In Joel 1, Joel pointed out the devastating plague of locusts and why it was sent by God. In Joel 2 he follows this up with the announcement that God, if the people have not converted, will send a new plague. No literal locusts this time, but soldiers. Although there are many similarities between the locusts and the hostile soldiers, Joel 2 is not about what that people ‘eat’, but about that people themselves.
Joel points to the day of the LORD that comes, a day in which the Lord Jesus comes back. It is literally His day, as He comes with His judgments. That day casts his shadows forward. It is a day that no one can endure who is not at peace with God.
But that is not the only message Joel has. That day has not yet arrived and judgment can still be averted. It is still the day of salvation (cf. 2Cor 6:2). That is why he calls for conversion. This is possible on the basis of Who is God, that is to say, on the basis of His grace and mercy. The consequences of their repentance and conversion are a great blessing for the people.
This blessing has two aspects. It is expressed in an abundant yield of the once devastated land. That refers to the external circumstances. The people will live in prosperity and abundance. He also appears in an outpouring of the Spirit. This refers to an inner relationship with the LORD and a life in peace and rest, without fear of hostile nations.
1 The Day of the LORD Is Near
1 Blow a trumpet in Zion,
And sound an alarm on My holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
For the day of the LORD is coming;
Surely it is near
The spiritual eyes of Joel perceive a new plague. A new danger threatens. The plague, in which literally locusts play the leading role, is over. The plague, in which an army of people will play the leading role, presents itself here. Joel foresees and predicts that a hostile people will destroy the land of Israel. In order to do so, an alarm must be sounded. The destruction that is about to erupt is a foreshadowing of what will happen to Israel in the last days, just before the return of Christ.
Joel calls for the trumpet to be blown, but he does not say who should do it. Since this is often the task of priests, we should probably think about it here, too. The alarm blowing here recalls the alarm blowing with the silver trumpets when the enemy is in the land (Num 10:9). Then the LORD will think of them.
The trumpet is blown again in our chapter, in verse 15. There it is about calling the people together to appear before the LORD. Here it is meant as an alarm because the enemy comes (cf. Hos 5:8; 8:1). As noted earlier, the word ‘day’ always refers to becoming public. Joel presents “the day of the LORD” as near. He is not far away, so that people can think: ‘After us the deluge.’ Hence the alarm signal. It must penetrate how near that day is!
Wherever there is talk of judgments, it is clear that they will soon take place. “Time has been shortened” (1Cor 7:29). “It is the last hour” (1Jn 2:18). “The Judge is standing right at the door” (Jam 5:9). “The time is near” (Rev 1:3).
2 The Assyrians
2 A day of darkness and gloom,
A day of clouds and thick darkness.
As the dawn is spread over the mountains,
[So] there is a great and mighty people;
There has never been [anything] like it,
Nor will there be again after it
To the years of many generations.
The plague of locusts is taken as an occasion and also as an example for the arrival of an enemy army. This army is yet to come. The army Joel speaks about is the Assyrian army, which comes from the north (verse 20). Assyria is called by God “the rod of My anger” (Isa 10:5; Mic 5:4-5). The invasion of the Assyrians is seen as a cloud of locusts that obscures the sun (cf. Zep 1:15-16; Isa 60:2a; Eze 34:12; Amos 5:18). This invasion also takes place with the speed and irresistibility of the dawn that spreads over the mountains.
The plague of locusts is a sign of the times for the people (cf. Mt 16:2-3). And when Joel therefore speaks of an even more abominable enemy, he can compare the coming of the enemy with the dawn of the coming day of the LORD. But that day will not bring light and prosperity to the apostate people, but darkness and a devastating storm.
3 Paradise and Wilderness
3 A fire consumes before them
And behind them a flame burns.
The land is like the Garden of Eden before them
But a desolate wilderness behind them,
And nothing at all escapes them.
After the sudden and massive rise of the enemy, its all-consuming effect is now described. Everything the enemy encounters on the way is totally destroyed by him. Fire in the Bible is often the expression of God’s judgment. It is also the designation of a power that consumes everything in nature.
Look at a field where the locust has not been yet. It looks like the Garden of Eden, paradise, the pride and glory of the country. Look at that field the next day when the locust has been there and it looks like a desolate wilderness, where there is no memory of the wealth and beauty that the field had the day before. All the actions of the Assyrians resemble what is caused by a plague of locusts. There is no escape from that enemy by fleeing from it or hiding from it, just as there is no escape from God’s judgment on the day of the LORD.
“The Garden of Eden” is an indication for a paradisiacal, extremely flourishing area, the opposite of a wilderness (Eze 28:13; 31:9-18). This contrast between paradise and wilderness, but then vice versa – the wilderness becomes a paradise – is also found in Isaiah 51 and Ezekiel 36 (Isa 51:3; Eze 36:35).
4 Locusts and Horses
4 Their appearance is like the appearance of horses;
And like war horses, so they run.
