This chapter gives a complete picture of the events of the last days. First the LORD is going to deliver His people from their enemies. Only as God can, He will bring the enemies together and make them appear together before His judgment seat. He will ensure that every crime committed by Israel’s enemies against His people will receive just retribution (verses 1-16a).
While the enemies are judged, the LORD will be a hiding place for His people. They will live safely with Him (verses 16b-17). After the exercise of punishment for the nations there will come a time of abundant blessing for Israel (verses 18-20). The center from which all blessing comes is the LORD Who will dwell on Zion (verse 21). This also ensures that the blessing will continue.
1 The Fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem Restored
1 “For behold, in those days and at that time,
When I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
Over the centuries, Judah and Jerusalem have been trampled, languished and exterminated. Time and again other peoples have taken possession of them. Since May 14, 1948, a state of Israel has arisen, but the pressure of the nations is great and so is their dependence on the United States. It is not yet a people that expects it from the LORD. It still relies on its own strength and the strength of its allies.
This acting according to their own insight and the increased pressure will lead them to accept the Antichrist, who comes in his own name and presents himself as Messiah (Jn 5:43b). They will place their hopes in him. Deliverance is expected from him. However, it will be in vain. The nations will go to Jerusalem and lay siege to the city. The situation becomes totally hopeless, especially for the faithful. The faithful will be threatened in that “time of Jacob’s distress” (Jer 30:7) by enemies from outside and also by their apostate contemporaries who are following the Antichrist.
But then the Lord Jesus will come from heaven to set them free. With His appearing the definitive turning point in the history of Judah and Jerusalem has arrived. The turn in the fate of Judah and Jerusalem is brought when the need is greatest. After that the time of peace and blessing immediately begins. The following verses show what the LORD is going to do to make that time dawn.
The captivity of Judah and Jerusalem and the scattering of the ten tribes still continues. The captivity of Judah and Jerusalem is understood to mean that although there is a state of their own, they are not really free. They are hand and foot tied to the support of the United States, and good relations with the European Union is also essential. Although the Israel of the ten tribes is not mentioned here, they too will share in the results of the Lord Jesus’ actions. They too will be brought back to the land.
2 God Judges the Nations
2 I will gather all the nations
And bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat.
Then I will enter into judgment with them there
On behalf of My people and My inheritance, Israel,
Whom they have scattered among the nations;
And they have divided up My land.
In Joel 2, the plea for Israel is to ask the LORD to spare His people from what the Gentiles will say if He surrenders them to defamation (Joel 2:17). They use the words “Your people“ and “Your hereditary possessions“ there. Here the LORD takes over these words as it were and speaks of “My people” and “My property”. What the nations have done with God’s people and inheritance is here an indictment against them.
The scattering of God’s people and the division of God’s land is an affront to the property of God. The nations that have taken hold of His people and His inheritance are gathered together by the LORD. He will show them that He has not forgotten all the injustice done to His people and His inheritance. The nations will be requited according to what they have done to God’s people. We also see this in Matthew 25 where the criterion for judgment is also the attitude taken towards the brothers of the Lord (Mt 25:40,45).
The trial takes place in the valley of Jehoshaphat. How God will get the nations there is described in verses 9-12. Jehoshaphat means ‘Yahweh judges’ or ‘the scepter of Yahweh’, or ‘Yahweh pronounces justice’ or ‘Yahweh is Judge’. In the valley with that name He enters into a lawsuit with the nations about His people scattered by them and about His land they have divided.
Where the valley of Jehoshaphat lies is not known. It is unlikely that this is the Beracah valley, where King Jehoshaphat defeated the enemy (2Chr 20:25-26). That is not near Jerusalem. Because it will be near Jerusalem, this valley must be somewhere near Jerusalem. Thought has been given to the Kidron Valley, which lies between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. That is narrow, but possibly it will be widened by the splitting of the Mount of Olives (Zec 14:4). A valley is more often the place where judgment takes place (Isa 22:1,5; Eze 39:11).
3 People as Merchandise
3 “They have also cast lots for My people,
Traded a boy for a harlot
And sold a girl for wine that they may drink.
