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These verses describe the deliverance of God's people and the destruction of his enemies because of their injurious, insulting, and ignominious treatment of his people.
The time referred to: In those days, and in that time, is the first point to be determined. The reference is obviously to the period spoken of in the twenty-eighth verse of the second chapter, where we read, "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flush." This seems to fix the date at least of the commencement of the events recorded in these verses. These events must have been subsequent to that Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But a still closer specification of the time is added by way of apposition, namely (asher supplemented by bahem or bah), when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem. This form of expression includes, beside the restoration of God's people from their dispersion and redemption out of captivity or distress of any kind, their elevation also to a higher position of dignity and to greater prosperity than they had ever before enjoyed. Thus of Job we read (Job 42:10)," And the Lord turned the captivity of Job … also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before." The ki which introduces the verse gives assurance that the blessing promised in the concluding verse of the preceding chapter shall be realized; while the hinneh directs attention to the novelty and importance of the subject introduced in the first verse of this present chapter.
represents pictorially God's passing sentence on the nations that had been hostile to his people, with a general summary of the injuries inflicted on them. I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat. More than eight centuries before the Christian era King Jehoshaphat had gained a splendid victory over the allied army of the neighbouring peoples—Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites—who had united their forces against Jerusalem. The king had been assured of this victory by the prophecy of Jahaziel. Songs of praise had preceded the battle, and songs of thanksgiving had succeeded the victory; hence the place was called the valley of Berachah, or blessing. The remembrance of such a remarkable deliverance, not more than half a century before the prophet's time, would make a vivid impression on the mind of the prophet and his people. Accordingly, this splendid piece of past history is interwoven with the prophet's prediction of the future, and forms its groundwork. It is as though he said, "On a memorable occasion and in a well-known valley God was pleased to vouchsafe to his people and prince a glorious victory over the combined forces of their enemies; so at a future period, under the reign of Prince Messiah, God will subdue and destroy the Gentile nations that had oppressed his people." It matters little whether we understand the valley of Jehoshaphat in the literal sense, as perhaps the valley of the Kedron between Jerusalem and Olivet, or in a figurative sense; the representation is equally appropriate, and the imagery equally impressive. "This," says Aben Ezra, "was the war in which the children of Moab and Ammon and Seir combined their force together to a very great multitude, while Jehoshaphat had out of Judah and Benjamin mighty men of valour; and the valley of Jehoshaphat is the valley of Berachah, for Jehoshaphat called its name so." Kimchi gives the following alternative sense: "There shall be the war, and this valley belonged to King Jehoshaphat; perhaps he built there, or made there a work, and it was called after his name, and the valley was near to the city of Jerusalem; or it is called the valley of Jehoshaphat after the name of the judgment, as he said, 'I will plead with them there.'" And will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations. God would plead, or contend, with the nations, and pass sentence upon them on account of their dispersion of his heritage—nachalathi, his peculiar people, and their partition of his land, 'artsi, or kingdom. This must be referred to the long subsequent time when Palestine became a Roman province, and its capital levelled with the ground; then the great dispersion of the covenant people among the nations commenced, and continues till the present day.
They have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink. Such was the contumely with which they were treated at the time of the great catastrophe referred to. The captives were distributed by lot among the conquerors; these in turn sold them to the slave-dealers for the merest trifle—a slave-boy for the hire of a harlot, or a slave-girl for a glass or draught of wine. Such treatment had been predicted ages before, and was verified by contemporaneous history (comp. Leviticus 26:33, sqq; and Deuteronomy 28:36 for the prediction; and Josephus, . De Bell. Jud; 6. 9. 2, 3, for the fulfilment). Ninety-seven thousand prisoners were disposed of as follows: those under seventeen years of age were publicly sold; some exiled to work in Egyptian mines; others reserved to fight with wild beasts in the amphi-theatre. Also in the time of Hadrian four Jewish captives were sold for a measure of barley. Nay, more, the Syrian commander, Nicanor, bargained by anticipation for the sale of such Jews as should be taken cap-tire in the Maccabean war. The prophet, moreover, looks forward in prophetic vision to the day of final judgment, when God will, in just retribution, pour out the vials of his wrath on all the oppressors of his Church and people.
In these verses the prophet pauses before proceeding to describe the final judgment of the world-powers for their hostility to and oppression of his Church, and points out the bitter enmity of neigh-bouring nations to the covenant people in the prophet's own day, with a prediction of the righteous retribution that awaited them.
The northern sea-board of the Phoenicians, including the famous cities of Tyre and Sidon, also the southern sea-coast and plain of the Philistines, with their five principalities, are joined by vegam with the nations notorious for injuring and oppressing the people of God. The words rendered in the Authorized Version, What have ye to do with me? rather mean, What would ye with me? or still better, What are ye to me? that is. how worthless and despicable in my sight! The disjunctive question which follows becomes clearer by adopting the rendering of Keil and Wunsche, Will ye repay me a deed, or do anything against me? that is, will ye repay me some wrong-doing which ye fancy I have inflicted on you? or will ye, without such supposed provocation, and of your own free will, do or attempt to do anything against me? The double question with veim instead of im repeats, in other words or in a modified form, the preceding question; while the question itself, as often, implies a negative sense to the effect that they had neither right nor reason for averting themselves on the people of God—for God here identifies himself with his people—nor for attempting wantonly and gratuitously to harm them. The consequence would only be a swift and speedy return of the mischief on their own head, so that, as is usual with the wicked, they fall themselves into the pit which they dig for others. The idea of revenge rather than of punishment gets too great prominence in the old versions and commentators. The comment of Kimchi is instructive, though more in harmony with the rendering of the Authorized Version than with that which we prefer; it is as follows: "What have I to do with you, that ye enter my land while ye are neighbours? and it behoved you to do good to my people, but ye have not done so; but when ye saw that the kings of the nations (Gentiles)came upon them, ye allied yourselves with them to plunder and spoil … . Why is it, then, that ye are doing evil to me, if ye think to avenge yourselves of me because I have done you evil? When did I do you evil? Or if you will say that of yourselves ye are doing evil to me now, for he that does evil to Israel from his thought of doing evil to me, they are my children … swiftly and suddenly will I return your doing on your own head."
Joel 3:5, Joel 3:6
The prophet proceeds to enumerate the injuries sustained by his people at the hands of their enemies, and the evil attempted against himself.
(1) My sliver and my gold. The silver, gold, and precious or desirable things, whether taken immediately from the temple of God or plundered mediately from the palaces or wealthy mansions of his people, they transferred to their temples and suspended as trophies therein—a custom common among ancient nations.
(2) The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians. The part which the Phoenicians had in the transaction was the purchase and sale of the Jewish captives who had fallen into the hands of the Philistine conquerors. The mention of Grecians, or sons of Javan, brings for the first time the Hellenic and Hebrew races into contact—a contact sad and sorrowful for the latter. That ye might remove them far from their border. This was at once the climax of their cruelty and the aggravation of their crime. The object which their enemies had in view in selling the Hebrew captives to the sons of Javan, or Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor, was by that remote exile to prevent the possibility of their return to their own land. The historic reference is thought by some to be the event narrated in 2 Chronicles 21:16, 2 Chronicles 21:17, where it is written, "The Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines … And they came up into Judah, and brake into it, and carried away [margin, 'carried captive'] all the substance that was found in the king's house, and his sons also, and his wives."
Joel 3:7, Joel 3:8
In these verses we have the recompense of reward so deservedly dealt out to the enemies of Israel.
Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them. Instead of "raise," some prefer "waken," "rouse," or "stir up." The Judaeans would be roused out of the countries into which they had been sold, and restored to their own land, and the measure which had been meted to them meted in turn to their enemies. The deliverance mentioned here may be exemplified, if not realized in part, in the time of Alexander the Great and his successors, when Jewish captives in many lands were set at liberty. Thus Demetrius, in his letter to Jonathan, writes, "I also make free all those Jews who have been made captives and slaves in my kingdom." And will return your recompense upon your own head; better rendered, and will turn back your doing upon your head. A righteous retaliation awaited Philistines and Phoenicians. They in turn would fall into the hands of the Judaeans, and be made prisoners of war, and, as they had done, so should it be done to them.
