According to the Orthodox Synaxarion, on March 30th we commemorate a prophet of the Old Testament simply known as "a man of God" in 1 Kings (3 Kingdoms) 13, though his name is revealed to us in 2 Chronicles 9:29 as Joel (some Orthodox listings name him Joad probably to not confuse him with the more well-known Prophet Joel).
The Holy Prophet Joel came from Judah and prophesied during the tenth century before Christ (See 1/3 Kings 13). The prophet was sent by the Lord from Judea to Bethel to denounce the Israelite king Jeroboam for polluting his nation with idol worship.
The Lord commanded the prophet, "Eat no bread, and drink no water, and do not return by the way you came" (1/3 Kings 13:9). The prophet Joel appeared to King Jeroboam and prophesied to him concerning the wrath of the Lord. When the king tried to gesture with his hand to seize the prophet, his hand suddenly withered. The king entreated the prophet to pray to the Lord that his hand would be healed. By Joel's prayer he received healing.
Deceived by the false prophet Emba of Bethel, Joel disobeyed the command given him by the Lord. The older man lied and told Joel that an angel had commanded him to bring him to his home and feed him. Because of his disobedience, the prophet Joel was killed by a lion. His body did not rest with his fathers, but was buried near the abode of the false prophet who led him astray.
It is not by coincidence that we commemorate this prophet on a day that most years falls within the Great Lenten period. Much like Adam and Eve in Paradise, Joel is commanded by the Lord to not eat or drink in the land during his censure of Jeroboam, yet he is deceived by the old prophet Emba who falsely tells him that an angel appeared to him and told him the opposite; so Joel went to his house and ate. We also have a command established by the Church to fast, and we are told by the Apostle Paul: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Gal. 1:8). Because Joel was deceived into thinking that God would contradict Himself in His command, this cost him his life, for the responsibility of a prophet (like that of every Christian) is great when it comes to obeying the commands of the Lord.
Some would probably see this punishment as too harsh. One wonders however if the outcome would have been different, like the outcome of Adam and Eve, if Joel had repented when the Lord told him of his disobedience. Instead, after the Lord tells him of his sin, we are told in verse 23: "So after he ate bread and drank water, he [Emba] saddled the donkey for him, and he departed." Joel the Prophet had plenty of time to repent, yet didn't, so along the road he is overtaken by a lion and killed. This was an example of Hebrews 12:6: "For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." This is why the Church commemorates him. He was chastened so as not to "be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32). However, Jeroboam, whose hand withered and was restored by his humility after beholding the power of God, "did not turn from his evil way" (v. 32); thus he was condemned with the world.
Another important lesson we learn from this Old Testament chapter is to be vigilant against false teachers and prophets, and this applies just as much to the mature Christian as much as the less mature. We learn here that following these false prophets, even if our intentions are right, will eventually lead us towards disobedience, and our disobedience will have consequences.
Why was Joel the Prophet deceived by the old prophet from Bethel? He did this for several reasons:
· The prophet from Bethel was probably older (an old prophet, 1 Kings 13:11) and had the respect of the man of God.
· The prophet from Bethel identified with the man of God ("I too am a prophet as you are").
· The prophet from Bethel claimed a spectacular experience ("an angel spoke to me").
· The prophet from Bethel claimed to speak for the Lord ("by the word of the Lord").
· The prophet from Bethel did not seem to be an idolater who should be shunned ("Bring him back with you to your house").
· The prophet from Bethel offered no reward, other than simple food ("he may eat bread and drink water").
Notice how subtle the deception was, yet great were the consequences. For his disobedience Joel was killed by a lion and buried with the false prophet who deceived him.
During Great Lent and especially Holy Week we are called to greater vigilance in the spiritual life and obedience to the commands of the Lord. This commemoration on March 30th is an important reminder and warning that if we will be vigilant and obedient, we will receive our just reward; otherwise there will be consequences, whether they will be for our greater good or not.