Joel (The LORD (Jehovah) Is His God), was the son of Pethuel (Vision of God). The writer Joel cannot be identified with any person in the Bible, although a few other people bear this name. This is the only time the name of his father, Pethuel is mentioned. His personal history is therefore only known from his book.
There are few chronological historical events in the prophecy to indicate when it was written. There are some good indications, however:
As such it furnishes a framework for the end times, called The Day of the Lord, a term which he introduces and defines, and on which subsequent Scripture builds. With it God gives the first warning to the human race of the end of this temporal era.
It speaks first of desolation - virtually the first half, up to chapter 2:17, then of deliverance right to the end.
The prophecy is remarkable for its literary quality, the use of a plague of locusts as a picture of the coming of the troops on the great and dreadful Day of the Lord (Proverbs 30:27), and for the prediction of the outpouring of God's Spirit on all flesh.
It seems that when the prophecy was written the land was in the midst of a great locust plague the like of which had never been experienced before. The questions made to the old men remind us that, as we grow older, we tend to say that, in the old times, things were grander than they are at present! In this case the expected answer is NO!
The prophet goes on to tell the old men to take good note of this plague in order to pass its description down to their children and the following generations because it was so unique. This plague of locusts, a natural event, stands alone as being different from any other plague that has ever taken place.
It reminds us of the words of the Lord in Matthew 24:21: "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be". Here is the parallel, which provides us with the key to the prophecy. The Day of the Lord will open with the Great Tribulation after the church has left this world, and it will be such that there will have been nothing like it in the past. It will be a frightful time on this earth, horrible beyond description, and then Christ will come and establish His Kingdom.
Locusts in the Middle East are known to grow and multiply in the field to a point where there is no food left. Then, as if some sign were given, they rise into the air in one great mass, a cloud of living insects, and they fly together like a cloud driven by the wind until they find green fields, probably of crops, where they descend and bring total destruction by repeating the process.
The progression of the locust in verse 4: "… chewing … swarming … crawling … consuming …" probably refers to the phases of development of this insect: an adult eating up, flying away in a swarm, growing as a grasshopper, then adult again. Alternatively, it could just mean one swarm after another.
In the short term this is an illustration of the impending invasion of Judah by an army from the North (Assyria). At longer term, according to some commentators, the four phases of the locust are a type of the four world empires which would dominate over Israel in succession: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.
There is also a parallel between these four bands of locusts and the opening of the Great Tribulation period. At that time there will be four horsemen in succession: there is a false peace, then war breaks out, followed by a famine, and then finally the pale horse of death. The world will be totally devastated when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to the earth to set up His Kingdom.
It appears that the locusts had started by consuming the vineyards and there would be no more wine for the drunkards. It is remarkable that at the beginning of the downfall of the nation Israel, the drunkards are mentioned first. Two centuries later, drunkards are again mentioned in prophecy (Isaiah 28:1,3 and Nahum 1:10).
During the forty years of their pilgrimage in the desert, among other things Israel had not tasted wine or strong drink "that ye might know that I am the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 29:6). Wine was consumed when they entered their land but they appeared to avoid drunkenness by drinking it new as grape juice or mixed with water or milk (e.g., Song of Solomon 5:1).
We are frequently reminded today that most of the traffic accidents which take place on our roads resulting in serious injuries and death are caused by some individual who is intoxicated. Entire families have been ruined because of alcoholism, yet it is promoted in adverts and in the media, it is considered funny and even fashionable to get drunk. But no drunkards shall inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10).
At the very beginning, drunkenness was beginning to chip away the foundation of the nation Israel. This is the only sin Joel mentioned. He didn't mention idolatry at all, the great sin of turning from God, which eventually brought the nation down. At this time the people still made a profession of worshipping God.
Schofield writes in his Study Notes:
According to the usual method of the Spirit in prophecy, some local circumstance is shown to be of spiritual significance, and is made the occasion of a far-reaching prophecy (e.g. Isaiah 7:1-14 where the Syrian invasion and the unbelief of Ahaz give occasion to the great prophecy of verse 14).
Here in Joel a plague of devouring insects is shown to have spiritual significance (Joel 1:13, 14) and is made the occasion of the prophecy of the day of the Lord, not yet fulfilled. This is more developed in Joel 2., where the literal locusts are left behind, and the future day of Jehovah fills the scene.
The whole picture is of the end-time of this present age, of the "times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24); of the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:14;19:11-21); of the re-gathering of Israel (Romans 11:26) and of kingdom blessing.
It is remarkable that Joel, coming at the very beginning of written prophecy (836 BC), gives the fullest view of the consummation of all written prophecy. The order of events is:
The invasion of Palestine from the north by Gentile world-powers headed up under the Beast and false prophet (Joel 2:1-10).
The Lord's army and destruction of the invaders (Joel 2:11; Rev 19:11-21).
The repentance of Judah in the land (Joel 2:12-17).
The answer of Jehovah (Joel 2:18-27).
The effusion of the Spirit in the (Jewish) "last days" (Joel 2:28, 29).
The return of the Lord in glory and the setting up of the kingdom (Joel 2:30-32; Acts 15:15-17) by the re-gathering of the nation and judgement of the nations (Joel 3:1-16).
Full and permanent kingdom blessing (Joel 3:17-21; Zechariah 14:1-21).
R David Jones
1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.
2 Hear this, you elders, And give ear, all you inhabitants of the land! Has anything like this happened in your days, Or even in the days of your fathers?
3 Tell your children about it, Let your children tell their children, And their children another generation.
4 What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; What the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; And what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten.
5 Awake, you drunkards, and weep; And wail, all you drinkers of wine, Because of the new wine, For it has been cut off from your mouth.