And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off. The Hebrew expression does not mean "to sell by the hand of," as it is erroneously rendered by some; but "to sell into the hand," that is, to deliver over into the power of the children of Judah. The Sabeans were the inhabitants of Sheba, in Arabia Felix, a people actively engaged in trade, and related to the Pales-tinians in the south, as the Grecians in the north. They were a people as far off (or more so) in an easterly direction as the Greeks of Ionia in a westerly; and so Kimchi, "They were far off from their land more than the Javanites." "As the Tyrians sold Jewish prisoners to the maritime people of the far West, so the Jews should sell Tyrians to traders of the far East." The LXX; mistaking שבאים for the plural of שְׁבִי, translate the clause, "They shall sell them into captivity to a far-distant nation." If we are not to understand these predictions, with Hengstenberg, as an application of the general truth that God shall gather again the dispersed of Judah and the captives of Israel, we may find their fulfilment in such events as the following: the defeat of the Philistines by Uzziah, "when he went forth and warred against the Philistines, and brake down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod, and built cities about Ashdod, and among the Philistines;" their defeat also by Hezekiah, when "he smote the Philistines even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchman to the fenced city;" and the temporary subjection of portions of Palestinian and Phoenician territory to the Jews in Maccabean times, together with the siege and destruction of their cities, as narrated by the Jewish historian Josephus and in the First Book of Maccabees. We learn also from Diodorus that thirteen thousand captive Tyrians were sold into slavery after the victory of Alexander the Great.
After a parenthesis of five verses, viz. 4-8, detailing the injurious treatment of the Jews by some of the surrounding nations, and the righteous retribution visited on those nations, the prophet resumes the subject broached at the beginning of the chapter, especially in Joel 3:2, about the judgment to be visited on the nations in general. The verses now before us describe very graphically the execution of that judgment.
pictures the proclamation and other preliminaries of war. Heralds are sent out to make proclamation among the nations. Prepare (margin, sanctify) war. Certain formalities of a religious nature were customary among the heathen when war was proclaimed and prepared for. Thus also among the Jews supplication was made and sacrifices offered, as we read in 1 Samuel 7:8, 1 Samuel 7:9, that before the battle with the Philistines at Mizpeh, the people urged Samuel to make earnest supplication and sacrifice for them, when in compliance he "took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord: and Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel;" and thus a preparation for war was a consecration of war by religious rites. Wake up the mighty men; or rather,
(1) according to Keil, waken up or arouse the mighty men.
(2) A preferable rendering, according to Wunsche, is, "Wake up, ye mighty men;" while he understands the whole address as directed to the covenant people. It is observable theft one manuscript has העיזו, equivalent to "make strong," i.e. the heroes. In either case, the heroes may be conceived as enjoying peaceful repose when they are rudely roused by the declaration of war; and as the word "war" is indefinite through the absence of the article, it implies, "What a war! how great and terrible!" Let all the men of war drew near; let them come up. The terms here used are technical military terms, summoning the warriors to advance and march onward in haste to the place of conflict.
Beat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears. The weapons of war are to be provided; and the speediest way in which the manufacture of those weapons could be effected was by turning their implements of husbandry into them. The figure may, perhaps, have been suggested by the interest King Uzziah took in, and the encouragement he consequently gave to, husbandry and vine-culture, if we may presume Joel to have been in part contemporary with that king, of whom we are informed that "he had much cattle, both in the low country, and in the plains: husbandmen also, and vinedressers in the mountains, and in Carmel: for he loved husbandry." It is also a familiar fact that Isaiah and Micah reverse the expression in their description of Messianic times; while well-known parallels are quoted from the Latin classics. Let the weak say, I am strong; or, a hero. The approaching war was to be one in which no release, no excuse, and no exemption from any cause would be allowed, nay, the excitement of the occasion should warm the cold blood of the weakling into some degree of warlike enthusiasm. The address, it will be observed, of the previous verse is to the heroic chiefs; that of this verse, to the rank-and-file of the army.
This verse expresses the precipitancy with which the procession of the hostile nations is hurried on in order to meet their doom, as also the prophet's prayer for the descent of Jehovah's mighty ones to the slaughter. Assemble yourselves, and come. It is rather, hasten, and come; the word עוּשׁוּ, only occurring here, being equivalent to חוּשׁוּ, equivalent to "hasten ye." The LXX. and Chaldee, indeed, favour the sense of "assemble;" the former has συναθροίζεσθε. But that idea is expressed afterwards by the verb קְבָּצוּ, which is an anomalous form of the imperative Niph. for הִקָּבְצו, though some take it for the perfect with vav consec. The word hanchath is usually and properly taken as the imperative Hiph; from nachath, to come down, the pathach taking the place of tzere on account of the guttural and the nun retained without assimilation, as the nun rarely falls away in verbs that have a guttural for their second stem-letter. The meaning
(1) then, is, "Assemble yourselves." The margin,
(2) however, has, "The Lord shall bring down," i.e. cause to succumb, destroy, "thy mighty ones," which must then signify "the mighty ones of the enemy."
This, though supported by the Chaldee, Syriac, Vulgate, and Jerome, is less simple and obvious, necessitating also a corresponding change of the verbal form into חִנְחִת or הִנְחִית. The LXX. rendering is peculiar, and as follows: "Let the meek become a warrior."
This verse points out the place where the great assemblage of the heathen is to hold, and the final decision in answer to the prophet's prayer is to take place. Let the heathen he wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat. All the nations that have opposed the kingdom of God, as well as those hostile nations from round about Israel and Judah, in their more immediate neighbourhood; though these, no doubt, are primarily meant. The expression, "be wakened," of this verse corresponds to "waken up" of Joel 3:9. The force of coming up is explained by some
(1) as implying the ascent to Palestine in order to reach the valley of Jehoshaphat. It is rather
(2) to be understood in the general sense of advancing or marching on; otherwise "to come into the presence of the Most High God" may well be called "a coming up." The decision takes the form of a judicial process conducted by Jehovah, who as Judge takes his seat on a throne of judgment.
The just decision being come to, and the righteous sentence passed, the execution follows. Jehovah's mighty ones are summoned to execute it. By the mighty ones or heroes of Jehovah are meant his heavenly hosts or angels; thus Kimchi says, "Thy mighty ones are the angels;" so also Aben Ezra.
(1) The execution of Jehovah's command is represented under a double figure, that of reaping grain in harvest or treading grapes in the vintage. Similarly in Revelation 14:15, Revelation 14:18, we find the two figures—that of reaping the ripe grain, and of gathering the grapes and treading them. The ripeness of the grain and of the grapes is here, perhaps, the prominent idea. "He compares," says Kimchi, "those nations to the produce which is ripe, and its time for harvesting has approached, that man should thrust in the sickle to reap it. So with respect to these nations, their season to die by the sword in this valley has arrived."
(2) Hitzig conceives that the twofold command of Jehovah is to cut off the grapes and then tread them in the wine-press. He proceeds on the wrong assumption that qatsir, harvest, is employed in the sense of batsir, vintage; that maggal (from nagal, unused to cut, pierce, wound) is for mazmerah, the hook of the vinedresser; while bashal, ripe, which he restricts to grapes, applies to grapes and corn alike. The passage in Revelation already cited decides us in favour of (1), the judgment being represented first by the reaping of ripened grain, and then by treading grapes in the wine-press. The verb רְדו, from radah, to trample underfoot, and not from yarad, to descend, is more poetic and emphatic than the usual דרד; though Kimchi maintains the contrary, saying, "Descend ye into this valley, for it is as it were the press which is full of grapes, when it is fit to tread them; so ye house of Israel, tread these nations in this valley, and thrust in among them the sword." The fulness of the vats, again, represents the masses of the sinful nations ripe and ready for destruction; what the wine-press is to the grapes, the wine-press of God's wrath is to the wicked.
This and the following verses, instead of expressly narrating the execution of the Divine command, present a picture of it. In one part the prophet sees in vision and shows us pictorially the multitudes of the nations pouring on in one continuous stream into the fatal valley. In another compartment of the picture, Jehovah is seen in the awfulness of his majesty and in the fearfulness of his judgments on the wicked, while he is a Refuge and Strength for his people. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision. These multitudes are the tumultuous masses. Hamon is from the root הָמָה, to be noisy, or tumultuous. "It is identical," says Pusey, "with our ' hum; ' then noise, and, among others, the hum of a multitude, then a multitude even apart from that noise. It is used of the throng of a large army." The repetition emphasizes the masses as pits, pits, equivalent to "nothing but pits;" or ditches, ditches, equivalent to "full of ditches;" or it expresses diversity, equivalent to "multitudes of the living and multitudes of the dead." Decision is charuts, cut, something decided;
(1) so sharp, severe judgment, from charuts, to cut into, sharpen, dig.
(2) Others understand it in the sense of a threshing-wain, equivalent to charuts morag, a sharpened threshing-instrument. All things being now ready, the immediate proximity of the judgment is announced to be at hand.
These verses picture the accompaniments of the judgment, yet not the judgment itself.
