Sunday, August 25, 2019

Joel in Anthropological Perspective

Alice C. Linsley

Joel is a book with some significant anthropological details about the religious life of the kingdom of Judah after the time of Solomon's son Rehoboam. Rehoboam was the first king of Judah. To the north of Judah was the kingdom of Israel. The first king of Israel was Jeroboam.

Both kingdoms strayed from God's calling to be a people devoted to Him and to be a light to the nations. God sent prophets to both kingdoms to call them to repentance. Both kingdoms were to remember God's power to save from sin and to restore fellowship with Him.

In the northern kingdom of Israel there were two centers of worship, one at Bethel and the other at Dan. These were shrines at high elevations. The central image at these shrines was the golden calf, the same image that was fabricated by the Horite Hebrew priest Aaron. It represents a bull calf that is to be sacrificed to make atonement for the sins of the people.

The sacrificial bull calf was shown overshadowed by the sun, a sign of divine appointment for the Horite Hebrew. This is a Messianic image. Aaron is not criticized for making this image. However, the people are criticized for worshiping the image. Here a distinction must be made between the symbolism of the golden bull calf and the actions of the people. To express this for people today, we might speak of the distinction between worshiping the cross instead of the Messiah who was sacrificed on the cross.

In the southern kingdom of Judah, the only center of worship was at the Temple in Jerusalem. The fate of Judah and the Temple is described as the destruction that comes after swarms of locusts. This is an image of waves of invading warriors that leave nothing behind them.

The drama of agricultural devastation is central to the theme. Seeds shrivel under clods of dry earth. The fig, pomegranate, palm, and apple trees are barren and withered. Here is an image of faithless Judah (probably around 350 BC). The theme of Joel is the need for repentance in order for the land, the people, and Jerusalem to be restored.

The priests of the Temple weep because there is no wine or grain to offer before the LORD, and there is no oil for anointing. Gladness dries up (Joel 1:12 and 1:16). This constitutes a call to repentance, a time of mourning and fasting. The prophet is warning the people of Judah to repent.

The people are being warned by the sounding of the shofar (shown above) from the ramparts of Zion. There is time to heed the prophet's warning. As bad as circumstances are, Joel declares that things will get worse for Judah and all the nations because the "day of the LORD" brings darkness and gloom, earth quakes, eclipses, and a blood moon. The stars cease to shine. The apocalyptic imagery so popular during that period is used to emphasize the cosmic impact of human faithlessness. "Yet even now" says the LORD - "Turn back to Me with all your hearts...turn back to the Lord your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in kindness...: (Joel 2:13). The LORD promises restoration, as with Job and Naomi (Joel 2:25 and 3:1).

The curved ram's horn represents the warrior defending his stronghold. The ram's horn, called shofar, was blown at the high places to sound the alarm and to call the warriors to arms. The ram is often spoken of in terms of war, perhaps one reason the great warrior Alexander found it a compelling image. His image appeared on coins with him wearing the ram's horns (shown below). Consider also the conflict that arises between the ram and the he-goat in Daniel 8.

The ram provided by God on Mount Moriah was a symbol of the son of God, Horus. Horus was said to rise in the east as a lamb and set in the west as a ram in mature strength. He was called Horus of the two horizon, which expressed two aspects of his nature as both meek and fierce. The ram was shown as the divinely appointed sacrifice on ancient monuments, and was a symbol of Jesus among early Christians.

Little personal information is provided about the writer. His name in Hebrew is Yo' El. Some sources says this means "Yahu is God." Yahu was a common name for the High God in Judah. Numerous official seals (bullae) have been found in Jerusalem excavations with the divine name Yahu. Royal officials attached the name to their names. Examples include Hilqi-Yahu, Shebna-Yahu, and Palti-Yahu. 

Palti-Yahu was an official in time of King Zedekiah of Judah (Ezekiel 11:1,13). A seal with the name Shebna-Yahu appeared on the lintel of a tomb at Siloam in Jerusalem. Shebna-yahu may have been the High Priest Shebna during the time of King Hezekiah. Another seal from the 7th century B.C. names Hanan, son of the priest Hilqi-Yahu, the priest. Hilqiyahu is better known as Hilkiah. Hilkiah was the High Priest during the reign of Josiah.

In the ancient world, royal officials commonly affixed the names of God to their names or titles. A Horite Hebrew priest served as a vizier to Amenhotep III and his son, Akhenaten. The ruler-priest's name was Abdiel, meaning "servant of El." His Egyptian title was ‘Apir-El, which means priest servant of El.

It is also possible that Yo' El means "El reigns over all" or "El appoints." El is another name for God among the ancient Hebrew. This aligns with what we are told about Yo' El's father. In verse 1, we read that Joel is the son of Petu'El. Petuel or Pethuel is said to be an Aramaic name, but it resembles the ancient Egyptian word PT which means sky or heaven. In ancient Egyptian nb pt means "lord of heaven." So Petu'El could refer to the God of heaven. Joel may be claiming to be a deified "son" of God. For the original readers this certainly would have lent great authority to Joel's message.

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