4 Reasons You Should Preach through Joel
I know this will cost me some 9Marks street cred, but the first book I preached to our new church wasn’t the Gospel of Mark. We went to Acts instead, but even that wasn’t the first book we finished. We took a detour halfway through and spent a month walking through Joel. Though I could’ve preached it better, I have no regrets for preaching it so soon.
I offer four reasons you should preach it too, and probably sooner rather than later.
1. Because it condenses so much of the biblical storyline into such a short book.
Joel warns his audience of an historic calamity that foreshadows the inevitability and imminence of God’s judgment. But it also promises mercy to those who repent, and anticipates an outpouring of God’s Spirit leading toward the consummation of his Kingdom.
You’ll need weigh certain interpretive options, since commentators disagree on its chronology. But by my reading, Joel reaches all the way back to the curses of the Old Covenant and then all the way forward to anticipate the fulfillment of the New Covenant. It walks us from the Pentateuch to Revelation. Now, I know by this point you’ve read other authors in this series make a similar point. But not one of them has made it about a three-chapter book. Lots of Old Testament books span that range, but none so thoroughly and concisely.
2. Because you get to preach God’s grace and mercy from the Old Testament.
My first reason alludes to this one, but it deserves separate attention. Joel crushes the deluded notion that the God of the Old Testament is angry and merciless. Chapter 2 speaks explicitly of his grace, his mercy, his patience, his steadfast love, his pity, and his abundant blessing for all who return to him. Joel primes us to demonstrate the unchanging character of God and the unity of his Word.
3. Because you probably don’t want to.
Many of us naturally shy away from books with apocalyptic elements because we think they’re hard to interpret and apply. But could an even greater danger be our preference to avoid explicit statements of God’s wrath?
Maybe you recoil from childhood memories of sermons in which the preacher seemed to relish hellfire and damnation. Maybe you know the temperature of your congregation, and you expect clear teaching on wrath might offend. Brothers, we can’t exposit Joel faithfully without preaching judgment. And we can’t avoid judgment without editing God’s nature. Don’t amend who God is.
4. Because you get to preach ecclesiology from the Old Testament.
I mean, unless this is the first ever 9Marks article you’ve ever encountered, the gravitational pull toward church membership emanating from Joel 2:28–32 is simply irresistible.
Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole. Maybe. But because I take Peter’s quotation of Joel 2 at Pentecost in its plain, literal sense, I believe Joel prophesies about the church. Joel tells us how we should anticipate God to work in this age. We should expect the presence and ministry of God’s Spirit to be manifested indiscriminately upon all who’ve turned to God in repentance. Joel encourages us that in an age that has now dawned, the Spirit is poured out on men and women, young and old, and even servants of no status. Our churches need that instruction. Some need to be corrected. Some need to be encouraged.
I’ll leave you with one question: Why would you not make Joel one of the next books you preach from the Old Testament? I can think of one valid argument, perhaps with some variations: There are 38 other equally outstanding options. That’s true. But if your reluctance to preach Joel is tainted by some other rationale, then I’d encourage you to reconsider.
Preach it for the lost. Preach it for your church. Preach it for yourself. And preach it for the glory of God.
Irvin Busenitz, Joel & Obadiah. Though I sometimes disagreed with his conclusions on pivotal interpretive issues, this volume’s attention to detail and readability made it a helpful conversation partner.
Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah (Word). I often don’t find the Word series especially helpful, but this Stuart’s volume was a strong exception for me, partially because of its brevity.
Duane Garrett, Hosea & Joel (New American Commentary). Of the commentaries I used, this is my top all-around pick. Garrett’s instruction on connections with other Old Testament texts stood out compared to others.
D.A. Carson & G.K. Beale, Commentary on the NT use of the OT. Obviously, you’ll find helpful insight here on how New Testament authors understood Joel.
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You can read the rest of the articles in this series here.