The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The densely packed masses are already in the valley of decision, awaiting the judgment about to be executed upon them. But before the judgment actually bursts upon them, and in preparation for it, the sky is overcast; darkness, as a portent of the approaching storm, envelops them; the lights of heaven are put out. The pitchy darkness of a night in which neither moon nor stars appear is sufficiently dismal and awful; still more terrible, if possible, is darkness in the daytime, when the light of the sun is turned into blackness. The first accompaniment of the storm is addressed to the eye, and consists in the extinguishing of the greater light which rules the day, and the lesser lights which rule the night. The next accompaniment of the coming tempest is addressed to the ear, and consists in the voice of the Lord rolling in terrific peals along the heavens—the voice of the Lord like the roaring of a lion ready to pounce upon its prey: the utterance of the Divine voice when the God of glory thundereth. The third accompaniment is yet more awe-inspiring; consisting in a convulsion that pervades both earth and sky; the whole frame of nature shakes; the earthquake's shock, so frightful to bird and beast and man, has a corresponding agitation in the heavens.
Out of Zion. The presence of Jehovah is the immediate occasion of these terrors; and hence his voice proceeds from Jerusalem, or more particularly from Zion, where the visible symbol of his presence long dwelt. "For there," says Kimchi, "was his dwelling in Jerusalem; and as if from thence he roared and uttered his voice against them." Thus far the prophet pictures in very vivid, indeed terribly vivid, colours the frightful scene in the valley of decision: then stops short without describing the sad catastrophe resulting from the actual execution of the judgment. This he omits, either from revulsion of feeling from such misery. or the reader is left to imagine it himself. But the Lord will be the Hope of his people, and the Strength of the children of Israel. He shrinks, as we have seen, from describing the actual execution of judgment, and, breaking off with somewhat of abruptness, exhibits the bright side of the picture. With the destruction of his foes is joined, as usual, the deliverance of his friends. To his people he stands in the double relation of a Place of refuge (machseh) and a Place of strength (ma‛oz), that is, not only a place to which they may flee for safety, but a place in which, as a stronghold, they shall be kept safe.
Jerusalem will be a sanctuary, and strangers will not pass through it any more. In the beginning of this verse Jehovah promises to be the God of his people; he points to the place of his abode, and purifies Jerusalem by judgment that it will be a true holy place, untrodden by the foot of Gentile stranger or Jewish unbeliever any more. His people would recognize his presence and his power by the wonderful deliverance vouchsafed to them. "Jerusalem," says Kimchi, "shall be a sanctuary, like the sanctuary which was forbidden to strangers; and strangers shall not pass through it any more to do injury to them as they have done up to this day. It may also be explained that strangers shall not enter into Jerusalem, for its holiness shall be great for the future. And as the temple was forbidden even for Israel to enter there, so all the city shall be a sanctuary into which strangers out of the nations of the world shall not enter."
These verses picture Judah and Jerusalem as scenes of most abundant blessings, while Egypt and Edom are doomed to irretrievable barrenness and desolation. But, as the language must be understood figuratively, the prosperity of the Lord's laud is set in contrast with the countries of the world-powers; but the contrast includes, as we think, the allotments of eternity as well as the destinies of time.
In that day. These words express the state of things consequent on the judgment just executed. The mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow (margin, go) with waters. Thus the mountains are represented as covered over with vines of richest growth and terraced to the top; the hills as affording most luxuriant pastures and clothed with flocks; the rivers, dried up in summer and reduced to dried-up river-beds, flowing unintermittingly and coursing along with full stream. To exuberance of wine and milk is added, what is no less valuable in a thirsty Eastern land, abundance of water. The source of this abundant supply is a fountain; the fountain-head is the house of the Lord; thence proceeds a broad deep stream, which makes its way to the Jordan valley and across the river to the dry trans-Jordanic valley of acacias, as it is added: A fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim; from which statement we must conclude the figurative signification of the whole of this and the following verses. Parallels for some of the above expressions are not far to seek. Ovid's description of the golden age, in which be speaks of rivers of milk and rivers of nectar and honey dropping from the green palm tree, is cited by Rosenmuller; while the 'Speaker's Commentary' quotes from the 'Bacchae' of Euripides the lines about the plain flowing with milk, flowing with wine, and flowing with the nectar of the bees. Instead of the "hills flowing with milk," we should rather expect the milk to be spoken of as flowing; the hypallage, however, as we may consider it, makes the clause more symmetrical with those between which it stands. Thus Kimchi: "The meaning of 'They shall flow (go) with milk,' is from the abundance of the flowing and running: he applies the name of flowing (going) to the hills, even although that the milk is that which goes and flows." And in reference to the following clause he says, "He uses the name of going to the channels." That is one side of the picture. We are now invited to look on this—
Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence against the children of Judah. The curse of barrenness and utter desolation falls on the enemies of Judah—the nearer and the more remote—because of that very enmity and the violence which was its outcome. The Edomite enemies in the south revolted from Judah in the days of Jehoram; the Edomites compassed him in, and, by thus surrounding him, placed him in extreme peril; and though it is said he smote them, yet his expedition proved unsuccessful, for it is added by the chronicler that "the Edomites revolted from under the hand of Judah unto this day." The Egyptian enemies in the more distant south made a still more formidable attack on the capital city, Jerusalem, under the famous Shishak, in the fifth year of the reign of Rehoboam, plundering the palace and temple. What acts of violence were perpetrated in these or other wars unrecorded we know not. A more specific charge follows: Because they have shed innocent blood in their land. This is understood by some to refer to the blood of captive or fugitive Jews in the lands of their Edomite and Egyptian enemies. It seems preferable to understand the suffix answering to "their" of the laud of Judah, on the occasion of some hostile inroad into Jewish territory.
Joel 3:20, Joel 3:21
The contrast which these verses present to what precedes is very striking. While Egypt and Edom are devoted to desolation and destruction, Judah, personified, shall dwell (margin, abide), and Jerusalem, or rather, as we think, Judah shall be dwelt in, as also its capital, from generation to generation. In the concluding verse a reason is assigned. For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed. The blood shed by the Egyptians and Edomites is proved by Jehovah to be innocent blood, because he promises to avenge it in the end, though for wise and good reasons he had delayed to do so. This closing thought is well explained by Keil in the words, "The eternal desolation of the world-kingdoms mentioned here will wipe out all the wrong which they have done to the people of God, and which has hitherto remained un-punished." When Jehovah thus wipes out the bloodguiltiness of the enemies of Judah by punishing them with destruction for their cruelties, while he exalts gloriously, finally, and for ever his people, he proves his sovereignty over them and his dwelling-place in Zion. The Hebrew interpreters, with the exception of Abarbanel, understand this passage
(1) literally; thus Kimchi: "At that time (the day of the Lord), after making an end of the nations there, great goodness shall accrue to Israel;" the same is seen in the exposition of the last verse of the chapter. Rashi says, "Even if I shall cleanse them of the remaining transgression which is in their hands, and the evil-doing which they have done to me, the blood of the children of Judah I will not cleanse from them;" also in commenting on the same, Kimchi says, "For their silver and their gold which they took I will cleanse the nations, for Israel also shall take from them in the future, and they shall become their spoil; but for their blood which they have shed I will not cleanse them, but life shall be for life—the life of those that shed it, or of their children after them; for for all the silver and the gold that is in the world which they shall give as a ransom of their souls they shall not be cleansed of the blood which they have shed;" also, "For the ages of eternity shall his dwelling-place be in Zion, after that it shall return there in the days of the Messiah."
(2) Some refer the passage to millennial times.
(3) Others to the time of the consummation of all things. Thus Keil, comparing Ezekiel 47:1-23; Zechariah 14:1-21; Revelation 21:1-27. and 22; says, "This passage does not teach the earthly glorification of Palestine, and desolation of Egypt and Idumaea, but that Judah and Jerusalem are types of the kingdom of God, whilst Egypt and Edom are types of the world-powers that are at enmity against God; in other words, that this description is not to be understood literally, but spiritually;" he had previously intimated that spiritual sense, "For Zion or Jerusalem is, of course, not the Jerusalem of the earthly Palestine, but the sanctified and glorified city of the living God, in which the Lord will be eternally united with his redeemed, sanctified, anti glorified Church."
Deliverance and destruction.
The causal particle, with which the first verse of this chapter commences, connects it closely with the preceding. It not only introduces a further explanation, but confirms the statements there made. The course of the predictions contained in the foregoing chapter embraced the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost; the establishment of the Christian Church; the great catastrophes and troubles that should succeed; the destruction of the holy city and the dispersion of its inhabitants, here called "the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem;" the deliverance of a remnant from those troubles—at all events, the eternal salvation of the godly who cleaved to the Lord and his service. Of the general promise, a particular instance is given in the case of the Jews. But the promise to Judah and Jerusalem is a pledge of the spiritual deliverance of his Church and people, as also of temporal deliverance when and wheresoever such may be required.