Although this is about the army of the Assyrians, about men, and no longer about locusts, the comparison between this army and the locusts is still made. There are similarities between the locust and the horse (Job 39:23; Rev 9:7). The comparison can refer to the animals themselves. The enlarged locust looks like a horse, especially because of the shape of its head. The comparison can also have to do with the way of storming up, the speed and jumping ability of the locust, which are also present in a horse.
5 A Tremendous Noise
5 With a noise as of chariots
They leap on the tops of the mountains,
Like the crackling of a flame of fire consuming the stubble,
Like a mighty people arranged for battle.
Not only is the sight of this army impressive and frightening. This also applies to the sound of the armed forces. This goes through the bone. The image of the horses is about seeing, the sight of it is reminiscent of locusts. The comparison with the two-wheeled chariots is about hearing the sound that also characterizes an approaching swarm of locusts.
When the swarms approach in the distance over the mountain tops, it sounds like the dull roar of war chariots “leaping” over uneven mountain paths between the sound-enhancing mountain walls. As the swarm approaches, the sound becomes more intrusive and more like the crackling of “a flame of fire consuming the stubble”. In the same way, the rumbling of judgement can be heard from afar as a warning that it is fast approaching.
6 Fear and Trembling
6 Before them the people are in anguish;
All faces turn pale.
The impression of this “mighty people” (verse 5) is so overwhelming, that wherever it appears, whole nations shrink together in fear and the faces turn pale. In verse 1 the fear is still limited to Judah and Jerusalem. Here other peoples are also captivated by the fear for the Assyrians. In verse 10, fear encompasses the entire universe.
7 - 9 How the Army Advances
7 They run like mighty men,
They climb the wall like soldiers;
And they each march in line,
Nor do they deviate from their paths.
8 They do not crowd each other,
They march everyone in his path;
When they burst through the defenses,
They do not break ranks.
9 They rush on the city,
They run on the wall;
They climb into the houses,
They enter through the windows like a thief.
Lively, with short, emphatically sounding sentences, Joel reports how the army is advancing, storming the city walls, invading the city and invading the houses. You see it before you. They continue uninterrupted, nothing can stop them. (cf. Isa 33:4). They are invulnerable and therefore irresistible, for those who cannot be wounded cannot be stopped either. There are no openings in their ranks.
To enter, they go the way of the thief. This also belongs to the day of the Lord (1Thes 5:2). A thief comes unexpectedly and unwelcome, but only for those who do not take it into account. Once warnings have preceded the coming, you can no longer maintain that it is unexpected. Nevertheless, we must always be reminded how suddenly the predicted event will take place.
For us, Christians, the rapture of the church precedes the Lord’s day. That fact is not meant to be a source of worry about that day. Certainly, we do not have to be afraid of the judgment that is related to that day. But when we see the signs of the times and the proximity of that day, the Lord’s coming for His church is even closer.
That should encourage us to look forward to Him and to a great dedication to Him. It should encourage us to warn people to repent and believe in Him before it is too late. The imperturbability and speed with which the Assyrians work should also characterize the Christian in his work and struggle for the Lord.
10 Earth and Heavens Impressed
10 Before them the earth quakes,
The heavens tremble,
The sun and the moon grow dark
And the stars lose their brightness.
With the mention of earth and heavens is indicated the most extensive environment that this army impresses. The celestial bodies even ceased their normal functions while beholding this terrible judgment.
11 The Army of the LORD
11 The LORD utters His voice before His army;
Surely His camp is very great,
For strong is he who carries out His word.
The day of the LORD is indeed great and very awesome,
And who can endure it?
Here is the explanation of the success of this army: the LORD Himself is at the head of it. In the storming up army appears none but the furious LORD Himself. The hostile army is “His army”, which He uses to discipline His people (Isa 10:5). That is the most terrible of all and at the same time the only source of hope for anyone who believes. Whoever acknowledges that it is God’s judgment can resort to Him in accordance with His love for His people. Continuing to count on His love is the true character of faith throughout all times. Faith submits to the dealings of God and finds in them His salvation. He who resists God’s dealings signs his own death sentence.
The people are not called upon to resist this enemy. This enemy executes the word of the LORD – and “His word runs very swiftly” (Psa 147:15). That is why any resistance to this army is nothing but revolt against Him. The fact that this army “carries out His word” does not mean that it fulfills a previously pronounced prophecy. It only means that this army carries out His will, His commands (cf. Psa 103:20).
God does not want us to desperately resist His discipline and seek solutions to evade it. He always wants us to bow before Him and acknowledge the instrument He sends, whoever or whatever that instrument may be (Mic 6:9; cf. 1Kgs 12:24). This applies both to personal life and to communal life.
The answer to the question “who can endure it?” (cf. Rev 6:17; Nah 1:6; Mal 3:2; Jer 10:10), that is, “the day of the LORD”, is enclosed in the question. The answer is that no one can bear that day. Yet escaping is possible. The following verses show this.
