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Bible Commentaries
Joel 3

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


JUDGMENT UPON THE NATIONS; GLORIFICATION OF ZION, chap. 3. When the great day, announced by extraordinary phenomena (Joel 2:30-31), really breaks, its terrors will fall only upon the nations hostile to the chosen people. The purpose of this final judgment is twofold: on the one hand, to bring about a complete and final separation between the faithful and their enemies; on the other hand, to establish the kingdom of Jehovah upon earth in triumphal glory.

The conflict is to take place in the valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:1-3); the nations that have manifested the greatest hostility will suffer the most (Joel 3:4-8); in spite of their great numbers and active preparation, they will be utterly annihilated, while the people of Jehovah will suffer no harm (Joel 3:9-16); the enemies of Zion will no more pass through her; in quietness and peace the city will abide forever, with Jehovah as her king (Joel 3:17-21).

Verse 1

1. For Connects Joel 3:1, with Joel 2:32. The prophet explains why he mentions the deliverance of only a remnant of the Jews the other nations will be utterly destroyed. At the same time he indicates by what means the salvation of the dispersed is to be wrought; the judgment upon the nations will help to free the Israelites from bondage.

Behold The truth to be announced is of the greatest importance, and is worthy of the closest attention (Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 7:14; Amos 6:11).

In those days,… in that time Refers back, not to Joel 2:28, but to Joel 2:32, the time of the deliverance of the Jews (Jeremiah 33:15); the exact time is determined by what follows.

When I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem The judgment upon the nations (Joel 3:2), the restoration of the captives (Joel 3:1), the salvation of the remnant (Joel 2:32), all fall into the same period. Whether this is the right translation, or the one mentioned on page 133, “I shall restore the fortune,” there can be no doubt that the prophet intends to promise a radical change in the condition of the people; and, according to the context, an essential element in the restoration of the fortune is the deliverance of the Israelites from the power of the surrounding nations into whose hands they fell after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

Verses 1-21


Though not expressly stated, it is implied that the prophet’s exhortation was heeded; the solemn assembly was held, the people turned to Jehovah in penitence, and as a result Jehovah altered his purpose. Now he promises to remove the locusts and to restore prosperity, such as has not been known before, until all will know that Jehovah himself dwells in the midst of the people (Joel 2:18-27). The manifestation of his mercy will not stop there; to the temporal blessings he will add rich spiritual gifts (Joel 2:28-29). When the day of judgment finally comes, introduced by extraordinary phenomena (Joel 2:30-31), it will not strike the chosen people; they will be spared (Joel 2:32), and those who are still in exile will be brought back to Zion (Joel 3:1); but the enemies of the Jews will be annihilated in a terrible conflict in the valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 2:2-16). Zion will continue in the enjoyment of highest felicity under the direct protection of Jehovah, while her enemies will be turned into desolation and ruin (Joel 2:17-21).

The promises, then, refer, on the one hand, to the immediate future (Joel 2:18-27); on the other, to times more remote (Joel 2:28 ff.).

Verses 2-3

2. At the time of the restoration Jehovah will gather all nations All that are guilty of hostility toward the people of God; and that included all the nations known to the prophet, for all had sinned at some time against the covenant people.

Valley of Jehoshaphat This name is given to the scene of the final conflict because of the meaning of the name: Jehovah judges. It is thought by some that the place is to be identified with the valley in which several nations were conquered by Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:26 ff.), and which received the name, valley of blessing. That valley, however, was farther from Jerusalem than the scene of this conflict. Tradition, from the time of Eusebius on, has identified the valley of Jehoshaphat with the depression between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, otherwise called valley of the Kidron. This may be a correct identification; but it is by no means certain that the prophet had in mind any particular spot; the meaning of the name would account satisfactorily for the use of the same. Hostility against the people was hostility against the God of the people; he now interferes on their behalf.

Plead Or, enter into judgment; R.V., “execute judgment.”

Heritage They belong to Jehovah, and they are as dear and precious to him as an heirloom; therefore he will not “on any terms part with them or suffer them to be lost.”

Now follow the specific charges against the nations; they are twofold: (1) they have deported the Jews, and (2) they have parted divided among themselves the land of Jehovah.

