By Laurel Dykstra
In the Christian bible the book of Joel is three chapters long, in the Jewish bible four.
Joel describes a years long plague of locusts in military language. The people are exhorted to fast, pray and repent from ambiguous transgressions. An oracle of consolation—divine promise of restoration–is followed by a raw prayer of revenge equating Israel’s restoration with the defeat and humiliation of surrounding empires.
Today’s lection is includes the dividing point between the Jewish bible’s chapters 2 and 3. The promise of restoration, which comes in the language of agricultural abundance –plenteous rain, grain, oil, wine- is delayed in verse 2:28, and then afterward…
And what happens afterward is the verse quoted in Acts at Pentecost, an egalitarian outpouring of prophecy, portents in the sky, and salvation for those who call on the divine name.
As we read with an eye to ecological justice, at a time of global climate emergency, the passage that would be easy to skip over has much to consider.
- Unlike most prophets Joel is light on justice. Despite some near quotes from Amos, Joel is not explicit about what Israel needs to repent from.
- Early rain makes fields soft enough to plow, late rain waters the crops.
- Dating of Joel is notoriously ambiguous. The description of locusts like armies –soldiers, warriors, chariots, horses- coupled with the fact that their invasion is said to last years makes it likely that these are human rather than insect invaders.
- This is not the only place that insects are weaponized in scripture. Moses is the most obvious example of a wilderness prophet using or cooperating with natural elements to convey divine will. Eda Ruhiye Uca gives an excellent anti-colonial analysis of the use of hornets against the Canaanites.
- In case you thought the gender parings of prophets –sons and daughters, male and female slaves– was a re-jigging by the Luke-Acts author, it comes directly from Joel: God’s spirit is poured out on all flesh. In preaching and teaching this gives an opportunity to ask whose bodies and which bodies are valued and listened to.
- Despite Joel’s vision, biblically the “speaking prophets” perhaps with the exception of Miriam are all male. In Daughters of Miriam (Fortress Press, 2008), Wilda Gaffney has documented a host of women prophets in the Ancient Near East.
- In the Hebrew bible and in the prophetic tradition in particular the more than human world is not backdrop where the action happens but covenant partner and active participant. In the verses immediately preceding Sunday’s passage soil and animals are addressed directly:
Do not fear, O soil;
be glad and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.
Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in the revised common lectionary, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.