Almost nothing is known of Joel. His period of prophecy is not known. Because he mentions the Temple and the priests, he is thought to have lived before or during the ninth or eighth century BCE or during or after the fifth century BCE. I for one, am not so sure about the former of these choices. Joel often mentions Zion and the Temple and the priests. I suspect he may have been active in the period before the fall of Jerusalem and following the Babylonian exile, perhaps as late as the fourth century BCE. See Joel 4:6 for more on this. My best guess as to his period of prophecy is some time before the Babylonian destruction of the Temple until well into the exile.
Joel 1:1 The word of the Lord that occurred to Joel son of Pethuel:
The name Joel means the Lord is God. It means the same as, and is similar to, the name of Elijah with the two syllables of the name reversed in order, which doesn’t alter the meaning of the names. The name of Joel’s father, Pethuel, can mean God enlarges or enlarged of God.
שִׁמְעוּ־זֹאת הַזְּקֵנִים וְהַאֲזִינוּ כֹּל יוֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ הֶהָיְתָה זֹּאת בִּימֵיכֶם וְאִם בִּימֵי אֲבֹתֵיכֶם׃ 1:2
Joel 1:2 Hear this, old men!
And give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has this occurred in your time
or in the time of your fathers?
עָלֶיהָ לִבְנֵיכֶם סַפֵּרוּ וּבְנֵיכֶם לִבְנֵיהֶם וּבְנֵיהֶם לְדוֹר אַחֵר׃ 1:3
Joel 1:3 Tell about it to your children,
and your children to their children,
and their children to the generation after.
יֶתֶר הַגָּזָם אָכַל הָאַרְבֶּה וְיֶתֶר הָאַרְבֶּה אָכַל הַיָּלֶק וְיֶתֶר הַיֶּלֶק אָכַל הֶחָסִיל׃ 1:4
Joel 1:4 The locust has eaten the left over of the maggot,
and the cankerworm has eaten the left over of the locust,
and the caterpillar has eaten the left over of the cankerworm.
The root of the second word הַגָּזָם, translated as the maggot, can also mean to trim or cut, possibly implying the start of the destructive process described here. In fact, the word also means a young locust that is still not winged. Then the eighth word הַיָּלֶק, translated as the cankerworm, actually also means the locust, but must be assumed to mean the former insect in this case. And the last word הֶחָסִיל, translated as the caterpillar, also means the locust. Thus four different words meaning locust are being used here to describe four different insects, only one of which can actually refer to the locust. Is Joel giving us a cryptic message by this technique? Maybe because the locust is the most destructive of the four insects, he is hinting at the magnitude of the utter devastation of the plague. There’s also the possibility that this description is not literal but is a prophecy, that Israel will be overwhelmed on four different occasions. Would the third be in our future? What might we do about it?
הָקִיצוּ שִׁכּוֹרִים וּבְכוּ וְהֵילִלוּ כָּל־שֹׁתֵי יָיִן עַל־עָסִיס כִּי נִכְרַת מִפִּיכֶם׃ 1:5
Joel 1:5 Awake, drunkards,
and weep and wail, all drinkers of wine,
over sweet wine!
For it is eliminated from your mouths.
כִּי־גוֹי עָלָה עַל־אַרְצִי עָצוּם וְאֵין מִסְפָּר שִׁנָּיו שִׁנֵּי אַרְיֵה וּמְתַלְּעוֹת לָבִיא לוֹ׃ 1:6
Joel 1:6 For a nation rises up against my land,
mighty and without number;
his teeth are the teeth of a lion,
and his fangs are of a lioness.
שָׂם גַּפְנִי לְשַׁמָּה וּתְאֵנָתִי לִקְצָפָה חָשֹׂף חֲשָׂפָהּ וְהִשְׁלִיךְ הִלְבִּינוּ שָׂרִיגֶיהָ׃ 1:7
Joel 1:7 He makes my vine for a waste
and my fig tree for splinters;
he strips it bare and casts down;
its branches are made white.
אֱלִי כִּבְתוּלָה חֲגֻרַת־שַׂק עַל־בַּעַל נְעוּרֶיהָ׃ 1:8
Joel 1:8 Lament like a sackcloth-girded virgin
over the husband of her youth!
הָכְרַת מִנְחָה וָנֶסֶךְ מִבֵּית יְהוָה אָבְלוּ הַכֹּהֲנִים מְשָׁרְתֵי יְהוָה׃ 1:9
Joel 1:9 Meal offering is cut off, and drink offering,
from the house of the Lord;
the priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord.
