Joel’s prophecies have a common theme with those of Isaiah, Jonah, Amos, and others: repent or face destruction. Joel is particularly significant to us because he prophesied of our day. Joel is also a major source of information on the battle of Armageddon, one of the momentous events in the coming history of the world.
“Biblical scholars do not agree on when Joel lived. Some think he preceded Amos and Hosea because both men quoted him (compare Amos 1:2 with Joel 3:16 ), but it is also possible that Joel quoted them, so this evidence is not conclusive. Joel may have served before the time of Isaiah, for Isaiah quoted one of Joel’s prophecies (compare Isaiah 13:6 with Joel 1:15 ), but it may be that Joel quoted Isaiah.
“All things considered, it seems probable that Joel’s ministry took place about the time that Joash reigned in Judah. Joel’s ministry evidently came before Uzziah’s reign but after the rule of the infamous Athaliah, the queen who tried to exterminate the Davidic line.”
At the beginning of the first chapter of Joel, he tells the people to announce the coming destruction to every generation. He predicts devastation caused by invaders:
“For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion. He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white…. Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.” (Joel 1:6-7, 15).
“As is typical of Old Testament prophecies, Joel’s prophecies are ‘dualistic’: They warn of an immediate and impending destruction (through the conquests of Assyria and Babylonia), but they also refer directly to the last days and the destruction that will again threaten Israel just before the Millennium.”
The imagery used by Joel is very colorful, since he talks of the invaders as if they were insects, stripping the land bare of everything it once offered so abundantly. The Hebrew terms for the names of the insects are significant: “palmerworm” is “gnawer;” “cankerworm” is “licker;” and “caterpiller” means “consumer.” These are the three life stages of the locust, which can indeed strip the land of anything that grows. The damage that these stages of insects can do might symbolize the succeeding invaders Israel and Judah would face — what the Babylonians and Assyrians left behind the Medes and Persians would take; what the Medes and Persians left behind, the Romans would take. But the imagery could also symbolize the war of Armageddon in the Last Days. (The phrase “day of the Lord,” in verse 15 , is a phrase often associated with the time just before the Second Coming. Chapters 2 and 3 of Joel definitely apply to the final days.)
Chapter 2 of Joel makes many profound last days’ prophecies and warnings:
“Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand” (Joel 2:1).
This summons, this alarm, is similar to that sounded on the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah) calling everyone to awake, arise, and gather, because the Lord was about to separate the righteous from the wicked — the righteous to be saved, and the wicked to be destroyed. But then, Joel paints a picture of a huge and terrible marauding army:
“A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, evento the years of many generations. A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.
“The appearance of them isas the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run. Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array. Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness. They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks:
“And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: “We find Joel, Zephaniah, Zechariah, all proclaiming that in this last day, the day when the sun shall be darkened and the moon turned to blood and the stars fall from heaven, that the nations of the earth would gather against Jerusalem. All of them speak of it; and when that time comes, the Lord is going to come out of His hiding place. ( Signs of the Times, p. 170.)”The Lord will be the strength of Israel and will smite her enemies with plagues so severe that their flesh will rot and fall from their bones, their eyes will be consumed in their sockets and their tongues in their mouths—both man and beast (see Zechariah 14:12–15 ). And then Judah will know that Christ is the Lord their God, for He will stand on the Mount of Olives, which will cleave in twain and Judah will see Him as their delivering Messiah. They will ask about His wounds and learn that He is the Christ, and their mourning will know no bounds, for they will know that this is He for whom they have waited and whom their fathers crucified” (see Zechariah 12:9–11 ; 13:6 ; D&C 45:51–53 ).
“Upon accepting Jesus Christ as their Redeemer, the Jews will enter into a new era. The very mountains and hills will flow with the riches of heaven. This imagery implies more than just an abundance of tangible fruits. Judah will know her God, and He will own His people; they will build their Jerusalem and inhabit it in peace thereafter.” (See Smith, Signs of the Times, pp. 171–72.)
*This article has been adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.