by Rev. Chris Skinner
Joel is the second of the minor prophets but only minor in terms of the size of the book. Joel has only three chapters but it is packed with imagery and in miniature is a summary of many of the major themes that run through the Old Testament. The New Church regards the Word of God at an inner level as being the story of our own spiritual development.
Joel’s name means Jehovah Elohim or strong one. All that is known about him is that he may have been a temple prophet and the son of Pethual. There is no general agreement as to the dating of the book but it is thought to have been written about 800BCE around the same time as Isaiah In contrast to Hosea which focuses on the Northern Kingdom of Israel Joel’s emphasis is on the Southern Kingdom of Judah and over the three chapters there are in excess of 15 references to either Judah, Jerusalem or Zion. In symbolic or correspondential terms Israel represents the understanding and Judah the will and therefore the thrust of the book is the way in which we move from repentance to regeneration from an understanding of to a love of the Lord
In general terms the first chapter gives the impression of doom and gloom and elucidates the depths to which the people of Israel have descended in worshipping idols and doing all manner of selfish acts. The second has an emphasis on judgment and what will happen to the people if they do not turn from their wickedness and follow the Lord. The literal text uses many word pictures to convey this to the reader. Whilst the third chapter continues to some extent the theme of the previous one it focuses towards the end on the coming of the Lord in the latter part.
All three chapters echo the themes that occurs in many of the other prophets. A prophet is a representative of the Lord or the Word from God and they are messengers of the truth to try to bring about repentance. The latter part of the third chapter focus’s on hope and how the Lord is always ready to show himself to his people and lead them to a life of love and usefulness as opposed to selfishness and evil. We should also see this pattern in our own spiritual journey. if we focus solely on ourselves rather than God. This struggle is repeated over and over again in this little book just as our life is a process of fighting with our tendency to evil and selfishness and our attempts to get back on the right path. This ebbing and flowing is apparent in the text but is also couched in correspondential language and the imagery of nature .because our spiritual struggles are mirrored in the world of nature around us.
In Chapter 2 there is a reference to locusts. If we think of the way locusts can devastate vegetation we can mirror that by seeing that our spiritual life can be weaken or eaten away by wrong thoughts and evil actions. Negative thoughts can end up warping our view of life. Both in this book and in other Old Testament prophets there are many references to “under the vine and fig tree”. This again refers to the way spiritual truth that is represented by the vine and natural good by the fig tree illustrates the way the Lord works on our life to lead us out of darkness.
Towards the end of Chapter 2 in verse 28 we have a very well known text “and it shall come to pass that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy your old men shall dream dreams and your young men see visions” This text is seen in Acts in relation to Pentecost but has a much more intimate and personal meaning in the context of the Old Testament. To pour out my spirit is referring to the inflowing Divine Love “on all flesh” relates to the newly quickened will and the sons and daughters of our mind is the way truth and affection in the mind is changed. Old men dreaming and young men seeing visions is talking about the different way revelation or truth is seen and used.
At one point the final chapter talks about the valley of decision or the valley. Jehoshaphat which means Jehovah is judge. It is the decisions that we make that determine our destiny and we cannot blame the Lord. In verse 18 the symbolism of wine, mountains, and fountain of water flowing from the house of the Lord is used. It provides wonderfully imagery of the flow of truth and love which can improve our life as opposed to self intelligence, natural knowledge and self love represented by Egypt and Edom which appears in the next verse.
This book in its three chapters in the historical/literal sense provides the Israelites with stark choices and at the level of our mind and spirit it illustrates the choices which will affect our eternal life.
As indicated earlier towards the end of Chapter 3 it focuses on the Advent of the Lord and the freedom that this coming would bring. True choices as to the way we live can only be made with the Lord’s help.
This little book is a kaleidoscope of the themes of the Old Testament and indeed the whole theme of Repentance, Reformation and Regeneration which underlies our spiritual journey and the whole of the Heavenly Doctrines for the New Church.
It will take about 20 minutes to read so allocate the time and the effort in a prayerful way and you will be surprised at how helpful and fulfilling it will be.
Note: If you wish to delve more deeply into this book then there is an excellent commentary by John Hyde a New Church Minister which provides some wonderful insights and explanations both in terms of the history, geography, text and spiritual meaning together with an overview of the minor prophets. Your Minister may be able to lend you a copy if there is not one in your church library.