Joel 1

DateVersionReading Plan
@November 6, 2023ESV (2016)ESV Prophets Plan 2023


  • An Invasion of Locusts
  • A Call to Repentance


Joel (which means “Yahweh is God”) prophesied to Judah and Jerusalem but is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. The majority of scholars assume that Joel was prophesying after the Babylonian captivity, making the date for Joel’s prophecies sometime after 520 BC.

The book and chapter opens with an introduction of Joel as “the son of Pethel”. Nothing is known of Joel aside from his name and his father’s name. However, Joel was a common name in ancient Israel, with some 15 individuals bearing his name.

In Joel 1:2-4, Joel addresses the elders and inhabitants of the land to give ear, take note of what was happening and to tell it to future generations. The prophet depicts a comprehensive agricultural destruction by locust that occurs in progressive waves: cutting locust → swarming locust → hopping locust → destroying locust. In such an agricultural society, a plague of locusts could lead to widespread famine and loss of life.

In Joel 1:5-7, Joel calls the drunkards to awaken and weep and wail for the sweet wine that was cut off from their mouth. Their wine-induced stupor kept them from realizing what was happening around them. Now out of wine, they sobered up and faced the devastation. A nation had come up against the land and laid waste to the vine and fig tree. Lush vineyards and fig trees symbolize an ideal of prosperous peace (1 Kings 4:25; Isaiah 36:16–17; Micah 4:4). The destruction of vines and figs is a common symbol of judgment (see Jer. 8:13).

Joel 1:8-12 continues in this call and to lament “like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth”. (Joel. 1:8), a metaphor of deep mourning of a woman who has lost her fiance’ and security for the future. The agricultural loss caused the grain and drink offering to be cut off from the house of the LORD. Both the priests and ground mourn over the significant agricultural ruin leading to the gladness of man being dried up. (Joel 1:12).

In Joel 1:13-14, the priests and ministers are told to put on sackcloth and lament and wail because of how offerings are “withheld from the house of your God” (Joel 1:13). They are called to lead the people in mourning and repentance.

The remainder of the chapter (Joel 1:15-20) is the content of the prayer on behalf of the people; that “the day of the LORD is near”. The “Day of Yahweh” is the main theme of the Book of Joel but is not necessarily to be understood as a reference to the end of the world. Rather, it was used to describe any period when God was acting in bringing judgment against a people. Joel describes the crop and livestock devastation and that “fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness” (Joel 1:19 and repeated in Joel 1:20). Fire is a common image of divine judgment (ex. Isaiah 4:4). Even the beasts cry out to God as their drinking source (water brooks) had dried up.


Joel prophesies a plague of locusts that will come and devastate Israel like an army. The elders, inhabitants and drunkards are called to a sober awareness of the destruction. The priests and ministers were to lead the people in mourning and model repentance because “the day of the LORD is near”.

It is helpful to see in this chapter of how we are to be acutely conscious of the brokenness and devastation all around us and of the great need for a Savior. I am as guilty of slipping into oblivion as anyone, staying comfortable in my home and limiting my exposure to those who share my Western affluence. But Jesus’ return is immanent and, as of this moment, billions are destined for eternal torment. This should stir within us a sense of urgency that the Day of the Lord is near. As with the priests of Joel’s day, we are a kingdom of priests commissioned with the same responsibility: to model repentance and call others to the free gift of salvation offered in Christ.

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