Joel urges the entire community of Judah to gather for a sacred fast with the hope that the Suzerain God will forgive and restore.
Having encouraged the people of Judah to return to the LORD their God based on His steadfast love and compassion (vv. 13-14), Joel called for a solemn assembly. He issued a command to blow a trumpet in Zion in order to call the people together to worship and to repent.
The term translated as trumpet is “shofar” in the Hebrew language.It refers to a wind instrument made from a ram’s horn. In ancient Israel, trumpets served various purposes. For instance, watchmen would blow the trumpet to signal impending danger, as when an enemy nation was approaching Israel (Numbers 10:9). Priests would also blow the trumpet over burnt offerings and peace offerings to celebrate the New Moon feast (Numbers 10:10). In this passage, the blowing of the trumpet served to call the people of Judah for a solemn assembly.
The specific location where the sound of the trumpet would be heard was in Zion. Mount Zion is in the southeastern part of the city of Jerusalem. It was the high hill on which King David built a citadel (2 Samuel 5:7). It was as symbol of the nation of Israel, and of the capital city. The warning was to be heard in all the land, to all the people including its leaders.
Joel called on the religious leaders of Judah to consecrate a fast. The verb translated as consecrate is “ḳādhēsh” in Hebrew. It means “to be set apart” or “to be holy.” To consecrate something is to set it apart for a special purpose. In Exodus, for example, the LORD commanded Moses, saying, “You shall speak to all the skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me” (Exodus 28:3). Thus Aaron was consecrated (set apart) for a special purpose as high priest, with special garments for the high priest to wear. Here in this passage from Joel, the people of Judah were to consecrate a fast. They were to set apart time and resources for a fast.
Fasting is the deliberate, temporary abstention from food for religious purposes. It is a means of opening oneself to God, expressing grief and sorrow over sins, and redirecting oneself to God. Fasting entails making petitions to God and seeking to know His will. This process leads to purification (Psalm 69:10). The people of Judah were to consecrate a fast to express their sorrow and ask God for forgiveness.
In addition to consecrating a fast, the religious leaders were to proclaim a solemn assembly. Solemn assemblies were occasions for corporate worship. During such gatherings, the people refrained from work and convened for set festivals such as the seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Deuteronomy 16:8) or the eighth day of the Feast of Booths (Leviticus 23:36; Numbers 29:35; 2 Chronicles 7:9; Nehemiah 8:18). In our passage, the solemn assembly was called in an emergency (Joel 1:14). Joel called the people of Judah to have a sacred fast to cry out to God with a genuine heart to implore His favor.
The religious leaders of Judah were to gather the people and sanctify the congregation. The verb translated here as sanctify is the same Hebrew verb “ḳādhēsh” that was translated earlier as consecrate. Both renderings have to do with setting something apart. Joel thus called on the congregation of Judah to make complete preparations for the fasting. This means they were to refrain from work, food, and sexual relations. They were to be devoted to God alone during the gathering time.
The solemn assembly was for all the inhabitants of Judah. No one was exempt from the call. Joel specified several age groups within the nation to ensure nobody missed the national fast. He summoned the leaders to assemble the elders, which could refer to those advanced in age and/or the leaders of the nation of Judah, as well as the children and the nursing infants. The presence of elders and nursing infants indicates that Joel’s call was comprehensive and urgent. It implies that every person of the community of Judah, regardless of age, was to participate in the solemn assembly.
Similarly, Joel urged the bridegroom to come out of his room and the bride out of her bridal chamber to join in the national convocation. Normally, a newly married couple was not expected to participate in ceremonies. The book of Deuteronomy mandates that the new husband be exempt from military duty or any public responsibilities. He was to “be free at home one year” to “give happiness to his wife whom he had taken” (Deuteronomy 24:5). However, Joel called on newlyweds to leave their rooms and join in the solemn assembly because there was a national emergency, an urgent need for repentance in order to avoid calamity. The nation of Judah was under God’s judgment, and therefore it was important for every member of the Judean community to cry out to God for forgiveness and mercy.