12 A Call
12 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
Through the words “yet even now, declares the LORD”, the hope is shining that the judgment that has been announced can still be averted. “Return to Me” indicates that this is a return that leads to a new connectedness with the LORD. It is not only about a turn in the direction of, but also about a real coming to the LORD. Hence “with all your heart”, that is, with all that life is directed toward, all thought and will (cf. 1Sam 7:3; 1Kgs 8:48).
The LORD makes a serious appeal to the people to convert to him, and to do so radically, without any restraint. The first thing that matters is the heart, the whole heart. Half-heartedness is an abomination to God. A real conversion does not go without discernible expressions. “Fasting”, “weeping” and “mourning” will become visible and audible to someone who turns to God with all his heart.
Joel does not say what concrete sin(s) the people must repent of. For example, we do not hear of idolatry, social injustice, reliance on their own military power or alliances with neighboring countries. It can be a conversion from a superficial, confident, ritualistic religion to a new intense listening and living to the Word of God.
If the whole life is placed in the presence of God with the knowledge that He knows and judges it all, it has consequences. On the one hand it will make us shrink because of the holiness of God because we see how sinful our lives are. On the other hand, we will we will rise up from relief because of the love of God, because we see that He answers repentance with forgiveness of our sins. He can forgive the sins of anyone who repents because the Lord Jesus poured His blood on the cross for penitent sinners (Heb 9:22b).
13 No Outward Appearance
13 And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil.
There is a saying that reads: ‘The eyes of the Lord go through the garments.’ That certainly applies here. The people can show certain signs of mourning with outward piety. Rending the garments is one such sign. But if the heart is not rend, the outward sign has no value whatsoever to God. God “desires truth in the innermost being” (Psa 51:6,17; Isa 57:15). It is a conversion to “the LORD your God”, with which the prophet emphasizes that the LORD is not a strange God, but the God of the covenant with His people.
The impending disaster will affect the whole nation and therefore there is a call for national humiliation. In general, there is room for a national commemoration in case of national disasters, but not for national humiliation. Some events cause a shock to all sections of the population and sometimes there is great general indignation. And often rightly so. Just think of terrorist attacks, or the abuse and then murder of children. Protest and commemoration marches, protest and commemoration meetings are organized, in which masses of people participate. Unfortunately, however, the protest only focuses on the crime, the excrescence, the event.
The call is: ‘This may never happen again and the perpetrator(s) must be found and punished.’ That call is understandable. In the group, one finds each other in the feeling of powerlessness. Together they want to make a fist to the uncontrollable. But where is the general humiliation? Where is the general call to God for His mercy? Where is it together calling upon His grace and compassion to spare us more of that misery? Where is the prayer together: “Deliver us from evil” (Mt 6:13b)? [While I read this commentary again because of the translation in English, covid-19 pandemic plagues the world. We also can apply the above mentioned reactions to this plague.]
Of course, only under the reign of Christ during the thousand year peace empire will the world really be freed from the dramatic events that regularly stir up entire masses of people. Yet all these events are just as many calls to man to repent to God and live for Him.
As Moses did after the events around the golden calf, so does Joel. He calls upon the features of God. Again and again we are impressed when we remember that in God there are sources that can be tapped if the situation in man is hopeless. Therefore, after the people have sinned with the golden calf, by which they have lost their right to exist, Moses can still appeal to God (Exo 34:6-9). That is why Joel, while the people deserve the judgment that is already threatening to announce itself, can also make a call to God here.
In his appeal to the LORD Joel mentions five features of Him (cf. Jona 4:2; Psa 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Neh 9:17).
1. “Gracious” is He in Himself because He acts in deeds of goodness when all the right to blessing is lost.
2. “Compassionate” is He because He is quickly moved to pity when He sees how miserable His people are.
3. He is “slow to anger” in His actions toward this sinful people and
4. “abounding in lovingkindness” because all kinds of favor and goodness are present with Him, including forgiving guilt.
5. Finally, we read of Him that He is “relenting of evil”. This means that when He sees conversion, He withdraws the announced or already partially executed punishment.
When there is talk of relenting of evil or repentance about evil from God, it is a human way of speaking. If God repents of anything, it does not mean that He returns to an earlier decision because it would have been wrong. God makes no mistakes. God’s repentance has to do with an intention to which He returns if man’s behavior gives cause to do so.
If a man repents, God will not carry out the promised punishment. If a person behaves differently towards God, God also changes His way of acting towards that person. A strong example of this is the postponement of the judgment on Ahab and his house following the (temporary) humiliation of Ahab (1Kgs 21:27-29).
14 Who knows …
14 Who knows whether He will [not] turn and relent
And leave a blessing behind Him,
[Even] a grain offering and a drink offering
For the LORD your God?
The prophet has just given a brilliant description of some of God’s own features. He does not speak of God in theological terms, but presents Him as He knows Him. Yet in his trust in God’s grace he does not allow himself to be tempted to speak as if he has God’s goodness at his disposal. That is why this verse reads “who knows?” Divine sovereignty remains guaranteed.
