Joel 2:28-29 [Heb 3:1-2]
(continued from the previous day’s note)
The book of Joel has been rather difficult to date, with estimates ranging from the 8th century to the post-exilic period. This is largely due to the brevity of the book, and the general lack of clear historical indicators within the oracles. The (military) invasion by a foreign power (1:6ff), compared to a locust-attack (v. 4, cf. Judg 6:5; 7:12; Prov 30:27; Nah 3:15-16; Jer 46:23), would naturally focus the context on the campaigns and conquests of either the Assyrian or Babylonian forces. In the case of an invasion threatening Judah/Jerusalem, this would mean a time-frame corresponding to either 701 or 598/588 B.C., respectively. The apocalyptic and eschatological elements in the oracles of chapters 2 and 3 make a 6th century setting much more likely.
The work is comprised of four distinct oracles—1:2-20, 2:1-17, 2:18-32[3:5], and 3:1-21 [4:1-21]. The first two oracles focus on the coming invasion, with a call to repentance, and mourning in light of the destruction that this judgment will bring (as devastating to the people as a massive locust-attack on the crops). In the last two oracles, the focus shifts to the promise of restoration/renewal—the onset of a period of peace and prosperity—along with the ultimate judgment on the nations.
These oracles in 2:18-3:21 demonstrate a strong apocalyptic and eschatological emphasis, typical of a tendency that developed in the Prophetic writings of the exilic and post-exilic period. The trauma of the Exile (both for the northern and southern Kingdoms) led to this emphasis on a future hope—when Israel would be restored, and there would be a reversal of fortune, whereby the people of Israel would flourish in a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity, while the nations (collectively) would face judgment. Joel 3 is one of the few passages in the Old Testament—and perhaps the earliest of these—where the “day of YHWH” motif, and the nation-oracle message of judgment (against individual nations), was broadened to apply to all the nations together. The “day of YHWH” now represents the moment when the nations, collectively, would be judged, in one great “valley of Judgment”. The great oracle of Ezekiel 38-39, and those in Zechariah 12 and 14, are the other key examples of this (eschatological) theme in the Old Testament.
When we turn to the oracle of 2:18-32 [Heb 2:18-3:5], it can be divided into three parts:
- Vv. 18-20—A promise of salvation, in terms of the defeat/removal of the invading forces (from the north)
- Vv. 21-27—A time of peace and prosperity—especially in terms of the fertility and (agricultural) fruitfulness of the land
- Vv. 28-32 [3:1-5]—The manifestation of YHWH’s presence among His people, as part of a powerful theophany that anticipates the judgment of the nations (chap. 3)
- Blessing on the land—water poured out on it, irrigating the fields and making them fertile again
- Blessing on the people—the spirit poured out on them, stimulating the people and making them fertile (in a religious, ethical, and spiritual sense)
The second aspect—the pouring out of the spirit [j^Wr] of God—is expressed in vv. 28-29. What is especially notable, however, is the way that the idea of the spirit coming upon all the people is defined in such precise detail:
“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.”
Note the following points emphasizing a total, comprehensive inclusivity:
- that it comes on every person is specified (“all flesh”)
- male and female (“your sons and your daughters”)
- old and young (“your elders…your choice ones [i.e. children]”)
- even the male and female servants
As previously noted, this seems to fulfill the wish expressed by Moses in Numbers 11:29, as well as the ancient ideal regarding the identity of Israel as a holy nation, made up entirely of priests, prophets, and kings (Exod 19:6, etc). While this had not been realized in Israel’s history up to that point—during the periods of the migration (exodus), settlement, Judges, and the monarchy—the oracle here indicates that it will be fulfilled in the ‘golden age’ to come. Admittedly, it is not specified exactly when this will occur. The oracle utilizes a general expression “following this” (/k@-yr@j&a^), comparable to the oracular expression “in the days following, in the days after [this]” (<ym!Y`h^ tyr!j&a^B=, Gen 49:1 etc), which came to be used in a distinct eschatological sense (cf. also “in those days”, here in Joel 3:1 [4:1]; also Jer 31:29, 33; 33:15-16; Zech 8:23, etc). As a message of hope to the people of the time, we may assume an imminent expectation, even if the specific details of the future ideal expressed in the oracle were not always meant to be understood in a concrete, literalistic sense.
This is all the more so for the supernatural cosmic phenomena mentioned in vv. 30-31 [3:3-4]. The true significance of this imagery is that of theophany—i.e. a manifestation of God’s presence, according to the ancient manner of expression (cp. the scene in Exodus 19-20, as well as many examples of the storm-theophany applied to El-Yahweh [e.g., Psalm 18 A]). This theophany-language and imagery came to be used by the Prophets as part of the “day of YHWH” theme, in the nation- and judgment-oracles; it became more clearly defined and pronounced in the later Prophets, and from there passed on into Jewish tradition to form a staple of apocalyptic and eschatology in Judaism (and early Christianity) during the first centuries B.C./A.D.
How does the reference to the Spirit in vv. 28-29 fit into this framework? We may gain a better sense of this by considering the thematic structure of the oracle chiastically, as follows:
- Promise of salvation for the land and its people (vv. 18-20)
- Promise of salvation for Jerusalem (Zion) and its people (v. 32)
The spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH essentially refers to His presence, reflecting a manner of expression well-established in Old Testament tradition, going back to the Creation narratives (and cf. the earlier note in this series on the Psalms references). Thus the “pouring out” of His Spirit is a symbolic expression related to the presence of YHWH among His people. The era of the restored Israel essentially marks a return to the initial moment of the Sinai theophany, when the people collectively stood in God’s presence, prior to the designation of Moses as the spokesperson (ayb!n`) who would stand in their place (Exod 20:18-21). Now all the people are such spokespersons or ‘prophets’ (<ya!yb!n+), no longer requiring any select individual to serve as intermediary. As I discussed in the previous note, this is part of a tendency, seen especially in the later Prophets (of the 6th/5th centuries), toward what we might call a “democratization” of the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership. Now the entire Community is inspired, with the Spirit coming upon them even as it once did the king (at his anointing), or upon the person gifted to function as a ayb!n`.
In the next daily note, we will consider this tendency as it is expressed in the book of Ezekiel, along with a brief comparison with several key passages in the book of Jeremiah.