The occasion of this prophecy was a swarm of locusts that devastated the land of Judah. That was a true disaster that was a portent of another follow-up disaster, an invading Gentile army. Joel calls upon the people of God to repent, and promises them true restoration if they do so. Part of his description of all this contains a prophecy of the day of Pentecost, which shows that God will in fact bring that repentance about. God invites Israel to repent, and promises that same repentance.
“And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: For in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, As the LORD hath said, And in the remnant whom the LORD shall call” (Joel 2:32).
Summary of the Text
The reason for this great judgment was that the religious life of Judah had become external only, and therefore degenerate. The judgment falls on their ability to worship God ( Joel 1:9, 13-14, 16). They are called to worship God in response ( Joel 2:15-16), but they are pointedly told to refrain from mere externalism. “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” ( Joel 2:13).
Judgment comes on Judah in waves. The first is the locust swarm ( Joel 1). The second chapter may be a particularly vivid description of that same locust swarm, or it may be that the locusts were a precursor to an advancing army. In other words, in the expression of one sage, the first chapter was a statement that things were going to get a whole lot worse before they got worse.
But in the middle of the second chapter, God invited His people to repent, and by the end of that same chapter, He promised that they would in fact do so. In the third chapter, God promised vengeance on the nations that had come against His people, and He declared that He would then bless His people with great prosperity.
The New Testament teaches us how to understand and interpret the language of the Old. In this passage of Joel (2:28-32), we are told that the restoration of God’s people is going to be striking—when the Spirit is poured out on all flesh, their sons and daughters will prophesy. Old men will dream dreams. Young men will see visions. But this is described in language that seems to go far beyond people speaking in tongues in the street. No, there will be wonders in the heavens. On the earth, there will be blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon will become blood.
All this will happen before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
So when the inhabitants of Jerusalem were wondered if the first disciples had been drinking too much, Peter gives them a reason for doubting that—it was too early in the morning for it—and then goes on to say that this whole section of Joel was talking about the day of Pentecost. The New Testament tells us that this apocalyptic vision was fulfilled then, there.
But everywhere else such language occurs (Is. 13: 10; 34:4; Ez. 32:7; Amos 8:9), some kind of cataclysmic judgment is in view, which means that the 70 A.D. judgment on Jerusalem by the Romans may be lumped together with the prophecy about Pentecost. This is particularly the case if you couple Paul’s citation in Rom. 10:11 with his use of Is. 28:11 in 1 Cor. 14:21. Tongues were a precursor, a foretaste of what was to come, and it was a sign of judgment for unbelievers. If you will not understand precept on precept, then maybe you will understand when your streets are filled with soldiers speaking another language.
The passage concludes with the promise that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, and so Peter goes on to invite them all to do just that.
Jesus is Jehovah
But much more is involved than learning how to interpret current events with a set of apocalyptic glasses. All of this is ultimately about who Jesus is. Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4), and after His ascension into Heaven, He was granted universal rule and authority. He was given an iron rod, and the first city He smashed with it was the city of Jerusalem (Ps. 2:9). This meant that the men who condemned Him would see this judgment with their eyes (Mark 14:61-64).
In the Hebrew of Joel 2:32, we are told that everyone who calls on the name of YHWH will be saved. YHWH was the covenant name of Almighty God, Maker of Heaven and earth. God had revealed Himself to Moses in a special use of YHWH (Ex. 6:2-3). In that passage, He is God Almighty, but He also has the name YHWH. So according to Joel everyone who calls on the name of YHWH will be saved.
Our pronunciation of Yahweh comes from the use of the consonants of YHWH, and the vowels of Adonai, another name for God. Our English Jehovah comes to us via a similar route. Somewhere along the line, the Jews became wary of saying this name for God, and so no one really knows how the name was originally pronounced. Fortunately, it does not matter because the translators of the Septuagint rendered YHWH as kurios, and the apostle Paul does the same thing in Romans 10. This shows that God is not particular about His name in translation.
More important is the identity of this God. In Romans 10, Paul insists that the fundamental Christian confession is that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9). Everyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame (Rom. 10:11; Is. 2816). Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [kurios] will be saved. This is our faith; this is our life.