Appropriate Godís Mercy

Explore the Bible Series

June 3, 2007


Background Passage: Joel 1:1-3:21

Lesson Passage: Joel 1:15-16; 2:12-13, 18, 25-32




For many Christians, the Minor Prophets remain a neglected are of study, but these little books, as part of the inspired revelation of God, contain needful materials for growth in godliness.Jesus and the apostles clearly regarded the Minor Prophets highly, and they quoted freely from these inspired texts.For instance, the reference section of the United Bible Society lists thirty times that the New Testament quotes the Book of Joel.These precious books made up the Bible that Jesus and the apostles knew and loved, and we neglect them at the risk of our own spiritual vitality.


Authorship: We know little of the life of the prophet Joel.The text indicates that his fatherís name was Pethuel, and it appears that the prophetís family came from Jerusalem.James M. Boice, in his helpful sermons on the Minor Prophets, points out that a dozen men shared the name Joel in the Old Testament, but none of those men, according to Boice, wrote this book.The authorís identity remains something of a mystery.


Date: Just as the authorís identity is mystery, so the date remains uncertain.Conservative scholars have suggested three possibilities.

(1)   Some have proposed an early date during the reign of King Josiah. This good king ruled Judah during the Ninth Century B.C.The absence of references to Assyria, Babylon, or Medo-Persia substantiate this view. Also, some have pointed out that Amos and Isaiah may have quoted from Joel (See Amos 1:2 and Isaiah 13:6); if so, these Eighth Century prophets clearly had access to Joelís writing. Edward J. Young argued persuasively for this view grounded, in part, on the placement of Joel, in the canon, between the prophecies of Hosea and Amos.

(2)   Others date the prophecy during the early Post-Exilic Period (c. 400 B.C.).These scholars highlight Joelís concern with the reestablishment of the Temple system as an indication that the prophet centered his attention on the purity of the worship in the rebuilt Temple.Nineteenth Century German scholarship espoused this view, and modern conservatives tend to regard this position with some skepticism.

(3)   Still other scholars have taken a mediate position by dating the prophecy from the late Pre-exilic Period (c. 600 B.C.).If this dating is accurate, Joelís predictions of judgment culminate in the Babylonian Captivity.William Hendriksen, late conservative Bible scholar, held to this Post-exilic date.


Occasion: The occurrence of a terrible locust plague formed the background of Joelís prophecy.Sadly, locust plagues commonly occurred in the ancient Mediterranean, and one of these tragic events stirred the heart of this faithful prophet to see the Lordís hand in the unspeakable suffering of the people.For Joel, this plague foreshadowed Godís final judgment on the ungodly; however, as with all of the Old Testament prophets, Joel also remembered the great mercy of God. At the heart of Joelís writing, we find a precious promise of the Lord pouring out his Holy Spirit on his people.For unrepentant sinners, the future held promise of a worse judgment than the swarm of predatory locusts, but for the Lordís people, God would inundate them with the precious Holy Spirit.


Lesson Outline:


I.                   The Plague of Locusts (1:1-20)

A.    Introduction of the Book (v. 1): Clearly, Joel believed that God had moved him to pen these words.His thoughts bore the imprimatur of God.

B.     Address to three groups of people (vv. 2-12)

1.      ďHear this you eldersĒ (v. 2-4): Elders served as a kind of legislative body that governed the people during the Post-Exilic Period, Joel called on these men to recall anything like this locust invasion.Even with their years of experience, these men could not remember such destruction. He reminded the elders of their educational responsibility to the children in the midst of this catastrophe.The four kinds of locusts, mentioned in verse five, probably denote the stages of development of a single species of locust.

2.      ďAwake, you drunkardsĒ (vv. 5-7): Joel used irony in awakening the drunkards of Judah.The locusts had destroyed the grape vines and thus dried up the supply of wine.These alcoholics embodied a spiritually drowsy nation; therefore, Joel alerted the people to spiritual fortitude and watchfulness. Godly people, Joel observed, must lament for the spiritual condition of the nation.

3.      ďBe ashamed, O tillers of the soilĒ (vv. 11-12): The locusts had destroyed all of the crops: vineyards, grain harvests, and fruit trees.The locust had been thorough in their devastation of Judahís bounty.

C.     A call to repentance (vv. 13-20): The sad condition of the land gave occasion for Joel to call for season of repentance, including fasting, mourning, and prayer.The prophet ended this section with an intercessory prayer of repentance (See vv. 19-20).


II.                The Day of the Lord and Mercy for Godís People (2:1-32)

A.    The Day of the Lord (vv. 1-11): Joel introduced a common theme in the preaching of the prophets, the Day of the Lord.Several of the prophets anticipated a coming day of judgment when God would visit his wrath on the ungodly.In this particular case, Joel foresaw this judgment on the Judah, but other prophets extended this threat to the other nations of the earth.

1.      sounding the alarm (v. 1): Joel commanded that the people sound the trumpet of alarm in the city of Jerusalem.

2.      the army of the Lord (vv. 2-5): Joel did not specify the identity of this army, but he predicted that this fearsome force would descend upon Judah with devastating efficiency, leaving utter devastation in its wake.They would find Judah like the Garden of Eden and leave it as a desolate wilderness.

3.      the state of the besieged people (vv. 6-11): This indomitable army will frighten the people with their irresistable power, and the ungodly will blanch in terror before their prowess. The onslaught of the army will be accompanied by great portents in the heavens: the earth will quake, the sun and moon will darken, and the stars will cease to shine.

B.     Mercy for Godís People (vv. 12-27)

1.      a promise of mercy (v. 12): Even in this late hour, God offered hope for the penitent.They must return to the Lord, and the evidence of that return centered on fasting, weeping, and mourning.The ancients often tore their clothing as a symbol of repentance; however, in this case, Joel forbade them to merely go through the outward motions of grief. They had to rend, according to the prophet, their hearts, not their clothes (See v. 13).

2.      the Lordís gracious disposition (vv. 13-14): Joel made five claims about the Lord: Jehovah is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and he relents over disaster.

3.      instructions for the penitent (vv. 15-17):Joel instructed the people to call a solemn assembly to repent of their sins and consecrate themselves to the Lord. The priests were to lead this assembly by interceding for the people.

4.      the Lord pledged to renew his people (vv. 1-27): Jehovah promised to remember his covenant.The northern army, symbolized by the locust plague, would be removed from the land, and the Lord promised to restore what the time of plague had taken from Judah. This passage reminded Judah that Godís covenant love would, in the end, win out over judgment and hardship that land had experienced.

C.     The Promise of the Holy Spirit (vv. 28-32): Now, the text takes a distant look at the future blessings of the Lord.In due time, the prophet promised that God would pour out his Spirit on his people.This outpouring will be universal in scope: sons and daughters, old men and young men, male and female. Great portents in the earth will immediately foreshadow this giving of the Spirit, and the Lord will attend the coming of the Spirit with a marvelous offer of grace (See v. 32). ††According to the Apostle Peter, God fulfilled this prophecy on the day of Pentecost (See Acts 2:1 ff).


III.             Godís Judgment on the Nations (3:1-21)

A.    Godís indictment against the nations (vv. 1-6): In due time, the Lord will bring judgment upon the nations for their sins against Judah.Joel highlights Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia, but the indictment certainly must extend to all the nations that mistreated Godís elect.Verse Four clarifies that the nations not only sinned against Judah, but, ultimately, they rebelled against the Lord.

B.     Divine punishment carried out (vv. 7-16): The Lord promised to stir up Judah against the nations, and, at the appointed time, he will give victory to his people.They will sell the pagan nations into bondage to a distant nation (the Sabeans).

C.     Judahís Glorious Restoration (vv. 17-21): In the final analysis, God will restore his people and restore the beauty and dignity of Zion.Judahís adversaries will be reduced to utter ruin, and the Lord will inhabit Jerusalem forever. Matthew Henry believed these verses were fulfilled with the institution of the age of grace.