I. DELIVERANCE THE PEOPLE OF GOD.
1. The relation in which Israel stood to God is symbolical of the relation in which God's people stand to him still. They are his people; "my people," he is pleased to call them; "my heritage," he names them. They are his "peculiar treasure," and "the lot of his inheritance," as he elsewhere designates them. Their land is his land. We thus see how dear God's people are to him, and what a deep interest he takes in their persons and in their property—in fact, in all that concerns them. They are his for correction when that is needed; they are his for protection from their enemies; they are his to right their wrongs, and to take vengeance on their adversaries; they are his to preserve to them their possessions, and to punish all who trespass thereon, or expel them therefrom. He keeps them and all they have as in the hollow of his hand; and they are dear to him as the apple of his eye.
2. This promise comprehends in itself a series; it is, indeed, instanced in a single case, yet it is not confined to it, but multiplies itself. Just as the Israelites were delivered out of the bondage of Egypt, and Jerusalem out of the hands of Sennacherib in the reign of Hezekiah, and the Jews out of the captivity in Babylon, and other deliverances of the Jewish Church and people took place before the advent of Messiah, so has the promise repeated itself in the many deliverances of God's people since then. Especially is it exemplified in the great deliverance from sin and Satan wrought out for us by Messiah; and shall have its complete consummation in the judgment of the great day.
II. DESTRUCTION OF THE ENEMIES OF GOD'S PEOPLE.
1. Simultaneous with the year of the redeemed shall be the year of recompense for the controversy of Zion. The salvation of God's people and the destruction of their enemies go hand in hand together. They are frequently connected in time, almost always in prediction.
2. The place as well as the time is indicated, namely, the valley where Jehoshaphat gained his notable victory, and where the allies slew one another, as if a similar fate awaited all the enemies of Israel; or the valley so called in the neighbourhood, and within view of Jerusalem, that their destruction might be within view of the very people they sought to injure; or, as the name denotes, the "valley of judgment," for whatever be the particular place intended, it will be a place of justice.
3. The destruction shall proceed according to strict justice. God will plead the cause of his people, in proof that he deals judicially, not capriciously, nor causelessly, with their enemies. In this way their destruction shall be seen to be the result of a judicial process, and fully deserved.
4. There is an enumeration of the pleas advanced, and an example of the pleading adopted.
(1) Among the former are the dispersion of Israel among foreign and far-off nationalities, the division of their land, the distribution of the inhabitants, the contempt poured on them, the cruelty practised upon them, and the despoiling of their treasures, secular and sacred.
(2) The method of pleading is expressive of deep and deserved indignation. Identifying himself with his people, he indignantly inquires—What have ye to do with me, that is, with my people? What injury have they done you? What provocation have they given you? Or, if we adopt the alternative reading of "What are ye to me?" the gist of this indignant interrogatory is—What interest have ye in me? What claim have ye upon me? Of what value are ye to me, that I should overlook such unjust and unjustifiable conduct on your part? Further, he asks—Will ye requite some supposed injury I have done you, or some imaginary provocation I have given you? Will ye requite me by taking revenge on my people, with whom I am so closely identified? Or do you mean to wreak your gratuitous malice on my people, and, out of sheer malignity, inflict on them injuries altogether unprovoked? Have you shut your eyes on the result of such conduct, which must be a swift and sudden recompense upon your own head?
(3) The common maxim of "Ill-got, ill-gone," is exemplified in the conduct of these enemies of God and his people. What they got by one sin, they lavished on another. The Hebrew captives, whom they had taken by violence, they kept in home servitude for domestic drudges to themselves or others, or transported to a distant and foreign land, and sold into slavery, while the proceeds of the barter in the one case, or of sale in the other, they expended on their lusts. The silver and the gold and goodly pleasant things which they plundered from the people, or temple of the Lord, they squandered upon idolatry. It was a common custom among the ancients to hang up in temples spoils taken from the enemy, and trophies of victory; thus the ark of God, when captured by the Philistines, was transferred to the temple of Dagon, the fish-god. With what a black catalogue of crimes these enemies of the people of God were chargeable! There were violence and rapine, slave-dealing, drunkenness and lust, and idolatry.
(4) The law of retaliation also applies here. They had sold the children of Judah and Jerusalem to the Grecians for expatriation to lands remote, where they would have no opportunity of combining for common safety, or whence they could never have the hope of returning to their country. Now, in turn, and as a just retribution, their children would be sold to the children of Judah, and by them to the Sabeans, a people far off. Whether this was accomplished, as some suppose, in the wars of the Maccabees, and their victories over the enemies of the Jews, or not, certain it is that the principle of retribution finds here a fitting place for its operation. The justice of this principle was acknowledged by Adoni-bezek, when he said, "Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me." This principle is very widely prevalent in the affairs of men, not only by way of retribution, but also in the matter of recompense. The evil that men do is returned on their own head; the good likewise has its reward.
Providence, preparation, and prevention.
Circumstances of great solemnity and grandeur shall usher in the day of vengeance on the wicked sinners of every class, especially such as persecute and oppress the people of God.
I. THE PROVIDENCE GOD AT WORK. Men propose, God disposes; they pursue their own individual plans, and yet all the while they are only carrying out the Divine purposes. A remarkable example of the wonderful scheme of God's providence is recorded in the fourth chapter of the Acts, when earthly kings and rulers were gathered against the Lord and his Anointed. "Of a truth," it is added, "against thy holy Child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together;" but in all they planned and purposed and performed, though following their own impulses, they only did "whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." So in the case before us, the Gentiles are assembling in great force and strenuously pushing forward their hostile movements against the people of God; and yet they, without thinking it and without intending it, are accomplishing the Divine purposes against themselves. They are hastening on their own destruction, and rushing on their own ruin.
II. THE PREPARATION MADE. The preparation is heralded among the Gentiles by a formal and fearful proclamation. The warlike preparations are on the grandest scale; they mean the work of war in earnest. Not only mighty men and men of war are summoned to the strife; but, besides the men whose trade is war, husbandmen are called away from their peaceful occupations, their implements of husbandry are changed into weapons of war. Even the weak are for the time to gird themselves with strength. What is the object, one naturally asks, of all this immense assemblage, of their activity and energy and vast preparations? Every one in that huge multitude thinks his mission is to destroy the people and Church of the Most High, and imagines himself commissioned for that purpose; nor do those mighty masses dream that their own doom is sealed, and that they are convened, not for the annihilation of the people of God, but for their own. They are convoked to appear before the august tribunal of the righteous Ruler of the universe to receive their sentence—a sentence in agreement with unerring justice, and to be executed in accordance therewith. The executioners are already on the spot; they are agents appointed and armed for the express purpose. It matters not whether they are angels or men; perhaps the enemies themselves, engaging in internecine strife, as was the case with the confederates that once came to fight against Jehoshaphat, then turned their arms against each other.
III. PREVENTION OF HIS PEOPLE'S FEARS. God repeats the summons to his enemies to assemble themselves for judgment.
1. This he does to persuade his own people that their fears are groundless, and to prevent them apprehending peril from the power and preparations of their enemies. To prevent them being troubled by the might and multitude of their enemies, he repeats his challenge, if I may so term it, for them to come on, one and all, with all their powers. Thus he means to show how puny and insignificant all those enemies were in his sight, and let his people know that his hand is in the whole business, overruling all and controlling all.
2. But he makes it evident that all his proceedings are in righteousness, that justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne. He pleads before he punishes; he sifts the case judicially before he passes sentence. He sits to judge, taking sufficient time and pains, so that he is justified when he speaks, and clear when he judges.