The question “who knows?” is not an expression of doubt about God’s goodness, but shows above all human humility and modesty towards the sovereign God, Who has every right to carry out His judgments. Penance and repentance do not mean automatically being entitled to God’s grace. Joel speaks so that his hearers, as someone has said, ‘should not despair by the greatness of their sins, but also that the greatness of grace should not make them careless’. With conversion, there is reason to hope that He turns away from judgment.
But there is more. Not only does the judgment depart – which is already a great grace, though negative –, but the prophet knows his God so well that he knows that God, after the conversion of his people, also has a blessing for them. With this blessing the people can honor Him again. The blessing can refer to the restoration of the field crop that will be given by the LORD, so that again “a grain offering and a drink offering” can be brought.
The goal of every work of salvation that He accomplishes is that He be honored. Whether it is an earthly salvation, as with Israel delivered from its enemies, or spiritual salvation, when a man is delivered from the power of Satan and sin, the ultimate goal will always be to glorify God and His Christ.
15 The Trumpet Blown for the Second Time
15 Blow a trumpet in Zion,
Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly,
Here the trumpet is blown for the second time. The first time that happens in verse 1. There it is to warn that the enemy is coming. Now it happens to call the people together (cf. Num 10:7). In the trumpet the voice of God sounds. He calls to come to Him. In everything that has already happened to the people (Joel 1) and in everything that will happen to the people in the future, it is good that they realize that everything has to do with God. Therefore the people must come together before His face.
When the people come into the presence of God, it means first and foremost that they will humble themselves. There is every reason to do so. Is not the enemy coming to them because of their unfaithfulness to the LORD? At the same time, and given the seriousness of the situation, the body’s needs will have to be abandoned. There must be fasting so that all can focus on what God has to say, without being distracted by everyday food and drink.
Besides, what will a person worry about eating and drinking when his life is at stake? How closely fasting and humbling oneself hang together is shown by the instructions for the great Day of Atonement (Lev 23:27,29,32). The word ‘humble’ used there can also be translated as ‘fasting’.
The last part of the verse is word for word like Joel 1:14a. The fact that there are two calls for fasting and meeting shows the urgency of the call.
16 Everyone Should Come
16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation,
Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and the nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom come out of his room
And the bride out of her [bridal] chamber.
The whole people, with no exception, are called upon to a solemn assembly. No excuses for the elders, the small children should not be forgotten, even the infants should be gathered. All classes of society, political, religious or families, are expected to express their feelings regarding the sin committed against God.
If there is sin for God, there is no distinction. Everyone is guilty of punishment. Judgment will affect all, therefore all are involved in the call to come to God. Children and infants also have to deal with the sins of the people and the consequences thereof (cf. Lam 4:4; Jona 3:5; 4:11).
In the general call we also have an indication to take our children as young as possible to the meeting. It is good to take them to all places where believers are together. This applies to meetings of all kinds. They can be involved at a young age in everything that has to do with the life of the church of God.
The Lord Jesus says to the religious leaders who blame children for honoring Him: “Have you never read, ‘OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF’?” (Mt 21:16). He appreciates what comes from the mouths of children and infants. Although children have few and infants have no awareness of what they are expressing, God recognizes it as praise to Him, praise that He Himself has placed in their mouths. So it is with humility. Let the children be present.
The gathering of the church has its happy, but also its sad causes and moments. It is therefore a reflection of everyday life. We should not polish our meetings into a shining experience when there is reason to humble ourselves. Nor do we have to submerge the meetings in sadness when there is reason to rejoice. Sometimes joy and sadness alternate within a meeting. Let the coming together of believers really be the true reflection of what lives in the hearts of believers who come together and let the children also have a part in it.
Bridegroom and bride, that is the newly married man and the newly married woman, are mentioned separately in this whole. They do not think of weeping and mourning and also fasting is not part of a wedding. But they too cannot escape the call to take their place before God. They renounce their right to cheer, eat, drink, and even sexual intercourse, which they can enjoy as newly married to participate in general fasting and prayer. An appeal to the first year of exemption (Deu 24:5) is not possible. The excuse “I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come” (Lk 14:20) does not apply here either.
17 Assignment to the Priests
17 Let the priests, the LORD’s ministers,
Weep between the porch and the altar,
And let them say, “Spare Your people, O LORD,
And do not make Your inheritance a reproach,
A byword among the nations.
Why should they among the peoples say,
‘Where is their God?’”
When the whole people are called, the priests are told where to stand and told what to do and say. The priests represent the people with the LORD. In them the LORD sees all the people. A priest is supposed to know what is due to Him, what is appropriate for Him. He is not supposed to act according to his own insight – for he is “a servant of the LORD” – but must fully abide by the prescriptions the LORD has given. In doing so, his priesthood is to the satisfaction of the LORD and to the blessing of God’s people.
