Joel is a fantastic book with regard to interpreting New Testament events. Part of that comes from the fact that Peter explicitly identifies the events taking place during his lifetime as that which the prophet Joel spoke of. It is in light of that fact that we interpret these symbols as pertaining to the first century AD.
1The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel. 2Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?
Joel writes to the people of “the [promised] land” or “the earth”. We have seen time and again throughout Old Testament scriptures that the earth in apocalyptic literature and even in the books of Moses is a reference to the people of Israel. This is in contrast with the people of the islands which are the Gentiles.
What Joel is going to tell them of has not been seen even in the days of the oldest of those to whom he is prophesying.
3Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.
There is more to this than a sense of awe to be passed down. The specific reason Joel states this command is because that which he prophesies will take place generations from the time he is giving the message. We see that it isn’t until the time of Christ and beyond that Joel is actually fulfilled.
4That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten.
Here Joel presents a series of four different kinds of locusts or plant devouring pests. In other passages we know that locusts are used to refer to the soldiers of a vast army. Ezekiel 38-39 (Septuagint) identifies Gog as the king of locusts. These plagues would indicate an army that overwhelms and consumes the earth (the land of Judah) four times.
I believe these are indicative of the four empires of Daniel 2 and 7: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and finally Rome.
In Revelation 9:3, 7 we see the Roman army thus pictured.
5Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth. 6For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion.
Here the image of the final army (Rome) is presented as without number, powerful like a great lion. Throughout the books of OT prophecy the lion has been a symbol of great strength, a beast come to rend and destroy Jerusalem and the Jews in punishment.
7He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.
Looking back to verse 5 we connect to verse 7 and identify Judah as the vine and the fig tree. The lion, this nation which comes to make war on Judah, has killed the vine and fig tree. The image of Judah is seen in the NT as both vine (Matt. 21; Rev. 14) and fig tree (Matt. 21; 24:32; Luke 13:6-7; Rev. 6:13).
8Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.
This symbol indicates mourning for someone destroyed as if before their time. Judah thought they were God’s people in perpetuity. When He brings Rome against them to cut them off, it is a shock to them akin to a young woman loosing her husband before they even had opportunity to consummate their marriage.
9The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the LORD; the priests, the LORD's ministers, mourn. 10The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth. 11Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished. 12The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men. 13Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God.
The Old Testament forms of worship are ended (Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:15), the priesthood changed (Heb. 7:12-14). All of the sacrifices and offerings at the Temple are ended because the Temple itself is destroyed.
14Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the LORD, 15Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.
All the inhabitants of the land (or “earth”) are called to the Temple to cry to Jehovah because the day of Jehovah is at hand. This “day” is not the end of the kosmos, but the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, an end to the Jewish way of life.
16Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God? 17The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered. 18How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate. 19O LORD, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field. 20The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
As always, fire is a symbol of judgment, generally of nations. The fire that destroys here leaves desolation just as that spoken of in Daniel and referred to by Christ in Matt. 24. The grass of the field (the common people), the rivers of waters (the trade), and even the seed (the capacity to plant anew and rebuild) are all destroyed.
1Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand;
Zion of course is Jerusalem. Within the context of the timing of this prophecy (not from the time it was written but from the time it was referring to) the day of Jehovah was near. What Joel is pointing out is that when the fourth empire (the fourth army – Rome) arose, the end of Judaism would be soon.
Peter gives us the indication of the time of this prophecy in Acts 2 and it is from that point that we begin to consider what is nigh or near.
2A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations. 3A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.
Joel begins a description of the Roman army and their effects on the earth. Symbols used here are darkness and an overcast sky. These clouds are thick and spread over all the land. This represents that overwhelming size of the Roman army. Before the Romans come, the land is bountiful, but wherever they have marched, they leave only desolation. This is typical of classical armies who pillage the lands they conquer for supplies. The Roman army would be so vast that they would leave nothing in their wake. We begin to see the desolation spoken of by Daniel and later Christ.
That there would not ever be another army like this one does not mean that there was never an army larger (for there have been), but with regard to Jerusalem and Judah there never would be another like it. The reason for this is that this army would be the last and it would utterly end Judaism and God’s people of the Old Testament. That earth would pass giving way to the new earth, the church.
4The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run. 5Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array.
Horses are a symbol of power and swiftness (e.g. Jer. 4:13). I’m reminded of the scene in “Return of the King” during the battle of Pelenor fields when the horsemen of Rohan arrive. The thunder of their horses as they approached the army of orcs was deafening. Their charge could not be stopped.
Chariots give the same image. The Roman army was powerful and swift and would not be stopped in its advance against the Jews.
6Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness. 7They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks: 8Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path: and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded.
This army is not only swift and powerful it is well trained. When one or another individual soldier is wounded, the training of the rest of the army is such that it does not break the ranks or cause disarray as if none were ever wounded in the first place.
