Joel 1:1-20

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“Joel” means “YHWH is God,” and the opening verse identifies the prophet as the son of Pethuel (Bathouel, LXX). The prophet does not reveal how the “word” or message from YHWH came to him. It may have been in a dream or in a vision. Nothing is known about Joel’s father. Besides the name of his father and his own name, Joel includes no personal information nor any specifics that make it possible to establish just when he served as YHWH’s prophet. (1:1)

The imperative to hear is first directed to the elders. Known for their wisdom, they were the respected members of the community and served the people as leaders and judges. The word of YHWH, however, was not just for them. All the people of the land were called upon to give ear or to pay attention to the message. The elders and the people were asked whether a specific development they had witnessed was one that had ever occurred in their days or in the time of their ancestors. (1:2)

The occurrence the contemporaries of Joel had experienced proved to be unique, warranting that the memory of it be preserved for generations to come. Sons, grandsons, and future generations were to hear about it, with each generation telling about the happening to the next generation. Upon learning about the unparalleled severity of the former calamity, future generations would be reminded about the serious consequences that result from disregard of YHWH’s commands. (1:3; compare Deuteronomy 28:20, 38, 39, 42.)

A calamitous plague of insects of unheard of proportion had befallen Joel’s contemporaries. There is a measure of uncertainty about the particular insects that the Hebrew nouns designate. (1:4)

In the Septuagint, the Hebrew word gazám is rendered kámpe, meaning “caterpillar,” the larval stage of a butterfly or moth. This significance would fit the root gazár (“to cut”), from which gazám is thought to be derived. Caterpillars consume a huge amount of greenery, with each one devouring more than its own weight in leaves during the course of a day. (1:4)

Whatever the caterpillars had not consumed, another voracious insect, the locust, began to devour. Locusts (Hebrew, ’arbéh; Greek, akrís) constitute a devastating plague, with each migratory desert locust daily consuming the equivalent of its own body weight in vegetation. (1:4)

The Hebrew word yéleq and the Greek term broúchos that is found in the Septuagint probably designate a wingless stage of the locust. Yéleq has been rendered “grasshopper” or “hopper.” (1:4)

Whatever the other insects may have left behind is represented as satisfying the appetite of the creature known in Hebrew as chasíl. Lexicographers have suggested that chasíl denotes a particular stage in the life cycle of the locust or that the term designates the “cockroach.” In the Septuagint, the Hebrew noun is rendered erysíbe, which has been defined as “rust,” “blight,” or “mildew.” (1:4)

With the insect hordes having devastated the grapevines, the harvest, if not nonexistent, would have been minimal. The drunkards are directed to “awake” or to sober up. Deprived of their supply of new wine, those given to drink should weep and howl or wail loudly and bitterly. The effect on the drinkers would have been as though the wine had been cut off from their mouths, there being no wine for them to drink. According to the reading of the Septuagint, those drinking to the point of intoxication were to wail “because merriment, also joy, has been removed from [their] mouth.” No more would they be able to experience the temporary cheering effect from drinking wine. (1:5)

It appears that YHWH is represented as referring to the insect hordes as a “nation” that had invaded his “land.” As evident from the repeated mention of Zion or Jerusalem in the next chapter, the land is the territory of Judah where his people resided. From the standpoint of the devastation it caused and the number of its members, the “nation” was mighty and beyond counting. The capacity of this nation to devour everything in its path appears to be the basis for likening its teeth to those of a lion (Hebrew, aryéh; Greek, léon). (1:6)

In the parallel expression that follows, the Hebrew word for “lion” is laví’, which noun is rendered skýmnos in the Septuagint and can designate a lion cub. There is uncertainty among lexicographers about the meaning of laví’, with “lioness” being commonly suggested. The other Hebrew noun in the parallel phrase is methalle‘óhth, which lexicographers have variously defined as “jawbones,” “incisors,” or “gnawers.” The corresponding Greek word in the Septuagint is the plural noun mýlai (“molars”). As a parallel expression of the word for “teeth,” “incisors” or “molars” would appear to be the preferable significance for methalle‘óhth. Renderings found in modern translations for the concluding words include “his molars those of a lioness” (NAB), “fangs of a lioness” (ESV, HCSB, NIV, NJB, NRSV, REB), “fangs of a lion’s breed” (Tanakh [NJPS]), “long, sharp teeth of a female lion” (NLB), “jaw-teeth of a lioness” (Young), and “jaws like a female lion” (NCV). (1:6)