שֻׁדַּד שָׂדֶה אָבְלָה אֲדָמָה כִּי שֻׁדַּד דָּגָן הוֹבִישׁ תִּירוֹשׁ אֻמְלַל יִצְהָר׃ 1:10
Joel 1:10 The field is devastated,
the ground mourns;
for the corn is destroyed,
the new wine is dried up,
the new oil is feeble.
הֹבִישׁוּ אִכָּרִים הֵילִילוּ כֹּרְמִים עַל־חִטָּה וְעַל־שְׂעֹרָה כִּי אָבַד קְצִיר שָׂדֶה׃ 1:11
Joel 1:11 Be ashamed, farmers;
over the wheat and over the barley!
For the harvest of the field is perished.
הַגֶּפֶן הוֹבִישָׁה וְהַתְּאֵנָה אֻמְלָלָה רִמּוֹן גַּם־תָּמָר וְתַפּוּחַ כָּל־עֲצֵי הַשָּׂדֶה יָבֵשׁוּ כִּי־הֹבִישׁ שָׂשׂוֹן 1:12
Joel 1:12 The vine has withered,
and the fig tree languishes;
the pomegranate tree,
even the palm tree and the apple tree,
all the trees of the field have withered;
for joy has dried up from the children of humankind.
חִגְרוּ וְסִפְדוּ הַכֹּהֲנִים הֵילִילוּ מְשָׁרְתֵי מִזְבֵּחַ בֹּאוּ לִינוּ בַשַּׂקִּים מְשָׁרְתֵי אֱלֹהָי כִּי נִמְנַע מִבֵּית 1:13 אֱלֹהֵיכֶם מִנְחָה וָנָסֶךְ׃
Joel 1:13 Gird yourselves and lament, priests!
Howl, ministers of the altar!
Come, pass the night in sackcloths, ministers of my God!
For meal offering has been withheld
from the house of your God, and drink offering.
קַדְּשׁוּ־צוֹם קִרְאוּ עֲצָרָה אִסְפוּ זְקֵנִים כֹּל יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ בֵּית יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְזַעֲקוּ אֶל־יְהוָה׃ 1:14
Joel 1:14 Dedicate a fast,
proclaim a solemn assembly,
gather the elders,
all the inhabitants of the land,
in the house of the Lord, your God,
and cry out to the Lord!
אֲהָהּ לַיֹּום כִּי קָרֹוב יֹום יְהוָה וּכְשֹׁד מִשַׁדַּי יָבֹוא׃ 1:15
Joel 1:15 Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near,
and, like destruction from the Almighty,
it shall come.
הֲלוֹא נֶגֶד עֵינֵינוּ אֹכֶל נִכְרָת מִבֵּית אֱלֹהֵינוּ שִׂמְחָה וָגִיל׃ 1:16
Joel 1:16 Before our eyes,
is not the food cut off from the house of our God,
gladness and rejoicing?
עָבְשׁוּ פְרֻדוֹת תַּחַת מֶגְרְפֹתֵיהֶם נָשַׁמּוּ אֹצָרוֹת נֶהֶרְסוּ מַמְּגֻרוֹת כִּי הֹבִישׁ דָּגָן׃ 1:17
Joel 1:17 The grains shrivel beneath their rakes;
the storehouses are desolate,
the granaries are broken down,
for the corn is withered.
מַה־נֶּאֶנְחָה בְהֵמָה נָבֹכוּ עֶדְרֵי בָקָר כִּי אֵין מִרְעֶה לָהֶם גַּם־עֶדְרֵי הַצֹּאן נֶאְשָׁמוּ׃ 1:18
Joel 1:18 How the beast groans!
The herds of cattle are perplexed,
as there is no pasture for them;
even the flocks of sheep suffer.
אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה אֶקְרָא כִּי אֵשׁ אָכְלָה נְאוֹת מִדְבָּר וְלֶהָבָה לִהֲטָה כָּל־עֲצֵי הַשָּׂדֶה׃ 1:19
Joel 1:19 To You, O Lord, let me call,
for a fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness
and a flame has burned all the trees of the field.
גַּם־בַּהֲמוֹת שָׂדֶה תַּעֲרוֹג אֵלֶיךָ כִּי יָבְשׁוּ אֲפִיקֵי מָיִם וְאֵשׁ אָכְלָה נְאוֹת הַמִּדְבָּר׃ 1:20
Joel 1:20 Let even beasts of the field pant to You,
for the channels of water have dried up
as a fire devours the pastures of the wilderness.
I believe there’s an error in this verse that is unacknowledged. The first subject of the verse, the second word, translated as beasts, is plural, but its verb, the fourth word, translated as let ... pant, is singular. If the vav is moved to the end of the word, it could be considered correctly spelled as the plural form of the verb.
So far, Joel appears to be a lamenting prophet. We shall see how this poetry progresses through the remaining three chapters.