The prophet Joel

I’m trying to get all the little essays on the books of holy Scripture over from the blog onto the parish website, and today is a good day for the prophet Joel, whom the Church honours as a Saint of the Old Testament. It’s his memorial day today, and here’s his entry in the Church calendar:

“Commemoration of Saint Joel the prophet, who announced the great Day of the Lord and the mysterious effusion of His Spirit upon all flesh, which on the day of Pentecost the divine Majesty deigned admirably to perfect in Christ.”

Roman martyrology, 19th of October

Joel begins with a great calamity upon the Israelite nation: either some terrible invading army that is figured as swarms of locusts has destroyed the countryside, or else some terrible natural calamity (like several swarms of locusts) has devastated the fields and destroyed the crop and is likened to an terrible invading army. Either way, the prophet calls for a general lamentation, a religious fast and a general penitential effort. Naturally, this call is familiar to us as the reading for Ash Wednesday, that brings on the fast of Lent.

“Mourn, priests, and lament; in mourners’ garb go about your work at the altar; ministers of God, to His presence betake you, and there, in sackcloth, keep vigil; your God’s house, that offering of bread and wine has none! Then proclaim a fast, assemble the folk together, ruler and commoner alike summon to the temple, and there for the Lord’s help cry lustily. Woe betide us this day! The day of the Lord is coming; His the dominion, His the doom.”

Joel, 1: 13-15

The Day of the Lord, that awful day, that haunts the minds of Jew and Christian alike. In the midst of distress and turmoil, we await that day of judgement, when all injustice will be removed and mankind will be weighed in the scales of divine Justice. The second chapter goes on poetically to announce the Day of the Lord, again colourfully describing the attack of locust swarms. But in the midst of this, comes a call from God to contrition, for He alone is the Salvation of the people. This is again a Lent-type discourse for Ash Wednesday.

“Time now, the Lord says, to turn the whole bent of your hearts back to Me, with fasting and with mourners’ tears. It is your hearts, not the garments you wear, that must be torn asunder. Come back to the Lord your God; He is ever gracious and merciful, ever patient and rich in pardon; threatens He calamity, even now He is ready to forgive. Who knows but He will relent, and be appeased; cast one glance behind Him, and, enough for His own due of bread and wine-offering, spare us largesse yet?”

Joel, 2: 12-14

And after a new promise of restoration after the devastation that the prophet has been lamenting comes a wonderful prediction of the first Christian Pentecost and the spirit of prophecy falling upon the people. There are words of apocalypse in this, with the sun being darkened, the mood being bloodied, etc. which are used by Christ in the Gospels, when He speaks of the end of all things.

Afterwards I will pour out My Spirit upon all mankind, and your sons and daughters will be prophets. Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men see visions; everywhere servants of Mine, handmaids of Mine, inspired to prophesy! I will shew wonders in heaven, and on earth blood, and fire, and whirling smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the day of the Lord comes, the great, the terrible day. And never a soul shall call on the Lord’s Name but shall find deliverance; here on mount Sion, here in Jerusalem there shall be refuge; for a remnant, a remnant of the Lord’s own summoning, there shall be deliverance at last.”

Joel, 2: 28-32

But where is this Jerusalem, that shall give refuge to a remnant? It seems to be a messianic Jerusalem, far beyond past history. The last chapter of Joel speaks of retribution for the loss of the Israelite families that were hauled away into distant slavery through the agency of their neighbours, who struck when they had the chance. These Gentiles would now suffer in like manner. 

“Into the valley of Josaphat I will herd the heathen folk, one and all, and there hold assize over them for the wrong they did to My people, to Israel, My own domain. People of Mine they scattered through the world, land of Mine they parcelled out between them. Must they be awarded by lot, such captives, and then sold cheap, boy-slave for a harlot’s hire, girl-slave for the draining of a wine-stoup? What, would you chaffer with Me, men of Tyre and Sidon, men from the pale of Philistia? Must there be barter and exchange between us? Nay, if you will have exchanges with Me, look to it that the reward does not fall on your own heads, swift and sudden! Would you carry off silver of mine and gold, lay up the choicest of My treasures in yonder temples? Citizens of Jerusalem, men of Juda’s breed, would you sell them to Grecian masters, far away from their home?

Joel, 3: 2-6

There is a final vision of the graces that flow forth from the Temple in Jerusalem, turning the wilderness into greenery, as in the vision of Ezechiel. And that is a good point to end this post.

“Loud as roaring of lion speaks the Lord in thunder from His citadel at Jerusalem, till heaven and earth quake at the sound. To His own people, the sons of Israel, refuge He is and stronghold; doubt you shall have none thenceforward that I, the Lord your God, have My dwelling-place at Jerusalem; a holy city Jerusalem shall be, never again shall alien foe breach the walls of her. Drip now with sweet wine the mountain-slopes, bathed in milk the upland pastures; never a stream in all Juda but flows full and strong. What fountain is this that comes out from the Lord’s temple, and waters the dry valley of Setim?

Joel, 3: 16-18