Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Ash Wednesday ABC


1 Blow the trumpetA in Zion;B
    sound the alarmC on my holyD mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,E
    for the day of the LordF is coming, it is near—

Notes on verse 1

A “trumpet” = shophar. From shaphar (being beautiful or lovely). This is a ram’s horn, trumpet, or cornet. A shofar is still blown at Jewish festivals such as Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year celebration).
B “Zion” = tsiyyon. The word is related to tsyiyyun (signpost, monument); from tsavah (to charge someone, to command, order); from the same as tsiyyah (dryness drought); from a root meaning parched as desert, dry land. Zion can refer to a mountain in Jerusalem as well as another name for Jerusalem itself or the people.
C “sound the alarm” = rua. To break or destroy something so figuratively, an ear splitting sound such as a call of alarm or a joyful sound.
D “holy” = qodesh. This is set apart and so sacred. God is different from us and so God is holy/set apart. Things we dedicate to God’s service are set apart for God and so they, too, are holy, etc.
E “tremble” = ragaz. This is shaking from any strong emotion, particularly anger or fear. It can be agitated, excited, perturbed, afraid, quaking, quivering.
F “Lord” = YHVH. From havah (to be, become) or hayah (to come to pass, become, be). This is the name of the God of Israel, the self-existent and eternal one, the tetragrammaton. This pronunciation has been lost to time so “Lord” is generally used in its place.

2 a day of darknessG and gloom,H
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!I
Like blacknessJ spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerfulK armyL comes;
their like has never been from of old,M
    nor will be again after them
    in ages to come.N

Notes on verse 2

G “darkness” = choshek. From chashak (to be or become dark). This is literal darkness is contrast to light. Figuratively, it can be obscurity, sorrow, misery, blindness, wickedness, destruction, death. It can also be hiding places. Additionally, it can mean judgment, mourning, ignorance, evil, or sin.
H “gloom” = aphelah. 10x in OT. From the same as ophel (darkness, gloom, dusk, obscurity); from the same as aphel (gloomy – unused root which refers to the sun setting i.e. dusky, dark). This is darkness, gloominess, calamity, or an adjective to emphasize how thick darkness is. It is also used to mean misfortune or hiding something.
I “thick darkness” = araphel. 15x in OT. From araph (to droop, drip, drop). This is a cloud or deep darkness. It is gloom or gloomy as the sky being lowered.
J “blackness” = schachar. May be related to schachar (to look for early, to look for diligently). This is dawn or early light. Some translations use “morning” or “morning clouds.”
K “powerful” = atsum. From astom (to be many or mighty; could also refer to breaking bones). This is mighty or mighty one. It means powerful, which implies large numbers.
L “army” = am. From amam (to darken, hide, associate; creating shadows by huddling together). This is people or nation. It can be used specifically for a tribe, collectively of troops or armies, or figuratively to refer to a flock of animals.
M “of old” = olam. This is a long scope of time whether in the past (antiquity, ancient time) or in the future (eternal, everlasting).
N “in ages to come” = ad + shanah + dor + dor. Literally “even for years of generations and generations.”

12 Yet even now, saysO the Lord,
    returnP to me with all your heart,Q
with fasting,R with weeping,S and with mourning;T

Notes on verse 12

O “says” = neum. From na’am (to speak a prophecy; properly, to whisper, which implies saying an oracle). This is an utterance or speaking an oracle.
P “return” = shub. To turn back, return, turn away – literally or figuratively. Doesn’t necessarily imply going back to where you started from. This is also the root verb for the Hebrew word for repentance “teshubah.”
Q “heart” = lebab. May be related to labab (to encourage; properly, to be encased as with fat; used in a good sense, this means to transport someone with love; used in a bad sense, it can mean to dull one’s senses). This is the heart, courage, one’s inner self, the mind, or the will. Heart is only used in a figurative sense in the Old and New Testaments.
R “fasting” = tsom. From tsum (properly, covering one’s mouth; by extension, abstaining from food). This is fasting or a fast.
S “weeping” = beki. From bakah (to weep, complain, lament). This is ongoing weeping, overflowing. By analogy, this can also mean dripping.
T “mourning” = misped. 14x in OT. From saphad (to wail, mourn; properly, lamenting by tearing one’s hair and beating one’s chest; implies wailing). This is wailing and mourning.

13     rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,U
    for he is graciousV and merciful,W
slowX to anger,Y and abounding in steadfast love,Z
    and relentsAA from punishing.BB