IV. PERIOD OF EXECUTION. Once judgment is pronounced and sentence passed, the execution is not long delayed. The ripeness of the harvest now ready for reaping, the fulness of the presses now fit for treading, and the overflow of the vats now waiting for the foot of the trampler, are figures easily understood, and of which the corresponding fact is the greatness of the wickedness. Harvest is used in a good sense, oftener in a bad sense; while the treading of the wine-press is always expressive of Divine wrath. The ripeness of the one and the fulness of the other imply not only the height of abounding ungodliness, but that the fulness of the time for punishment has arrived, as in the case or' the old world, when all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth, so that God said, "The end of all flesh is before me;" or as Sodom, when fire and brimstone were rained from heaven on its wicked inhabitants; or as when our Lord said, "Fill ye up the measure of your fathers. "They," says Pococke, "were ripe in their sins, fit for a harvest, and as full of wickedness as ripe grapes, which fill and overflow the vats, through the abundance of the juice with which they swell"
V. PROCESSION OF THE CONDEMNED CRIMINALS TO THE PLACE OF PUNISHMENT. The prophet himself is tilled with amazement at the assembling multitudes. He looks on for a time in wonder, as one mass of living beings follows in quick succession another, till at last, as if the procession would never come to an end, he is lost in wonder, and exclaims, in view of the assembling throngs and multitudes, "Whichever way he looked there were yet more of these tumultuous masses, so that there was nothing beside them. It was one living, surging, boiling sea; throngs upon throngs—mere throngs." The place of rendezvous is the valley of Jehoshaphat, or the valley of judgment, where Jehovah judgeth; but it is also the valley of decision. This is something more than mere judgment; it is the place of sharp, strict, severe judgment
That day-the fear of the wicked, the hope of the just.
These verses picture the dread accompaniments of the time and place of the destruction of the wicked. They give us a glimpse, and a most alarming one, of the final catastrophe.
I. THE DAY OF DECISION SHALL BE A DAY OF DARKNESS, Apart from the decision itself and consequent execution of Divine wrath upon the ungodly—an execution which, as if baffling the power of words to describe, is left to imagination to conceive—the attendant terrors of that day invest it with the blackness of darkness. Not only shall sun and moon withdraw their shining and undergo a total eclipse, but the stars shall frown upon them. The lights of heaven shall be darkened, or those lights shall dwindle before the unspeakable brightness of the glory in which the Judge shall appear, just as the stars pale and disappear in presence of the sun when he rises in splendour above the eastern horizon.
II. THAT DAY SHALL BE A DAY OF DREADFULNESS. Dreadful sounds as well as dreadful sights shall augment the terrors of that day. "As the failure of the light of the sun at our Lord's passion betokened the shame of nature at the great sin of man, so, at the day of judgment, it sets before us the awfulness of God's judgments, as though it dared not behold the severity of him who judgeth and returneth every man's work upon his own head;" so the voice of God, when he shall roar out of Zion, shall be a voice of terror. Even when the voice of God speaks words of warning, it is compared to the roaring of a lion, as we read, "The Lord hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord hath spoken, who can but prophesy?" How much more when that terrible voice is no longer a voice of warning, but a voice of wrath?
III. THAT DAY SHALL BE A DAY OF DESOLATENESS. The frame of nature shall feel the shock of strong convulsions. The heavens and the earth shall shake, but this shaking is only a prelude to something still more awe-inspiring, even such convulsions as seem to betoken their dissolution. "Nor shall it be a slight shaking of the earth at his coming," says an old writer, "but such that all the dead shall be roused, as it were, from their sleep." And when the day of final decision comes, "the heavens," we are told, "shall pass away with a great voice, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." Minor judgments are premonitions of, and should be improved as, preparations for the judgment of the great day.
"The day of wrath! that dreadful day,
When heaven and earth shall pass away,
What power shall be the sinner's stay?
Whom shall he trust that dreadful day?
"When, shrivelling like a parched scroll,
The flaming heavens together roll,
And louder yet, and yet more dread,
Swells the high trump that wakes the dead;
"Oh! on that day, that wrathful day,
When man to judgment wakes from clay,
Be thou, O Christ, the sinner's Stay,
Though heaven and earth shall pass away."
When God, in punishing his enemies, shakes as it were earth and heaven, causing such changes and commotions as seem to threaten a general upheaval and convulsion of the course of nature, it is not strange if the people of God should be agitated with fears and exercised with apprehensions lest the storm should burst over them. Accordingly, he vouchsafes to them promises to secure them against such fears and fortify them for the ordeal.
I. HE IS THE HOPE OF HIS PEOPLE. He comforts his people so that the terrors of a time of great convulsions do not overwhelm them. As God is the Ground and Founder of his people's hopes, so will he be their Crown and Consummation. He is their Harbour of refuge and their Fortress of safety. Fleeing to him, they shall not only be admitted to, but preserved, in safety. He is their Refuge on earth while the storm of wrath is sweeping over the wicked; he will be their Home in heaven at last. "The saints in the great day shall arrive at the desired haven, shall put to shore after a stormy voyage; they shall go to be ever at home with God—to their Father's house, the house not made with hands."
II. HE IS THE HAPPINESS OF HIS PEOPLE. He is the Hope of his people and the Strength of the children of Israel. We are thus taught that while all are not Israel that are called Israel, so all who are really God's people are the true spiritual Israel; and that all his spiritual promises to Israel in the past apply in the present, and may be claimed by all those who are Israelites indeed. When other men's hearts fail them, God is the Strength of his people's hearts and their Portion for ever. When the judgments of God are abroad in the earth, and sinners overtaken by them, God is a present Help to his people; and in that time of terror when the vials of wroth shall be poured out upon the wicked, joy and gladness shall be reserved for the righteous, while the joy of the Lord shall be their strength. Thus, amid all the trials of this mortal life, "in all time of our tribulation; in all time of our wealth; in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment," God is the Hope and Happiness of his people, the Support and Strength of all his true Israel.
III. HE IS THE HOLINESS OF HIS PEOPLE. While God is a holy God, heaven a holy place, the angels of God holy angels, even the Church militant is holy, and the redeemed of the Lord a holy people. But in this world the Church is a mixed society; there are tares among the wheat, chaff as well as good grain. It will not always be so. In millennial times, to which the passage points, there shall be higher degrees of holiness, of purity, of prosperity, and peace, than the Church has yet attained; but in heaven alone holiness shall be perfect and happiness complete. Meantime we are encouraged by the promise that God's presence is enjoyed by his people. He himself is the Source of holiness; the Church on earth, like Zion of old, is made holy by his presence; the place of his people's habitation, like Jerusalem of old, is a holy place; his people are a holy people. Strangers may force or find an entrance to the Church militant, or earthly Jerusalem, and pollute it; but the Jerusalem that is above, that is, the Church triumphant, shall never be trodden by stranger's foot, nor entered by anything that defiles or works iniquity. None but the true citizens of Zion shall be there, and so only those that have a right to be there. Even here and now we have the happy consciousness that God, our own God—our own "as much as if possessed by none besides, filling all with gladness, yet fully possessed by each, as though there were none besides "—dwells with us, and in us, while hereafter we shall have "unvarying, blissful, hallowing presence, never withdrawn, never hidden, never shaded, but ever shining upon us."
The promise of plenty.
These verses contain the concluding promises of the closing chapter of this book of Scripture.
I. THERE IS THE PROMISE OF PLENTY. Some understand the whole of this verse as referring to spiritual blessings, especially in millennial times. "But though the prophecy belongs eminently to one time, the imagery describes the fulness of spiritual blessings which God at all times diffuses in and through the Church; and these blessings, he says, shall continue on in her for ever; her enemies shall be cut off for ever." Others, understanding these blessings as promised to the Jeers when restored and converted, understand the last clause of the verse as relating to spiritual, and the preceding to temporal, blessings. In either case the language is beautifully poetic, and conveys the idea of exuberant blessings. The mountains, covered with vineyards, shall yield abundance of wine, or, without human toil, shall spontaneously pour it forth; the hills shall be clothed with flocks, or, of their own accord, shall yield abundance of milk; the rivers, even the tiny channels, never again reduced to dry river-beds, shall gush perennially, or overflow their banks. Thus there shall be abundance of wine for refreshment, of milk for nourishment, and of water for allaying thirst or fertilizing what would otherwise be a dry, parched land. The last clause can only be referred to spiritual blessings, both because of its source—the house of the Lord—and its course, extending to the valley of acacias, seven and a half miles to the east of the Dead Sea. This is the stream, "the Siloah," whose streamlets, i.e. the artificial fertilizing divisions, which made glad the city of God, shall make the wildest, driest spots of our mortality like the garden of the Lord.
II. THERE IS THE PROMISE OF PERPETUITY. While the enemies of God, like Egypt, the ancient oppressor of his people, and Edom, their constant enemy, are devoted to destruction, Judah the country and Jerusalem the city—all the members of the Church of Christ shall enjoy a perpetuity of blessing in time, and an eternity of bliss when time shall be no more. "Egypt and Edom and all the enemies of God shall come to an end; but his people shall never come to an end." The Judah that truly praise God, the Israel that without ceasing pray to God, shall outlive all the machinations of the wicked; the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. "The enemy shall not destroy her; time shall not consume her; she shall never decay. The people of God shall abide before him and through him here, and shall dwell with him for ever."
