Joel was an 8th century B.C. prophet writing during the divided kingdom period of the Old Testament. He opens with observations about a locust plague that has destroyed his country. “Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes– joy and gladness from the house of our God? The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up. How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering.”
Joel wrote specifically for the southern kingdom of Judah, and said to them: ‘If you think this locust plague was bad, you haven’t seen anything yet” (2:2). Because of Judah’s sinfulness, God promised to send a foreign army on his own people to subdue and punish them. The army, and the devastation in its wake, would be worse than a plague of locusts.
Joel does not present a catalog of Judah’s sins. Only “drunkenness” is specifically mentioned. But as you journey through the book, God seems upset about two things: First, people simply do not give God much thought. The priests perform their duties in the temple, but those are more ritual than deep heartfelt service to God in behalf of the people. The people have gotten on with their lives with little thought about what God wants for them, and even less thought about what God wants of them. Second, their inattention to God is evidenced by their lack of offerings to God.
The plague has come because the people have not thought about God enough to make offerings to them. He has responded to take away everything they have so that no offerings are possible. When they return to Him, he will bless them once more – and He intends they then consider Him first.
The “day of the Lord” is a signature phrase for Joel. It is a day of judgment. For those who have persecuted God’s people, it will be a day of desolation. For the unfaithful of God’s people, it will be a day of devastation. But for those who faithful, it will be a day of shelter and blessing accompanied by the presence of God’s Spirit. Peter refers to Joel in his Acts 2 sermon and calls Pentecost Joel’s promised glorious “day of the Lord.” We can divide Joel as follows:
I) The locust plague recounted. – Chapter 1
II) Promised punishment from God and a call to repentance – Chapter 2:1-17
III) The judgment of God – Chapters 2:18 – 3:21