Book Reviews

Book Review: Joel (ZECOT), Joel Barker

Screen Shot 2021-07-05 at 10.28.49 PM

In a fantastic series, Joel Barker, assistant professor of biblical studies at Heritage College and Seminary, has written a new commentary on Joel. All of the volumes that have come out so far in this series have been on the shorter books of the Old Testament: Ruth, Jonah (my review), Obadiah (my review), Nahum (my review forthcoming), and Joel. This series is well-suited to the shorter books, but I’m really looking forward to seeing how it does with the longer OT books. 

The aim of this series is discourse analysis. Often times how someone says something is just as important as what they say. After looking at the historical context, literary integrity, and Joel’s position within the Minor Prophets, Barker looks at Joel’s rhetorical discourse. Barker notes that, “Prophets in the OT did not wield coercive power and could not compel obedience. However, as those who communicated God’s message to Israel and Judah, there was an underlying urgency to prophetic communication…. Consequently, prophetic books elevate their discourse through the creative use of language in order to sear their messages onto the hearts of their intended audience” (35-36).

Joel’s Rhetoric

  • Joel repeats key phrases to conclude a passage (1:19-20; 2:26-27).
  • He uses literary devices like inclusio (2:1-11), also called bracketing.
  • He asks rhetorical questions (1:2; 2:17).
  • He wants to include everyone to hear his message, so he calls for people from all areas of society: elders, dwellers of the land, children, brides, and bridegrooms.
  • Joel returns to a similar idea multiple times but gives it new meaning (he does this with the locusts and the Day of the Lord).
  • He delays a message in order to build suspense. He tells the community to consider “this” and to tell it to multiple generations in 1:2-3, but he doesn’t tell them what “this” is until 1:4. He describes an army  coming to attack Zion in 2:1-11, and only reveals in v11 that the leader is Yahweh himself. 

Barker then uses discourse analysis to understand Joel’s structure/outline. How does Joel’s communication change throughout his book? Barker looks at the flow of thought and the argument of Joel to understand what Joel thought was important. Joel chose his words and figures of speech carefully, and it is our job to understand what he said, why he said it, and what he meant by it!

Commentary Structure

Barker outlines Joel into 8 major sections (or “chapters”). Each chapter follows the same structural path:

  • Main Idea of the Passage: The main points are condensed into 1-2 sentences.
  • Literary Context: Gives a brief explanation to how this chapter fits into the broader text of Joel.
  • Translation and Outline: Barker provides his translation and outline of the section which is crafted to show the text’s flow of thought.
  • Structure and Literary Form: Summarizes how the author uses literary devices (e.g., key words, motifs, parallels, contrasts) to craft his message.
  • Explanation of the Text: A thorough explanation on the use of words, phrases, and syntax in the biblical author’s message. Attention is given to how the material is arranged, what the biblical author is trying to say, and how he says it (see Rhetoric above).
  • Canonical and Practical Significance: This section tries to answer the question on what role does this book plays in the Bible’s canon, how Joel teaches us about lament, the day of the Lord, God’s trustworthy character, his presence, his zeal and compassion, and more. 

Joel 2:1-11

Barker makes note of word order, concentration of verbs, similes, synonyms, wordplays,  and more.

2:2-9, Concentrate

Barker observes that Joel “overlaps and occasionally repeats the verbs that trace the movements of the invader… The assault of the locust army is relentless and the concentration of verbs describing its movement reinforces that reality throughout 2:2c-9d” (83).

2:2-3, Before and After

Joel employs “a ‘before and after’ strategy that describes the locusts inexorable movement” (84). There is a moment before a fire devours, but after it is a blazing flame that is hard to stop. Before the locusts reach the people, the earth is like the Garden of Eden. But after the locusts arrive, the land will become a desolate wasteland. Barker translates the text as, “There is no escape from it,” but he notes that in Hebrew, the word for “escape” is placed before the negated verb “there is not.” So just imagine Yoda speaking and that the way he speaks builds suspense. “The fire blazes. The land will be desolate. Doom is inevitable. And escape…. there is not.”

2:3, 5, Catching Fire

In 2:3 and 5, Joel uses two of our five senses to tell Judah how terrible this locust invasion will be. In 2:3 Joel uses imagery of a blazing fire, and in 2:5 he “focuses on the sound, where the blaze creates crackling hisses and pops as it devours everything in its path. The sound precedes and warns of the coming flames and their heat” (86).

2:6, Word Games

Barker translates 2:6 this way, “From before it, peoples tremble. All faces turn pale.” That is, all those who stand in front of the locusts turn pale. They lose courage. But “from before it” could be literally translated “from its face,” as in, those who “stand before the face(s) of the locusts.” The wordplay here is that people tremble before the faces of the locusts. All their faces turn pale.  Barker writes, “The appearance of the face of the invader leads to a visible transformation of the color of the victims faces” (87).


This is a very helpful series. It gets into the dirt and weeds and shows why it matters. Each author os different, but Barker looks at words and shows their importance in how they function. Every word really is important (though Barker doesn’t elaborate on every single word). Those who have a good handle on the Hebrew language (pastors, teachers, or students) will benefit greatly from this volume. But even if you don’t know Hebrew (or if you have forgotten too much of it like myself), you will still learn buckets of information. If you want to dig into the weeds, these commentaries are highly recommended.  


    • Series: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament
    • Author: Joel Barker
    • Hardcover: 192 pages
    • Publisher:Zondervan Academic (May 12, 2020)

Buy it on Amazon or from Zondervan Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

1 comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: