Yoel, Part 1

<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Times; panose-1:2 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} @font-face {font-family:"MS 明朝"; panose-1:0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0; mso-font-charset:128; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-format:other; mso-font-pitch:fixed; mso-font-signature:1 134676480 16 0 131072 0;} @font-face {font-family:"MS 明朝"; panose-1:0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0; mso-font-charset:128; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-format:other; mso-font-pitch:fixed; mso-font-signature:1 134676480 16 0 131072 0;} @font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} p {mso-style-priority:99; mso-margin-top-alt:auto; margin-right:0in; mso-margin-bottom-alt:auto; margin-left:0in; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Times; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} span.text {mso-style-name:text; mso-style-unhide:no;} p.line, li.line, div.line {mso-style-name:line; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-margin-top-alt:auto; margin-right:0in; mso-margin-bottom-alt:auto; margin-left:0in; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Times; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} span.small-caps {mso-style-name:small-caps; mso-style-unhide:no;} span.indent-1-breaks {mso-style-name:indent-1-breaks; mso-style-unhide:no;} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} @page WordSection1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.WordSection1 {page:WordSection1;} –> The prophecy of Yoel is a brief one, containing only three chapters, but widely misunderstood.  We are provided very little biographical information about the prophet himself.  His opening line only states that he was the son of one Pethuel, a man not mentioned elsewhere in the canon.  As with other prophets, Yoel’s parentage may be symbolic, rather than factual.  Pethuel means “El’s vision” or “persuasion of El.”  “Son of Divine Vision” would certainly be an appropriate title for a prophet.  Yoel’s writing takes place between Yesheyahu (Isaiah, ending with the reign of Hizkiyahu [Hezekiah]) and Yermiyahu (Jeremiah, immediately before and during the conquest of Jerusalem), and probably closer in time to the latter than the former, judging from the events he describes.

Likewise, Yoel declines to tell us the name of the king who ruled during his time or any other identifying information.  However, the dearth of direct information is largely compensated in the content of the work.  Indeed, there are no prophecies in the first chapter, which Yoel spends setting the stage for the actions in chapter two and the prophecies of chapter 3.
Yoel opens the scene with a vivid description of a severe drought and famine.  There is no water, the crops have failed, livestock have nothing to eat, and the orchards and vineyards have withered.  His description is corroborated by other prophets, who likewise describe the land as being afflicted by drought, famine, and disease in the years leading up to the Babylonian Conquest on a scale comparable to the plagues that afflicted Egypt before the Exodus.  Yoel also tells us that the famine was exacerbated by multiple, sequential swarms of locusts (which he later refers to as part of HaShem’s army), which ate what little had grown.  
Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth
for the bridegroom of her youth.
The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off
from the house of the Lord.
The priests mourn,
the ministers of the Lord.
The fields are destroyed,
the ground mourns,
because the grain is destroyed,
the wine dries up,
the oil languishes.
Yoel’s portrayal reminiscent of the prophecy of Amos at 8:14:
“In that day the lovely virgins and the young men
shall faint for thirst.
Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria,
and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’
and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’
they shall fall, and never rise again.”
I am inclined to take Yoel’s description literally, however, the drought, locusts, and famine also serve quite neatly as metaphors for Chaldean rule and local corruption, which were brutal, and certainly would not have eased the strains brought on by natural disaster.  Yoel seems deliberate in drawing a comparison between military and natural disaster throughout the book, and I believe the comparison of famine to a lion at 1:6-7 is an indictment of Chaldea as much as anything else (the lion being a national symbol frequently employed by the Chaldeans):
For a nation has come up against my land,
Powerful and beyond number;
Its teeth are lions’ teeth,
And it has the fangs of a lioness.
It has laid waste my vine
And splintered my fig tree;
It has stripped off their bark and thrown it down;
Their branches are made white.
Anyone familiar with the TaNaKh, though, will know that famine and drought are generally interpreted as divine judgment against those afflicted.  Such is the prophetic interpretation of the famine that struck Yehudah ahead of the Exile, Yoel concurring.  Another example we find in Hoshea 2:9:
Therefore I will take back
my grain in its time,
and my wine in its season,
and I will take away my wool and my flax,
which were to cover her nakedness.
He tells us that, due to the famine, offerings at the Temple were put on hold, both indicating the severity of the famine and segueing into the thick of Yoel’s plotline:
Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests;
Wail, O ministers of the altar.
Go in, pass the night in sackcloth,
O ministers of my G-d!
Because grain offering and drink offering
Are withheld from the house of your G-d.
-Yoel 1:13
Yoel instructs the priests to go into mourning, call a fast, and gather together the entirety of the assembly for a day of repentance.  The prophet makes no promises: there is no pretense that these instructions are a divinely mandated cure-all.  Instead, he hopes that such a show might persuade HaShem toward mercy.  His advice is strictly in line with the dedication of the Temple by Shlomo in 2 Dvrei HaYomim (2 Chronicles) 6:26-31:

“When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk, and grant rain upon your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance.
If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemies besiege them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing his own affliction and his own sorrow and stretching out his hands toward this house,  then hear from heaven your dwelling place and forgive and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways, for you, you only, know the hearts of the children of mankind,  that they may fear you and walk in your ways all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our fathers.”

The day of judgment is near, he says, and time to repent is running out.  Note the similarity between Yoel’s description at 2:1-2:
Blow a trumpet in Zion;
Sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
For the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
A day of darkness and gloom,
A day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
A great and powerful people;
Their like has never been before,
Nor will be again after them
Through all the years of all generations.
And that found in Amos 5:18:
Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why would you have the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, and not light,
As if a man fled from a lion,
And a bear met him,
Or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
And a serpent bit him.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,
And gloom with no brightness in it?
Compare again to Amos 8:9-13:
“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
    “I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
 I will turn your feasts into mourning
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on every waist
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
 They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.
The “great and powerful people” described Yoel is a reference to the Chaldean army.  However, it should be understood as metaphorical.  The Chaldean army will be like this fire, which he considers to be the HaShem’s host.  We know he writes metaphorically, because Yoel 2:4-5 reads:
Their appearance is like the appearance of horses,
And like warhorses they run.
As with the rumbling of chariots,
They leap on the tops of the mountains,
Like the crackling of a flame of fire
Devouring the stubble,
Like a powerful army
Drawn up for battle.
The fire is like an army at Yoel’s point in time, but soon, the army will be like a wildfire.
Finally, Yoel closes this first segment by returning to his description of the famine.  It seems that the priests have not heeded his instructions.  As often happens in times of drought, dry conditions give way to fire.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s