9They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief.
This image is that of Jerusalem taken completely and the gusto with which Titus’s soldiers invaded after the walls were breached.
10The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining:
The verse that Peter quotes in Acts 2. The earthquake is a destruction of the people of the land. The heavens, sun, moon, and stars are a sign of the end of the leadership of the Jews: the king, the high priest, the Sanhedrin council, and all the priesthood.
11And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?
The voice of Jehovah is seen throughout the Bible as omnipotent power. God speaks it, and it happens, whether it be Creation or destruction of nations. This day of Jehovah, (which again has nothing to do with the end of the kosmos) is great and terrible and none who are the object of this judgment will be able to survive it. The Jews would be wiped out.
12Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: 13And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. 14Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God? 15Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: 16Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. 17Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? 18Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people. 19Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen: 20But I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things. 21Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things. 22Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength. 23Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. 24And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. 25And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. 26And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. 27And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.
This is much the same message that John the Immerser preached. Repentance of the nation of Israel. For those who repented and turned back to the Lord, they recognized the long awaited Messiah as prophesied and were saved. The Messiah would bring the healing rains, the gospel, the water of life which would bring new life to God’s people. Messiah would become King of Israel, the antitype of David and God would be no more rejected as King of His people (1 Sam. 8:7).
Some might say that this is the return of Judah from Babylonian captivity but placed as it is between verses 10 and 28, both of which Peter quotes as relating to his day, I do not agree with this. This passage must refer to the same time period to be consistent.
28And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: 29And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
After the coming of Messiah the Holy Spirit would be given to those of the first century such that they would perform miracles, just as Peter stated in Acts 2.
30And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. 31The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come. 32And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.
Then we have the coming end of Judaism 40 years later. The wonders in heaven are the fall of the Jewish leaders, in the earth are the horrible calamity faced by the Jewish people, especially in Jerusalem during the siege. Blood because of war and death. Fire the symbol of judgment. Pillars of smoke as the final testament to the destruction that had happened just as Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:28) and prophesied in Deut. 29:20; Isa. 34:10. We see this smoke again in Rev. 14:11; 18:9, 18; 19:3. This smoke is that of Zion, of Jerusalem in its destruction.
Those who become part of the New Jerusalem, the new mount Zion (Heb. 12:22-23) will find salvation. Those who call upon the name of Jehovah, those who heed the gospel call, will find deliverance from this destruction.
1For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem,
In those days, meaning in the last days, the days Peter spoke of, the days Christ spoke of. Judah would have already endured captivity under Babylon, but would be brought again into captivity or submission to Rome.
2I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land. 3And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink.
The Roman army was comprised of people from all the nations of the world. The pleading is with the edge of the sword against the Jews. The subjugation of the Jews under the Romans would be nothing akin to that under Babylon. Because of their rebellion against Rome, Rome treated the Jews as expendable property.
4Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? will ye render me a recompence? and if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompence upon your own head; 5Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things: 6The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their border. 7Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will return your recompence upon your own head: 8And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off: for the LORD hath spoken it. 9Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: 10Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. 11Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O LORD. 12Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.
This is a very similar scene to that found in Matt. 25 and the judgment seat of Christ. It is about the judgment of nations not of individuals. What is envisioned here is the in-pouring of Gentiles into the church after the persecution by the Jews and the Judaising influences were taken out of the way.
13Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great.
This is the harvest at the end of the age (aionos) Matt. 13. Christ would gather members for his kingdom from all the nations of the world (as promised to Abraham) even during the wickedness of the Jews the church would grow.
14Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
This is the valley of Jehosaphat (the valley of judgment). It is a symbolic place just as Armageddon (Mt. Meggido) is. This is the point of no return for the Jews, the last judgment against them as a nation.
15The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.
Same as chapter 2.
16The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.
The going forth of the gospel would turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6) and cause those who clung to Judaism no end of worry and consternation. Jehovah, though, would provide for the New Israel, the New Jerusalem the way He had always done for the Old. This time, however, Israel would never forsake God.
17So shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more.
This is the church, the picture we see in Rev. 21-22. The idea of no strangers points to the fact that there would be no more Jew or Gentile under the new system, no proselytes. Only and all the children of God would be part of this holy Jerusalem (Acts 17:6; Rev. 5:9).
18And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth out of the house of the LORD, and shall water the valley of Shittim. 19Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence against the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. 20But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. 21For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the LORD dwelleth in Zion.
This Judah and Jerusalem is the church. Here the Jews are spiritually called Egypt and Edom, those who persecuted the church. God would bring the Jews to utter desolation because of the shedding of innocent blood, the blood of Christ and the blood of Christians (Matt. 23:35; Luke 11:51; Acts 5:28; 22:20; Rom. 3:15; Rev. 6:10; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 19:2).
This whole book points directly at the Jews as the harlot drunk with the blood of the saints in Revelation.
In Truth and Love.