Among the prophets of the Old Testament, Joel differs from most of the others in that he does not state the period during which he preached. One suggestion is that he prophesied in Judah around the period 835-830 BC, during the reign of the boy-king Joash. This would explain why the book does not mention Syria, Assyria or Babylon, the chief enemies during the time of the divided kingdom, as these nations had not yet begun to interfere in Judah’s affairs. It would also explain why the prophet does not mention a reigning king, for at that time the government of the country was largely in the hands of the priest Jehoiada (2 Kings 11:1-21; 12:1-2). The prominence of Jehoiada may also account for Joel’s interest in the temple and its services (Joel 1:9,13; 2:12,15-17).
An alternative suggestion is that the book was written after the Jews’ return from captivity. The most likely period is either 520-510 BC (after the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah and the rebuilding of the temple) or around 400 BC (a generation or so after the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah). According to these suggestions, Joel is among either the first or the last of the writing prophets.
Purpose of the book
In spite of the absence of a specific date, the present-day reader should have no great difficulty in understanding the book of Joel. This is because the single event that forms the book’s basis is not concerned with details of Judah’s local politics or international affairs. The event is a severe locust plague, and the setting appears to be Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside.
The locust plague brought extensive agricultural damage and created widespread suffering to the people. What made the plague even more devastating was its occurrence at the height of a crippling drought. Joel interpreted these events as God’s judgment on Judah for its sin. He promised the people that if they repented, God would renew his blessing by giving them productive crops and a more enlightened knowledge of himself. Joel saw these events as symbolic of God’s future judgment on all enemies and his blessing on his people.