We ought to dust off the book of Joel and crack it open. It’s been ignored, probably because people view it as an expired prophecy about a famine in Israel caused by locusts long ago.
But if we read it carefully, we will hear its own testimony to its timelessness. No one can date the prophecy, and any indication of the date of its authorship is absent—maybe intentionally.
In the center of the book, there’s a haunting, “Even now, declares the LORD…” as though the book’s message lives on.
Unlike other prophetic books, Joel doesn’t list Israel’s sins and indict her for them. Instead, like the long blast of an ancient trumpet, we hear the recurring refrain, “the day of the Lord is coming” (1:15; 2:1; 2:11; 2:31; 3:14 ESV).
The day of the LORD meant judgment— “destruction from the Almighty… a day of darkness and gloom… who can endure it… a great and awesome day… when the stars withdraw their shining.” Spooky, right? Joel describes this day as inducing trembling (1:15; 2:1; 2:10-11).
Joel’s audience likely witnessed locusts lay waste to Israel’s crops. Severe famine awakened them to God’s disfavor and summoned them to seek him. It was a day of the Lord’s judgment. Joel uses this event to warn Israel, through a hazy vision, of a different sort of locust—a terrifying sort of locust accompanied by fire, and perhaps not creaturely, but human. An army of sorts marches forth in judgment (2:2-5).
Maybe this hazy image referred to foreign powers that laid waste to Israel, dragging them into exile. We find a few clues elsewhere in the Bible, however, that remind us that Joel’s prophecy hasn’t expired. It’s a weighty warning for us today.
In Revelation 9, we find a prophecy eerily similar to the second chapter of Joel. Joel’s prophecy is the shadow of a coming judgment, the Day of the LORD.
In the book of Joel, locusts devour the food and the land. Considering the whole Bible story, we see that this is a mercy. On the day of the LORD described in Revelation, an army of locusts will not harm food and land as a symbol of judgment, they will harm unrepentant people during one scene in the last act of final judgment (Revelation 9:3-11). Instead of serving as a warning to repent, these locusts will be an act of judgment on those who did not repent. Unlike the people in Joel’s day, the Bible says the people in the last days will refuse to repent (Revelation 9:20-21).
God’s wrath is still pending—the end has not yet come. Locusts are still on their way—exactly what this looks like we’re not sure. Joel’s prophecy, as we said before, has not expired. We know that God’s wrath will be poured out in the last days on those who don’t repent (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).
Jesus Christ bore the wrath we deserved for our sins, so that if we put our trust in him, we will escape the wrath of God.
Joel’s message still echoes into our generation: “Yet even now, declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart” (2:12). Until the final Day of the LORD, we can repent of our sins and turn to the Lord, entrusting our lives to him. The LORD “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (2:13).
There was a day, between Joel and Revelation when the sun did go dark (2:30-32), and the LORD opened a way of escape from his wrath. Jesus Christ bore the wrath we deserved for our sins, so that if we put our trust in him, we will escape the wrath of God. For those who turn from their sin and call upon Jesus for forgiveness, God will pour out his grace, rather than his wrath. Joel’s prophecy was partially fulfilled: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved… the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel” (2:32; 3:16 ESV).
In simple terms, Joel is a timeless trumpet blast calling you to repent. God’s wrath is scary—it is his unavoidable justice on those who fail to ever bow the knee to him.
But even now you can find refuge in the LORD. He’s ready to receive all who trust in him. Are you ready for the day of the LORD? Will it be devastating to you, or will you be one of those who enjoy the oil and wine when the blast of his judgment has passed, because you were hidden safe in Jesus (2:18-27; 2:32)?