Joel then instructed the priests on how to conduct the solemn assembly. He said, Let the priests, the LORD’s ministers, weep between the porch and the altar. The priests were those who conducted religious services in ancient Israel and Judah. They were from the line of Aaron as appointed by God (Exodus 28:41). They were the LORD’s ministers because they were responsible for offering sacrifices and making petitions to the LORD on behalf of the people (Leviticus 6:7).
The area between the porch and the altar likely referred to the porch of the temple entrance and the altar in front of the temple, where sacrifices would have been offered. This area was a place of limited access. Only the priests would have reason to proceed beyond the altar toward the temple. This was the place where the priests usually stood to intercede for the people through sacrifices and prayers. Joel called them to weep between the porch and the altar, which is the entrance hall to the temple (Ezekiel 8:16). The priests would thus lead the congregation of Judah in repentance (1 Kings 6:3).
Having urged the priests to weep to implore God’s favor, Joel provided a model of prayer for them. The prayer begins with a plea and ends with a question. According to the prophet, the priests were to say to God, Spare Your people, O LORD.
To spare someone is to look compassionately at him, allowing him to escape danger. Joel already told the people of Judah that God is “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness (v. 13). Now he advised the priests to ask God to spare the people of Judah, to exempt them from having to go through the judgment that they deserved.
Not only were the priests to ask God to spare the people of Judah, but also they were to say, Do not make Your inheritance a reproach, a byword among the nations. Like Israel, Judah was set apart as God’s people, since Judah was a part of Israel, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Out of all the nations, the Suzerain God chose Israel (including Judah) as His treasured possession, His allotted inheritance (Deuteronomy 32:9). Israel (which included Judah) was to be a priestly nation, that showed to surrounding nations that living in loving relationship and service to one another was a superior way to live. The culture of the surrounding pagan nations was for the strong to exploit the weak. In God’s covenant economy, the strong protected the weak, and ensured justice for all. The Israelites had a special privilege to be in a covenant relationship with the Suzerain (Ruler) God, as they were given God’s law, which would lead to vibrant communities and robust economies. As vassals, they were required to obey their Suzerain God. The result would be their own great benefit. However, in order to gain the benefit, they had to be self-governing, to set aside selfish desires, and serve others.
Unfortunately, Israel and Judah had failed to obey their Suzerain God. That is why the prophet Joel urged the nation of Judah to gather for a solemn assembly to ask God for forgiveness so that He might spare them from the upcoming judgment. Otherwise, they would become a byword among the nations, that is, a joke, or a proverb (Deuteronomy 28:37; Psalm 74:10; 79:9-10). Neighboring nations would ridicule Judah should they fall under God’s judgment. They would make fun of God’s people, causing them to suffer shame and humiliation. Joel instructs the priests to pray to God to protect His own name by sparing His inheritance, the people and nation of Israel (including Judah).
The prophet concluded the model prayer with a question: Why should they among the peoples say, ‘Where is their God?’ Joel instructed the priests to petition God for forgiveness so that the pagan nations might not ridicule God’s people as well as their God. This is similar to Moses’ intercessor prayer after the incident of the golden calf. God told Moses He planned to eliminate the nation and start over with Moses’ family to fulfill His promise to Abraham. Moses prayed to God and pointed out that this would dishonor God’s name among the nations, in that they would conclude that God was not sufficient to redeem His people from Egypt (Exodus 32:10-14). This question served to move God to spare His people for His name’s sake, as He had done before.
15 Blow a trumpet in Zion,
Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly,
16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation,
Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and the nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom come out of his room
And the bride out of her bridal chamber.
17 Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers,
Weep between the porch and the altar,
And let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord,
And do not make Your inheritance a reproach,
A byword among the nations.
Why should they among the peoples say,
‘Where is their God?’”
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