III. THERE IS THE PROMISE OF PURITY. This blessing contains the reason of all the rest. It is the cause of the plenty and perpetuity and all other privileges. If we accept the Authorized Version of the last verse, we conclude from it that all the guilt of sin, especially their bloodguiltiness, shall be purged away. The people of God, both Jew and Gentile, shall in the day of God's gracious visitation be cleansed from sin and throughly washed from all iniquity; otherwise they could not be fit for full communion with God. As long as we are defiled by sin, we are odious to the holiness and obnoxious to the justice of God. It is only when washed in the opened fountain, and purified by that blood which cleanseth from all sin, that we are made meet for the holy companionship of heaven. Here in the Church below the lessons of the Divine Word, the ordinances of religion, the providences of God, sometimes pleasant, oftener painful, but above all and giving efficacy to all, the blood of atonement, purge away our sins. But whatever is amiss in the Church or the Christian on earth shall be amended, whatever is wrong shall be, rectified; and the Church, as the individual soul, shall be without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Restoration from captivity.
It is believed that Joel was the earliest of the prophets who prophesied in Judah and Jerusalem. If so, it is remarkable how boldly he led the way in the general tone of his declarations and predictions, and especially with what poetic insight, with what religious fervour, he connected political events with lessons of eternal morality. In this chapter it would perhaps be possible to find nothing but history; yet the grandeur and solemnity of the language point rather to truths of Divine import and power as the real significance of the prophecy. The very captivity here foretold has its spiritual analogy, and the restoration of Judah is a type of the ransom of mankind.
I. THE WORST CAPTIVITY IS THAT OF HUMANITY TO SIN.
1. This implies that sin is not the true and proper lord of our race, but that God has a claim to the loyalty and obedience of men.
2. And that sin is a tyrant, arbitrary, unjust, and basely oppressive.
3. And further, that in such bondage, no peace, no liberty, no satisfaction, are to be found.
II. THE ONLY DELIVERER OF HUMANITY IS GOD HIMSELF.
1. His interposition is prompted by Divine compassion.
2. And is effected by supernatural means. In rescuing Judah from the captivity in the East, Jehovah was painting, as it were, beforehand a picture of what was yet to be. In Christ God laid help upon One who was mighty; his designation is emphatically the Redeemer.
3. The interposition is completed by the restoration of the ransomed to greater happiness than by their disloyalty they forfeited and lost.
III. THE RESTORED FROM SPIRITUAL CAPTIVITY ARE SUMMONED TO OBEDIENCE AND PRAISE.
1. TO obedience, because they have tasted the bitter fruits of rebellion, and have learned the lesson that true happiness lies in cheerful subjection.
2. To praise, because such mercy as they have experienced deserves grateful and unceasing acknowledgments.—T.
Joel's prophetic foresight beholds the calamities that are to come upon the Jews, his countrymen. Looking back upon the past, we are able by the records of history to verify the justice of these predictions. The transportations into the East, the oppression under Antiochus, the dispersion by the Romans,—these awful events in Hebrew history rise before our view. But where shall we look for a fulfilment of the predictions of vengeance and of retribution? Surely God in his providence has spoiled the spoilers, and led captivity captive! There is but a name and a memory left of the proud conquerors and the mighty nations that oppressed and scattered Israel. An omen this of final judgment—a picture of the purposes of the Eternal. The Lord reigneth, and none can stay his hand.
I. THE OPPRESSION OF GOD'S PEOPLE BY THEIR FOES.
1. The laud is parted. The sacred soil is divided among strangers, for the tribes to whom it was allotted are dispossessed. The heirs become slaves, and toil upon their own inheritance.
2. The treasures are carried away. The silver, the gold, the pleasant things, which have been a delight to the eyes and an enrichment to the population,—these are carried off to adorn the palaces and temples of the conquerors and captors.
3. The inhabitants of the land are led into captivity, are scattered among the nations, far from the homes of their ancestors and the scenes of their childhood.
4. Nay, even worse, the children are sold as slaves, as worthless trifles, or as ministers to the luxury or the lust of heathen masters.
II. THE RESCUE OF GOD'S PEOPLE FROM THEIR FOES.
1. The enemies and oppressors shall be themselves defeated and vanquished. The valley of Jehoshaphat, or "the judgment of Jehovah," is to be the scene of a righteous retribution, in which the cause of God's people shall be maintained, and their enemies judged.
2. The people of God shall be restored to their dwelling-places, and their former happiness and privileges; the mischief shall be undone.
3. And the oppressors shall in turn endure the fate they inflicted upon the Lord's people; they who sold Israelites into captivity in the West shall themselves be deported as slaves into the East. From this prediction the great lesson may be learned that the Lord reigneth—that he suffers nothing to happen to his people that he will not overrule for their good and for his glory.—T.
War and judgment.
This is truly prophetic language; for the writer is not merely relating historical facts, or foretelling future events; he is uttering great moral and religions principles. The form these utterances assume is determined by the circumstances of Judah in the time of the prophet; but the truth enunciated is one which is universal and all-important.
I. A PICTURE OF WAR.
1. The vastness of the scale upon which it is conducted appears from the language employed to designate those who take part in it. They are "the Gentiles;" "all the nations."
2. The valour and renown of the combatants are set forth in the expressions," the mighty men," "the men of war," etc.
3. The military preparation and warlike accoutrements are brought before us very vividly and picturesquely in the representation of ploughshares fashioned into swords, and pruning-hooks into spears.
4. The warlike array is denoted by the directions to "assemble," to "come up," etc.
II. A PICTURE OF JUDGMENT AND RETRIBUTION.
1. The vast multitudes who intend to gather for battle prove in reality to have gathered for judgment. They came in battle array to contend with the Lord of hosts; and 1o! they find themselves standing at the bar of the great Judge of all.
2. The Lord sits upon his judgment-seat, his throne, whilst before him are gathered all nations.
3. Under two striking figures is set forth the judicial process and the punitive consequences which ensue. The harvest is reaped, the wine-press is trodden. The enemies of the Lord and of his people are, as it were, mown down by the hand of the reaper; their blood flows from the wine-press of the wrath of God.
APPLICATION. The passage shows us the omniscient regard of God surveying all the sons of men, and the power of God defeating the counsels of rebels and foes, delivering the righteous from oppression, vindicating the cause of truth and obedience. The sway of the Supreme extends throughout the universe; and however we may be perplexed and baffled by seeming disorder, we may be assured that the sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of God's kingdom, and that every enemy shall be put beneath his feet.—T.
The valley of decision.
A learned and interesting book has been written upon 'The Decisive Battles of the World.' Often in the long history of mankind, the fate of races, of empires, as well as that of kings and heroes, has been settled upon the battle-field. Decisive conflicts often occur in the region of thought and belief, in the region of personal influence, where there is nothing to attract general attention. But even more overlooked and unnoticed is the perpetual Divine judgment which takes place in human life and human society; and even more forgotten is the day of judgment, which revelation assures us shall surely come. Not denying that there may be in this verse a reference to some special historical incident, we may yet take it as conveying a great and solemn truth applicable to the moral life of humanity.
I. LAW AND RETRIBUTION ARE PRESENT AS PERPETUAL FACTORS IN HUMAN HISTORY.
1. Nations are judged by their works. What is stated in this chapter regarding Judah, Tyre, Sidon, and the Gentile nations that surrounded Palestine, is not true of them alone. God is the Ruler of the nations. National error and crime are visited by Divine penalties, and the nations that endure probation are exalted to honour and to sway. Hi§tory is now better understood than formerly, and it has become growingly evident that deep-seated moral causes underlie and explain the changes, the rise, the decline, the fall, of peoples.
2. Individual life is equally the province of God's retributive government. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap;" "The wicked shall not go unpunished." His prosperity shall not last for ever; it shall be seen that there is a Judge in the earth. We, indeed, have no right to set ourselves up as infallible interpreters of the ways of God; we have no right to infer from particular sufferings particular sins; but the fact of God's moral rule we cannot question, and we should never for a moment forget.
II. THOUGH RETRIBUTION BE DEFERRED, ITS ACTION WILL NOT BE EVADED; FOR THE DAY OF THE LORD IS NEAR.
1. Men's conscience assures them that, although for a season they may escape the deserved penalties due to their misdeeds, a time of reckoning shall come, and that soon.
2. The reflections to which events constrain us, and which lead us to consider the course and order of Divine Providence, cannot but induce a belief that the inequalities of this world will be redressed hereafter; that although vice and virtue may not here meet with their recompense, that recompense will be accorded hereafter.
