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Sunday, June 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Joel 3

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


The preceding promises foreshadowed even greater deliverance and blessing for the Israelites in their far distant future. The clues to a leap to the distant future in the prophet’s perspective are the words "after this" (Joel 2:28), "in those days" (Joel 2:29), "the great and awesome day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31; cf. Joel 2:11), "in those days and at that time" (Joel 3:1), and "in that day" (Joel 3:18).

Verses 1-3

When God would restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem in that future day (cf. Deuteronomy 30:3), He would gather the other nations to the valley of Jehoshaphat (lit. "Yahweh judges"). If this is a geographical location this is the only passage in Scripture that names the site of this judgment (cf. Zechariah 14:3-5). Its exact location is debatable since no valley by this name appears elsewhere in Scripture (cf. Joel 3:12; Joel 3:14). Many interpreters believe it is the valley of Jezreel just north and east of the Mt. Carmel range. Another view, which seems preferable to me, is that Joel was referring, in a more general sense, to the place where God will judge the nations. [Note: Ibid., p. 74. Cf. the valley of vision, Isaiah 22:1, 5.] In this case the valley of Jehoshaphat would mean the place where Yahweh judges, without reference to a specific geographical site. Valleys were often preferred locations for battles in biblical times, so "valley" is an appropriate word to use to describe the place where God will defeat Israel’s enemies. Later Joel referred to this place as the valley of decision (Joel 3:14). There God would judge the nations for scattering His covenant people, His inheritance, and for dividing up His land (cf. Lamentations 5:2). They had thought so little of the Hebrews that they gambled for them. They had valued them no higher than the hire of a prostitute or the cost of a drink.

Verses 1-8

1. The announcement of judgment 3:1-8

Verses 1-17

B. God’s judgment on Israel’s enemy nations 3:1-17

God’s judgment on unbelievers would accompany the spiritual renewal and deliverance of His own in the future day of the Lord. As God promised to wipe out the locusts for despoiling Judah, now He promised to do the same to the nations that had despoiled Judah (cf. Zephaniah 3:8; Ezekiel 38-39; Matthew 25:31-46).

"Like a photographer, Joel has used a wide-angle lens for the overall picture in Joel 2:30-32. Then he zooms in for a close look at the Day of the Lord, with its mixture of judgment and grace, in chapter three." [Note: Hubbard, pp. 73-74.]

Verse 4

The Lord addressed the Phoenicians and Philistines directly. They had no special relationship to Yahweh, as Israel did, and they had not been just in dealing with the Israelites. The Lord promised to repay them for their sins. Probably these nations are representative of all Israel’s enemies since God said later that He would judge all of them (Joel 3:12).

Verses 5-6

Specifically these Gentile nations had robbed God and had sold the children of His chosen people as slaves to the Greeks. These nations had stolen from the Israelites. Amos also referred to the Phoenician and Philistine slave trade (Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9; cf. Ezekiel 27:13; Ezekiel 27:19).

Verses 7-8

To pay back these nations, the Lord said He would revive the Israelites in the remote places to which they had been sold. The Israelites would grow strong there and would sell the descendants of these Phoenicians and Philistines to the Sabeans (cf. Ezekiel 27:22-23). Thus He would pay them back in kind, which is His customary method of retribution (Galatians 6:7). This may have been fulfilled in the fourth century B.C., or the fulfillment may still be future. Allen saw Antiochus III’s enslavement of the people of Sidon in 345 B.C. and Alexander the Great’s enslavement of the citizens of Tyre and Gaza in 332 B.C. as a partial fulfillment, assuming Jews were involved in these transactions. [Note: Allen, p. 114.] Probably the fulfillment lies in the future, specifically the end of the Tribulation, since this whole section of Joel deals with what God will do in that day of the Lord. Again, Phoenicia and Philistia probably represent all the enemies of Israel (cf. Isaiah 25:10-12; Obad.) over whom Israel will eventually gain ascendancy.

Verses 9-11

The Lord issued a call to war. The nations will evidently believe that God is calling them to do battle, but, ironically, it is really to hear His sentence of judgment against them. The nations should prepare for a great battle by beating their plowshares into swords and their pruning hooks into spears. At a later time, in the Millennium, they would do the reverse because Messiah will end war (cf. Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3). The weak should "psych" themselves up in preparation. The nations should hurry and assemble (cf. Zechariah 12:9). Joel also called on Yahweh to bring down His mighty army of angelic warriors to engage the enemy of His people (cf. Deuteronomy 33:2-3; 2 Kings 6:17; Psalms 68:17; Psalms 103:19-20; Zechariah 14:5).

"But, when the nations were assembled in the valley, fully equipped for battle, they would receive a shock; they would find there the Judge of all the nations, and in their hands they would be holding the incriminating evidence of their own history of violence." [Note: Peter C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets, p. 116.]

Verses 9-17

2. The description of judgment 3:9-17

This pericope contains a call to the nations to prepare for war (Joel 3:9-11), a statement by the Lord (Joel 3:12-13), and a description of the battle site (Joel 3:14-16).

