Plague and Drought in Joel

The name Joel can be loosely translated to mean “YHWH is God”. The Book of Joel is one of the shorter books of the “minor prophets” (named for their length, not their significance). In it, Joel preaches the “word of the Lord” to the “old men” and “inhabitants of the land” -it is an account that is applicable to “your own time” or “even your father’s time” and should be retold so our children will tell their children. Joel intends to present a prophecy that is applicable to all peoples in all times.

Joel gives an account of the locust devastation -the barley and wheat are gone, the vineyards have dried up, along with the fig, pomegranate, apple, and other fruit trees. Fire destroys the wilderness and all the rivers have dried up in drought. He calls upon the “old men” to lament and give an offering to the Lord.

Joel is concerned with a plague and a drought that has stricken the land of Israel, though some later Jewish scholars have suggested the locust plague is a mere metaphor for the enemies of Israel, rather than an actual pestilence. The answer Joel provides to Israel is to turn back to God and repent and he forecasts a day of reckoning from God. The King James Version of the text differs from the Tanakh version, as it is divided into three chapters while the Tanakh is divided into four chapters. The historical context is unknown. Here are a couple of notable passage from the book of Joel:

“O Lord, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath
devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and
the flame hath burned all the trees of the field.
The beasts of the field also cry unto thee:
for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the
fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness” (1:19-20).

“A fire devoureth before them; and behind
them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden
of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate
wilderness: yea, and nothing shall escape them” (2:3).

The following is Michelangelo’s painting of Joel from his Sistine Chapel ceiling (1508-1512). His face shows an intense focus on his scroll, while two young children appear to be arguing behind Joel as they each carry a book.

Joel_(Michelangelo)

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