The Christian life is indeed a “joyful” life. The Bible makes it clear that God wants us to be joyful. The Psalms are filled with spontaneous joy and triumph. The gospel accounts are filled with the joy that comes from the Good News of Jesus. In John 15:11, Jesus himself said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Acts 13:52 tells us of the disciple’s experience sharing their faith, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” But, I’m afraid that Ogilvie is right. “There is a tendency in our day to think that being a Christian should put us on a route bypassing the distresses of life. But shallow triumphalism does not help in the depths of difficulties. If God is only for the up, successful, hurrah times of life, He is excluded from three-fourths of our lives. Joel helps us stand at the intersection of the two tracks of life when painful, heartbreaking things happen.” In Joel, God “has something to say to us.”[1] “The word of the Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel: Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers?”

The message that God calls us all to hear begins with the observation that something has fallen on God’s people that has never happened before. Things that come into my life are often things I’ve not seen before and could not have imagined. All hardships and pains are fresh and new to the one experiencing them. McGee explains what has happened, “Apparently, Israel was in the midst of a great locust plague at this time. Locust plagues were rather commonplace in that land, but Joel calls to the old men and says, ‘Did anything like this ever happen in your day? Did it happen in the day of your fathers? Have you ever heard anything like this locust plague?’ Of course, they had to say, ‘No, this is the worst we’ve ever had.’”[2] Joel will describe this terrible event but then use it as an illustration of what will yet be future. One of my Hebrew professors comments, “The opening chapter describes the effects of a severe locust plague which had swept over the land, destroying the agricultural produce on which both man and beast so heavily depended for survival. This disaster signaled an even worse calamity to come—the destructive day of the Lord.”[3]

Many of the Old Testament prophets addressed the religious leaders or the political leaders. Yet some talk specifically to the whole nation or the individual as part of the nation. Baker says, “Joel’s message is to the latter, to the nation represented by various strands in society, from religious and political leaders through production workers to inebriates. All society needs to hear God’s warnings and join in national lament for the destruction facing them. This derives from a horrible plague, not of disease but of nature, in the form of locust swarms.”[4] It’s hard to imagine God bringing the curse of locusts on his own people after having delivered them from Egypt by using a locust plague as one of the means of bringing Pharoah to his knees before the God of Israel. But Guzik observes, “If we are accurate in thinking that Joel prophesied in 835 b.c. then the judgment he described came toward the end of the six-year reign of ungodliness under Queen Athaliah. No wonder God brought a heavy hand on Judah!”[5]

[1] Ogilvie, Lloyd J., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. 1990. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah. Vol. 22. The Preacher’s Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.

[2] McGee, J. Vernon. 1991. Thru the Bible Commentary: The Prophets (Hosea/Joel). Electronic ed. Vol. 27. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Chisholm, Robert B., Jr. 1985. “Joel.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, 1:1413. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] Baker, David W. 2006. Joel, Obadiah, Malachi. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[5] Guzik, David. 2000. Joel. David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible. Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.