13 January 2014

Joel 1:1-14

"Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord." (v. 14)


It is not clear exactly when the prophet Joel lived and preached his message. It was probably about the 5th or 4th century before Jesus, and it might have been at a time when God's people had been taken away from their homes and scattered far and wide (Joel 3:2).

There was a terrible plague of locusts (verse 4) which seems to have prompted Joel to think that God was calling him to warn the people. Plagues of locusts were not uncommon, and they were devastating. They were sometimes seen as an act of God, for example when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and God was persuading Pharaoh to let them go (Exodus 10).

For Joel, it was a time to tell the people to repent, which means to turn round from the way they had been living. Sackcloth was a sign of repentance, and the priests were called to spend whole nights facing up to the situation. The locusts had probably prevented any offerings being offered to God. Everything was very gloomy and everyone was called together for a special holy meeting. People thought the "day of the Lord" was going to be a good time, when God would rescue them and punish their enemies. But they are warned that they will also be judged. It was going to be a terrible time, worse than what had ever happened and ever would happen. The "blackness spread upon the mountains" (Joel 2:2) was a reminder of the blackness of the plague of locusts.

It was certainly a blunt threat. It is not certain what the name Joel means, but it is something like "God is God". That could be both a reassurance and a warning.

To Ponder

  • Are there events which should cause us to "put on sackcloth" (v. 13) today? What are they?
  • If you hadn't got any sackcloth available, what would you do instead?

Bible notes author

The Revd Stephen Burgess

Revd Stephen Burgess is chair of the York & Hull District of the Methodist Church. He initially trained as a chemist and after some years in industry and teaching served in two school chaplaincy appointments before becoming superintendent of the Cambridge Circuit and then moving to Yorkshire.