The land in which the Israelites lived belonged to YHWH, and they were but resident aliens and settlers therein. (Leviticus 25:23) He was also the owner of everything the land produced and, therefore, he is represented as saying “my vine” and “my fig tree.” In this case, “vine” and “fig tree” denote all the grapevines and fig trees of the land. (1:7)

The invading “nation” or insect horde had reduced grapevines to an appalling sight or a horrific ruin and damaged fig trees, making them appear as having been splintered [qetsapháh] or reduced to unproductive stumps. Grapevines had been completely stripped bare. In the Hebrew text the thoroughness of what the “nation” had done to the vine is expressed by repetition, “stripping, it has stripped.” Although preserving the repetition, the Septuagint literally reads, “searching, it has searched out.” This rendering could suggest that nothing escaped the voracious insect horde. Additionally, the Septuagint indicates that the “nation” threw the vine down or away. Without leaves and stripped of the bark, the branches of the vines were white (1:7; regarding qetsapháh, see the Notes section.)

The “virgin” would be a young woman engaged to be married and considered as already belonging to her future husband. Her intense grief would result from losing him in death prior to their being united in marriage. As a mourner, she would gird herself with sackcloth, a coarse cloth that was commonly made of goats’ hair. Just as she would lament bitterly because of her loss and resulting widowhood, the people are called upon to wail on account of the devastation the insect horde had caused. According to the Septuagint, they were to give way to greater mourning before God than that of a bride upon losing her betrothed in death. (1:8)

Devastated fields and vineyards meant that the people had no grain offering nor drink offering of wine to present at the “house of YHWH” or the temple. Because such offerings had been “cut off” or come to a stop at the temple, the “priests,” those ministering for YHWH or, according to the Septuagint, at the “altar,” would not be receiving their portions of the offerings. This occasioned their mourning or lamenting. (1:9)

In the Hebrew text, “field” is a collective singular referring to the cultivated land as a whole. The insect plague had devastated the fields. Because the grain had been ruined, the “new wine” (tiróhsh) had been dried up, and the “fresh oil [yitshár] languished [’amál],” the land is represented as mourning. Having been laid waste, the land had taken on a sad appearance. (1:10)

In this context, the Hebrew noun tiróhsh may be understood to refer to the juice that is in the grapes and from which the “new wine” would be produced. Any grapes remaining on the stripped vines were “dried up” or completely shriveled. (1:10)

The Hebrew word yitshár here designates the oil from olives. There is a possibility that yitshár applies to the oil in the fruit. Whereas the basic meaning of the verb ’amál is “languish,” “to become feeble,” “be weak,” or “fade away,” these are not English expressions that would be used when referring to a reduction in the supply of olive oil. In the Septuagint, the corresponding verb is oligóo, meaning “become few,” “diminish,” or “become scarce.” Seemingly, then, any olives still on the trees after the insect plague would have yielded very little oil. (1:10)

In the Septuagint, the sentence that began in verse 9 continues here, with the first word being hóti (“because”). According to this reading, the priests were to mourn because the “plains” or fields had “suffered misery” or “experienced ruin.” Then the land is told to mourn because misery or ruin had come upon the grain. (1:10)

The Hebrew word ’ikkár can designate a plowman or, in a broader sense, a farmer or field hand. According to a literal reading of the Hebrew text, the directive to farmers is, “Be dried up” (a form of the Hebrew verb yavésh, as in the previous verse [“the new wine is dried up.”). The thought appears to be that they are told, “Be sapped of your strength.” On account of the ruined harvests, farmers would be, as one might express idiomatically, “lacking juice.” (1:11)

