There is a long sustained war between the City of Man, and the City of God. In times of general darkness and discouragement, Saints of both testaments have needed to be encouraged. Joel’s prophetic vision concludes with words of assurance, intended to rally the hope of God’s people. Despite all the flexing of the City of Man, its efforts will always turn to dust, it will be like a wave crashing on the rocks.
For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land. [ . . . ]
Summary of the Text
The day of the Lord––described in Joel 2:1-11––would come in the form of the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions. The day of the Lord would be a horror to the unrepentant, but to the repentant they would be equipped to follow in His train.
The remnant (2:32) would be brought home by God’s own hand from all their various exiles (v1). But all the nations would also be brought to the valley of Jehoshaphat (2 Chr. 20), and then they would be made to give an account for how they treated the Lord’s people and His temple (vv2-6). The Lord will gather His people again, while avenging the nations for their sins (vv7-8, Cf. Ps. 62:12). Then the Lord throws down the gauntlet, challenging all the nations to prepare for war with Him (vv9-10, Cf. Is. 2:4)). All nations must assemble themselves before the Almighty in the valley of Jehoshaphat to face the Lord’s judgement––שפט (vv11-12).
God’s harvest-time has come, and the valley shall be filled with the multitudes of those whom the Lord shall slay (vv13-14, Cf. Rev. 14:15, 19-20). Once more, cosmic signs shall accompany these earthly events (v15); the Lord will roar––shaking heaven and earth––and His people will take courage from all this vindicating grace (v16). In this way, God will cleanse Jerusalem, and no strangers will claim residence in the holy hill of the Lord (v17).
Then blessings shall flow down upon Judah out of the Lord’s house, watering even the arid valleys (v18). Egypt and Edom shall be left desolate for their murderous treatment of Judah (v19). The final word on the matter is that Judah and Jerusalem shall stand fast because the Lord will cleanse them from all their bloodguilt (vv20-21).
The Invaders Become the Invaded
Joel has addressed the indifference shown in response to the invasion of locust (Chapter 1). He has warned of a coming invasion of foreign armies to arouse the people to repentance (Chapter 2). But now, after outlining the wonderful outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord, the tables turn. The Day of the Lord comes, and the invaders suddenly become the invaded. The remnant upon whom the Spirit came (in 2:28), shall endure for endless generations (3:20).
God gathers in all His people, from the midst of the nations which have exiled them, enslaved them, or otherwise scattered them. But the nations are summoned as well. Joel tells us that this summons will happen “in those days” (3:1). The Spirit is outpoured resulting in the scattered sheep being gathered in, while at the same time all the nations are brought to face the Lord’s judgement.
This is the wonder of Pentecost. God’s conquest begins in earnest. Joel seems to have Isaiah 2 in mind, which explains why Peter slightly merges the two passages in his Pentecost day sermon. From this we can see that the outpouring of the Spirit, in Peter’s mind, also commenced the Messiah’s conquest of the whole world. Those who have sought the downfall of the Kingdom of God will face the inevitable downfall of the Kingdom of Man. Those who have persecuted the righteous will themselves face the fierce wrath of God.
Sons of Abraham & Sons of Satan
But God has two ways of destroying His enemies. One is that of the final judgement of death in their sins. God, though long-suffering, will one day bring the wicked down to hell, and so they will receive the reward for their evil works.
But the other way He destroys His enemies is by overthrowing them through conversion. This is where we must look at such texts with the eyes of faith. Not all Israelites are Israelites indeed (Rom 9:6).
We see Jesus telling the unbelieving Jews that if they were in earnest Abraham’s sons they would have done Abraham’s works of faith (Jn. 8:39); but their desire to kill the Son of Man––in spite of the signs He had shown to verify Himself as the Son of God––revealed that their true father was Satan (Jn. 8:44a). By contrast, throughout Jesus’ ministry He restricted His ministry to the house of Israel (Mt. 15:24); but there’s one moment which Jesus sees as the climactic moment of His ministry: when the Greeks come to Philip and ask, “We would see Jesus (Jn. 12:21).” Jesus takes this moment as the cue that “the hour had come.”