Here we see another indictment. The Judeans, who were made prisoners of war during the occupation of Jerusalem, were divided among them by lot and squandered as merchandise (cf. Jdg 5:30; Oba 1:11; Est 3:7). In this way, the nations have treated Israel with appalling contempt for human dignity. They have not sold their ‘slaves’ to become richer through it, not to benefit from it, but only to fulfill their carnal desires.
The enemies of Israel have taken advantage of foreign domination by appropriating the riches and land of Israel. And the conquerors have handed the inhabitants over to the enemies in order to satisfy their lowest passions. They have taken what is God’s in order to indulge themselves. They have paid the services of a harlot with a Jewish boy.
What Joel describes here has taken place regularly throughout history, among other occasions after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in the year 70. Nearly one and a half million inhabitants of Jerusalem and the surrounding area perished in that terrible battle. More than one hundred thousand Jews were captured.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus describes that Titus acted with these Jews as follows: ‘All who were under the age of 17 were sold publicly; of the remaining, some were killed instantly, some were sent to the Egyptian mines to work there (which was worse than death), some were withheld to fight with wild animals as a public attraction in the main cities; only the greatest and most beautiful were spared to join the triumphant march to Rome.’
That was how it was then. Jews were sold for a bit of barley. That is how thousands were disposed of. And so the history of this people has been through the ages. Not so long ago they were transported en masse as beasts from all parts of Europe to concentration camps to be gassed there. And history is not over yet. The “time of Jacob’s distress” (Jer 30:7) is yet to come, a time that has not been there from the beginning of the world until then (Mt 24:21). But also the day will come when the LORD will avenge all the evil that has been done to His people.
4 Israel, the Apple of God’s Eye
4 Moreover, what are you to Me, O Tyre, Sidon and all the regions of Philistia? Are you rendering Me a recompense? But if you do recompense Me, swiftly and speedily I will return your recompense on your head
The neighboring peoples of Israel – Tyre, Sidon and Philistia – are the first to be mentioned. These traders are asked the question: “What are you to Me?” Perhaps a better translation would be: “What have you done to Me?” Thus, the calling to account of these peoples for what they have done to the LORD by acting in this way with Israel comes more clearly to the fore. It is a question that falls from heaven like a bomb on the exploiters of Israel. From this it becomes clear how much the LORD identifies Himself with His people. What has been done to them is done to Him. This is how Zechariah also speaks about it (Zec 2:8b). Here we see how great a significance this has for the LORD.
When Paul was still called Saul, the question also came to him from heaven: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). And what was he doing? Persecuting the church. Also there is the identification of the Lord in heaven with His people on earth. There has always been a connection between the Lord in heaven and His people on earth. That is so in the Old Testament when it comes to the connection between the LORD in heaven and Israel as His covenant people on earth. This is also true in the New Testament when it comes to the connection between the Lord Jesus as Head in heaven and the church as His body on earth.
If the nations then want to attack the apple of God’s eye, Israel, and thus God Himself, they will receive the right recompense. The evil done to Israel will end up on their own heads. What the nations show towards Israel is actually the ancient hatred of Satan against God. Satan always wants to destroy what is God’s and he wants to prevent God’s plans from being carried out.
His greatest hatred is Christ. Satan has always wanted to prevent Him from being born. The history of the book of Esther is a telling example of this. In that book we come across Haman, the hater of the Jews, who is out to kill all the Jews, to exterminate the race. Haman is pre-eminently a type, an example, of Satan and his intentions.
5 The LORD Robbed
5 Since you have taken My silver and My gold, brought My precious treasures to your temples
This removal does not only have to concern silver and gold and valuables from the temple, but can also concern private property, the precious possessions of the Judeans. All possessions of the Judeans are as much as the land under the ownership of the LORD (Hag 2:9). Thus all that has been taken away from them is taken away from the LORD. The injustice affects Him personally.
6 Far From Their Land
6 and sold the sons of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their territory.