3. Revelation comes in to make the probability a certainty. The Hebrew prophets seem to point on to a day of the Lord, in which the inequalities of this life shall be corrected, in which the truth shall be made manifest, in which every man shall receive according to his works. Indeed, the future judgment occupied a more prominent position in the preaching and teaching of the apostles than it usually holds in Christian teaching at the present time. In that day, for which all days were made, multitudes shall be gathered in the valley of decision; the righteous Judge shall administer his awful functions in the sublimest publicity, and upon principles of unquestionable rectitude. Happy is the Christian who can look forward with equanimity and hope to the day when "every man shall receive his praise from God."—T.
The Lord his people's Hope and Strength.
The prospect of the day of the Lord is to the sinful fraught with dread and with dismay. To them the judgment brings the delayed condemnation, and therefore the very thought of it is associated with alarm. But the language of this verse reminds us how differently the Divine appearance and interposition are regarded by the true people of God.
I. THE RIGHTEOUS LORD IS THE HARBOUR AND THE HOPE OF HIS PEOPLE.
1. They have need of a Divine and secure refuge and confidence.
2. They have received God's revelation of himself, and are accordingly able to trust and rest in him.
3. And thus the expectation which brings to others consternation, brings to them a tranquil confidence.
II. THE RIGHTEOUS LORD IS THE STRENGTH OF HIS PEOPLE.
1. This assurance supports them when conscious of their own feebleness.
2. And when convinced by experience of the comparative strength of their enemies.
3. To them the power of God is a welcome thought; for the irresistible might, which others fear because it ensures their defeat and destruction, will be exercised by a faithful God for the protection and preservation of all who trust in him.—T.
The Lord's holy dwelling-place.
When Jerusalem was entered by hostile armies, it must have been to the Jews a sore amazement and trouble to behold the sanctuary of God profaned. The city was a holy city, and the temple was a holy building. National disaster involved the profanation of what was justly regarded as "holiness unto the Lord."
I. THE TRUE JERUSALEM IS THE CONSECRATED CHURCH OF CHRIST. In the elder dispensation certain places were holy. But the Christian religion has taught us that holiness is not local, ceremonial, or official. True holiness is of the heart. Hence the spiritual temple is that constructed of living stones. The true Jerusalem is the city composed of renewed and sanctified citizens and subjects of the new and spiritual kingdom.
II. THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD CONSECRATES AND BLESSES ZION. His omnipresence is not to be questioned. But the presence of his approval, his favour, his love, is peculiar to his own chosen abode. In his holy mountain, the Church of his Son, God ever dwells as in a congenial residence. His presence diffuses purity, confidence, and joy.
III. THE INDWELLING OF THE LORD BANISHES FROM THE SPIRITUAL JERUSALEM ALL THAT COULD INJURE OR DEGRADE. The presence of the foreigner contaminated and defiled the holy dwelling-place of the Eternal. As such invasion was loathed by patriotic and pious Jews, we can understand how welcome was the assurance that strangers should no more pass through the city. The perfection of the saved and glorified Church of God involves its freedom from all that is uncongenial and inharmonious. There shall in no wise enter into heaven "anything that defileth."—T.
The language of the prophet in this passage is obviously figurative. In poetical terms, the boldness and beauty of which are not exceeded by the graceful and imaginative writers of classical antiquity, Joel depicts the reign of peace, plenty, and prosperity. Literally these words have not been, and will not be, fulfilled. To some they speak of a restoration of Israel, yet in the future, of a period when all the delights that a nation can enjoy shall be secured in abundance to the descendants of Abraham. It seems a more sober and more profitable interpretation to read in these words a prediction of the spiritual prosperity of God's people, whether to be enjoyed upon this earth or in the new heavens and the new earth.
I. THE MOUNTAINS DROPPING WINE SYMBOLIZE THE SPIRITUAL JOYS OF CHRIST'S CHURCH. The Scriptures speak of wine as "making glad the heart of man." The "new wine" of the gospel is for the enjoyment of the elect. The wine of the kingdom is of celestial vintage; they who partake of it are "filled with the Spirit." The joy of the new covenant, the joy of the Lord, is the portion of the rescued, emancipated, and consecrated Israel.
II. THE HILLS FLOWING WITH MILK SYMBOLIZE THE SPIRITUAL NUTRIMENT OF CHRIST'S CHURCH. We are taught by the apostle to "desire the sincere milk of the Word, that we may grow thereby." Even the babes in Christ can partake of this nourishing spiritual diet; but the strong men do not disdain the food. As Canaan was "a land flowing with milk and honey," so the Church of the blessed Saviour abounds with all that can enrich and nourish and bless the people of God. "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more."
III. THE RIVERS FLOWING WITH WATERS SYMBOLIZE THE REVIVAL AND REFRESHMENT OF CHRIST'S CHURCH, Several of the prophets, expatiating (as they loved to do) upon the glorious prospect afforded them by inspiration of the future of the Church, describe one element of that happy future by the figure of a river flowing from its source in the Lord's house at Jerusalem, and fertilizing the soil until it should enter the Dead Sea or the Mediterranean. And the Apostle John beheld the river of the water of life, flowing out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. How exact is the correspondence between the prediction and the reality! It was in Jerusalem that Jesus was condemned, and hard by that he suffered; and his cross was the source of a river of spiritual blessing to mankind. Wherever his Spirit penetrates, there life is revived, souls are saved, society is purified, weariness is refreshed. Not earth only, but heaven, is fertilized and cheered by the water which Christ gives in a sweet, unceasing stream.—T.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
A harvest sermon.
"Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe." Joel is alluding here to a coming judgment, in which the results of men's sins would appear, and each would reap as he had sown. Our Lord's parable of the tares, which points us onward to a future harvest, very fitly illustrates these words. The harvest of each year is fraught with instruction to us, reminding us as it does of the bounty which supplies our needs, the fidelity which remembers our toil, and the certainty of retribution and reward being apportioned to the careless and to the faithful. To the disciple of the Lord Jesus no phase of nature should be a blank. Each contains lessons which are as truly written with the finger of God as were the laws on tables of stone. Asking the aid of him who can lead us into all truth, let us see what truths appear in every harvest-field.
I. THE HARVEST REVEALS THE RESULTS OF MAN'S LABOUR. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly, and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." Both in kind and in quantity, every harvest is proportioned to our sowing.
1. We see this in social life. The nation which allows its children to grow up in hovels where decency is impossible, and under conditions in which knowledge and virtue are out of reach, will have to reap as it has sown—in jails and penitentiaries, in abject misery and festering vice.
2. In our intellectual life, as every man in due time discovers for himself; e.g. the indolence and the studiousness of school-days have their certain results.
3. In the occupations we follow we sow as we reap. Wealth or fame depends upon our choice and persistence.
4. In the moral and religious sphere the same law holds good, so that the worldly need not complain if they are hopeless of heaven, and the religious need not be indignant if the wealth of this world is not theirs. Yet we must remember the injunction, "Judge nothing before the time." God's Word points us on to a future in which alone we shall be able accurately to estimate the full issues of our present life. We look for a distant day when he shall say to his angels, "Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe."
II. THE HARVEST PROCLAIMS THE SUPREMACY OF DIVINE LAW.
1. Science has demon-strafed the constancy and regularity of the laws of nature. Amongst them is this: "Seed-time and harvest … shall not cease." If it had not been for the fidelity of our God in fulfilling this promise, husbandry would have been discouraged, many of the race would have perished, and the world would only be peopled by a wandering race of starving fishermen and hunters. It is the stability of law which preserves humanity. If, then, we trust God in nature, ought we not to trust him in the higher sphere where he reigns as certainly? We are confident that he will be true to himself in all the physical laws he has ordained, so that we dare not trifle with them, knowing that retribution is certain. Then let us not forget his words, "He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption."
2. The thought that our God rules in every sphere should give sanctity to all our employments, and to all the relationships which they necessitate. The Christian who does a menial service, and is treated with indifference or with unkindness, may be encouraged by the reflection that he can "therein abide with God." On the other hand, employers will feel their responsibilities, and, even at the risk of their interference being resented, will give counsel and warning and encouragement (as well as wage) to the weak and unwary.
3. Most of all, in the broad fields of Christian service, we should work as those who are under the eye of "the Lord of the harvest." He will give us the seed of truth to sow; he will prepare the soil of human hearts; he will water what we have sown, and let it appear "first as the blade, then as the ear, and afterward as the full corn in the ear."
III. THE HARVEST WITNESSES TO THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF GOD'S PURPOSE.
1. He has a purpose about everything, but with him there is no haste. In proportion as we are co-workers with him, we must experience the Divine slowness. A farmer cannot hasten his harvest, but must wait for the due season. He can do little more than watch it; for as he sleeps and rises night and day, the seed springs up, he knows not how. He must wait and trust.