Verses 12-13

The Lord urged the nations to rouse themselves and to assemble in the valley of Jehoshaphat (cf. Joel 3:2) because it was there that He would sit in judgment on them. He compared this judgment to harvesting grain with a sickle and to treading grapes in a vat (cf. Isaiah 17:5; Isaiah 63:1-6; Revelation 14:14-20). As grapes squirt juice when trodden, so the nations will give up the wickedness with which they have been full (cf. Joel 2:24).

This scene of divine warfare corresponds to the battle of Armageddon at the end of the Tribulation (cf. Revelation 14:14-20; Revelation 16:16; Revelation 19:11-21). The judgment of the nations following Christ’s second coming (Matthew 25:31-46) will not involve warfare.

Verses 14-16

The prophet viewed many multitudes in the valley, which he now referred to as the valley of decision because there God will make a decision concerning their fate.

"Many preachers have appealed to Joel 3:14 for an evangelistic thrust; their audiences are addressed as ’multitudes in the Valley of Decision’ who must decide their fate. There is a problem with that use of this passage: in Joel the hordes do not gather to make a decision, but to hear one; they will not be deciding their fate, for God has already decreed it. The time for decisions is now past." [Note: Dillard, p. 309.]

This day of the Lord was near from his perspective, which for the prophets was often deceiving due to their foreshortened view of the future. He saw the celestial phenomena again that signaled doom (cf. Joel 2:10; Joel 2:31). Lion-like, Yahweh roared from Zion announcing His attack on the nations, and everything trembled (cf. Joel 2:10-11; Revelation 16:16; Revelation 16:18). For His own people, however, He proved to be a refuge and a stronghold.

Verse 17

Yahweh’s victory will demonstrate to His people that He is indeed Israel’s covenant God and that His special place of abode is Mt. Zion (cf. Joel 2:27). After this battle Jerusalem will truly be the holy city, set apart entirely for God’s people and no longer defiled by pagan invaders.

Verse 18

Joel continued describing the future day of the Lord, but now he passed from the judgments of the Tribulation to the blessings of the Millennium. The mountains of Israel would be so full of grapevines that they could be described as dripping with wine. There will be so many milk-yielding animals feeding on the luxuriant hills that the hills could be said to flow with milk. Instead of the wadis that have water in them only a few days each year, the streams of Judah would flow with abundant, life-giving water. All these descriptions recall conditions in paradise (cf. Joel 1:5; Joel 1:18; Joel 1:20). A spring will flow out from the millennial temple that will water the valley of acacia trees, evidently between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea (cf. Ezekiel 47:1-12; Zechariah 14:8). This will also be a visual reminder that Yahweh is the source of all provisions and fruitfulness.

"Jerusalem is the only city of antiquity that wasn’t built near a great river. Rome had the Tiber; Nineveh was built near the Tigris and Babylon on the Euphrates; and the great Egyptian cities were built near the Nile. But in the kingdom, Jerusalem will have a river that proceeds from the temple of God." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 340.]

Verses 18-21

C. Israel’s ultimate restoration 3:18-21

Verses 19-20

Egypt and Edom, probably representative of Israel’s enemies, will become deserts because they shed innocent blood, presumably the blood of God’s people. But Judah and Jerusalem would be full of people for all generations to come (cf. Ezekiel 37:25; Amos 9:15; Zechariah 14:11).

Verse 21

God’s final promise through Joel was that He would avenge the blood shed by these enemies of Israel, which He had not yet avenged in the prophet’s day. He promised to do this because He dwelt in Zion, that is, He had a special covenant relationship with Israel (cf. Ezekiel 43:1-12; Zechariah 2:10-13).

"Joel 3:1-21 [Joel 4:1-21] became the classic passage for the rest of the OT on God’s final judgment on all nations. It also became the classic statement for the blessed result for the people of God." [Note: Kaiser, p. 190. The reference in brackets in this quotation appears in Kaiser’s book and represents the versification in the Hebrew text. In the Hebrew text, there are four chapters in Joel: Joel 1:1-20; Joel 2:1-27; Joel 3:1-5; and Joel 4:1-21.]

The prophecy of Joel unfolds in chronological sequence. It begins with reference to a severe locust invasion that had come as a judgment on the Judahites for their covenant unfaithfulness to Yahweh (Joel 1:2-20). Even though it is impossible to date this plague, it happened in the fairly recent past from Joel’s perspective. The Lord used this severe judgment to call His people, through His prophet, to anticipate an even worse devastation coming in the near future, not from insects but from foreign invaders. He called on the Jews to repent and promised that if they did He would forgive them and save them from this invasion. This would be a day of deliverance in which they would learn that He was at work for them. This is what happened when the Assyrians under Sennacherib’s leadership attacked Jerusalem unsuccessfully in 701 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 18-19; Isaiah 36-37). If this is the near invasion that Joel predicted, he must have written in the early pre-exilic period (ninth century B.C.). Yet another similar day was coming farther in the future in which they would again experience an invasion by foreigners who hated them (in the Tribulation). Nevertheless Yahweh promised to deliver them in that day and to restore them to unprecedented blessing because He was their covenant-keeping God (in the Millennium).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Joel 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/joel-3.html. 2012.
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