Introduction to Yoel
There is some mystery surrounding when Yoel lived. According to the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:5) quoted by Rashi at the start of Yoel, Yoel was actually the son of Shmuel Hanavi. And though he is called ‘son of Petuel,’ this is merely a form of acronym for the fact that his prayer was effective (pittah Kel be’tfillaso). Yoel prophesied during the days of Yehoram ben Achav in the era of the first Beis Hamikdash (over 300 years before its destruction). However, in the Seder Olam, Yoel is listed as prophesying during the days of Menasheh, son of Chizkiyah (50 years before the churban), and as such, was the disciple of Micha the prophet.
Yoel first prophesies about the forthcoming plague of locusts and ensuing famine, and then speaks about forthcoming blessing and the days of Moshiach.
Perek 1: Hashem appeared to Yoel and described the many locusts that would swarm Eretz Yisrael and devour the land. Four species of locust would desolate Eretz Yisrael, ensuring that everything would be destroyed (Rashi). The Abarbanel explains that the four species refer to four armies that would attack Bnei Yisrael, whereas the Radak explains that it represents the four years of the suffering. Yoel lamented the loss of the wine supply and the fig trees’ produce that would be eradicated by the locusts. The Beis Hamikdash’s sacrificial ingredients would dry up, causing “Kohanim to mourn” as their provisions would finish (Radak). Likewise, farmers would be embarrassed, as their agricultural toil would be unsuccessful (Radak). Yoel commanded Bnei Yisrael to establish a fast day and assemble in the Beis Hamikdash to beg Hashem to avert the impending suffering. There will be drastic food shortages and no food for the animals due to the locusts’ consumption of vegetation. Both man and animal will have no other recourse but to call out to Hashem.
Perek 2: Yoel instructed that a Shofar be blown to warn of the impending “day of darkness” (Radak) which will be more severe than a regular locust plague (Metzudas David) and will arrive hastily (Rashi). The locusts will terrify Bnei Yisrael by their sound that is louder than “chariots” (Radak). Moreover, like an army, the locusts will penetrate through the defences and will be able to advance uninhibited. Yoel related that although Hashem is capable of fulfilling His word, He has granted Bnei Yisrael the opportunity to repent sincerely and “tear your heart, not your garment”. Yoel announced that a public prayer gathering of the entire population should be orchestrated and Hashem will pity them. The perek ends with some consolation; if Bnei Yisrael repent, Hashem will replenish their food supplies, prevent them becoming inferior to the nations, and will expel the locusts. There will be no need to fear the plague, for the purpose of the locust, repentance, will have been fulfilled. Furthermore, Hashem would repay Bnei Yisrael for the years of scarcity and there would be abundant produce. Hashem would be recognized and Bnei Yisrael would not be degraded.
Perek 3: Yoel discussed how in the era of Moshiach, Hashem will give humanity great wisdom and closeness to Hashem, and every individual in Klal Yisrael will be capable of prophecy. Yoel posed a series of questions demonstrating the apathy of Bnei Yisrael, even in face of an existential threat. Yoel mentioned that the Neviim have correctly forecast events prior to them occurring, proving they are the mouthpiece of Hashem, and so how can Bnei Yisrael ignore their prophecies? (Ibn Ezra). Yoel insisted that man cannot sin repeatedly and expect to go unpunished for his crimes (Radak). He added that every punishment is allotted by Hashem and thus no punishment is without any guilt (Metzudas David). Neviim cannot be blamed for relating the words of Hashem as who can ignore Hashem’s call to deliver a prophecy? (Rashi). Hashem would produce symbols forecasting the wars of Gog and Magog, which will show “blood” signifying the great loss of life, and “fire and smoke” which symbolize the great destruction (Radak, Ibn Ezra). The Rambam explains that this refers to future wars in general.
Perek 4: Yoel described how in the era of Moshiach, Hashem will release Bnei Yisrael and will entice the nations to join Gog and Magog’s conquest against Bnei Yisrael. Additionally, He will judge them in a valley for their mistreatment and slavery of the Bnei Yisrael during their exile. Yoel criticized Tzor, Tzidon, and the suburbs of Ploshes, for joining Gog and Magog without justification. He additionally accused them of plundering Bnei Yisrael’s property, which ultimately originates from Hashem (Abarbanel). Yoel beckoned the foreign armies to gather for the battle of Gog and Magog and to transform ploughs into weapons due to the great demand for military arsenal (Radak). Yoel foretold that Hashem “would break the mighty ones” at this battle in response to their cruelty throughout the exile, and will deal so harshly with them that it will seem as if the sun and moon have ceased to function (Metzudas David). However, Hashem will shelter Bnei Yisrael from the surrounding turmoil (Radak). Bnei Yisrael will trust in Hashem, enemies will no longer attack, and finally, Bnei Yisrael will be provided with extensive food supplies effortlessly. However, foreign nations will be treated severely, particularly Egypt and Edom (both synonymous with oppressing Bnei Yisrael; Radak). Yehuda is assured that it will exist forever. Although Hashem may forgive the other nations for their other crimes, He will never forgive them for spilling Jewish blood (Rashi).