Superscription. The superscription introduces the book and characterizes it as the LORD's word, a prophetic book. As mentioned above, Joel is not set in any particular period. Readers, beginning in ancient times,
have suggested various settings. In Jewish tradition, Joel is associated with at least three different periods: (a) the days
of Jehoram, the son of Ahab (b. Ta‘an. 5a), (b) the time of Samuel (Joel is the son of Samuel, who eventually repented and turned into a prophet, according to Rashi
and others), and (c) the time of Manasseh (Seder Olam Rabbah).
Joel, like its inverted form Elijah, probably means “the LORD is God.”
On divine judgment against Judah and its response.
A call to read the text. This call emphasizes the link between generations, and thus the everlasting truth and relevance of what follows.
On the plague of locusts and the corresponding communal cry (or lamentation) to the Lord.
Cutter…locust….grub…hopper: There are many references to locusts in ancient Near Eastern texts. Some of these references associate the imagery of swarms
of locusts with that of large invading armies or troops. The use of these four terms may represent an attempt to convey a
sense of completeness, rather than express a biological, detailed focus. Abravanel understands the text as metaphorical: The
four kinds of locusts refer to four nations that will rule over Israel—Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
Vines…fig trees: a reversal of a traditional image of agrarian peace (cf. Mic. 4.4; Zech. 3.10
). The speaker is presented as one who owns vines and fig trees.
Maiden, Heb “betulah,” means a young woman of marriageable age; here, a newly married woman. Husband of her youth, an emotive counterpart to the expression “wife of his youth” (cf. Prov. 1.5; Isa. 54.6; Mal. 2.14–15
). The association of Judah in distress with a powerless, lamenting (young) woman is common in the Bible, and parallels exist
in other ancient Near Eastern literature. Such imagery suggests, or creates an expectation for, a redemptive action by a caring
(male) patron, who in this case would be the LORD. Usually such references to women point directly at or seem to suggest some negatively valued behavior on the part of the
woman, here Judah, which within the world of the text justifies her present situation. The last part of the verse appears
in a well‐known poetic lament (qinah) recited on the 9th of Av, the traditional day of fasting and mourning for the destruction
of the Temple.
The text shifts from the young woman in one verse to an indirect reference to the LORD in the next, and to the (male) priests who are (partially) responsible for keeping an effective and positive interaction between the people and God.
Among men (Heb “min‐bnei ’adam”), “among the people.”
The priests and many others believed that the daily offerings were a prerequisite to divine beneficence; the plague would
thus be viewed as an extreme disaster.
Fast…cry out: Cf. 2.15
. The actions are a typical response to an upcoming disaster (cf. Jonah 3.6–8
). This verse serves in b. Ta‘an. 12b to explain why one is not to work on a day of fast: because such a day is to be treated as a day of a solemn assembly.
Day of the LORD
(cf. Isa. 13.6; Ezek. 30.2, 3; Obad. 15; Zeph. 1.14–15
, among others), a relatively common term in prophetic literature. It points to a day in which the LORD dramatically alters the regular order of things. In many places it refers to an extraordinary day of judgment for the wicked
(e.g., Isa. 13.9
), and it is often associated with images of darkness and cosmic upheaval (e.g., 2.1–2; Amos 5.18–20; Zeph. 1.14–15
). Here the images stress the absence and lack of what is necessary for life.
If God is not to pity the (sinful) people, He should at least pity the blameless animals (similarly Jonah 4.11
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