Scattered among the nations,… parted my land These words cannot refer to the invasion of Judah by the Philistines and Arabians in the time of Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:16-17), for their deeds of violence would not warrant the use of these expressions; they can refer only to a dispersion of great numbers of Jews and the occupying of their territory by foreign invaders. But the statement of Keil, that this takes us to the dispersion of the Jews after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and that therefore we have the prediction of an event in the distant future, finds no support in the context. The words are explained best as presupposing the exiles of 597 and 586 B.C. (Ezekiel 11:17; Ezekiel 12:15). The attempt of Koenig to identify Israel with the northern kingdom only cannot be considered successful, since the terms Israel and Judah are used interchangeably in the Book of Joel. For the expression “parted my land” compare Micah 2:4; Amos 7:17.

Joel 3:3 depicts the ignominious treatment which the captive Jews received from their conquerors.

Cast lots The distribution of captives among their captors by lot seems to have been a common custom with ancient peoples (Obadiah 1:11; Nahum 3:10; Thucid., 3:50). This made the captives the absolute property of their masters, who could do with them as they pleased, even might dispose of them if they could do so to greater advantage.

Boy Since he would be of little immediate use, they exchanged him for a harlot To satisfy their lusts.

A girl Too young to serve their purposes, or after having satisfied their lusts, they give away for wine To indulge in licentious revelry.

Verses 4-8

4-8. The prophet turns aside for a moment to address the nations who had been especially hostile to the Jews; he points out their special wrongdoings and promises to them swift and righteous retribution for their crimes. Tyre, Zidon [“Sidon”] The two chief cities of Phoenicia; both are extremely old, Sidon being commonly, though perhaps wrongly, considered the older (Genesis 10:15). Tyre was situated originally on the mainland, but to protect it against invaders it was transferred to a neighboring rocky island. Tyre was nearer to Israel than Sidon; this fact and the ever-increasing power of the city account for the priority of Tyre in the great majority of Old Testament passages in which the two are named together. Here the two cities stand for all Phoenicia.

Coasts of Palestine Better, R.V., “regions of Philistia.” The territory in southwest Canaan, about fifty miles long and fifteen miles wide, divided among five chief cities; independent in time of peace, ordinarily united in time of war. “Regions,” literally, circles, probably refers to this division. The Philistines were exceedingly hostile to the Jews throughout their entire history, from the time of the Exodus on.

What have ye to do with me? R.V., “what are ye to me?” This question, which is addressed to the nations, is left uncompleted, but it is taken up again and explained in the following question. The translation in the margin of R.V. brings out the thought best: “will ye repay a deed of mine, or will ye do aught unto me? swiftly and speedily will I return your deed upon your own head.” Explain your hostile attitude toward my people. Have I done any wrong to you which you would avenge by assailing my people, or is this attack upon them without any provocation? A rhetorical question, to which but one answer can be given: There is nothing to avenge, no occasion for an attack upon my people. But, if you think that you have an occasion that demands retaliation, let me warn you that I will, and that speedily, bring back your doings upon your own head (Obadiah 1:15; Lamentations 3:64; Psalms 7:16).

Joel 3:5-6 explain what these nations have done to Jehovah: they have stolen his silver and gold and filled their temples with his precious things, and his children they have sold as slaves.

My silver… my gold,… my goodly pleasant things Not exclusively the things stolen from the temple, but also those taken from the palaces and homes of the rich. These things belong to Jehovah, because they are the possessions of his people. In ancient times plundering always followed the conquest of a city (1 Kings 14:26; 2 Kings 14:14). The temple was rich in golden vessels, the palaces full of jewels and valuables of every kind; these the enemies put into their own temples The Hebrew word means palace as well as temple (Isaiah 13:22; Amos 8:3; Proverbs 30:28). Those who insist on an early date for Joel regard this a reference to the invasion of the Philistines and Arabs (2 Chronicles 21:16 ff.); but there the Phoenicians are not mentioned. Neither do we know of a postexilic event to which this accusation could apply. It is impossible, therefore, to say with certainty what invasion is in the prophet’s mind. The historical books of the Old Testament do not give a record of all the events in the history of Israel; especially concerning postexilic times is our knowledge very limited. Not only Jehovah’s possessions but also his people have they maltreated.

Sold As slaves.