Later, at Pentecost (which I take to be the Day of the Lord), the foreign tongues were a sign that God had brought judgement upon Jerusalem (Deu. 28:49). The book of Acts makes it clear that the “people of God” were no longer restricted to mere ethnic lineage. While a great number of the priests believed in Christ (Acts 6:7), many times the rulers of the Synagogues were the Apostles’ fiercest opponents. But running parallel to this dividing line between Jews, we simultaneously have the identical dividing line running between the Gentiles. The Spirit falls upon the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10), the Ethiopian eunuch believes (Acts 8:29-40), as well as the entire household of Lydia and the Jailer of Philippi (Acts 16), and story after story of the heathens being converted and receiving the gift of the Spirit (Acts 11:18, 18:25, 19:2); but there were also Pagans who fought the Gospel ferociously (Acts 19:21-41). So we had four categories: godly Jews and unbelieving Jews, as well as unconverted pagans and converted pagans.
If we place the events of Revelation in the first century, this helps us make better sense of what is going on there. It is truly end of the world stuff, but it is largely the end of the world for unbelieving Israel. John makes two particularly forceful references to Joel’s prophecy, which illustrate that true Israel isn’t traced by geography or lineage, but by the presence of the Spirit. In Revelation 14:15, 19-20 John borrows the harvesting imagery of Joel 3:13 to describe the slaughter coming upon Jerusalem (Josephus records that over a million were killed in the siege, and another 100k were enslaved). In Revelation 16:14, 16 John cites the Lord’s summons to judgement from Joel 3:2. The sum is that Jerusalem has become Babylon, but true Zion shall endure forever, for the Lord shall ever be the deliverer of His people, even if they are Babylonian by descent.
Affliction and Avenging
Calvin makes a wonderful observation about Joel’s prophetic vision: “The Prophet intimates that the favor of God had been so hidden during the afflictions of the people, that they could not but think that they were forsaken by God.” We often think that affliction must mean that God’s favor has abandoned us. But Joel makes one thing clear, though hard times come, it all works for the deliverance of God’s people. Their afflicters will not be let off easy, but God will avenge His people. The remnant might seem small, but faith teaches us to not reckon deliverance by a head count.
This is applicable in numerous practical directions. When a bill comes in that is more than you can afford to pay, do you view it as an opportunity for God to showcase His provision? When you think there is no way you’ll be able to complete an assignment or a project at work on time, do you trust God to grant you the endurance to persevere and see it through? When you face a besetting temptation, and feel spent in the battle of resisting it, do you trust that God will uphold you in the fight?When you see the general apostasy of the church, and the all out sprint into every manner of vileness which our culture seem hell bent to pursue, do you see that God has things right where He wants them? The Christians in the gladiatorial arena were right where God wanted them. The Christians in Chinese and Canadian jails are harbingers that God is about to overthrow the wicked. God is about to bare His arm for deliverance. When we think of God the judge, we shouldn’t envision a somber, black-robed figure; we should think of Samson, with a jawbone of a donkey, slaughtering rank after rank of Philistines.
Joel reveals the truth that God loves plot twists. The wheat and wine were cut off by the locust, but now, wholly unexpectedly, a harvest of Gentiles converts is come (Cf. Is. 2:2-3). The meat and drink offerings which were lost, are now restored in the form of worshippers from all nations. The reprobate shall be cast down, the elect of the Lord alone shall walk in the City of our God.
When the Lord Jesus announced that His hour had come, He is telling us that the trap had been laid. The Enemy took the bait. The evil powers (both earthly and supernatural) killed the Prince of glory (1 Cor. 2:8), and as a result, God overthrew the Prince of the air. Now the remnant is swelling into a great army, marching––as Jehoshaphat of old once did––with songs of praise as our weapons of war, and with the sharpened sword of the Word we strike down our enemies. Here is what our songs proclaim, here is what the razor blade of the sword of Word declares: Sin is cleansed away. Death has lost its power. Judah shall dwell forever. The hour is come. All are welcome. God’s harvest is begun.