In the New Testament, all believers are a spiritual priesthood and may bring spiritual sacrifices (1Pet 2:5). They too are expected to know God’s thoughts about the condition of His people. From a spiritual point of view, they too would do well to take to heart the task of priests in the book of Joel.
The priests take their place in the midst of the people, outside the sanctuary, to call together with the people to God with an appeal to His faithfulness. They have to stand “between the porch and the altar”. This tells us that they can only take their place in the presence of the LORD, the porch, because the sacrifice is brought upon the altar. They can only exist before Him because He accepts them in the value of sacrifice. They themselves have nothing to sacrifice. But by taking that place it is as if they remind the LORD and also themselves of the sacrifice.
They are instructed to cry, which means that they repent of their unfaithfulness and realize that by doing so they have earned God’s judgment. They have lost all rights to be accepted by Him. Then they have to open their mouths to pronounce what is said to them. Here the Spirit puts in their mouth what is to be spoken out (cf. Hos 14:3), in order to move the heart of God to intervene for “Your people” and “Your inheritance”.
They plead with God in view of Whom He has always been for His people and inheritance; at the same time they plead with God in view of His glory opposite the enemies. Moses also uses this second argument after the people have sinned with the golden calf (Exo 32:12; Psa 42:3; 115:2).
18 The Comforting Answer
18 Then the LORD will be zealous for His land
And will have pity on His people.
The “who knows” of verse 14, after what happened in verse 17, gets here his beautiful answer. Is it not touching, this verse? It is at least as touching as the LORD’s reaction to the removal of the idols in the book of Judges: “And He could bear the misery of Israel no longer” (Jdg 10:16). People who show their humility and break with sin and so go to Him, always experience His compassion. Then He will again act in favor of His land and His people.
There has always been a connection between land and people (Gen 13:14-18; 17:6-8). With ‘land’ the emphasis is on the LORD’s relentless zeal for its well-being. With ‘people’, the emphasis is on His compassion, His tender feelings for them.
19 Two Promises
19 The LORD will answer and say to His people,
“Behold, I am going to send you grain, new wine and oil,
And you will be satisfied [in full] with them;
And I will never again make you a reproach among the nations.
This verse contains two promises. The first is that there will be grain, new wine and oil again. They will be able to live from it and not only to stay alive, but they will be able to eat it until saturation. If the LORD sends anything, it is never meager. He always gives in abundance (Mt 14:15-21; 15:32-38).
The second promise is the assurance that they will never again be made a reproach among the nations. This assurance is a great relief. Reproach gives an enormous spiritual burden, by which life can become extremely heavy. The opposite, to be praised, or simply to be valued in daily life, can give wings; it makes life lighter and pleasant.
20 A Third Promise
20 “But I will remove the northern [army] far from you,
And I will drive it into a parched and desolate land,
And its vanguard into the eastern sea,
And its rear guard into the western sea.
And its stench will arise and its foul smell will come up,
For it has done great things.”
The LORD gives a third promise: He will chase away the enemy. This enemy comes from the north. It is Assyria. That enemy will be expelled in three directions, unlike with the locusts which have been expelled to the west, in the sea. Part of it is driven “into a parched and desolate land”, probably referring to the wilderness area south of Israel. Another part, “his vanguard”, is driven “into the eastern sea”, which is the Dead Sea. The third part, “his rear guard”, will be driven “into the western sea”, that is the Mediterranean Sea.
This fate that strikes Assyria comes from the LORD because this enemy boasts that he has done “great things”. That is, he acted with pride. He has spoken and acted arrogantly. Their countless bodies will decay, so that the stench will arise and its foul smell will come up and pollute the air (cf. Amos 4:10a). Smell and pollution is all that remains of it.
Once the discipline has done its job, it is removed. It is different with the plagues that have come over Egypt. There a plague stopped to make way for a new plague, because there was no conversion (Exodus 7-12).
21 Great Things
21 Do not fear, O land, rejoice and be glad,
For the LORD has done great things.
“Do not fear.” What a word full of comfort! From this call or command that we often encounter in the Bible, many have drawn strength through the ages. How afraid we can be when we think of the future, near or far away. We do not have any grip on it. Many things happen without us being able to influence them. But he who trusts in God will be told: “Do not fear!”
Here this word is said just after the country suffered enormously, but is now blessed again by the LORD. The land again produces much fruit, until saturation. But precisely because it is so recent that it has sighed, through its own unfaithfulness, under the discipline of God, there is still the fear that things will go wrong again. The people think back and realize how fragile and vulnerable this blessing can be.
Then comes another encouragement: the land may rejoice and be glad, because the blessing no longer depends on their faithfulness, but because the LORD has done great things. In verse 20 it says that Assyria boasts of having done great things. But doing great things is only reserved for God. He has done great things in their salvation from the enemies.
