At the time when the book of Joel was written Israel was experiencing a great locus plague.1 This plague was so great that if it continued Israel was destined to be destroyed.2 Joel uses this plague to teach Israel about the Day of the Lord. Israel had already heard about the Day of the Lord from Obadiah. He told them that on this day the nations would be judged, and Israel would be blessed. Joel now expands on this and tells Israel that there is more than just blessing in store for them. Joel shows how the locus plague is a warning of greater judgment that is coming for Israel in the future.3 He says that the locus plague represents an invasion of God’s army coming to destroy Israel.4 Joel calls on the people to repent of their sins. If the nation repents God might turn back His judgment and leave blessing instead.5
While Joel proclaims judgment on Israel in the Day of the Lord he still agrees with Obadiah that there will also be judgment on the nations. The book of Jonah comes as a surprise to Israel because it talks about God’s love and mercy for the gentiles as well as for the Jews.6 In the book of Joel Israel was offered the opportunity to repent, and this repentance would lead to blessing. Now Jonah is sent to Nineveh to offer this same opportunity of repentance to the gentiles.7 Jonah is reluctant to go to Nineveh because he does not want the gentiles to receive God’s mercy.

Description of Repentance

Repentance Looks the Same

There are several allusions to Joel in the book of Jonah. The first is the description of the Ninevite’s repentance in Jonah 3:5-8 compared to the kind repentance that Joel calls Israel to have. Joel tells the people of Israel to put on sackcloth and to fast in Joel 1:13-14, and he repeats this command several times throughout the book. Sackcloth was a thick coarse cloth that was usually made of goats hair8 that people would put on as a ritual to demonstrate mourning and penitence before God.9 Fasting was also an outward expression of the earnestness of the people.10 The people were so desperate that calling on God was more important than food. Joel called Israel to do these things because the situation was so severe that it would take more than a simple statement of repentance. The people had to demonstrate formally their sorrow over their sin.11 Also, this fasting and wearing of sackcloth was to be uninterrupted. Joel calls the priests to pass the night in sackcloth, something that was not normally done.12 In Jonah 3:5 after Jonah delivers the message of judgment to Nineveh the people immediately respond by putting on sackcloth and calling for a fast. Nineveh responds to God exactly the same way that God instructed Israel to respond.

Repentance Involves Everyone

Another aspect of the kind of repentance that Joel called Israel to have was that it was to be corporate. Everyone was to take part without exception. Joel 2:15-16 calls for young (including infants) and old, and even the bride and bridegroom to attend the assembly and to take part in the fast. Normally newly-weds were exempt from religious and military duty for a year after their marriage, but they are not exempt from this.13 It is reasonable to expect everyone to be there because the coming judgment was against the whole community.14 The repentance of the Ninevites was also corporate. Jonah 3:5 says that “the greatest to the least of them” put on sackcloth. This is demonstrated in Jonah 3:6-8 where the king puts on sackcloth, and he decrees that even the animals must fast and wear sackcloth. By exchanging his royal robes for sackcloth the king was lowering himself before God.15 The decree for the animals to take part was not unusual because it was a Persian custom for animals to take part in mourning, and it was also fitting because the judgment that was coming to their human masters would affect them too.16

Repentance of the Heart

The final way that the repentance in Nineveh mirrored the repentance that Israel was called to have was that it represented a true change of heart. Joel 2:13 says, “Rend your hearts not your garments.” The tearing of clothes was a common practice associated with grief, and it was usually done before putting on sackcloth.17 The problem was that these outward signs had become mere actions and were no longer motivated by a sincere heart. Fasting had become a replacement for doing righteous deeds, 18 and false prophets would often wear sackcloth as a pretense of humility to gain credibility.19 Joel says that just doing the actions is not enough. They must be motivated by a heart that is truly broken over sin, not by the selfish desire to avoid punishment.20 The same was true of Nineveh. If God was going to relent there had to be more than outward actions of repentance, there needed to be true inward sorrow. In Jonah 3:8 the king commands that his people turn from their wicked ways. There is more than just superficial actions, there is actual change in the people of Nineveh.21

