John J. Collins
In sharp contrast to Hosea, the book of Joel makes no reference to known historical events, which would enable us to establish when it was written. It is safe to say, however, that it is one of the later prophetic books, and the date 400 BC (OT, p. 1184 ) is a reasonable guess. Two considerations favor a relatively late date. First, according to 4, 6 some people of Judah were sold as slaves to the Greeks. This reference suggests a date after the Babylonian exile, when Judah was weak and contacts between the Greeks and the Near East were increasing. Second, the imagery of the Day of the Lord and the judgment of the nations has a strongly apocalyptic character. Such imagery is characteristic of the postexilic period.
The reference to Jews sold into slavery is indicative of the circumstances in which the book was written. It was a time of deprivation and exploitation. The first two chapters refer to a plague of locusts that had ravaged the harvests of Judah, thereby aggravating the problems of the poor. These circumstances are significant for understanding why the prophet predicts cosmic upheaval and radical change.
The book is characterized by movement from specific concern with the plague of locusts to a more general prophecy of universal judgment. Joel 1, 1–2, 17 combines description of the plague with exhortations and prayers for deliverance. Chapter 2 , verses 18 to 27 give a reply and reassurance from God. All of this may reflect an actual Temple liturgy for relief from the disaster. Chapter 3 is concerned with a future time, when God will intervene to pour out the spirit and save a remnant of the people. Chapter 4 proclaims the final judgment of the nations and salvation of God's elect.