“For the day of the LORD is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” (Joel 2:11)
Who can endure it, indeed? Joel’s prophecy, situated as it is between Hosea and Amos, reveals the awesome and terrifying character of the Day of the Lord. No one can escape the judgment of Yahweh, neither the nations at large nor even God’s own people. Hosea and Amos are chock full of invectives against God’s people, a people whose identity as God’s own is fracturing under the weight of their proclivity to worship and act like the surrounding nations.
Joel is notoriously difficult to locate historically. Most critical scholars assume Joel is a post-exilic book, and, on my account, there is no real reason to deny this conclusion. The fact that Joel is a late book now situated between Hosea and Amos (8th century prophets) piques our interest. Why would Joel be nestled between Hosea and Amos in the Hebrew collection?
As Christopher Seitz reminds, “Joel separates Hosea and Amos to signal that God is always in a position to relent, if the people turn back.” The underlying motif of the Minor Prophets resides at this critical juncture. Put simply, it’s just like God to act mercifully toward sinners who see their sin and recognize the pardoning effects of his grace.
Hosea’s prophecy ends with a summons to repent. “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord…” (Hosea 14:1-2) “Take words,” or bring the fruit of your lips in the speech of your confession to the Lord. In Lukan terms, identify yourselves as a prodigal and return from the pig-pen to your Father’s house. He awaits you. Joel’s prophecy, especially in Chapter 2, reveals for us the shape of this repentance: fasting, weeping, mourning, and the rending of the heart (2:12-13).
The question raised by the prodigal son is the same question that laces itself throughout the Minor Prophets, Joel and Jonah in particular. Who knows? Perhaps the Lord will relent from his judgment and leave a blessing. The character of God is on full display here, marked as it is by the language of Exodus 34:6-7. God is merciful. God is severe.
Harkening back to another time and place – when Jonah’s throwing his fit on a hill outside of Nineveh, God presses in on him with this similar yet uncomfortable message of grace: Jonah, did you really think I’d act in any other way?