What Tyre and Sidon have done to the people is still valid. They are known to have had overseas trade relations with the Greeks. They are said to have traded with the Greeks in human beings (Eze 27:13). By acting in this way with God’s people, they have not only made merchandise out of them, that is bad enough. But by transporting them so far away, they have also turned them into displaced, religious and socially uprooted people for whom it is practically impossible to return to their homeland.
7 God Sees His Own Everywhere
7 behold, I am going to arouse them from the place where you have sold them, and return your recompense on your head.
No matter how far the slave traders have taken them, the LORD has not lost sight of them. He will bring them back. This is a great encouragement for all the scattered. Wherever they are, the LORD sees them. This is also true for today. No matter how lonely a child of God may feel, the Lord knows where he or she is and He is with him or her. He achieves His purpose with every life that yearns to fulfill God’s purpose with that life.
How He will bring the scattered back from the places where they were sold, is not mentioned here. But His promise is sufficient. Not only does He not lose sight of His own, He also does not lose sight of the enemies of His people – and therefore His enemies. He will, however, give them the recompense they deserve for the mistreatment of His people (cf. Jdg 1:7).
8 The LORD Exercises Judgment by Judah
8 Also I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the sons of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a distant nation,” for the LORD has spoken.
The LORD will deliver the hostile nations into the hand of His people. Through His people He will cause the same evil that has been done to His people, to come down upon those nations as a judgment. Because of this they will experience for themselves what they have done to others. That God will ultimately use His people, that is, the remnant that believes in the Messiah, to discipline their former enemies, we find in more places in Scripture (Oba 1:18; Mic 4:13; Zec 12:5-6; Psa 149:6-9; Est 9:1). Thus it becomes clear how closely the LORD knows Himself connected with His people.
9 Prepare a War
9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare a war; rouse the mighty men!
Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up!
The pagan nations are called upon to prepare for war, because war is declared. Once more the LORD mobilizes the pagan nations. One more time they may indulge their hatred of Jerusalem. At least that is what the nations feel with this call. In the past the LORD did this to discipline His people if they had deviated from Him. But now He calls the nations to judge themselves. Thus the call to war is in reality a call to their own destruction.
That is why the call has something of a secret irony. After all, this time the nations, with their great number and brute force, will only serve to make God’s triumph even more glorious. His triumph will shine when they will be ruined just before Jerusalem (Mic 4:11-13). We see the same in Ezekiel 38-39, where the nations are preparing to go to battle against the LORD without realizing that the LORD is pulling them after Himself (Eze 38:4a). He does so in the same way as a peasant holds a bull in check and pulls it along on a ring through its nose.
10 Everything Used for the War
10 Beat your plowshares into swords
And your pruning hooks into spears;
Let the weak say, “I am a mighty man.”
The peoples are called to a total war. Nothing else should be important anymore. The normal work is laid down and the tools they use must be converted into war tools (cf. Isa 2:4; Mic 4:3). We can compare this with what happened in the Second World War (1939-1945). At that time, utensils of various metals, especially copper, also had to be handed in for the manufacture of ammunition and other war weapons.
In the final battle for Jerusalem, all available time and materials will be used to bring the final blow to the city. Also, the moral will be boosted. Everybody gets the impression that he is a man of steel, a hero, who is able to fight for a certain victory. Even the weakling, who usually avoids fighting, has to let himself be carried away by the enthusiasm of war psychosis. He will pull himself together and say: “I am a mighty man”, and then take part in the war.
11 God’s Mighty Ones
11 Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations,
And gather yourselves there.
Bring down, O LORD, Your mighty ones.
This verse contains two calls addressed to two different addresses. The first part of the verse is an additional exhortation to the nations to get ready and come to the place where God wants them. According to verses 2,12 this is in the valley of Jehoshaphat.
The second part of the verse seems to be a call from the prophet to God. When the prophet thus in spirit sees the enemies gathered just before Jerusalem, he cries out to the LORD that now the time has come to destroy with His mighty men that whole multitude of enemies. After all, God also has His mighty men. He can bring them down like this. With “Your mighty ones” angels are meant. To bring them down means that they come from heaven. Angels are called “mighty in strength” (Psa 103:20).
