Joel identified himself as the son of Pethuel, a man concerning whom nothing else is known. The Septuagint spelling of the father’s name, Bathouel, is the same as that of the father of Isaac’s wife Rebekah. (Genesis 22:22, 23; 24:15, 24, 47, 50; 25:20; 28:2, 5; Joel 1:1) Aside from the apostle Peter’s pointing to the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel about the outpouring of God’s spirit (as recorded in Acts 2:16-21), there is no mention of the prophet in the Scriptures. Joel’s focus on Zion and Judah indicates that he probably resided in Jerusalem.
Unlike many of the other prophets who refer to the reigns of kings, Joel provided no details that make it possible to establish with a degree of certainty just when he carried out his prophetic activity. This has led to disparate views about the time Joel lived, with some regarding his service as a prophet to have begun before the year 800 BCE, whereas others have conjectured that the book of Joel was composed about 400 BCE or decades after the Jews returned from Babylonian exile and no longer had a king from the royal line of David.
In the Masoretic Text and the much earlier Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts, Joel is placed after the book of Hosea. The Septuagint order of the books of the minor prophets is Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel. Although Joel does not appear in the same position, both the extant manuscripts of the Hebrew text and the Septuagint include the book of Joel among the prophetic writings dating before the Babylonian exile. If Joel did prophesy before the Babylonians under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and devastated the land of Judah, his not mentioning a king may provide a clue about when he served as YHWH’s prophet.
After the usurper Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, was deposed and killed at the direction of the high priest Jehoiada, the seven-year-old Jehoash (Joash) reigned as king. Jehoiada guided Jehoash and appears to have handled the affairs of state during the king’s minority. He even selected two wives for Jehoash. (2 Kings 11:1-12:3; 2 Chronicles 23:1-24:3)
During the rule of Athaliah’s husband Jehoram, the two-tribe kingdom of Judah suffered decline. The Edomites revolted against the rule of the kingdom of Judah, and King Jehoram’s military action against them did not stop them from continuing their revolt. (2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10) A successful invasion by Philistine and Arab forces was an even greater blow for the kingdom of Judah. The captives the invaders took at that time included all the sons of Jehoram with the exception of the youngest one, Jehoahaz (Ahaziah). (2 Chronicles 21:16, 17)
These developments could fit references in the book of Joel to the captives of Judah and Jerusalem and to the Philistines as being involved in selling these captives. Accordingly, when Jehoash was crowned as king, the kingdom of Judah proved to be but a shadow of its former glory, and the people generally, along with their rulers, Jehoram, Ahaziah, and the usurper Athaliah, had followed a course contrary to YHWH’s commands. Therefore, it is not inconceivable that, deprived of YHWH’s blessing and his abandonment of the wayward people, they suffered from a devastating locust plague and severe drought. (Compare what happened in the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel during the reign of Ahab. [1 Kings 17:1; 18:1-5]) So it may be that while Jehoash was in his minority, Joel began to prophesy and called upon all the people, including the priests, to repent.
The message of the book of Joel, however, is not dependent on establishing just when the prophet may have lived. The message of YHWH through him included prophetic words that began to be fulfilled in the first century CE and pointed forward to a future judgment of people of all the nations. After that judgment, those whom YHWH approved would enjoy his superabundant blessing.