Note: When examining, exegetically, the prophets, we must always consider their role as people who urged return to God’s covenant. In that light, part of prophetic exegesis is always the connections with the covenant.
As one of the Prophets – those whom Fee and Stuart call “covenant-enforcement mediators” – it is not surprising that “Joel, the son of Pethuel” (1:1) would declare the judgment of God. In Joel 2, however, we find both the justice and mercy of God present, that which hinges on the concept of repentance. The passage itself seems to be divided into three different relationships to the covenant of the Law given under Moses: the curses (vs. 1-11), the call (vs. 12-17), and the promises (vs. 18-32).
The curses described in Joel 2:1-11 demonstrate the wrath of God coming upon the nation of Israel (vs 1, 2). God’s judgment, manifested in the locusts, is figured as a fire that destroys “Eden” – that is, the Promised Land. Such is the power and magnanimity of this horde of locusts that Joel describes them as being “like a powerful army drawn up for battle.” (vs. 5). Such is their devastation and the expectation of their coming that all the people of Israel fear them. So great is the horde, in fact, that it seems as if the earth shakes and light of day and night is diminished – and all this, sent from God (vs. 11).
This is a fulfillment of God’s promise in the covenant of Moses. Note the following passages from Deuteronomy 28:15, :
“But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. […]You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it. […]The cricket shall possess all your trees and the fruit of your ground. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 38, 42, ESV).
Seeing that Israel had experienced many of the effects of the curse and that an ultimate demonstration of that curse well on its way. God’s wrath having been thus aroused, the prophet Joel calls Israel to repentance, telling them how to seek His forgiveness – namely, “with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” (vs. 12-13a) In repentance, Joel makes note of the hope for the blessing of God, in particular, the covenant blessings of God.
Yet, these will only come if all of Israel is repentant. Few quite grasp the significance of Joel calling for all of the elders, the children, infants, and newlyweds to the assembly. According to traditional practice, and, in some portions, to the Law itself, the only people who stood before the LORD at any assembly of the people (usually at one of the three major feasts of Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles) were those men who had been committed unto the Law of Moses. In including these groups – Joel ensures that all were found guilty of sin and rebellion and, as we’ll se,
Repentance, however, always acts as the pathway to justice in terms of the covenant of the LORD. In this blessing, because they had returned from sinfulness to the rule of God, God fulfills the covenant blessings – provision, protection, and, later, empowerment to the glory of God. Deuteronomy 28, like the listing of curses, names the blessings that Israel will share in the future. This promise, then, is the ultimate and final fulfillment of Israel’s covenant with God. Not only does this represent that fulfillment, but it also signifies the empowerment of God’s people for the glory of His Name.
In conclusion, then, there are strong logical and apocalyptic ties between the covenant and the prophecies of Joel 2. Having now experienced the curse, God is calling His people back to Him in order that they may be blessed and thus let all “know that I [the LORD] am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else.” (vs. 27). This is an invitation for Israel to come out of its fallen nature to enter into the covenant in all of its fullness with the LORD God.
- Rashi’s Commentary on the Tanakh
- Amos and Joel: by Hans Walter Wolff.
- The Message of Joel, Micah, and Habakkuk by David Prior