Modern translations have variously rendered the introductory words of verse 11 according to an emendation. Instead of considering the Hebrew word to be a form of yavésh, (“be dry” or “wither”), numerous translators have accepted the view that the probable reading is a form of bohsh, meaning “be ashamed.” “Be ashamed, O farmers.” (NASB, NKJV) “Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil.” (ESV) “Be appalled, you husbandmen!” (NAB) “Despair, you farmers.” (NIV, REB) “Be dismayed, you farmers.” (NRSV) “Stand dismayed, you farmers.” (NJB) These renderings, do not have the support of the Septuagint, which reads, “The farmers are dried up.” The corresponding Greek word for the Hebrew verb yavésh is a form of xeraíno, meaning “to be dried,” “become “dry” or “wither.” There is, however, support in the Vulgate, where the words are rendered confusi sunt agricolae (“farmers are confused,” ashamed, or dismayed) (1:11)

Vinedressers are told to “howl,” or to wail bitterly. This would be because the insect plague had ruined the grapevines. The Hebrew text then mentions the wheat and the barley, crops growing in the fields that had likewise been devastated and over which the farmers would lament. For the farmers, the harvest had been destroyed, giving them reason to wail. In the Septuagint, vinedressers are not mentioned. It addresses the “possessions,” or the properties consisting of land, “Mourn, O possessions, over wheat and barley, because the harvest has vanished from the field.” (1:11)

The “vine,” or the grapevines collectively, had dried up. This may indicate that, besides the insect plague, there was also a period of drought. The “fig tree” (a collective singular) is referred to as “languishing” (’amál). As in the Septuagint in verse 10, the Hebrew verb ’amál is here also rendered oligóo, meaning “become few,” “diminish,” or “become scarce.” The thought may be that the fig trees produced very little, if any, fruit. Pomegranates, date palms, apple trees, “all the trees of the field,” had withered. (1:12)

With grapevines and fruit-bearing trees having withered, the people (literally, the “sons of man”) were deprived of the joy associated with a good harvest. Their exultation is referred to as having “dried up.” According to the Septuagint, the verse concludes with the words, “for the sons of men have shamed joy.” This could be understood to mean that joy had been eclipsed from the people and that they had thus put it to shame. (1:12)

The words of verse 13 expand on the basic thoughts that were already expressed in verse 9. “Girding” refers to the putting on of sackcloth around the loins of the bare skin. In addition to thus girding themselves, the priests are directed to lament. As men who officiated at the altar, the priests are called “ministers of the altar.” The prophet also referred to them as “ministers of my God.” They are told to “howl” or wail and to spend the night while girded with sackcloth, a coarse cloth customarily made of goats’ hair. The insect plague and drought had ruined the grapevines and the crops growing in the fields, resulting in the withholding of the usual grain and drink offerings from the house of God or the temple. This development called for tangible expressions of lamenting. (1:13)

With the exception of a few differences, the Septuagint rendering is basically the same as the Hebrew text. In expression of lamentation, the priests were to beat themselves on the breast. They were told to enter the place where they would spend the night and to sleep there in sackcloth. (1:13)

The priests must have recognized that YHWH had withheld his blessing because of the transgressions of the people and that all needed to repent. YHWH’s message through Joel directed the priests to sanctify a fast. This required that they set apart a time of fasting to YHWH in expression of sorrow and repentance for sins. Moreover, the priests were commanded to arrange for a solemn assembly, calling for the elders or leaders of the people to gather together. (1:14; see the Notes section.)

The phrase that follows “elders” literally reads “all inhabiting the land [or ‘earth’].” This could refer to all the elders who lived in the land or to all the inhabitants of the land in addition to the elders. Both meanings are found in translations. “Gather the elders, all who dwell in the land.” (NAB) “Send for all of the elders who live in the land.” (NIRV) “Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land.” (ESV) “Summon the elders and all who live in the land.” (NIV) Another interpretation found in a number of translations represents the elders as being directed to call for the people to assemble. “You elders, gather all who live in the land.” (REB) “You elders, summon everybody in the country.” (NJB) All who would then be assembled at the temple (the “house of YHWH your God”) were to cry out, supplicating YHWH to be forgiven of their sins and to be granted his favorable attention. (1:14)

In the Septuagint, the adverb ektenós modifies the verb rendered “cry out.” This adverb has been defined as meaning “earnestly, “zealously,” fervently,” and “eagerly.” (1:14)

