May 13: Joel 2:28-29

Joel 2:28-29 [3:1-2]

In the previous note, I mentioned a theme found at a number of points in the Prophetic writings—a ‘democratization’ of the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership, whereby the Spirit of God comes upon the land and its people as a whole, rather than on select individuals. This idea seems to have developed among the later Prophets, likely as a reaction (at least in part) to the trauma of the Exile. The collapse of the Israelite/Judean kingdoms, and the loss of the monarchy, left a void for the principle of spirit-inspired leadership. Two separate, distinct concepts took root during the exile, in response to this void. On the one hand, the hope for a future ruler from the line of David, who would restore the fortunes of Israel, became an important component of Messianic thought; the roots of this tradition can be found in the exilic Prophetic writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. At the same time, an entirely different line of thought took shape—that of the anointed/inspired Community. Both of these lines of tradition coalesced in the Qumran Community, and, somewhat similarly, among the early Christians as well.

I discussed an example of this ‘new’ manifestation of the Spirit in the Deutero-Isaian passage of Isa 44:1-5 (v. 3), in the previous note; other relevant passages in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah will be considered in the upcoming notes. In some respects, however, these Prophetic texts are simply drawing upon much earlier aspects of Israelite historical tradition. For example, the Moses tradition(s) in Numbers 11:10-30 were examined in a prior note in this series. By all accounts, these have to be at least as old as the historical traditions in Judges and Samuel, with their striking record of the ancient principle of charismatic (spirit-inspired) leadership at work. In the Numbers passage, the inspired status of Moses—as the spokesperson (ayb!n`) and intermediary between YHWH and the people—is broadened out to include 70 chosen/appointed elders (vv. 16-17ff). The wording to describe this process is most significant:

(YHWH speaking) “And I will lay aside (something) from (the) spirit [j^Wr] that is upon you, and I will set (it) upon them…”

When this occurs in the narrative (vv. 25ff), the 70 elders begin to “act as a ayb!n`” , just like Moses—i.e., they become active, inspired (prophetic) leaders, who communicate the word and will of God to the people. When Moses’ young attendant Joshua becomes alarmed at this, the great leader utters an extraordinary statement that broadens the prophetic/inspired gift even further:

“Who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) <ya!yb!n+, (and) that YHWH would give His spirit [j^Wr] upon them!” (v. 29)

Ideally, all the people would function as inspired leaders/spokespersons, gifted to know and understand the word and will of YHWH directly from Him. This doubtless relates to the broader tradition of Israel as a holy, chosen people, a nation made up entirely of anointed/inspired priests and kings, etc (Exod 19:6). The ideal could not be maintained initially, as reflected by the people’s response to hearing and experiencing the voice of God at Sinai (20:18-21). Moses came to be designated as the spokesperson (ayb!n`), and, similarly, certain individuals (and only they) were selected to function as priests.

Turning now to the oracle in Joel 2:18-32 [Hebrew 2:18-3:5], we find the famous declaration in vv. 28-29 [3:1-2], of how the ideal condition will finally be realized, in the future:

“And it will be, following this, (that)
I will pour out my spirit [j^Wr] upon all flesh,
and your sons and daughters will act as ayb!n`,
and your older (one)s will dream dreams,
and your choice (young one)s will see visions;
and even upon the servants and upon the (serv)ing maids,
will I pour out my spirit in those days.”

The verb rendered “act as ayb!n`” , is the denominative ab*n`, occurring here in the passive (Niphal) stem. As I discussed in prior notes, this verb featured prominently in the early (prophetic) traditions in Numbers and Samuel (cf. above), but afterward largely disappeared from the Prophetic writings, only to reappear, and be used quite frequently, in the later Prophets (Jeremiah [40 times], Ezekiel [37 times], Zechariah). This is perhaps an indication of a comparable date for the oracles in Joel (6th century).

Joel 2:28-32, of course, came to play an important role in early Christian thought, as is indicated, famously, in the Pentecost speech of Peter in Acts (2:16-21). As such, the oracle also has a special place of importance in this pre-Pentecost series of notes on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. I will be looking at the passage in more detail in the next daily note.

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