The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. - Joel 3:16 (ESV)

The book of Joel could probably rank among the more frightening prophetic books for the people of Israel. It appears to be written sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem while the Assyrians are still a powerful threat (cf. Joel 2:20). It is not that the entire book is negative since Yahweh makes several promises in the short book to restore his people. Nevertheless, the Day of Yahweh, which seems not to be restricted to the near future but also to the final judgment of all people, is a frightening prospect. And because Joel is not a long book, its focus on the awful terror of God’s wrath on the Day of Yahweh makes the book particularly intimidating.

The Big Idea of Joel

I have taught that the Big Idea of Joel is the following: “Be Prepared for the Day of Yahweh”. The book of Joel looks to the past, present, and future of Israel. The people have rebelled against Yahweh, and now Yahweh’s judgment is coming. The day of Yahweh is coming in the short term when Yahweh punishes his people for their repeated unfaithfulness to him. But it is also coming in the future for all nations. In that day, Yahweh will restore his people, and those nations that currently prosper in their wickedness will be judged and overthrown by Yahweh. Everyone, then and now, needs to be prepared for the day of Yahweh.

An Outline of Joel

Joel 1:1-20: Disaster Has Come, Repentance is Needed

The first chapter of Joel opens with the announcement that disaster has come and repentance is needed. All the elders and people of the land are called to recognize the utter devastation that had come upon the land. The priests are exhorted to call for a fast and a time of mourning for the people because the day of Yahweh has come.

Joel 2:1-17: Yahweh Brings Disaster But May Yet Leave a Blessing

Chapter two of Joel spends a good deal of space contrasting the awfulness of the devastation with the revelation that, even in his wrath, Yahweh is prepared to restore the people’s fortunes and flourishing, if only they will repent.

 Joel 2:18-3:3: Yahweh Will Bless His People and Punish Their Oppressors

Joel 2:18-3:3 emphasizes the fact that Yahweh will finally redeem his people and turn back the power of their oppressors. They have mistreated and demeaned Yahweh’s people, but they will not remain in power.

Joel 3:4-21: Yahweh Will Finally Render Judgment and Restore Israel’s Fortunes

Joel ends with a call for judgment by Yahweh in what is called the valley of decision (Joel 3:14). These verses sum up the preceding portions of Joel by predicting that Jerusalem will one day be holy and that Yahweh will avenge himself on Israel’s enemies.

Benefits of Joel

In the first place, Joel reminds us that Yahweh is a God of justice and wrath. Joel describes a God who judges sinners and rebels against him. This applies to the chosen people, the Jews, as well as to the pagan nations. This is comforting in the sense that readers can be confident that the unjust and the wicked will receive their due. Ultimately, no one “gets away” with sin. But Joel is potentially terrifying in the sense that readers are reminded that we all will receive our due, and none of us is innocent.

God’s power is also on display in Joel. It is easy enough to skip, but the absolute certainty with which Yahweh speaks leaves no room for anyone to believe that they could somehow resist or overpower God. This is a small but important observation that is perhaps made too seldom. At least, we do not face this truth enough. God is all-powerful. He created all things. He rules over all. And while he does not treat us like so many toys but enters into relationships with us, we should not believe because of this that there is any doubt that he will accomplish what he sets out to do.

Despite being so clear on his judgment against sin, Joel is also hopeful for its clear demonstration of Yahweh’s love and mercy toward his people. Yahweh does promise to restore his people and cause them to flourish. How great a change is needed in the people’s hearts! Their sin and rebellion is evident enough. But readers are reminded that it is not only the sin of Israel and the surrounding nations that are problems. Instead, considering Yahweh’s response to their sin, we can imagine the response to our own. We have not evolved to stop sinning. We continue to sin, and God’s day of judgment continues to draw near.

To that end, a book like Joel might well serve us to remind us to call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. As we read of God’s power, justice, and future judgment, we are right to ask what can be done to escape the wrath to come. God himself has made the way in Christ by paying the penalty for sins on the cross. What remains is for us to benefit from it by faith in Jesus Christ.

Indeed, Christ faced his own personal kind of Day of Yahweh on the cross. Never before or since has so much been accomplished by one man’s death. Christ faced the wrath of Yahweh on the cross so that all who trust in him might have the glory of God to look forward to and to anticipate rather than His anger and judgment. Joel helps to put all these things in mind, reminding us of our plight in sin apart from some form of rescue. Thank God we have a rescuer in Christ Jesus, who gave himself to gain a people for himself whose hearts will remain true to him.

On Joel and Living for God Through Christ