SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Joel 1:1 through 3:21
KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“Therefore also now, saith the Lord, Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.” (Joel 2:12)
Although the date of Joel’s prophecy is uncertain, many Bible scholars believe that Joel was one of the earliest of the minor prophets, because both Amos and Isaiah borrowed imagery and quoted from Joel’s prophecy. A further clue to Joel’s era is found in his references to the enemies of Judah: Egypt, Edom, Tyre, Sidon and Palestine (which is Philistia) (Joel 3:4,19). Although Joel prophesied of the captivity of Israel, there was no mention made of the Syrians, Babylonians, or Assyrians, who were enemies at a later date.
The circumstances that prompted this prophecy included a locust plague and subsequent drought, fire, and famine. Joel began with a call to the eldest men to remember whether such a calamity had ever befallen them before. The sum of his argument was that this plague of locusts was the judgment of God. Joel drew an analogy between the natural destruction of the plague of locusts and the “day of the Lord,” indicating that the former calamity would be nothing compared to the latter. The army of locusts was a graphic illustration of the invaders who would be sent in judgment. However, true to God’s grace and mercy, the imminent judgment could be averted by true repentance.
Joel called the people to repentance, beginning with the old men, or elders of the land. He urged them to humble themselves in sincerity, not merely in outward form, and to lament as bitterly as a young wife would grieve at the untimely death of her husband. Next he urged them to proclaim a national day of fasting and prayer, to entreat the Lord for His mercy.
The meat and drink offerings (grain and wine, respectively) were absent from the Temple services due to the widespread destruction of crops and vineyards. Such religious rites were the people’s means of sustaining a proper relationship with God. Even the cattle and sheep were affected as they searched in vain for somewhere to graze.
The heart of Joel’s message was an urgent appeal to repentance, for the day of the Lord would be more terrible than the destruction of locusts. Promises of restoration of their land and reprieve from invading armies were given to the nation, if the Israelites would turn to the Lord with all their hearts (Joel 2:12-13).
The second chapter gave the beautiful promise of God to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh in the latter days. Peter referred to this prophecy on the day of Pentecost and indicated that the Lord had fulfilled this prophecy before their eyes (Acts 2:16-18).
Some of the promises described future events, when the day of the Lord will come in full force against the enemies of God. In the last days, God will spare those who have turned to Him wholeheartedly, and will provide the deliverance that was promised to Israel in chapter 2.
SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS
- What natural calamities did Joel describe in chapter 1 as an object lesson to warn the people of God’s coming judgment?
A severe locust plague (1:4), followed by famine (1:10), and fire (1:19). Joel used the terrible destruction and loss to illustrate the condition that would accompany the day of the Lord. It is likely that the widespread destruction of vegetation caused a famine to occur, having destroyed the existing crops and the seed for the next planting. The fire mentioned in verse 19 may have been a separate calamity, or may be a reference to future events. It is not always clear when Joel was referring to happenings of his time or to apocalyptic events.
- In chapter 1, verses 13 and 14, Joel addressed the priests, who were the leaders of the people. What did Joel instruct them to do? Why do you think he spoke to them?
The priests were instructed to humble themselves and lament over the present situation, to fast, to call a solemn assembly of the elders, and to cry to the Lord. The priests were the elders of the community and the representatives of the people before God. They were looked upon as examples, and if the priests were to humble themselves, abstain from food, and entreat the Lord for mercy, the people would presumably do the same. The priests had been guilty of backsliding and forsaking the Lord. Those who led the people into sin should have been the first ones to turn and lead them back into righteousness.
- How did Joel describe the day of the Lord in chapter 2?
The day of the Lord was described as a day of darkness, gloominess, clouds, fire, and desolation. Joel alluded to an army that will run like horses and rumble with the noise of a wildfire, and will destroy everything in its path. Just as swarms of locusts had filled the sky and obscured the sun, marching forward in thick ranks and eating up every green thing in their path, even so a mighty army will come and destroy everything. The land, which had been as beautiful as the Garden of Eden, will become a scene of complete devastation.
- How could the people avoid this terrible holocaust? What attitudes and actions was the Lord looking for?
They could avoid God’s judgment by showing genuine repentance. The Lord warned them to repent earnestly and sincerely, to tear their hearts and not their garments, and to call upon the Name of the Lord for mercy. If the people would do so, praying sincerely for forgiveness and deliverance, God promised to show them mercy.
God is never fooled by an outward show, but discerns the thoughts and intents of our hearts. At one time in Jewish history, it was possible to purchase a garment specifically constructed for tearing: a mourning garment. Those who tore their garments in public sometimes did so with the intent to be admired for their apparent piety, but this did not fool God.
Discuss with your group what evidences we can expect to see when people turn to God with all their hearts. The class may suggest prayer, tears of sorrow, a desire to forsake a wrong way of living, church attendance, restitutions, etc.
Ask your class what God might do in the lives of people who truly take this action. Bring out that God will forgive, and His Spirit will bear witness to that forgiveness. The person will have God’s help in living right, and often God begins to work out circumstances and situations to His glory. Your class might have some personal stories to share of how God worked for them after they were saved.
- What physical promises did the Lord make to the people if they would turn to Him with all their hearts? Joel 2:18-27
God promised to replenish their food supplies, satisfy them, drive off the enemy, and restore their reputation among the heathen nations. In contrast to the great destruction and distress that would come upon them, God promised to restore the necessary rains and to bless them with crops so abundant that they would make up for the years that the locusts had ruined. Because the invaders had done such great things (in their eyes), God would humiliate them and drive them off into a barren land, not the way from which they had come.
Joel returned to the metaphor of locusts when he spoke of the “stink” (Joel 2:20). When a swarm of locusts was blown out to sea and then died before they were able to reach land, their bodies putrefied in the water and caused a horrible, rotting smell. At times the tide washed up heaps of dead locusts on the shore, which bred disease and death. In like manner, those insurgents who gloried in their victory over Israel would be cast out and destroyed by God.
- What spiritual promises did the Lord make to the people if they would repent of their sins? Joel 2:28-29
God promised to pour out His Spirit upon all people regardless of age, gender, or social status. After all that He promised to do for them in the natural realm, He continued with promises of spiritual restoration and an abundance of His blessings. No longer would the Spirit of God be reserved for a select few, but all could expect and hope for His infilling. God intended for everyone to partake of His blessed Holy Spirit.
- What judgment did God pronounce upon Israel’s enemies, and why? Joel 3:8
God said He would sell their sons and daughters into captivity. He would judge them for the violence they had done to His chosen people, Israel. The nations had profaned His Temple, scattered His people abroad, and sold innocent boys and girls into slavery and prostitution. Sons and daughters of those who disobey God today might also pay a price. Ask your class how a lack of spiritual knowledge or distorted spiritual values might impact succeeding generations. Bring out that a failure to serve God could have devastating results in a family.
- Joel told of a natural disaster to speak to the people regarding their need for true repentance. Consider some of the major tragedies which have occurred in recent years. How can you use such events to bring up the subject of Christ’s second coming with your friends and co-workers?
Current events, such as crime, terrorist attacks, wars, and natural disasters bring fear and a sense of a person’s mortality. This can be a springboard to discuss where true security and peace can be found.
The day of the Lord is coming when He will return to judge the wicked and will spare those who have turned to Him with all their hearts. An outward show of religious zeal or humility will not suffice, as God is able to discern true repentance from that which is insincere and fleeting. What is the condition of your heart today?