Joel’s prophecy about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was quoted by Peter at Pentecost. The following chapter (Joel 3), which we are studying here, is about the judgement of the nations. In order to listen and hear what the Spirit is saying to the church today, we need to put aside our preconceived ideas and schemes from popular books about the end times. So often in church history we find reasons not to listen to certain passages of Scripture which would otherwise make us feel uncomfortable. Bible study is first and foremost reading and listening.
Joel 3 – The Nations Judged
1 “In those days and at that time,
when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
2 I will gather all nations
and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
There I will put them on trial
for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel,
because they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land.
3 They cast lots for my people
and traded boys for prostitutes;
they sold girls for wine to drink.
4 “Now what have you against me, Tyre and Sidon and all you regions of Philistia? Are you repaying me for something I have done? If you are paying me back, I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done. 5 For you took my silver and my gold and carried off my finest treasures to your temples. 6 You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, that you might send them far from their homeland.
7 “See, I am going to rouse them out of the places to which you sold them, and I will return on your own heads what you have done. 8 I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, a nation far away.” The Lord has spoken.
9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare for war!
Rouse the warriors!
Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
“I am strong!”
11 Come quickly, all you nations from every side,
and assemble there. Bring down your warriors, Lord!
12 “Let the nations be roused;
let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat,
for there I will sit
to judge all the nations on every side.
13 Swing the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Come, trample the grapes,
for the winepress is full
and the vats overflow—
so great is their wickedness!”
14 Multitudes, multitudes
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and moon will be darkened,
and the stars no longer shine.
16 The Lord will roar from Zion
and thunder from Jerusalem;
the earth and the heavens will tremble.
But the Lord will be a refuge for his people,
a stronghold for the people of Israel.
17 “Then you will know that I, the Lord your God,
dwell in Zion, my holy hill.
Jerusalem will be holy;
never again will foreigners invade her.
18 “In that day the mountains will drip new wine,
and the hills will flow with milk;
all the ravines of Judah will run with water.
A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house
and will water the valley of acacias.
19 But Egypt will be desolate,
Edom a desert waste,
because of violence done to the people of Judah,
in whose land they shed innocent blood.
20 Judah will be inhabited forever
and Jerusalem through all generations.
21 Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged?
No, I will not.”
The Lord dwells in Zion!
God will restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem. Never forget that the Lord’s anger over Israel lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime (Psalm 30:9 and Isaiah 54:7).
Verses 2 and 12
The Lord will gather all nations to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is the valley of judgement. Verse 2 is very clear about the reason for judgement, which is the nation’s dealings with the people of Israel. Yes, other passages in the Bible tell us the Lord has scattered Israel among the nations, but the nations added to their calamities. In Isaiah 47:6 we read the prophecy over Babylon: ‘I was angry with my people and desecrated my inheritance; I gave them into your hand, and you showed them no mercy…. [therefore] disaster will come upon you (v.11).’ Also, in Zechariah 1:14-15, ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, but I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they added to the calamity.’
In this verse we read words that have been an inspiration for the popular song ‘Give thanks with a grateful heart,’ for we read ‘Let the weakling say, “I am strong!”’ Not many realise the context of these words: the judgement of God over the nations for their treatment of Israel. ‘Beat your ploughshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears’ is about warfare. The exact opposite action, from warfare to peace, is foretold in Isaiah 2:3-4 and is the result of the nations going up to the mountain of the LORD. This time they learn Torah (the law of God), ‘learning war no more.’ This brings us to the spiritual importance of God’s dealings with this world through Israel.
Why is the nation’s treatment of Israel the reason for judgement? Because God has chosen Israel and Jerusalem to reveal Himself in past, present, and future. Treating Israel with restraint, in awe of the God of Israel, keeps the door open for salvation. Paul refers to this vulnerable relationship in Romans 11:18, ‘The root supports you.’ Joel’s famous prophecy on the outpouring of the Spirit ends with the words: ‘And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said.’ (Joel 2:32).