Book Review of L.C. Allen’s Commentary, “The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah”

Posted: January 10, 2008 by Rick Hogaboam in Biblical Studies, Book Reviews
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The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah (New International Commentary on the Old Testament)

Allen, L.C. (1976). The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

This commentary is a valuable contribution to the respected New International Commentary Set on the Old Testament. Allen covers all his bases and hits a grand slam with his treatment of the prophet Joel.

He dives deep into the murky waters of dating the book of Joel. There are numerous well thought proposals for possible dates, all of which have strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day Allen opts for an early post-exilic date, citing the works of both J.M. Myers and G.W. Ahlstrom.

With regards to the mysterious caricature of the locusts, Allen opts for a literal understanding of locust invasion and havoc. Alenn enumerates. “It is significant that the locusts behave in a literal manner: they ravage fields, trees, and fruit, but do not kill or plunder, or take prisoners of war….[T]o conceive of figurative locusts who are like the soldiers they are supposed to represent is a torturous and improbable interpretation” (1976:29).

As for the main theological themes that permeate the book of Joel, the ‘Day of Yahweh’ stands at the forefront. Allen notes that judgment was in fact present upon the nation Israel in the plague of locusts, “…the very existence of the community was at stake and the annihilation of Israel was a real possibility. This seemed to be the end. If the locusts persisted, Israel would be no more. In eschatological terms the present plague was a harbinger, or the first phase, of the Day of Yahweh” (1976:36).

It was this very real threat of annihilation that prompted Joel’s call for lament and repentance. Apparently, the nation responded with “torn hearts”, because God relents from His judgment and instead issues an oracle of salvation and favor upon His people. At the same time, the Day of Yahweh remains well within God’s future plan, as He will gather the nations for judgment; the only escape provided by calling on His name and being saved. Israel is promised safety in this culminating Day of Yahweh.

It is the rich promise, found in Joel 2:28-32, that finds ample application in the New Testament.  Allen comments, “Joel 2:28-32 gripped the minds of the early church. Paul found the promise of 2:32 fulfilled in Christ and in the establishment of the new eschatological community…” (1976:38).

It is of particular interest to me the usage of Joel on Pentecost through Peter. The threat of the Day of Yahweh is ever present and safety is provided by repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus, who is now the manifestation of Yahweh. Connected with this work is the promise of the Holy Spirit, which serves as the identifying mark of God’s Covenant people. Whereas God had previously promised Covenant blessings in prosperity in the land, it is now superseded by the pouring out of a new rain, His very Spirit. Allen comments, “His indwelling of his people would be revealed in a clearer way than by rain and crops, through the charismatic flow of a divine spirit of prophecy throughout the community” (1976:98). He also adds, “The theme of Yahweh’s presence…is now taken up and amplified. Here is a spiritual counterpart to the rain, this outpouring of a higher gift” (1976:98).

In dealing with the term “all flesh”, Allen sides with Joel’s original intent to exclusively apply to Judah. Allen also believes that Peter applied the promise of Joel exclusively to Judah, “It was obviously in this sense that Peter understood it in his own exposition of the passage in Acts 2, especially in light of the amazement expressed at the “Gentile Pentecost” in Acts 10:45” (1976:98).  While I do believe that Joel’s prophecy applies directly to Judah, I also believe that it was Peter’s intent to open up the covenant community to “all flesh”, inclusive of gentiles, so long as they called upon the name of the Lord…Jesus. This outward extension of God’s salvation is specifically why Jesus directed his followers to tarry in Jerusalem. It is obvious that Pentecost was the beginning of a worldwide expansion of God’s Spirit. It is important to note that the work does begin in Jerusalem as I think that God was keeping His promise to pour forth the Spirit upon Israel…only to go outward in the raising up of an international Israel. This is much like the promised work of the Spirit in Ezekiel where the water trickles out from the temple, eventually becoming a torrent that brings life to everything it touches.

In Joel, slaves are also mentioned as recipients of God’s favor and the outpoured Spirit, which would also point further still to the inclusive intent of Yahweh to bring His favor to all who would call upon His name. There are other texts and themes throughout God’s message to Israel that His intention was to bless all of the nations, especially in the Abrahamic covenant. This intention becomes a reality on Pentecost, where God waters the earth with His Spirit, raising up a harvest of saved souls from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Salvation is promised in calling on the name of the Lord and being brought to Mount Zion in Joel 2:32. This themes is also present in the NT, as we are told that we have arrived to Mount Zion (Heb. 12:22). Christ is our hiding place and our protection from future judgment. Allen comments, “He had poured out his Spirit and revealed in Christ the saving name. Thus was established the new community of his people: inside it lay salvation, but outside, the wrath of the Day of Judgment” (1974:104).  Commenting on the apostle Paul’s usage of Joel in Romans, Allen says: “…the concept of God’s people received in Christ a wider meaning than that latent in the OT. ‘All flesh’ for his is still Israel, but a greater Israel” (1974:105).

All in all, I am pleased with Allen’s treatment of Joel’s text, as well as his willingness to venture into the NT and relate its richness to Pentecost and the theology of the Apostle Paul. This commentary, though pricey, is recommended for the Pastor’s library.


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