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While scholars are not 100% sure about when Joel was written, the prevailing consensus is that it was written sometime after the rebuilding of the temple and the walls of Jerusalem. 

This is an instance that demonstrates to me why the Bible is organized thematically instead of chronologically.  Malachi is the last book in the OT despite the fact that Joel was probably written later.  However, Malachi makes a much better OT finale and transition into the NT than Joel.  I finished Malachi and said, ‘Whoa.  I can definitely sense the narrative leading up to something big here.’  But then I finished Joel, and I said, ‘Uh, okay.’  Whoever was in charge of the arranging of Bible books did a good job burying Joel in the middle of the minor prophets.

The book, when you boil it down, really consists of two visions, or one vision on two levels.  More importantly, it reads like a horror story. 

Basically, Joel sees wave after wave after wave of attacking locust that predicts / becomes / represents (?) a swarming army laying waste to everything.  Apparently this army is controlled by God, which is comforting…

Again we hit upon the fuzzy distinction between literal and figurative language.  Whether the locust army or the signs and wonders that Joel mentions later on, it’s hard to know if he’s making a literal promise that these things will be seen and experienced in a physical sense.  The most popular other alternative is that he’s speaking symbolically and that these images merely dramatize much more mundane and scientifically plausible events.  This seems to go too far in the other direction to me. 

There’s got to be a middle ground where we take these prophecies to be literal descriptions of spiritual events.  In other words, can there be a spiritual element of struggle and violence and spectacle that takes place on a plane we can’t see or understand.*  It’s not so far fetched.  If we believe in a God that exists and is present with us in a way not visible to our eyes, then surely there can be spiritual realities that are not manifest in the physical world.  This isn’t a silver bullet or cure-all for literal v. figurative questions, but I think it opens up some more area for flexibility between the two extreme positions.


* I have to credit Dustin (he of the great PfC) for this idea.

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