Updated: Dec 18, 2021
The prophet Joel is known to have said, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” (Joel 2:28, NIV) This prophecy is one that explains how the people of God will have proof of God, through prophetic abilities in ordinary people, rather than depending on some Temple-bred lineage of offspring who are trained in the various prophetic arts.
As proof of this statement, Peter stood before a pilgrim crown in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, which began the festival of Shavuot. He quoted Joel’s prophecy because those disciples had become Apostles, filled mysteriously with the Holy Spirit; and they were speaking in foreign languages, which they had no other explanation for knowing. They were, after all, recognized as the poor people they were (fishermen) from Galilee (the place where fishing was big business), thus having no reason to be fluent in many different foreign languages.
Someone shouted out that these people must be drunk on “new wine,” a cheaper alcoholic beverage that is always more readily available (table wine). Many in the crowd must have agreed with that possible explanation, once one person made that suggestion. There is a recognized connection with people being able to do things while in a drug-induced state (which being drunk is), where normal people seem to be able to do abnormal things, those which they ordinarily would not and could not do. Being “drunk on new wine” is then a simple physical explanation for the metaphysical, which is based on observations of past events (science), which acts as a fitting reason for an otherwise unexplained event. The supernatural is explained (although somewhat lackadaisically) by the natural. However, the reference to “new wine” must be seen as a metaphor for Christianity, where individuals are filled with the Holy Spirit, not locally fermented spirits.
Peter said, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18, NIV) This is a quote from Joel 2:28-29; but after continuing with other quotes from the Book of Joel (Joel 2:30-32), Peter explained how their abilities were like those of Jesus, the Messiah sent to the Jews by YAHWEH, who they had allowed to be killed. The times of Judaism were over. Thus, the “signs of the times,” as stated by Joel, were proof to all present that they must now accept change, or be destroyed in spirit.
The point that I want to focus on, relevant to the prophecy of Joel, is that the prophecy was not a statement limited to the future, such that it was fulfilled with the beginning of Christianity. Joel spoke a truth from God that must be recognized as a statement applicable to all times.
Whenever God is found to be speaking through prophets, via unplanned and unscheduled encounters with human servants of God, the same circumstances can be found true, relative to the age of the prophet – God’s servant. There are old men, young men, and even “men and women” in general, who must all be seen as mature adults covering all adult age brackets, of both sexes – young adults, adults, elderly adults. This means that “sons and daughters” is a statement about children, boys and girls. Children are lacking all powers of knowledge that adults possess, simply from living longer. Prophecies from children are beyond any capability to pretend to prophesy, and they cannot be reasoned as being (legally at least) “drunk on new wine.”
These ages stated by Joel denote the style by which a prophet is touched by God. Those age-style combinations not only applied to those who would come in the future (from Joel’s time), but also for all who prophesied in the books of the Holy Bible prior to Joel. As a proclamation of truth, the truth holds true at all times – past, present, and future.
For instance, Abraham was an old man (by our standards of age – 90-ish is old) when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed (Genesis 17-19). Abraham dreamed (had a vision before God) of that destruction, making it a prophecy relative to that event. It was in his presence via a dream before God that Abraham bargained with God, over the possibly the righteous of Sodom and Gomorrah could be saved. The symbolism of God agreeing that no righteous would be affected then states those filled with the Holy Spirit will not be destroyed.
The reality that proves that a dream came before in time. Abraham had already led an army to rescue Lot, defeating the kings of Sodom (Genesis 14), and sharing the spoils of that victory with Melchizedek. God told Abraham that the cities on the plains were led by evil kings, putting Lot at risk. Abraham acted to save his nephew. That real event makes the subsequent vision a dream, one that followed the visitation of angels who pronounced a son would be born to Abraham and Sarah. Because Abraham was not with Lot in his dream escape, everything about his wife and daughters is to be taken as dream symbolism, as the influence of sin on those holy. It has the effect of mirroring the axiom, “If you lie down with dogs you wake up with fleas.”
As to the younger age styles of prophecy, we see a range of method from Joseph and Daniel. When Joseph was young, he was able to interpret dreams. The dreams were those of the Pharaoh, which Joseph interpreted through the visions of a young man prophet. Joseph was sold into slavery at the age of 17, after he had had a dream of prophecy, which he told his brothers. That was as a son (a child), meaning “sons and daughters” prophesy through all modes and styles. When Daniel was a young man, he envisioned the meanings of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams and explained them as a young man prophet. When Daniel was an old man he had dreams of prophecy under Belshazzar, while still being led by visions to read the writing on the wall.
The Apostles, on that Pentecost day, were men in wake states proclaiming prophecy as an automatic process, via the Holy Spirit. As adults, they had rote knowledge of what they spoke, the same knowledge as possessed by those adults who heard their words (men and women); but their interpretations were on the level of prophecy. Jesus, a young man, had many visions of prophecy, many of which he preached as parables.
As far as modern prophets go and should be considered, the multiple apparitions of the Virgin Mary (19th & 20th centuries) occurred before children (“sons and daughters”). From the mouths of those innocent babes came warnings of prophecy to adults, particularly those leading the Roman Catholic Church. Their words spoke (and still speak) of things well beyond their capabilities, based on their ages and lack of formal (religious or secular) educations. Thus, their visions were much more than could be explained as wild imaginations. The Church proved them to be examples of the Holy Spirit acting through sons and daughters of Catholics (most non-practicing).
All instances of prophecy can be judged according to the rules stated by Joel, for known prophets of the past, present prophets, and prophets in the future. A good exercise is to look at the prophecies in the Holy Bible, and elsewhere, and figure out the age of the prophet. Then, compare the age – child, young adult, adult, elderly – to the mode of prophecy. You will find this statement from Joel substantiated time and again.