|Minor Prophets: Major Messages
1. A careful, unhurried reading of Joel is essential. Reading the chapter before looking at the notes, while working with the notes, and after finishing with the notes will give each researcher a powerful sense of the series of meanings within each chapter. It is important to be comfortable with all the names and places in the prophecy and to understand the announcements the prophet makes on behalf of the Lord. When possible, historical information will be included in the notes to increase reading comprehension and enhance application.
2. Our study of each chapter of Joel will begin with quotes from a work of the Writings called Summary Exposition of the Prophets and Psalms. This work includes a verse-by-verse overview of all three chapters of Joel that provides general information about the internal sense. Our research will help move us from the generals to the particulars of the internal sense.
3. Another important reference tool is Searle’s General Index to Swedenborg’s Scripture Quotations. This reference is used to find passages in the Writings where a verse(s) from the Word is either explained specifically or used to illustrate a doctrinal point that we can use in our study. There is also another use of this work. As we study, each researcher will be led by the Lord’s Providence in myriad ways, according to specific needs or states. Knowing how to use this book will help each of us to explore relevant topics and look up related passages to increase our knowledge of the three-fold Word.
4. You will soon discover that not every verse, word, name, etc. is directly quoted in the Writings. But there are often other references to the same name, place, or thing in the explanation of a different verse of the Word. The hope is that reflection on these other doctrinal explanations will help us see possible applications to our study of Joel. We will need to use "derived doctrine" often. Please don’t run away from this maligned term. If we use it properly and admit openly that it is derived doctrine, we bring no harm to the internal sense.
5. Keep some kind of notebook handy during your study times. Write out insights, questions, and any summaries you find helpful in organizing your thoughts about each chapter. The goal of this study guide is not to give a detailed summary of the internal sense but to start each researcher’s quest for deeper insight.
6. At the end of each chapter in the study guide, you will find a study review. The review includes a summary of each section to help you reinforce and build on your understanding of several of the key points.
7. Begin each study unit with a devotional prayer asking the Lord to guide and direct your thoughts. Certainly, beginning in this sphere has the power to inspire and open our minds with a higher spiritual priority that will keep us in the company of the Lord’s angels. As the Writings teach, we must seek to love truth for truth’s sake. Such an approach will free each reader from preconceived ideas that might limit his or her ability to "see" the intent and message of the Lord’s Word.
As we prepare to take up the study of Joel, let’s pause for a moment and learn what we can about the historical prophet Joel. The six questions listed below will guide our quest for information.
What do we know about Joel?
Joel 1:1 reveals almost everything we know about this prophet. We know his name and the name of his father. Joel means "Yahweh is God." Some scholars note that the name Joel appears to be a combination of the two names of the Lord—Yahweh and Elohim.
Knowing the name of Joel’s father, Pethuel, doesn’t help us. Apparently, Pethuel was not a significant person in the history of Israel because there are no other references to him in the Word. We have no hint of what kind of life or work Joel did prior to his call from the Lord. Was he a priest? We don’t know. Can we pinpoint where he lived in the land of Israel? Not really. Scholars assume that he lived in Jerusalem. Did the Lord call him from royal, priestly, or common stock? Was Joel, like Amos, a man who was not one of the "sons of the prophets"? There are no answers to these questions.
From a New Church perspective, it seems to be of the Lord’s Providence that we don’t know Joel’s personal history. It helps to keep us from focusing on the person to the detriment of our study of spiritual principles.
Can we put Joel in a timeline with the other prophets?
No! Scholars are undecided about the dates of Joel’s birth and death, and about what king or kings reigned at the time of his prophetic calling. Among scholars, there is very little agreement on the years of Joel’s prophecy:
Why are these "guesses" so diverse? Joel’s prophecy gives no historical clues. He mentions no king. We are left only with "the timeless message of the Lord."
Again, we do well to ask why the Lord would keep the dateline so unclear. Is it to keep our minds steady and focused on the spiritual sense and not on people, places, and time/space concepts? I think we would agree that this seems to be a good reason for a vague timeline. We shouldn’t try to put the Word of the Lord in a finite context. We shouldn’t worry if we can’t make God conform to our spatial concepts. The Word is the Lord’s, and it has been preserved so that it may be studied to eternity. Angels don’t read names or dates. They behold the spiritual sense and draw on the illustrations (immediate influx) that come from the Lord. We need to remember to emulate this approach as a goal while reading the Word.
Is Joel mentioned or quoted in any of the books of the Word?
There are twelve references to a "Joel" listed in Young’s Bible Concordance. Most of the twelve references to "Joel" occur in First and Second Chronicles and Nehemiah (11:9), which are not books of the Word. There is one reference to Joel in Acts 2:16. The only reference to a "Joel" in the Word occurs in I Samuel 8:2.
Here is a list of the places a "Joel" is mentioned in the Old Testament:
Acts 2:16 quotes Joel 2:28-32.
Are we familiar with any of the passages from Joel?
You will probably recognize more passages than you would imagine. I have listed here what I think are the major ones you have heard most often in our church services:
This fourth passage in Joel is the opposite of Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks…"
What are the major themes of Joel’s prophecy?
And lastly, what specific lesson or lessons in Joel’s prophecy are useful for the New Church?
All too often, we worry about the slow growth of the New Church. Why isn’t the General Church membership in the thousands or millions? Why are other faith groups doing so much better? Is the spread of the Lord’s New Church on earth ever going to happen?
This nagging worry distresses us with a vague feeling that maybe we are "hitching our spiritual wagon" to a dying cause. The teaching of Joel is a pep talk. It contains a message of hope. The Lord is going to establish the church. He will win the spiritual war that is going to be waged. The New Church will be His, and His Word will catch hold of the world. But, there must be a consummation of the falsity that is still in our world. The sensual side of humanity is still very much alive. The sensual is impatient with the Lord. Looking beyond the moment is not an interest of the sensual person. The emphasis on faith alone or knowledge alone is an enemy of the conjugial principles of the Lord’s Church. These things temporarily disperse the ideas of the Lord. The locust attack mentioned in Joel depicts wave after wave of sensual philosophical and scientific arguments against the church. It appears that they have stripped the church and the doctrines of the Lord barren.
In Joel’s prophecy, we hear this message: "Stay alert! Respond, for the Day of the Lord is at hand. Don’t lose sight of the end. The New Church is the Lord’s, and His Word will be the core of the Church."
Will it happen? Will the battle bring victory to the Church? The prophecy of Joel preaches a positive end. It will come, and the Lord will gather His "remnant" together to start a church that will be the crown of all churches for ever and ever.
These things will come about because of the Lord, not the efforts of any group of people. So we need to be watchful and listen for the spiritual trumpet of the Lord. Hell and its menacing legions will not overcome the Lord. The Church will win, not because of our strength but because of the Lord’s strength.
Joel 3:10 has a teaching worth remembering and saying to ourselves often:
"Let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’"
I hope you read Joel with this sense of victory and strength in "the Day of the Lord."