The interjection commonly rendered “alas” expresses horror or dismay. In the Septuagint, this interjection, though appearing only once in the extant Hebrew text, is repeated three times. The words “alas for the day” reflect a fearful foreboding respecting a day of judgment to come. This suggests that the devastating insect plague was but a precursor of that day. The prophetic word indicated that the time of judgment, the “day of YHWH,” was “near” and would come like ruin from the Almighty. (1:15)

In Hebrew, the word for “ruin,” “devastation,” or “destruction” is shod, and the designation for “Almighty” is Shaddai. The only spelling difference in the consonantal text is the final yod (Y) for Shaddai. This appears to explain why the Septuagint translator did not differentiate between the two nouns but translated them with the same Greek word talaiporía (“distress,” “trouble,” “misery,” or “wretchedness”). The Septuagint rendering (“because the day of the Lord is near, and like distress out of distress it will come”) suggests that the day of YHWH would result in great trouble or suffering. (1:15)

The opening Hebrew word ha-lo’ is a negative interrogative particle that introduces a question which is expressed as a negative but calls for an affirmative answer. An example in English would be, “Is it not so?” Accordingly, a number of translations represent the sentence as a question. “Has not the food disappeared before our very eyes?” (NJB) “Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes — joy and gladness from the house of our God?” (NIV) Other translators have chosen not to render the words as a question. “For food is cut off before our very eyes.” (Tanakh [NJPS]) “Our food is already gone.” (CEV) In the Septuagint, there is no corresponding term for the Hebrew particle, and the sentence reads, “Before your eyes, food has been completely destroyed.” (1:16)

Seemingly, the reference still is to the ruined harvests on account of the insect plague, resulting in food being “cut off” right in front of the people’s eyes. At the temple (the “house of our [‘your,’ LXX] God”), joy and rejoicing had also been cut off. Without good harvests, the people had no reason to be joyful. They would not have been jubilant and made expressions of thanksgiving as when vineyards and fields produced abundantly. If not virtually nonexistent, grain and drink offerings would have been few. (1:16)

With minor variations, translators have commonly rendered the first phrase of verse 17 as follows: “The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods.” (NIV; comparable renderings are found in CEV, ESV, NAB, NASB, NJB, NRSV, REB, Tanakh [NJPS].) Interpretive translations include: “The seeds die in the parched ground.” (NLT) “Though we planted fig seeds, they lie dry and dead in the dirt.” (NCV) Three of the words in the phrase are not found anywhere else in the Hebrew Scriptures, and there is considerable uncertainty about what they mean. (1:17)

Based on the meaning of the Arabic word ‘abisa, lexicographers have defined the Hebrew verb ‘avásh as “shrivel” or “dry up.” A Dead Sea Scroll manuscript (4QXIIc) contains the verb ‘ipésh, which can denote “become moldy,” “rot,” or “decay.” The Septuagint has a form of skirtáo, meaning “skip” or “leap.” (1:17)

The Hebrew word that numerous translators have rendered “seed” or “seeds” is perudóhth, which noun has been linked to a Hebrew word in the Talmud that means “pebble” or “berry.” Lexicographer Ludwig Koehler conjectured that the Hebrew noun designated “dried figs,” but his view has not gained wide acceptance. One meaning that appears to fit the context better than “seeds” or “dried figs” is “stored provisions.” The noun perudóhth may be drawn from parád (“separate” or “divide”). If this is the case, perudóhth could denote that which is separated or set apart for future use and, hence, “stored provisions.” Such provisions could be spoken of as shriveling. (1:17)

The extant Dead Sea Scroll text (4QXIIc), however, does not support any of the definitions that lexicographers have suggested. It contains the consonants of the Hebrew word for “heifers” or “cows,” with the only difference being that the added waw (W) after the first letter functions as a vowel. In the Septuagint, the noun is the plural of dámalis, a noun that likewise refers to a “heifer” or “young cow.” Much of the text is not preserved in the Dead Sea Scroll, but the first two words may be rendered “cows decay.” This could be understood to indicate that the animals starved to death and their carcasses began to rot. (1:17)

