Joel 2:15-17 presents a sobering call for the people of Judah to repent and return to the Lord in the midst of impending judgment.
In this passage, the prophet Joel urgently summons the entire community to gather together for collective mourning, prayer, and fasting.
He pleads with the priests to intercede before God, crying out for mercy and deliverance.
This section provides important insights into the meaning of this prophetic text, examining the historical background, literary context, key terminology, and modern application of Joel’s vital message.
Joel 2:15-17 (NIV): The Passage in Context
Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’
This passage comes on the heels of Joel’s warning of the impending “day of the Lord” – a day of judgment and calamity for the nation of Judah (Joel 1:15). In chapter 1, Joel describes a devastating locust plague that will lay waste to the land as a foreshadowing of this coming day of judgment. Then in chapter 2, the prophet vividly portrays the coming destruction as a fierce invading army sent from God to punish his people.
Joel 2:15-17 represents a pivot in the book from the pronouncement of judgment to a plea for repentance. Right before the hour of judgment falls, Joel urgently calls the entire community – young, old, priests, and all – to drop everything and gather for solemn assembly. Their very survival depends on crying out to God for mercy and forgiveness.
What does Joel 2:15-17 mean?
Joel’s message in this passage is an urgent wake-up call for urgent collective repentance and prayer in the face of coming calamity. Several key details reinforce this meaning:
- The trumpet call – Blowing a trumpet was used to summon people for war or sacred assemblies (Numbers 10:9). Joel’s command to blow it in Zion conveys urgency.
- Sacred fast assembly – These were times set apart for mourning, repentance and seeking God together.
- Consecrate the assembly – This implies a ritual cleansing or purification of the people as they gather.
- Include everyone – Summoning all ages shows the critical need for corporate group lament and intercession.
- Weeping priests – The holy grief of the priests demonstrates the graveness of the situation and models the attitude of repentance needed.
- Cry for mercy – Ultimately Joel makes it clear that their only hope is begging for the mercy and forgiveness of God.
In summary, Joel 2:15-17 emphasizes that in the face of imminent catastrophe, the people’s only recourse was to immediately and wholeheartedly repent, gather to pray, and plead for the gracious salvation of the Lord.
Explanation and Commentary of Joel 2:15-17
Let’s take a closer look at the meaning and significance of this passage:
The Call for Urgent Assembly Repentance
Joel’s command to “blow the trumpet in Zion” (v.15) echoes similar calls in the Old Testament to summon God’s people together for war or corporate gatherings (Numbers 10:9, Jeremiah 4:5). His inclusion of both a “sacred fast” and “solemn assembly” (v. 15) reveals the utter gravity of the situation.
Biblical fasts involved abstaining from food and drink in order to intentionally focus on mourning, humility, and pleading with God (1 Kings 21:27, Ezra 8:23). Sacred assemblies were times set apart for the community to gather, worship, and intercede together before the Lord.
Both were essential responses in times of intense calamity or judgment, demonstrating repentance and dependency on God. Joel’s urgent call for their convocation reveals that impending catastrophe has arrived, and averting complete disaster requires immediate, focused lament and petitioning of the Lord.
Summoning the Entire Community
Another sobering facet of Joel’s summons is that he calls everyone – “elders, children, nursing infants” (v. 16) – to join in repenting and pleading for mercy.
In ancient Israel, only select members of the community were required to participate in religious festivals or assemblies. But Joel specifies the inclusion of those typically exempt (children, nursing mothers, etc.) because of the dire need for corporate solidarity and lamentation.
Young and old alike must now drop everything to participate in this sacred gathering. Their future depends on the entire community uniting together in fasting and petitioning the Lord.
Priests Weeping and Interceding
Furthermore, Joel singles out the priests, commanding them to “weep between the portico and altar” (v. 17).
As mediators between God and people, the priests here represent the entire nation in their lamentation and intercession. Their holy grief reflects the appropriate response to the magnitude of sin and judgment facing the community.
The specific location “between the portico and altar” likely refers to the inner court of the Jerusalem temple. Joel is calling the priests to prostrate themselves directly before the altar of sacrifice and plead for mercy.
Once again, this models the sincerity and urgency necessary in crying out to God in times of dire need.
Context of Joel 2:15-17
To better grasp Joel’s original message, we must understand it within its historical context:
- Authorship – The book of Joel is attributed to the prophet Joel, about whom little biographical information is given.
- Date – Most scholars date the book to the mid-400s BC, when Judah was under threat from neighboring enemies.
- Audience – The warnings and calls to repentance seem to be addressed specifically to the people living in Judah and Jerusalem.
- Situation – The imminent crisis described in Joel likely refers to a coming military invasion, portrayed as a consuming locust swarm and approaching army.
Many interpreters believe the prophecy relates to the Babylonian captivity, which saw Jerusalem besieged and destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces around 586 BC due to Judah’s idolatry.
Joel is likely writing shortly beforehand, warning of this impending foreign invasion that will reflect God’s judgment on an unfaithful nation. This explains Joel’s urgent pleas for his audience to immediately repent and cry out for mercy in Joel 2:15-17. Only this could forestall the coming calamity about to overwhelm them.
Breaking Down the Key Parts of Joel 2:15-17
Looking closely at the wording and components of this passage gives further insight into Joel’s message and the needed response:
- Trumpet – The ram’s horn shofar was used to assemble people and sound an alarm. This signifies an urgent warning.