And for us? If we think of the great work of the Lord Jesus on the cross … How incredibly great is that! That gives all redeemed of all times every reason to always rejoice and be glad (cf. verse 23).
22 Again Plenty to Eat for the Animals
22 Do not fear, beasts of the field,
For the pastures of the wilderness have turned green,
For the tree has borne its fruit,
The fig tree and the vine have yielded in full.
From this verse the kingdom of peace comes into view. Under the reign of the Prince of peace, the whole of creation – land, animals and people – will be able to enjoy, in unprecedented peace and rest, all that God has given. The encouragement “do not fear” of verse 21 sounds here for the animals. In the same sentence, the call “rejoice and be glad” of verse 21 sound in verse 23 for the children of Zion.
The animals have suffered because of the sin of man. But when man, the people, have converted, the animals also share in the results of the atonement. Their longing for God (Joel 1:20) has been answered. They can eat plenty of what the field produces. They do not have to fear new scarcity.
Even in our time, cattle still sigh under the curse of man’s sin that rests on creation. But if the curse is removed, the animals will be brought, though not in joy, in the freedom of the children of God (Rom 8:18-22). Thus God, when He spares Nineveh, also has an eye for the animals, for cattle also have fasted (Jona 4:11; 3:8).
23 The Sons of Sion
23 So rejoice, O sons of Zion,
And be glad in the LORD your God;
For He has given you the early rain for [your] vindication.
And He has poured down for you the rain,
The early and latter rain as before.
The fact that the people are addressed with “sons of Zion” must sound like music to their ears. Zion is one of the mountains on which Jerusalem is built. Zion is often called ‘the city of David’. He lived there. Once the true David, the Lord Jesus, will live there and reign from there, Mount Zion will be “the joy of the whole earth” (Psa 48:2). As with Mount Sinai the law is connected, so with Mount Zion grace is connected (Heb 12:18-22). The “sons of Zion” are therefore “children of grace”.
Therefore the cause of rejoicing and gladness is not in themselves, but in the LORD. They see Him as the cause of their joy. He has proven mercy to them, while they have forfeited every right to blessing. They may rejoice again in “the LORD your God”, in which the consciousness of a renewed, re-established relationship with the God of the covenant is included. On the basis of this new covenant, the rain currents of blessing will descend again. The early rain falls in October and November; the late rain falls in March and April and is indispensable for a good harvest. Rain first means rain as a natural blessing, but then also the spiritual blessing in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (verse 28).
“The teacher for righteousness” – as “the early rain for [your] vindication” also can be translated [see footnote NASB] – is no one else but the Lord Jesus. He will teach them in righteousness (Isa 53:11b). It may seem strange that in the midst of all the earthly blessings a Person suddenly comes forward. Yet this is not so strange when we consider that, if the promised state of blessing is to be maintained, God’s people must also live in God’s way and according to His commandments.
Because Israel’s blessing is connected with keeping God’s commandments, it is of vital importance that the LORD also has those commandments taught. When, through the Teacher’s teaching, life according to God’s will is taken seriously again in Israel, the rain, coming as a blessing from God, may descend. In the past, righteousness was demanded, no one could meet it. Now that the new life is present, there is also the desire to be taught in righteousness.
24 The Blessing
24 The threshing floors will be full of grain,
And the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil.
The coming of rain is proof of the blessing God has for them in His heart. He will give that rain if they obey His commandments. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is a picture of the Teacher to righteousness (Deu 11:13-14). Grain, new wine and oil, the three products of the land that together represent the full blessing, will be abundantly present. All this thanks to the rain streams that the LORD will give, each at his appointed time.
25 “Then I will make up to you for the years
That the swarming locust has eaten,
The creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust,
My great army which I sent among you.
So is God! Once His people have converted to Him, He will compensate them for what they have missed all these years through His discipline. God does not hold the blessing for Himself; He is the God Who distributes blessing, provided that the conditions He has set are fulfilled. He can only give blessing where things happen in accordance with His will. Even if a person is or a people are stubborn, He is able to make them act in accordance with His will. That is how God always does it.
It is in itself a blessing if, after a rebellious life, a man comes to the acknowledgment that God to judge that rebellious life. This acknowledgment is sufficient for God to give new life. That new life is the life of God Himself. Then God shows how many blessings He has in His heart to give to those who are so connected to Him through new life. Everything that has been said and done in rebellion against God has only done harm. Conversion has put an end to this. After the conversion of Israel in the future, they will be allowed to take possession of all the promised blessings.
How many years of our life are consumed by locusts? Self-sufficiency, frivolity, waste of time, talent and opportunity, slowness, laziness, mixed and evil motives, hidden sin, they all played the role of locust. It made sure that there was no power to live for God and enjoy fellowship with Him. There was also no power to testify to those around us Who the Lord Jesus is for us. But God wants to forgive and give us a hopeful future again. Moreover, He wants to give back what the locust has eaten.
