Anyway, following on from last week, here, at last, is Joel:
(47) Joel’s Army and Isaiah’s Messiah
As with many minor prophets, it’s hard to pin down when Joel was speaking. But he prophecies at a time when Jerusalem has a Temple (Joel 2:17). And he doesn’t mention a king when he calls the nation to prayer and fasting. so it’s likely he wrote at a time when there was no king. He emphasizes the role of priests, as did Malachi, which makes him likely to be a later prophet. He quotes other prophets (unless he’s quoted by them), and he mentions the Greeks. All this suggests he might have been a prophet at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (and Malachi), when Greek power was rising, the Temple had been rebuilt, and the nation had a governor instead of a king. His mention of Jerusalem’s walls (Joel 2:9), maybe he’s toward the end of Nehemiah’s time.
Joel’s prophecy plays out against the background of a plague of locusts – a cause of serious famine among the poor.
1. Read Joel 1:4 What do you know about locusts and how they swarm? Why might Joel mention four different types?
2. Read Joel 1:5-7 Which nations came up against Judah? Is there a sense in which nations who come against us might metaphorically lay waste to our vine and strip our fig trees bare (remembering what vines and fig trees symbolize)? If so, what should we lament, as in Joel 1:8?
3. Read Joel 1:9-12 What has happened to the land? How does it affect worship, and how might lack of worship affect faith?
4. Read Joel 1:13-14 How is consecrating a fast different from struggling to survive a famine? Does that have any lessons for us?
5. Read Joel 1:15 Traditionally, the day of a “god” was a day of rejoicing and celebration, hence “the Lord’s day.” Today we’re accustomed to reading “the day of the Lord” as the end of the world, but how might this idea have worried earlier readers, especially those who’d recently lived among other faiths?
6. Read Joel 2:3 Does it surprise you that the Garden of Eden might be burning? (Do you remember how we are kept out of Eden?) Did you know that locust clouds look like smoke… and like the dust thrown up by an army?
7. Read Joel 2:10-11 Who can endure it?
8. Read Joel 2:12-17 The fact that no king is mentioned is part of why people believe this was written after the exile. Who is the true king? How might we put verse 13 into modern words?
9. Read Joel 2:25-27 Four locusts again. Might the Jews have interpreted these are four separate invasions? Would that be the same as us trying to interpret Daniel’s ten-toes vision as the 10 nations in the EU (back when there were 10)?
10. Read Joel 2:28-29 In what sense might this prefigure the Holy Spirit’s work today?
11. Read Joel 2:30-32 On what day?
The Persians wanted to secure the coastline from Egypt to Tyre and Sidon, as protection against the Greeks who were rising to power. Judea itself, being inland, was important mostly as a doorway to be passed through and used – Read Nehemiah 13:16. Poverty and the removal of natural resources meant the Jews had nothing to trade with, except perhaps selling their children to slavery.
1. Read Joel 3:4-8 How does God respond? How does this fit with what happens to the Persian empire soon?
2. Read Joel 3:9-11, Isaiah 2;4, Micah 4:3 Would early readers have noticed the reversed wording? Do we?
3. When we sing “Let the weak say ‘I am strong’” are we thinking of Joel? What are we thinking of?
4. Read Joel 3:20-21 In what sense has this verse proved true?
Remember how Jewish tradition splits up the book of Isaiah? We’re going to start looking at the last section now. This section follows from Isaiah writing about the restoration of the people under Cyrus; it mentions fasting and religious observances, so it’s assumed to come, or be read and repeated, soon after the Temple was rebuilt.
1. Read Isaiah 58:1-3a What is right with their worship?
2. Read Isaiah 58:3b-5 What is wrong with their worship?
3. Read Isaiah 58:6-8 What does God want from them? What does God want from us?
4. Read Isaiah 58:9-10 Which is more important, identifying wrong-doers or offering aid to the afflicted?
5. Read Isaiah 58:12 Bearing in mind how the city walls were rebuilt, why might this remind us of Ezra and Nehemiah’s time? (With a limited number of locations suitable for cities in Israel – defensible places with access to water – new cities were frequently built on the ruins of old, resulting in artificial hills as described here.)
6. Read Isaiah 58:13-14 Is the Sabbath a burden or a gift?
7. Read Isaiah 59:1-2 Why doesn’t God hear? Are there times when God doesn’t seem to hear us as a nation?
8. Read Isaiah 59:4 Does this sound like today? Why might we repeat the same sins?
Isaiah goes on to the confession of sins and God’s promise of a Redeemer.
1. Read Isaiah 59:9-11 When has this described you?
2. Read Isaiah 59:12-15 Isaiah says “our” offences, not “yours” or “theirs.” Why might confession be an important part of worship?
3. Read Isaiah 59:16-20 Why might later Jews have expected a Messiah who would throw out the Romans?
4. Read Isaiah 59:21, 6:6-8 Who do you think are the descendants? If the Spirit is in us, who are we?
5. Read Isaiah 60:1-3 Why do we view this as referring to Jesus?
6. Read Isaiah 60:4-7 This would read like people coming to celebrate a king, except it’s the city that’s being celebrated. Why might Jews interpret it as referring to a place rather than a Messiah – to Jerusalem ruled by God, making the city “king of all nations”?
7. Read Isaiah 60:10-12 In what sense does this sound like the rebuilding of Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah? In what sense is it different? Why is interpreting prophecy so hard?
8. Read Isaiah 60:16 In what sense are the Christian (Messiah) and Jewish (ruled by God) interpretations the same?
9. Read Isaiah 60:17-18 Has this happened yet? Anywhere?
10. Read Isaiah 60:19, Revelation 21:23 Why hasn’t it happened yet? (How does this emphasize the difference between God and the sun-god of the Medes and the Persians?)