28 “And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.
Introduction and Author
The book of Joel opens by telling us that the word of the LORD came to Joel, the son of Pethuel (1:1). His name means, “Yahweh is God,” and little else is known of him outside this book. The major theme of the book is the yom yhwh, or “day of the LORD”, a phrase found 5 times in Joel as compared to just 13 times in 7 other prophetic books. In connection with this theme we find the prophet speaking of the need for repentance (2:13), the blessing of being in God’s presence (3:17-18), and a future outpouring of His Spirit (the subject of this paper).
Background and Setting
It is uncertain when Joel prophesied. Given it’s foregrounded status in the canon of the minor prophets, many place it in a similar time frame with Hosea and Amos (eighth century B.C.). However, given the internal evidence, many scholars prefer to date it after the exile to Babylon in 586 B.C. Further, there are multiple references to a standing temple, which would lead the reader to believe that the book was written to the Jewish community after the rebuilding of the temple in 515 B.C.
The Gift of the Spirit, v28-29
Following a section in which the prophet had called for the people to repent (2:14-17), and then foretold what God’s response would look like (He would bless the land, 2:18-27), the prophet turns to a time “afterward” (v28). During this time there would be a great outpouring of God’s Spirit upon “all flesh” (v28). Whereas in times past the gift of the Spirit had been for specific people, usually of a special class, for a particular ministry or service, in this time the outpouring would be general for all the people of God. There would be no distinction based upon gender, age, or socio-economic status. The dreams, visions, and other forms of receiving messages from God (cf. Hebrews 1:1) would no longer be the provenance of a select few individuals, but would characterize the people of God generally. This is in some sense a fulfillment of Moses’ desire in Numbers 11:29, “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
The Only Way to Be Safe, v30-32
This time of God’s outpouring would not only be associated with a time of repentance (v17), however. It would also be tied to “the great and awesome day of the LORD” (v31). This is pictured in stark and even startling terms. In language picked up in Revelation (compare v30 with Revelation 6:12), the prophet describes a time of great violence toward all who stand under the wrath of Yahweh. Some of what is described relates most likely to the results of human wars (“blood and fire and columns of smoke,” v30). However, some of what is described seems to be direct Divine punishment (“The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood,” v31). The people would surely ask the question: how can one remain safe in such a dark time?
The answer is really quite simple: call upon the name of the Lord (v32). If one calls upon the LORD, he (or she) will be heard, and will be safe.
A Sort-of Conclusion
The complication in understanding this text comes from its application in the New Testament. Peter picks this text on the day of Pentecost as the basis for what we might call the first Christian sermon (Acts 2:1-40, esp v17-21). In this sermon he pictures the text from Joel 2 as at least in some sense fulfilled. In Acts 2:33 he notes that the Holy Spirit has been poured out, as evidenced by the events of 2:6-12. And his response to the question, “how can we be saved?” is to call upon the name of the LORD-the Lord Jesus Christ (2:37-38).
Again, straightforward enough, but what are we to make of the lack of smoke and fire and bloody moons? Has the day of the LORD come without notice? Or was the prophecy a failure? Or was Peter mistaken in seeing the text as fulfilled? It seems best to agree with Chisholm that, “since Jesus gives his Spirit to each new believer during the present era, it is probably [best] to view Joel 2:28-29 as being gradually fulfilled during this age, with verses 30-32 awaiting realization at the very end of the age.” That is, the beginning of this prophecy is being worked out even as we speak, and has been for the past two millennia. But it awaits a full and complete fulfillment in that great and climactic yom yhwh.
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Cabal, Ted. et al., 2007. The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers).
Chisholm Jr., Robert B. 2002. Handbook on the Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic).
Jamieson, Robert, with A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. 1871. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
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