2. Let us not be discouraged about ourselves, though the new life within us does seem immature. Let us not fear the storms of temptation, weak though we are in ourselves; for God can care for the feeble blade as well as for the mighty oak. Nor should we, in our impatience, try to force spiritual growth by unwholesome excitement. "In due season we shall reap, if we faint not."
1. Even in this life the law of retribution and reward makes itself felt. The old proverb truly says, "He that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him." Haman plotted his own destruction. His vaulting ambition overleaped itself. The men of Babel meant to form a social combination which should bid defiance to God, but only brought about their scattering. The Pharisees crucified the Son of God, but they made his cross the pivot of the world's history. Our own observation and experience can give many examples of folly and sin bringing dire results even in this world. Popular proverbs embody this universal expectation: e.g. "Ashes fly in the face of him that throws them;" "Harm watch, harm catch;" "He that sows thorns, let him not walk barefoot;" "Even as I have seen, they that plough iniquity and sow wickedness reap the same."
2. The law of retribution, of which we see glimpses here, will be revealed in the experience of all men hereafter. On earth we see, as it were, an ear or two ripening to show what the crop will be like; but the harvest is yet to come, and none can hinder it or alter it. Let us not delay the sowing of good seed until the mandate is heard, "Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe."—A.R.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
The persecution of good men.
"For, behold, in those days," etc. "In this chapter the prophet returns from the parenthetic view which he had exhibited of the commencement of the Christian dispensation and the overthrow of the Jewish polity, to deliver predictions respecting events that were to transpire subsequent to the Babylonish captivity, and fill up the space which should intervene between the restoration of the Jews and the first advent of Christ. He announces the judgment to be holden on their enemies after their return to Judaea" (Henderson). And in these two verses he specifies the reason why they were to be punished. Our subject is the persecution of good men on earth.
I. THERE HAVE EVER BEEN GOOD MEN ON EARTH. Corrupt as the world has been for sixty centuries, there have always been in every generation some men whose characters in the main have been good, and in whom the great Governor of the world has manifested a special interest. These are in the holy book called by a large variety of names. They are called here:
1. "My people." They are his.
(1) They have surrendered themselves to his will All others are controlled by a variety of laws, they evermore by his will. Whatever they do, in word or deed, they are inspired by a loving loyalty to his will. They are his faithful servants, his loyal subjects, his loving children begotten again by his will.
(2) He has pledged them his loving guardianship. He is their Shepherd. "He leads them by still waters." He is their Father. "As a father pitieth his children." He makes for them all necessary provision, both for this life and for the life that is to come.
2. "My heritage." In Exodus 19:5 you have these words, "Now therefore if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine." He who owns the universe, esteems holy souls as the most valuable of his possessions. The vast universe of matter is in his estimation worth nothing in comparison with one truly virtuous spirit.
II. THESE GOOD MEN ON EARTH HAVE GENERALLY BEEN SUBJECT TO PERSECUTION. "Whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land." The faithful and the true amongst the Jews had, subsequent to their restoration from Babylonish captivity, been driven by violence amongst the nations. The indignities and cruelties which they. were subject are specified in the subsequent verses. "Persecution.". says an old writer, "is the reigning sin of the world." The enmity between the seed of the woman and the serpent has shown itself from the beginning. "Marvel not," said Christ, "that the world hate you." There is a persecution that, whilst it does not involve bonds, imprisonments, and physical violences, involves the malice of hell, and inflicts grievous injury. There is social calumny, scorn, degradation, and various disabilities. The good must ever suffer in a world like this for conscience' sake.
III. THEIR PERSECUTION WILL BE AVENGED BY HEAVEN. "I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel." It is not necessary to suppose that the valley of Jehoshaphat here means the vale through which the Kedron flows, lying between the city of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives; or the valley of blessings mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20:1-37; or any other particular place. Its literal meaning is, "the valley where God judgeth." It means here the scene where God would deal out retribution upon the nations that persecuted his people. It was in the valley of Jehoshaphat that in all probability the army of Sennacherib was slain by Heaven's avenging angel. Ah! the time hastens when persecutors of all types and ages will have full retribution dealt out to them in some great valley of Jehoshaphat.—D.T.
"Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles," etc. Here is the first startling boom of the righteous retribution. Some think the reference is to the approach of Sennacherib, or Nebuchadnezzar, or Antiochus; but the language seems strong and grand enough to represent the approach of the last day. In this retributive scene there are several things observable.
I. THE GREATEST RESISTANCE ABSOLUTELY FUTILE. "Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: beat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord." The idea is—Let all the enemies of God do their utmost to ward off this judgment. It means—Do your utmost, muster all your strength, "wake up the mighty men," let them turn their agricultural implements into weapons of war, swords and spears; all will be futile. Heaven bids defiance to all such opposition. "The heathen may rage, and the people imagine a vain thing; but he that sitteth in the heavens laughs them to scorn." "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ." Wicked spirits will fight to the utmost, but will fail.
II. THE GREATEST MULTITUDES ASSEMBLED TOGETHER. "Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision." Oh, this valley of decision, this valley of Jehoshaphat, this scene of judgment! what untold multitudes are summoned to appear therein! All the men of all generations will be there, and the Judge will appear also, and all the holy angels too, etc.
III. THE GREATEST PROPRIETY DISPLAYED IN THE WHOLE. "Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great." The judgment is only the harvest; hell is only sin ripened into fruit. "In that valley those that have sowed to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; those that have sowed to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap everlasting life." No one, then, will have any just reason to complain. It is mere reaping of what they have sown; it is the mere result of their own labours.
IV. THE GREATEST AWFULNESS DISPLAYED. "The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake." He shall "roar." Now he speaks in the still small voice of mercy, then he shall roar like a lion, striking terror into all ungodly hearts. "At his voice the heavens and the earth shall shake." The idea is
(1) he will appear on that day in such a way as to strike terror into the hearts of his enemies; and
(2) to inspire hope in the hearts of his people. "The Lord will be the Hope of his people" Should the material universe be frightened into nothingness at his approach, even then his people will still have a strong Hope in him. "God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in time of trouble." Let us learn calmly to await the judgment.
"God's ways seem dark, but soon or late
They touch the shining hills of day;
The evil cannot brook delay,
The good can well afford to wait,"
The millennium era.
"And it shall come to pass in that day," etc. This passage begins with a splendid representation of the glorious prosperity which shall attend the people of God after the destruction of all their enemies. Whatever their application to the Jews at any period of their history, they certainly bear an application to that period foretold by prophets and sung by poets,—the millennial period. Giving it this application, observe—
I. IT WILL BE AN ERA OF PLENTIFUL PROVISION. "And it shall come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim." Fertilizing streams will irrigate the land. The vineyards on the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the well-fed cattle shall yield abundance of milk. The idea is, in that age there will be a profusion of all that is necessary to supply the needs and gratify the desires of men. The time, I verily believe, will come when pauperism will be banished from the earth, when indigence, squalor, and want will be evils existing only in the history of the past. Even now it does not require the earth to he more fruitful than it is, to yield mankind ample supplies. What is wanted is men less avaricious, indolent, extravagant, intemperate, and wasteful.
II. IT WILL BE AN ERA OF COMPLETE CONQUEST. "Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence against the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land." Egypt and Edom, the old and inveterate enemies of the Jews, are here represented as crushed into utter desolation. Error and sin are the Egypt and Edom of the world. These will be crushed one day. The great moral Deliverer will bruise Satan under our feet, will put down all rule and authority, will make mankind more than conquerors. There is a period of moral conquest and moral kingship that will dawn upon souls before the history of the world is over.
III. IT IS AN ERA OF ABIDING PROSPERITY. "Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation." So long as the earth endures the righteous shall continue. They will endure throughout all generations, and happiness will attend them. The kingdom of truth, purity, love, and peace, which Christ is now building up, and which one day he will make commensurate with the world, will continue from generation to generation; it will have no end.
IV. IT IS AN ERA OF MORAL PURITY. "For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed." That is, I will radically cleanse them. Their very blood, which has been a current of moral pollution, I will make pure in every particle. I will cleanse, not merely their skin, or their external parts, but the whole current of their life.
Such is the era which the passage anyhow suggests; such is the era that awaits the earth. Would that it had dawned! Haste, ye circling seasons, and bring it on—or rather haste, ye servants of Christ, to disseminate those principles of the gospel over the earth in whose mature development consists the blessed era!
"The time shall come when every evil thing
From being and remembrance both shall die;
The world one solid temple of pure gold."
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Joel 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany