Not much is known about the prophet Joel. It appears that he prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah, since his prophecy is directed toward the “elders” and priests. Neither is there any mention of either Israel (the northern kingdom) or the Assyrian Empire, which was the dominant nation during Joel’s lifetime. Joel’s prophecy begins with the warning of a coming plague of locusts; this plague is destined to destroy the nation’s crops and plunge the people into famine and desolation. It could be that Joel’s prophecy symbolized the nation being invaded by some foreign power (rather than foretelling an actual plague of insects), what he emphasizes is the destruction and devastation that was to come upon his people – and he portrays this as a judgement from God (Joel 1:15). Note the picture of suffering livestock in 1:18 – here is a good image of someone who is separated from God by sin, and even those who are innocent suffer as a result of sin!
The “key phrase” in Joel’s three short chapters appears five times – “the day of the Lord” (1:15, 2:1, 11, & 31, and 3:14). This expression signifies judgement by the Lord, actions by Him that will expose and emphasize the sins of His people. For all the suffering His judgement would cause, however, Joel shows in 2:12-13 that the Lord’s main purpose is not “revenge” but repentance.
Undoubtedly the most familiar passage in Joel is chapter 2:28-32, where he foretells the coming of the day of Pentecost by describing the events that would take place on that day. These verses are quoted in Acts 2:16-21 as the preamble to Peter’s affirmation of Jesus as the resurrected Lord, and he points to their fulfillment as proof of his words.
In what could very well be the most practical lesson we can learn from Joel, chapter three not only forewarns his contemporaries of impending judgement, it also points them to an inspired prescription for their sinful condition in verse 14; they need to “cleanse” themselves as Israel had done in Joshua 7, when it was discovered that Achan had stolen items from Jericho. As God’s people had to learn so long ago, the solution for sin is not to hide it or deny it, but to “purge” it – to cut it off from among the people; in other words, to repent!
– Dave Rogers