The prophet Joel was the “son of Pethuel,” and likely lived in Jerusalem as a minister connected to the Temple due to his familiarity with the religious nature of exilic Judaism (Joel 1:9, 13-14; 2:14-17, 32: 3:1, 6, 16-17). In his prophetic book, the prophet Joel begins with a prophetic oracle directed towards both the elders and inhabitants of the land (1:1). The words, Joel said, should be told to even the recipients’ children, “and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation,” (v.3 NRSV). With the authority held by a prophet of the Lord, Joel proclaimed to the people of Israel,
Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar. Come, pass the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God! Grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord,” (Joel 1:13-14 NRSV).
Take note of the similar imagery used in the words of Joel and the actions of Nineveh. Both biblical instances include putting on sackcloth and declaring a fast, and Joel’s rebuke seems to be even more scathing in singling out the religious authorities of Israel, the priests!
One must wonder if Joel was frightened when God chose him to rebuke Israel in this way. Certainly going before the religious and civil authorities of one’s nations and telling them to get their business together was no easy task, and you could almost imagine Joel saying these words while wringing his hands and wiping sweat off of his brow. Yet, despite the seemingly impossible task of calling the entire people of God to social repentance, Joel was obedient to the Lord and went before the nation of Israel with the necessity of repentance.
Joel also taught that there is both a physical and spiritual aspect of social repentance, proclaiming that the individual recipients of his messages should both “fast” and “cry out to the Lord.” Fasting, of course, denoting the physical element of Joel’s proclamation and crying out to the Lord symbolizing the spiritual state expected from God’s people upon receiving the words of God. Joel earnestly loved those in the society in which he preached, and tried to show them the error in their ways and the correction which was found in obedience and faith in God. His earnest desire for Israel to change the nature of their hearts and return to God is evident in his conveying of God’s words:
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?” (Joel 2:12-14 NRSV)
Joel’s depiction of social repentance is a heavily spiritual one, calling the Hebrews to “rend your hearts and not your clothing,” meaning that God desires for His people to authentically turn to Him in repentance out of pure desire and not out of the mechanical mindset of going-through-the-motions. The words of Joel should ring freshly in our ears as individuals, leading us to guide our social localities towards God, “for he is gracious and merciful.” The perfect and beautiful attributes of God’s very character are the reasons given by Joel for repenting socially. Social repentance is not the mere fear of hellfire and the attempt to escape it therefore, but includes a divine love between God and His creature—between man and God.
For authentic social repentance to occur, Joel exposits that a society must understand God as He is: gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. We must understand the Heavenly Father not as a figure who desires to express His wrath and anger upon us for our many mistakes, but as a fatherly parent who seeks to discipline in us in order that we might mature into the intended fruition of that which He put into motion. Social repentance is God’s desire. He wishes for all of His creation to return to Him and participate, as Peter says, in His divine nature (II Pet. 1:4). The words of God contained in the Scriptures in which we found pronouncements and exhortations towards particular civilizations are not exclusive to their recipients alone, but also provide a general equity for believers today.
As a believer, learn about authentically living a life with Jesus as Lord. Archbishop Jordan’s book, Prophet in the Marketplace is now available via the Book of the Month Club.
Not only does the Book of the Month Club provide a pathway to knowledge, wisdom and insight, it also sets you up to be in attendance at the Spring Session of Prophecology 2018: Birthing House: The Latter Rain, February 23-25, 2018.
Go to and join the club now!
Have you experienced authentic repentance in your life?