Notes on verse 13

U “God” = Elohim.
V “gracious” = channun. 13x in OT. From chanan (beseech, show favor, be gracious; properly, to bend in kindness to someone with less status). This is gracious, compassionate, merciful, having pity on.
W “merciful” = rachum. 13x in OT. From the same as rechem (womb); from racham (to love, have compassion, have mercy); from racham (compassion, tender love, womb, compassion; the womb as that which cherishes the fetus). This is compassionate or merciful.
X “slow” = arek. 15x in OT. From arak (to be long in a literal or figurative sense, to continue, defer, draw out, endure, delay). This is long, patience, or slow.
Y “anger” = aph. From anaph (to be angry; properly, breathing hard as a signifier of being enraged). This properly refers to the nose or nostril and by extension the face. It can specifically refer to anger or wrath as one breathes hard and nostrils flare in times of great anger.
Z “steadfast love” = chesed. From chasad (being good, kind, merciful; may mean bowing one’s neck as is done in the presence of an equal for courtesy’s sake; so, if one in a superior position is treating you like an equal, that is what is captured here). This is favor, goodness, kindness, loving kindness, pity, reproach, or a good deed. When done by God to humanity, this is mercy/loving kindness. When done by humanity to God, it is piety.
AA “relents” = nacham. Properly, this is a strong breath or a sigh. This can be to be sorry, to pity, console. Comfort, or repent. But, one can also comfort oneself with less righteous thoughts, so this can also mean to avenge oneself.
BB “punishing” = ra’. From ra’a’ (to be evil, bad, afflict; properly, to spoil – to destroy by breaking into pieces; figuratively, to cause something to be worthless; this is bad in a physical, social, or moral sense; that which displeases, to do harm or mischief, to punish or vex). This is bad, disagreeable, that which causes pain, misery, something having little or no value, something that is ethically bad, wicked, injury, calamity. This refers to anything that is not what it ought to be – a natural disaster, a disfigurement, an injury, a sin.

14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
    and leave a blessingCC behind him,
a grain offeringDD and a drink offeringEE
    for the Lord, your God?

Notes on verse 14

CC “blessing” = barakah. From barak (to kneel, bless; blessing God as part of worship and adoration; blessing humans to help them; can be used as a euphemism to say curse God). This is blessing, which implies prosperity or peace.
DD “grain offering” = minchah. This is a gift or an offering, particularly a sacrificial one that is generally bloodless and given spontaneously (voluntarily).
EE “drink offering” = nesek. From nasak (to pour out or melt; used especially for libations or for the process of making cast metal; can also be used figuratively for anointing a king). This is a drink offering or a molten image.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sanctifyFF a fast;
call a solemn assembly;GG
16     gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
    assemble the aged;HH
gather the children,II
    even infantsJJ at the breast.
Let the bridegroomKK leave his room,LL
    and the brideMM her canopy.NN

Notes on verses 15-16

FF “sanctify” = qadash. Related to “holy” in v1. From qodesh (see note D above). This is set apart, consecrated, hallowed, sanctified. This is something or someone that is set apart for a holy purpose or use – ceremonially or morally clean.
GG “solemn assembly” = atsarah. 11x in OT. From atsar (to restrain, rule, confine, bond; to hold back, maintain, rule, assemble). This is an assembly, particularly one that was called for a festival or for a holiday.
HH “aged” = zaqen. From the same as zaqan (beard or chin – the bear represents old age). This is old, aged, or elder.
II “children” = olel. Perhaps from uwl (to nurse, suckle; can also be used of a suckling lamb). This is a child or infant.
JJ “infants” = yanaq. This is to suckle or to nurse. In a causative sense, it can mean to give milk. So, this word can be used for a nursing mother or for her suckling child.
KK “bridegroom” = chatan. From chatan (to ally in marriage; to give one’s daughter away in marriage). This is bridegroom, husband, or son-in-law.
LL “room” = cheder. From chadar (to surround or enclose; a room as enclosed; also, by analogy, besieging). This is a chamber or room that is private. Can mean the innermost chamber of a house.
MM “bride” = kallah. Perhaps related to kalal (to complete, perfect). This is bride or daughter-in-law and the term is used before and after marriage.
NN “canopy” = chuppah. 3x in OT. From chaphaph (to surround, cover, or shield; to surround in order to protect). This is canopy, chamber, or defense. Jewish weddings to this day generally include a chuppah – a canopy above a couple at their wedding ceremony.

17 Between the vestibule and the altarOO
    let the priests,PP the ministersQQ of the Lord, weep.RR
Let them say, “SpareSS your people, O Lord,
    and do not make your heritageTT a mockery,UU
    a bywordVV among the nations.WW
Why should it be said among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’”

Notes on verse 17

OO “altar” = mizbeach.  From zabach (to slaughter for sacrifice, offer). This is the altar for making sacrifice (and not the marriage altar).
PP “priests” = kohen. This is literally the one who officiates i.e. the priest. This is where the Jewish last name “Cohen” (and its variants) comes from.
QQ “ministers” = sharath. This is ministering, serving, or waiting on. It can refer to one offering service as a worshiper or one serving as a servant.
RR “weep” = bakah. Related to “weeping” in v12. See note S above.
SS “spare” = chus. This is properly to cover. In a figurative sense it means looking with compassion, pitying, regarding, or sparing someone.
TT “heritage” = nachalah. Related to nachal (to inherit, occupy, distribute, take as heritage). This is properly something that was inherited. It can mean occupancy generally or, more particularly, an heirloom or an estate. This can be an inheritance, gift, possession, or portion.
UU “mockery” = cherpah. From charaph (to expose and so figuratively to reproach, defame, carp at, defy). This is reproach, rebuke, shame, or disgrace. It can also refer to genitals.
VV “byword” = mashal. This is to rule or have dominion over. This might alternately be translated “do not give your heritage to reproach that the nations should rule over them.”
WW “nations” = goy. From the same root as gevah (the back, person, or body); related to gev (among); related to gaah (to rise up). This is nation or people. Often used to refer to Gentiles or foreign nations. It can also be used figuratively for a group of animals. This is where the Yiddish “goy” comes from.

Image Credit: “The Elders” by Käthe Kollwitz.

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