Authorship, date, and background Joel, whose name means "Yahweh is God," was the son of Pethuel and is the author of the book which goes by his name. Nothing is known about him or his father. He was from Jerusalem and was well acquainted with the city and the land of Judah. The book cannot be dated either from internal or external evidences and scholars have varied in their suggestions from a pre-exilic date earlier than 800 B.C. to a post-exilic date as late as 350 B.C. The fact that Joel mentioned Edom, Egypt, Philistia, and Phoenicia as contemporary nations at the time of the writing has occasioned conservative scholars to prefer the early date for the composition of the book. Some similarities with the prophecies of Amos, whose work has been dated in the eighth century B.C., suggest to some a similar time frame.
The background against which the book was written was a locust invasion which devastated the land, leaving behind hunger and destitution for both man and beast. Such invasions were not uncommon, although they usually did not come from the north. Joel used the invasion to call his people to repentance and prayer for divine forgiveness. He looked upon the invasion as a divine judgment against the nation.
Characteristics and content Joel writes beautifully and descriptively of an actual locusts invasion and likens it to the invasion of any army from the north. He calls the locusts a vast army and goes on to describe the starving priests, the bare fields, the stricken farmers, and the weeping vinedressers. He calls for the priests to dress in sackcloth, and recommends a fast and the assembling of themselves at the temple to plead with God for help. From there Joel addresses himself to the future. A portion of his prophecy about the outpouring of God's Spirit on all flesh, with sons and daughters prophesying and old men dreaming dreams, is picked up by Peter in his discourse at Pentecost. But the remaining portion of the prophecy was not fulfilled at Pentecost and thus many commentators think it awaits fulfillment at the end of the present age or what Joel calls "the day of the Lord." At that time Joel prophesies "wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and terrible day of the Lord come" (2:30, 31).
In chapter three, Joel, like so many of the other prophets, foresees future prosperity for Judah and Jerusalem. This will be a divine deliverance by the power of God following severe judgments. When this happens, Joel promises that by his power God will insure that "Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation" (3:20).