·wt” literally: male slaves and female slaves.
     There is no mention of the nationality of these servants that will receive the Spirit. In 28 the “your” implies those of Israel. In 29, it is “my slaves”, meaning those that Serve God regardless of pedigree. Now, go back and read the Acts 10 reference.

     “blood in heaven” may be Revelation 6 : 12
     For smoke see Revelation 9, and maybe 18 with some fire.

     Revelation 6 - sixth seal, and 9 fourth trumpet

     Revelation 12

Chapter 3

     The translations agree on all but one word. The Hebrew agrees with all but one word. And BOTH of the most common renditions of the word make sense in context, so it is possible that Joel meant it both ways. “se but” is made out to be either 'captives' or as 'fortunes' in different places in the OT.

     Translations are for the most part good, except for the KJV's “plead”.
     The nations will gather in the “J king” valley as mentioned in the opening.
     This judgment in the valley is very specific. It is against the nations for the way they have treated God's people.

     Again, the translations are in agreement about the casting of lots (gambling) and the child slave trade.

4 This is the prose section, it runs until the end of verse 8.
     The translations get this one, the reason is in the next verse.
     The 'coast of Philistia' is along the Mediterranean almost exactly opposite the Dead Sea. From about Joppa down to the city of Gaza, and running inland ten to fifteen miles. The valley where David and Goliath had their meeting is just on the Israel side of that line.
     For Tyre and Sidon: See Matthew 11 beginning at 20.

     Because “kas pi” (My silver / money) and “u·ze·ha·bî” (My gold) you “le·qah·tem” (seized / taken (by force)) and “u·ma·ha·mad·day” (my precious objects) “hat·to·bim” (carried into) “le·he·ke·le·kem” (your temples).

6 and 7
     They have been selling each other into slavery.
     Behold “me·‘i·ram” (I will rouse / awaken) them from the place “me·kar·tem” (you sold them) and will return “ge·mul·kem” (recompense (paybacks)) on your head.
     More on the slave trade, it implies adults being relocated to allow the foreign power to rule it. Whom GOD will free and bring back home... it won't end well for those that sold them in the first place.

     The translations agree that God is going to sell those in Judah to the people that called the southern end of the Arabian peninsula home.

9 Back to poetry.
     Cry out to the nations, prepare “mil ha mah” (for war / battle)
     The verse goes on to call the warriors together.

     An iconic verse in its own right.

     A paraphrase:
      “Come together foreign nations around here, get together down there, YHWH, your warriors!”
     The nations will get to meet the Army of God. Shades of Revelation 19?

     When 'the foreign nations' get to the Valley of Jehoshaphat (the Kidron Valley near Jerusalem, between the Temple Mount, and the Mount of Olives) The Lord will judge them.

     See Revelation 14.

     “ha·mo·w·nim” (large crowd), repeated for emphasis, 'the valley of decision', the day of YHWH in the 'valley of decision'.

     The darkness of the sun and moon from chapter 2 is back.

     And YHWH from Zion “yis ag” (roar), and from Jerusalem, and the heavens and earth shake. But He will be a “ma·ha·seh” (refuge) for his people, and the “u·ma·‘o·wz” (stronghold) for the sons of Israel.

     Several images here, one is the Lion of Judah, the other is the protection of YHWH for Israel and His power is behind those that were sold as slaves in a previous verse.
     We see a reference to His Voice from Paul in Hebrews 12, when God spoke from the Mount.

     The only disagreement in the translations is toward the end of the verse.
     The “foreigners” don't just not pass through it any more, they don't “ya·‘ab·ru” (traverse - also: take away / alienate) it any more.
     Revelation 21 anyone?

     The verse described blessings to Judah....

     .... and desolation in Egypt and Edom (standing in for all the gentile nations), and why.

     The endurance of Judah and Jerusalem is restated.

     “we·niq·qe·ti” (I will acquit (legally declare innocent)) “da mam” (of the 'shed' blood) not yet acquitted, for YHWH dwells in Zion.
     In the Day of the Lord, Judah will be forgiven for doing the things they did, because YHWH lives there. End Joel

Selected Sources for this book:


Saba and Sabeans

"The land of Edom"

NOTE: The Bible Study Lesson presented above is posted as a reference document to begin a conversation of the topic. And that's it. Please accept it at such.

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