Perhaps God Will Relent

A second allusion from Jonah to Joel is the hope that God will relent. Joel 2:14 and Jonah 3:9 use the same phrase, “Who knows? Perhaps God will turn and relent.” They both use the word “perhaps” because God is sovereign and He is just and people cannot manipulate God to do what they want Him to do.22 However, the people knew God’s character, and they knew that He is merciful as well as just, so their repentance was an act of faith and reliance on God’s mercy.23 They could not make Him relent, but they hoped He would based on His character.24
There is one interesting difference between the hope of Israel and the hope of Nineveh. Joel says perhaps God will turn and relent “and leave a blessing behind Him,” and Jonah says perhaps God will turn and relent “so that we may not perish.” Israel had a covenant with God, and when they repented and kept their part of the covenant God would keep His part and give them the blessings He had promised.25 There was no promised blessing for the gentiles, though. So, even though God gave the same opportunity of repentance to the gentiles the outcome was different. Israel would receive blessing while the gentiles would merely survive

Declaration of God’s Character

The third allusion that Jonah makes to Joel is the description of God’s character. Joel 2:13 says that God is, “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” Jonah quotes this verse almost exactly in Jonah 4:2. But, even though they use the same words, Joel and Jonah have entirely different attitudes toward them. Joel reminds the Israelites of these characteristics of God as a means of bringing hope to them.26 These words were supposed to comfort the Israelites in the time of their distress, and to encourage the people to praise God. Jonah does exactly the opposite. Jonah uses this description of God’s character as a complaint against God. He knew God was merciful and forgiving, but He did not want this to apply to the gentiles, so he did everything he could to stop it.27 Jonah would rather die than to accept God’s mercy for the nations.28


The book of Jonah expands on what Israel already knows about the Day of the Lord from Obadiah and Joel. Yes, the day of the Lord means judgment for the nations, but there is also the opportunity for the nations to repent, just as Israel has the opportunity to repent. God is gracious and merciful not only to Israel, but also to the gentiles. Just as the warning of judgment was brought to Nineveh through an Israelite prophet it is through the nation of Israel that God will ultimately bring peace to all the nations.

Table of Allusions
Description of Repentance
1:13-14 Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of my God! Because grain offering and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. 14Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.
2: 15-16 Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. 16Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.
2:12-13 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
Description of Repentance
3:5-8 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor best, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
Perhaps God will Relent
2:14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God?
Perhaps God will Relent
3:9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
Description of God’s Character
2:13 Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
Description of God’s Character
4:2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.

Allen, Leslie C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. New International
Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1976.

Busenitz, Irvin A. Commentary on Joel and Obadiah. Mentor Commentaries. Geanies
House, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2003.

Finley, Thomas J. Joel, Amos, Obadiah. Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary. Chicago:
Moody Press, 1990.

Wiseman, D.J. Obadiah, Jonah, Micah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries.
Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, USA, 1988.

End Notes
1. Irvin A. Busenitz, A Commentary on Joel and Obadiah (Geanies House, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2003), 35.
2. Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1976), 36.
3. Busentiz, A Commentary on Joel and Obadiah, 35.
4. Thomas J. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah (Chicago: Moody Press, 1990), 12.
5. Busentiz, A Commentary on Joel and Obadiah, 52.
6. D.J. Wiseman, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1988), 85.
7. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, 193.
8. Wiseman, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, 122.
9. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, 57.
10. Ibid, 58.
11. Busentiz, A Commentary on Joel and Obadiah, 92.
12. Ibid, 94
13. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, 83.
14. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, 57.
15. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, 224.
16. Ibid.
17. Busentiz, A Commentary on Joel and Obadiah, 150.
18. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, 28.
19. Busentiz, A Commentary on Joel and Obadiah, 93.
20. Ibid, 150.
21. Wiseman, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, 124.
22. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, 225.
23. Ibid, 81.
24. Wiseman, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, 124.
25. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, 53.
26. Ibid.
27. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, 228.
28. Ibid, 229.