- Zion – Referring to God’s holy city Jerusalem, the epicenter of the coming judgment.
- Fasting – Abstaining from food and drink to focus on mourning over sin. This expresses repentance.
- Sacred Assembly – A solemn gathering of the community before God for corporate prayer and reconciliation.
- Consecrate – Making something holy, set apart. Calling the people to sanctify themselves through repentance and renewal of their covenant commitment to the Lord.
- Elders – Community leaders who represent the civic sphere of society.
- Children – The most vulnerable in society, their inclusion shows the far-reaching effects of the coming judgment.
- Nursing Infants – Even those unable to make moral decisions or repent must be included, emphasizing collective humility and lament.
- Bridegroom Bride – Those recently married who usually celebrated in joy. Their inclusion in mourning displays the gravity of the situation for all.
- Weeping Priests – The spiritual leaders model appropriate sorrow over sin and total dependence on God’s mercy.
- Between Porch Altar – The priests are called to prostrate themselves directly before the temple altar, before God’s presence.
- Spare Your People – This ultimate plea for mercy acknowledges that their only hope is God relenting from deserved judgment.
Each detail highlights the extreme necessity of immediate, wholehearted repentance and crying out to the Lord for pardon and salvation from impending doom.
Bible Study on Joel 2:15-17
Taking a broader look at patterns and connections within Scripture provides deeper insight into this passage:
- God Takes Sin Seriously – Throughout the Old Testament, God judged Israel’s rebellion and idolatry through calamity and foreign oppression. Joel’s warnings reveal God’s consistent righteous anger over sin.
- Judgment Can Be Averted by Repentance – Examples like Jonah 3 show that even after God pronounced coming judgment, He relented when people repented, FASTED, and sought mercy. Joel calls for this same urgent response.
- God Judges His People to Refine Them – Discipline serves to confront sin and purify God’s people. Psalms like Psalm 119 proclaim the value of suffering in bringing renewal through turning to God. Joel summons Judah to this refining repentance.
- God Mercifully Saves a Remnant – Prophets like Isaiah foretold that judgement would come, but also that God would preserve a faithful remnant. Joel pleads with the Lord to spare and maintain His covenant people for His glory.
- Christ Bore God’s Judgment for Us – New Testament verses like Romans 8:1 show that Christ took the condemnation we deserved. God’s mercy is ultimately displayed in Jesus’ death for our salvation.
This biblical-theological perspective helps give greater meaning to Joel’s urgent call and reminds us of the gracious redemption found in Christ.
Biblical Translations of Joel 2:15-17
Examining various translations of this passage also provides increased insight into its meaning:
Joel 2:15-17 (ESV):
Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
Key Insight – The ESV translation uses vivid descriptive language like “solemn” and “vestibule”, emphasizing the formality and gravity of this sacred, urgent gathering.
Joel 2:15-17 (NLT):
Blow the ram’s horn in Jerusalem! Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting. Gather all the people— the elders, the children, and even the babies. Call the bridegroom from his bedroom and the bride from her private room. Let the priests, who minister in the LORD’s presence, stand and weep between the entry room to the Temple and the altar. Let them pray, “Spare your people, LORD! Don’t let your special possession become an object of mockery. Don’t let them become a joke for unbelieving foreigners who say, ‘Has the God of Israel left them?’”
Key Insight – The NLT uses inclusive, simplified language aimed at accessibility and clarity for modern readers unfamiliar with ancient customs.
Joel 2:15-17 (KJV):
Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?
Key Insight – The KJV uses eloquent, traditional English phrasing like “suck the breasts” and “go forth from his chamber” that conveys formality but can also seem antiquated or obscure to modern readers.
Joel 2:15-17 (CSB):
Blow the trumpet in Zion! Announce a sacred fast; proclaim an assembly. Gather the people; sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even babies nursing at the breast. Let the groom leave his bedroom, and the bride her honeymoon chamber. Between the colonnade and the altar, let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, weep and say: “Have pity on Your people, Lord, and do not make Your inheritance a disgrace, an object of scorn among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
Key Insight – The CSB renders the passage in clear modern English, vividly translating the call for assembling and weeping as coming from the wedding feasts and honeymoon beds, highlighting the urgent nature of this plea.
Some Final Thoughts
In closing, here are a few key reflections on the timeless significance of Joel’s prophetic message in 2:15-17:
- God’s passionate commitment to calling His people to repentance reveals His mercy and desire for true intimacy and relationship.
- The urgency and gravity of Joel’s plea exposes the necessity and value of repentance, prayer, and fasting when facing dark times or God’s discipline.
- Scripture reminds us that our hearts are prone to wander; we must constantly return and re-consecrate ourselves to the Lord with sincere humility and dependence.
- The lament and intercession modeled here is a reminder of God’s worthiness of our reverent worship and wholehearted pursuit.
- While judgment came upon Judah for unfaithfulness, Christ bore God’s wrath so that we could know complete forgiveness and restoration.
May this passage inspire us to freshly consecrate ourselves to the Lord and intercede for mercy, both for ourselves and the world around us.
Joel 2:15-17 stands as a stark reminder that God takes the unfaithfulness of His people seriously. Yet this prophetic warning also reveals that God responds with abundant mercy, patience, and compassion when His people fully return to Him.
Above all, it points us to Christ – the one who perfectly carried God’s judgment so that repentant sinners could be freely forgiven and restored. May this passage lead us to freshly consecrate our lives to bringing glory to our gracious Redeemer.
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