Joel is unique among the prophets * in his focus on a natural catastrophe, a widespread and destructive locust plague. Interpreting the plague as divine judgment on Jerusalem, the prophet calls on the people to mourn their predicament ( 1.5–20 ) and tells the priests to declare a solemn assembly to repent and ask for God's forgiveness ( 2.1–17 ). Then he predicts that God will restore the land to its former prosperity ( 2.18–27 ). Two concluding sections that do not mention the locusts, a prediction of the outpouring of God's spirit ( 2.28–32 ) and of the political renewal of Jerusalem ( 3.1–21 ), are either Joel's visions of the future set in motion by the plague or additions to Joel by a later editor.
No clear historical references in chs. 1–2 connect this plague to a precise period in Jerusalem's history. Such plagues were not uncommon (Am 7.1–3 ), and understanding the seriousness of these ancient plagues is more important for reading Joel than knowing the exact date of this particular plague. Because the vision of Jerusalem's political renewal in ch. 3 was composed after Jerusalem was destroyed and its citizens exiled, many believe all of Joel was written at this time, perhaps as late as the fourth or fifth centuries BCE. Editors placed Joel between Hosea and Amos, two eighth-century prophets, either because a tradition held that the plague happened in this period or because parts of Joel are so much like Amos (see Joel 3.16a; Amos 1.2a ).