The Lord Jesus did the same with Peter. After Peter denied the Lord (Mt 26:69-75) and the Lord restored Him, He entrusts him with the care of His sheep (Jn 21:15-17). He also did it with Paul. After Paul caused devastation in the church of Christ and the Lord has met him, He makes him a builder of the church. Paul has built both in the preaching of the gospel and in teaching the doctrine (1Tim 1:12-14).
This is how the Lord wants to act in our lives. It begins with the removal from our lives of everything that is more important than Christ. We must condemn the things we do not do for Him, especially the confession and forsaking of sins (Pro 28:13) we still cherish. Then we will see that we will have access to “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” hidden in Christ (Col 2:3).
26 Praise for the LORD
26 “You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied
And praise the name of the LORD your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
Then My people will never be put to shame.
It is striking how, when it comes to God’s blessing, over and over again abundance and saturation is spoken of. When the LORD makes good the damage suffered, it follows that his people have plenty to eat again. Then they will express their gratitude for it by praising the name of the LORD their God in worship. That is the ultimate goal of all that God does with and for His people, both in Israel and in the church.
Every redemption, both of a person and of a people, will lead to the exclamation: “This is the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes” (Psa 118:23). This wonder could happen by the contents of the verse before it: “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner [stone]” (Psa 118:22). Herein lies the cause of worship of the wonder. The Lord Jesus was rejected by men, but made by God the basis for His work. The wonder of redemption is made possible by what the Lord Jesus did on the cross.
Also all the earthly blessings that Israel will receive are due to that work. The natural blessings will have a spiritual effect because one will honor and thank the LORD as the Processor of them.
27 Knowing Where and Who the LORD Is
27 “Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
And that I am the LORD your God,
And there is no other;
And My people will never be put to shame.
The “knowing” of this verse is a knowing by experience. They become aware, they notice, that the LORD is in their midst. The answer to the prayer of verse 17 and the answer of the LORD in the salvation from need can be seen in Israel’s renewed relationship with the LORD. When God says “that I am the LORD your God”, He shows the exclusive privilege of Israel. He became the LORD their God because He delivered them out of Egypt (Exo 20:2; Deu 5:6).
The addition “and there is no other” (Deu 4:35; Isa 45:5) emphasizes the previous statement. This is necessary because Israel has often turned to other gods in its need. With this, however, they have always come out ashamed and made ashamed, something they have never experienced with God and will never experience forever. Then there will be no more room for the mocking question: ‘Where is their God?’
28 Blessing for the People
28 “It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
In the Hebrew Bible verses 28-32 form a separate chapter (Joel 3). Joel 3 in our Bible is there Joel 4. This division into four chapters is also maintained in other translations.
So far it has been about a material and also temporary blessing. It concerns the restoration of Israel in the enjoyment of the blessing of earlier days. This fact is based on grace, a grace that prevents the blessing from being lost again. Now the prophet is going to speak about the spiritual blessings that the Messiah, the Christ, will bring to His people. Herein will be shared by all nations who have accepted Him. For God will pour out His Spirit from heaven “on all mankind”.
“Pour out” refers to the abundantly rich extent with which the Spirit is given (Isa 32:15a). This will happen “after” the extermination of the Assyrians. The destruction of the last hostile powers of Israel and the outpouring of the Spirit are the last events mentioned (Eze 39:29) before the prophet Ezekiel describes the temple and the land during the realm of peace (Ezekiel 40-48).
Peter quotes these verses in Joel 2 in Acts 2 without saying that it is the fulfillment of this prophecy (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:16-21). This indeed is not the case. He refers to Joel 2 because what happens on Pentecost has the same character as what Joel announces. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is something reminiscent of what Joel said.
We can say that what happens on Pentecost is a pre-fulfillment of the prophecy, not the fulfillment itself. The fulfillment of what Joel says will take place after what he prophesied in the preceding verses has been fulfilled. The word “after” in the first line of verse 28 shows that there is a chronological connection with the preceding verses.
Peter’s main purpose in quoting this verse from Joel is to make it clear to the Jews that this miraculous thing that takes place so suddenly in their midst is fully confirmed by what Joel said about the outpouring of the Spirit. But the outpouring that takes place in Peter’s day is not the full accomplishment of the event announced by Joel.
The Holy Spirit comes to earth on the day of Pentecost. Through His coming the church is formed which He will continue to form. This outpouring takes place to form a people for heaven. Therefore He is still on earth. What Joel writes about can only take place when the enemies of Israel are defeated and the people themselves live in his land.
“All mankind” does not mean ‘all people living then’. It indicates that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not an event limited to the Jews. Pentecost also makes that clear. It is not that God allows all the converted to speak the Jewish language, but He allows the Jews to speak the languages of those who are scattered among the Gentiles. This is a special testimony of the grace that goes out to the Gentiles. The Gentiles are not incorporated into the Jewish people, but as Gentiles they participate in the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
All the different languages are the result of God’s judgment of the people because of their arrogant plan to form their own unity by building the tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9). But now the grace of God goes out to them as well and He lifts up the judgment of the confusion of languages by the wonder of speaking in languages. Language is no longer a barrier.