12 The Lord as Judge
12 Let the nations be aroused
And come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat,
For there I will sit to judge
All the surrounding nations.
Considering the contents of the previous verses, we would expect that now the battle starts. But nothing could be further from the truth. Suddenly the image goes back to that of a legal process, as announced in verse 2. There the LORD is more the Prosecutor, while here, amidst all the agitation of the nations, the image looms up of the majestic rest of the judgment seat on which the LORD sits. In their march, the gathered pagan peoples walk the Judge in His arms. His verdict is what we read in verse 13.
13 The Wine Harvest
13 Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.
Come, tread, for the wine press is full;
The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great.
No matter how great the arrogance of the people who think they are strong, in the end there is the judgment of God. The sickle of God will mow the earth. The picture we see here is reminiscent of the wheat harvest and the wine harvest we read about in Revelation 14 (Rev 14:14-20). There is, also spiritually, a distinction between the two. The wheat harvest means above all judgment that separates the good from the evil. The wine harvest is the exercise of vengeance. The second, the wine harvest, is what we are dealing with here.
The description “and the wine press was trodden outside the city” (Rev 14:20) corresponds to what Joel says. “The city” is the city of Jerusalem. Angels are involved in the harvest (Mt 13:41). Just as the ripe corn is cut off by the scythe of the mowers and the grapes are trampled on by the feet in the wine press, so the nations will be exterminated by the mighty men of God.
14 The Valley of Decision
14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!
For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
“The valley of decision” is where the final verdict, that is, the extermination of the peoples, will be carried out. With that the day of the LORD has come. That day does not imply doom for His people, but gives deliverance from their enemies and the blessing of the LORD.
15 Darkened and Faded
15 The sun and moon grow dark
And the stars lose their brightness.
The light of the sun and the moon darkens and the sparkle of the stars fades at the scenes that take place on earth as a result of the dawning of the day of the LORD. It is also possible to think of a symbolic meaning. The celestial bodies are mentioned in creation as lights exercising dominion (Gen 1:16). We can then see sun, moon and stars as pictures of powerful rulers.
When the day of the LORD has come, those rulers will no longer reign as a ‘government established by God’, as they do now (Rom 13:1-7). They cast off any acknowledgment of God to unite in rebellion against Him (Psa 2:1-3). Darkened and blinded as they are, they rebel and will perish in the valley of decision. Nothing is left of their brilliance and radiance, which have won countless crowds for their cause.
16 The LORD Speaks and Protects
16 The LORD roars from Zion
And utters His voice from Jerusalem,
And the heavens and the earth tremble.
But the LORD is a refuge for His people
And a stronghold to the sons of Israel.
The LORD raises His mighty voice like a lion roars in the forest. He makes His thunder roll as He rises to intervene. If at the raising of His voice the heavens and the earth tremble already, what will be the effect on the gathered nations, which are considered by Him “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales” (Isa 40:15)? Would not they shrivel up completely? The disillusionment must be great.
There they are, at the gates of Jerusalem, ready to take the city. Then they are addressed from the city. Not with a trembling voice, a voice that declares that the city will surrender. The voice they hear, makes them stop breathing. The LORD is in Zion, and those who have escaped are there as well (Joel 2:32). The city offers protection because it is the dwelling place of God. Whoever lives with Him lives in an impregnable fortress and can feel safe and secure.
17 Where God Dwells, It Is Holy
17 Then you will know that I am the LORD your God,
Dwelling in Zion, My holy mountain.
So Jerusalem will be holy,
And strangers will pass through it no more.
Wherever God dwells, it is holy. Zion is a holy mountain and Jerusalem is a sanctuary because He is holy. When He appears to Moses in a bush, the ground is holy (Exo 3:5), and when He appears to Joshua at Jericho, the ground is also holy (Jos 5:15). He has had to leave His sanctuary, which is the temple in Jerusalem, because they have totally desecrated His dwelling place (Eze 10:4,18). If He withdraws from Jerusalem, the enemies have free rein (Eze 10:4-22).
