When it comes to prophetic writings, people most often think about Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel which are commonly called the major prophets, due to their length and their breadth of topics. However, the Minor Prophets (to which Joel belongs) also have much to say about God’s character, his desire to see his people live holy lives, and what God is doing in the world.
Like many prophetic books, Joel is simultaneously puzzling and profound. He calls the people to repent of their evil ways and seek after the Lord. He speaks of historical events like a locust plague, but sees greater significance in these events than the people of Judah do. He speaks of events that occured in his own lifetime, but also sees them as foreshadows of future events. In all of this, one clear theme arises, the “great and awesome” Day of the Lord (2:11).
Joel’s main focus is to call the people to repentance from their sinful ways, as many of the other Prophets also do, but Joel is unique by explicitly grounding this call in the reality of the Day of the Lord. This Day has a two-fold function: confrontation of evil, and salvation for God’s people. Joel points to past events (like the locust plague) as examples of God confronting evil, but also points to a coming future event where God will confront all evil and restore all of creation. On this basis, the people are to “rend their hearts, not their garments” (2:13) and live holy and righteous lives as God’s chosen people. Joel’s message to Judah may just as well be applied to the contemporary church – God desires genuine repentance from his people as they pursue holy lives; and this is urgent work because the Day is coming where God will judge evil and make all things new. However, this Day will also bring salvation to God’s people in a glorious new creation finally free from all evil.