The working of the Spirit Who has been poured out manifests itself in prophecy. On Pentecost it appears in speaking in languages “of the mighty deeds of God” (Acts 2:11). It seems that speaking in languages is a form of prophecy here, for by this speaking and by the explanation given by Peter, people are touched in the heart and many repent (Acts 2:37,41).
In the Old Testament, the Spirit as a gift is reserved only for persons with a special place in God’s people, such as kings and prophets. That the whole people will prophesy has remained a wish expressed by Moses (Num 11:29). But this wish of Moses has become with Joel a promise of the LORD. Sons and daughters will prophesy. This requires a life inspired by the Spirit. Only thereby one is receptive to divine revelations. This will be the case for all who will enter the realm of peace. To prophesy is to speak out of the presence of God with knowledge of His will. God will make His will known to the old men through dreams and to young men through visions.
The difference between ‘dreams’ and ‘visions’ is that with dreams things are seen in sleep, whereas with visions that need not be the case. Visions are also more about what is seen, the appearance. We find more often in Scripture that God makes His will known through dreams (Job 33:14-18; Gen 20:3,6; Mt 1:20; 2:12-22) and visions (Gen 15:1; 46:2; 1Sam 3:1,15). The connection between prophecies and dreams and visions is evident in what the LORD says to Aaron and Miriam after they spoke against Moses: “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream” (Num 12:6).
29 The Spirit on All
29 “Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
As has already been mentioned, in the Old Testament we do not see the Spirit generally using every member of the people. He does His work mainly through kings, priests and prophets. It will be different in the future. Then all layers of the people, even male servants and female servants, receive this gift. There will be no distinction according to gender, age or social status. The old men, with whom the power is diminished or even gone, as well as the young men, who have little or no experience in the things of God, will receive revelations from Him in dreams and visions.
30 - 31 Wonders
30 “I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth,
Blood, fire and columns of smoke.
31 “The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood
Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.
In the literal sense, the Spirit will eventually be poured out on all mankind the moment the Assyrians and all enemies are defeated and the LORD has placed His people back in His land. The wonders mentioned in this verse will precede that event. Although Peter does quote these verses in Acts 2, these wonders do not directly follow the outpouring of the Spirit. This is because Israel as a nation did not convert, but was (and still is) disobedient.
If they had converted, “that that great and awesome day of the LORD” would have come immediately. The LORD would have judged the enemies both inside and outside of Israel in favor of His people. His performance is said to have gone together with the phenomena mentioned here. Now that day is still to come. That is why these phenomena are still future phenomena. They will certainly take place after the church has been raptured (Rev 6:12-17).
Under the sixth seal mentioned in Revelation 6, judgments take place which strongly correspond with what Joel says. All judgments that take place from Revelation 6 onwards are included in that “great and awesome day of the LORD”. They pave the way for the return of Christ to the earth to establish His kingdom of peace and righteousness.
32 “And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD
Will be delivered;
For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
There will be those who escape,
As the LORD has said,
Even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.
In that time of great distress, in which what is mentioned in verses 30-31 takes place, salvation for everyone who sees his hopeless situation is only possible by calling upon the Name of the LORD. He who approaches Him in trusting faith does not perish, but is saved. In Romans 10 this verse is quoted and declared generally applicable for the proclamation of the gospel (Rom 10:13). With respect to the gospel there is no distinction in judgment nor in the offering of salvation. It is available to everyone. Throughout all the centuries, salvation can only be found in faith in the Lord Jesus. He is the LORD.
Here in Joel, salvation is also connected to Jerusalem and Zion, for that is the place from which the Lord Jesus will reign (cf. Oba 1:17). There He dwells; with Him everyone is safe. All who are called by the LORD will go there. Here we find the remnant that is saved. A remnant is “a remnant according to [God’s] gracious choice” (Rom 11:5; 9:27). Both sides are true and needy. On one side there is the call to call upon the Name of the LORD to be saved. On the other hand, only those who are called by the LORD are saved.
It is the same today. “God is now declaring to men that all [people] everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30). This command should not be invalidated by saying that you cannot repent, but that God must do so and that it only happens when you are chosen. Then you simply put the Word of God aside and make every prediction of the gospel a useless activity. At the same time God is declared a liar. After all, He is Someone Who says things that are not true. He asks something of man that he cannot do. But God is not like that! When He asks something of man, He also gives him the strength to do it. That is God! At the same time, it is also true that someone who has converted can only say this because he is chosen.
You can compare it with an invitation above the door of a house. It says that anyone can come in and get something. Whoever actually does so, reads above the door on the inside: Chosen one. God knows who will actually accept His invitation to be saved. But these two sides of the truth must never be played off against each other. The gospel must be preached to all people without distinction, while the election is a truth that all believers may embrace with great gratitude.