The LORD can only dwell with His people again after they have been cleansed of their sins. Then no stranger will go through it again to desecrate the city, just as in the new Jerusalem, which is above, nothing will enter that which is unclean (Rev 21:27). No one will be there but those who have the right to be there.
18 And in that day
The mountains will drip with sweet wine,
And the hills will flow with milk,
And all the brooks of Judah will flow with water;
And a spring will go out from the house of the LORD
To water the valley of Shittim.
From this verse there comes a benevolent rest in the hitherto impetuous prophetic book. The battle is over, the judgment has been carried out, peace and security are guaranteed. The expression “in that day” stands for the time when the realm of peace has arrived. The abundance of drinks – wine, milk and water – contrasts sharply with the drought and its consequences that we see in Joel 1 (Joel 1:5,10).
The prophet describes these blessings from high to low. First he sees the high mountain slopes with vines, then the lower hills with the milk-producing flocks, and finally the valley of Shittim that will be filled with the descending waters. The abundance of wine is a sign of the overwhelming joy of life in the realm of peace (Psa 104:15; Jdg 9:13; Ecc 9:7; 10:19). Where the LORD dwells is a source of blessing that first springs forth and then brings blessing where it flows (Eze 47:1-12; Psa 65:10). The LORD Himself is the only spring of any blessing.
As we see this scene we are reminded of the state of paradise before the fall in sin takes place. The realm of peace is, in a sense, a continuation of paradise. However, maintaining its enjoyment no longer depends on the first man, the first Adam or his offspring, but on the second Man, the last Adam. He controls His realm in a perfect way, so that for a thousand years without interruption there is a situation of peace, rest and blessing.
Perhaps we can think of Shittim in the land of Moab (Num 25:1; 33:49). That Shittim is the last camp of Israel before they cross the Jordan and enter the promised land. If it is that place, it may be to represent God’s promise of a new time of blessing. God’s people then stand, as it were, again in Shittim, that is, on the threshold of a new journey across the Jordan and a new entry into the land. This new entry applies literally to the scattered and expelled (verses 2,6). The purpose of this new entry, both literally and spiritually, is Zion, where the LORD dwells in the midst of His people.
19 Egypt and Edom
19 Egypt will become a waste,
And Edom will become a desolate wilderness,
Because of the violence done to the sons of Judah,
In whose land they have shed innocent blood.
In addition to an exceptional fertility, there is also political security. The enjoyment of the blessing of verse 18 is only possible if Judah can live without being threatened by enemies. Therefore they must be eliminated. Egypt and Edom represent all hostile peoples, but not only that. The second part of the verse indicates concrete actions that show the enmity of these peoples. They are acts of violence in which they have shed innocent blood.
Egypt has often traveled through Israel in the struggle with Assyria and has caused terrible sufferings there. Edom has seized every opportunity to aggravate the suffering Israel has experienced from enemies. In his prophecy, the prophet Obadiah speaks at length about what Edom has done to God’s people.
20 The Contrast
20 But Judah will be inhabited forever
And Jerusalem for all generations.
The destruction of Egypt and Edom is not a goal in itself, but paves the way for the purpose that God has with His people. Once the enemies have been eliminated, Judah and Jerusalem will remain forever, to all generations. It is a contrast: Egypt and Edom perish, Judah resurrects and continues to exist in unchallenged security.
21 The LORD Lives Forever on Zion
21 And I will avenge their blood which I have not avenged,
For the LORD dwells in Zion.
Through His radical punishment of the enemies of Judah, who shed much blood of the Judeans, the LORD shows that it is innocent blood. That is why they have deserved the severe punishment with which He has waited until now, but which He will now carry out anyway. By judging the nations involved, the LORD will take away the blood guilt which they have loaded upon themselves, because they have persecuted God’s people.
The second part of the verse is a repetition of the contents of verse 17. This repetition places a great emphasis on God’s lasting dwelling in the midst of His people, because that can only be a guarantee for all the promised blessing and also for the survival of Judah.
The end of the book of Joel is reminiscent of the end of history, the moment when time passes into eternity. We read about that in Revelation 21 (Rev 21:1-8). There it is also written that God will dwell with the people (Rev 21:3).