The plural form of the Hebrew noun megrapháh is often translated “clods.” Other definitions for this word, based on cognate languages, are “shovels,” “hoes,” or “spades.” In the Septuagint, the corresponding noun is the plural of phátne (“manger” or “stall”). According to the Septuagint rendering, the heifers would be skipping or leaping at their feeding troughs or in their stalls. Perhaps this could be interpreted to signify that the heifers had no pasturage because of the insect devastation and were leaping in front of the mangers for feed, only to find them empty. Another possibility is that their leaping reflected their restless state on account of having no feed in the mangers or in the stalls. (1:17)

Storehouses are portrayed as devastated and granaries as broken down. The thought may be that, on account of the drying up of grain, storage places were not maintained or abandoned. Thus they would have been reduced to a state of ruin. (1:17; see the Notes section.)

The Septuagint opens verse 18 with a question that is not found in any extant Hebrew text. “What shall we put aside for ourselves?” In view of the ruined harvests, there would have been virtually nothing to store for future use. The Septuagint continues, “Herds of cattle have lamented because no pasture exists for them, and the flocks of sheep have been destroyed.”

Literally translated, the Hebrew text starts with an exclamation, “How the beast groaned!” The word for “beast” is a collective singular that, in this context, applies to domestic animals generally. On account of insect devastation and drought, the animals are portrayed as groaning because of suffering from hunger and thirst. Herds of cattle were “confused,” for there was no pasture for them. In their confusion, they wandered aimlessly to find some vegetation on which to feed. “Even the flocks of sheep” ended up “bearing guilt.” On account of the transgressions of the people, YHWH withheld his blessing, and this also resulted in distress for the animals. Accordingly, the sheep suffered for the sins of human transgressors. (1:18; see the Notes section.)

The prophet cried out to YHWH because of the calamity that had befallen the people. “Fire” had consumed the “pastures of the wilderness.” The mention of the drying up of water in the next verse indicates that the “fire” applies to severe drought, which had scorched all the vegetation growing in the “wilderness” or on uncultivated land. Drought had set all the “trees of the field” ablaze, withering the leaves and making the trees appear as if they had come through a fire. (1:19; see the Notes section.)

The prophet portrayed the animals as “longing for” or “looking up to” (LXX) YHWH for relief from their suffering because the “channels of water” had dried up, and “fire” (drought) had “consumed” the “pastures of the wilderness,” leaving behind only scorched vegetation in uncultivated areas. Thus the prophet perceived that the animals were just as dependent on YHWH as were the people for food and water. (1:20; see the Notes section.)


In the Hebrew Scriptures, the only occurrence of the noun qetsapháh is in Joel 1:7. Lexical definitions for this word include “snapping,” “splintering,” and “stump.” The corresponding Greek word in the Septuagint is synklasmós, meaning “breaking” or “breakage.”

In verse 14, a Dead Sea Scroll manuscript (4QXIIc) includes the conjunction “and” after the word for “fast.”

Instead of a word that may be translated “granaries” in verse 17, the Septuagint rendering is the plural of lénos (“winepress”).

In an extant Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIc), the definite article precedes the word for “cattle” (in verse 18).

In verse 18, the Greek word translated “destroyed” (aphanízo) is also found in verse 17 with reference to the “storehouses.” The corresponding Hebrew term in verse 18 means to “bear guilt” and is not the same word as in verse 17. The word for “bear guilt” has one extra letter (an aleph); otherwise the consonants are identical for the Hebrew word meaning “destroyed” or “ruined.” This may explain why the Septuagint translator used a word for “destroyed” in both occurrences.

In verse 19 of an extant Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIc), the definite article precedes the word for “wilderness.”

The Hebrew word translated “consumed” in verse 20 is the same word that appears in verse 19 when referring to what the “fire” had done to the “pastures of the wilderness.” The Septuagint, however, contains a synonym. To indicate the difference in English, the form of the Greek word analísko (verse 19) may be rendered “consumed,” and the form of katesthío (verse 20) may be translated “devoured.” In the Septuagint, the expression for “pastures of the wilderness” is “beautiful things [or ‘beautiful places’] of the wilderness” and probably designates uncultivated land where greenery flourished.