The Grecians Not the inhabitants of a city in Arabia Felix (Credner), nor Yawan in Yemen (Hitzig), but the Grecians; literally, Ionians (Genesis 10:2; Isaiah 66:19; Ezekiel 27:13; Ezekiel 27:19, etc.). The slave traffic of the Phoenicians is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament and in post-biblical writings (Amos 1:9; Ezekiel 27:13; 1Ma 3:41 ). That the Phoenicians and the Greeks had commercial intercourse at a very early period is attested by Greek writers; that slave trade may have been carried on at that early period cannot be denied; that an extensive slave trade between these nations was carried on in postexilic times is certain. In the fifth century B.C., and later, Syrian slaves and that would include Jewish were sought after in Greece.

Far from their border So that there would be no possibility of returning. Such separation from home would be a severe blow to the Jews who thought of a foreign country and a foreign nation as unclean. The prophet may have in mind the distant western colonies of the Ionians.

Verses 7-8

7, 8. Indeed, these enemies deserve punishment; and “with what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you.” All they have done will be recompensed to them according to the lex talionis. Behold, I will raise them [“stir them up”] Better, I am about to stir up. The event is imminent (compare Joel 2:19).

Them The children of Judah and Jerusalem; they will be roused into activity in their place of exile, and will be brought home (Joel 3:1); there under the blessing of Jehovah the Jews will become strong and powerful, and by means of them Jehovah will do unto the Tyrians, Sidonians, and Philistines as they have done unto Judah and Jerusalem sell them into slavery.

Sons and daughters Not children, but citizens of the countries (Hosea 2:2). Sabeans [“men of Sheba”] A celebrated commercial nation in southwest Arabia; well known from the descriptions of ancient geographers, and more recently from the inscriptions found in the district itself. They traded not only in the products of their own land, but also in those of India and Ethiopia (Genesis 10:7; Genesis 10:28; Gen 25:3 ; 1 Kings 10:2; 1 Kings 10:10).

A people [“nation”] far off The Jews had been sold into the far west (Joel 3:6); their enemies are to be sold to the far southeast. LXX. reads, “into exile”; which presupposes only a slight change in the Hebrew text and is favored by some as the original reading. The prophet assures the nations that the prediction will surely be fulfilled.

For Jehovah hath spoken it A common formula of asseveration in the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:20; Isaiah 22:25; Obadiah 1:18).

Verses 9-16

9-16. After this condemnation of the bitterest enemies of the chosen people the prophet returns to the announcement broken off in Joel 3:3. The nations are urged to equip themselves for the conflict, to gather in the valley of Jehoshaphat; but when they gather at the command of Jehovah they are annihilated, while his own people remain secure. 9.

Proclaim ye Not the pious Jews (Wuensche), but those whose duty it is to make such proclamation, the heralds, who are at the command of Jehovah (Amos 3:9; Amos 3:13).

This The message which follows.

Gentiles Better, R.V., “nations.”

Prepare war Literally, sanctify. Bring the sacrifices, perform the religious rites customary before the opening of a war; by these means the campaign is brought under the divine sanction and favor (1 Samuel 7:8-9; Jeremiah 6:4).

Wake up Or, stir up. In a transitive sense, arouse the heroes, for this is no time for slumber. The verbs now change to the third person, a very common transition in vivid poetic or prophetic style.

Draw near To battle.

Come up Against the enemy (Joel 1:6). Both are technical terms. In Hebrew two short words, which could be uttered very rapidly and thus add force and vividness to the appeal. 10. The agricultural implements are to be beaten into weapons of war.

Plowshares Heb, ittim, a rare word (Isaiah 2:4); in 1 Samuel 13:20, the same word is employed alongside of one meaning plowshare; for that reason many, following Symmachus, prefer the translation “hoe,” “mattock.”

Spears Not the same word as in the parallel passages, Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3, but a word otherwise used only in writings from the northern kingdom or from the later period of Hebrew literature. Even the weak is to arouse himself into activity, into heroism, “as it happens frequently when warlike enthusiasm seizes a whole nation.” Compare Schiller: “But war brings strength to light; it raises all above the common, even in the coward it begets courage.” The injunction here is the very opposite of the promise in Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3, that in the Messianic age the weapons of war will be turned into agricultural implements.

The first part of Joel 3:11 is better translated, with R.V., “Haste ye, and come, all ye nations round about, and gather yourselves together.” Assemble yourselves [“Haste ye”] The matter is to be settled speedily, no delay can be permitted.

All ye heathen [“nations”]… round about Not merely the immediate neighbors, but all nations outside of Israel. In the latter part of Joel 3:11 Joel utters a prayer that Jehovah may send down his heavenly warriors to the assistance of his chosen people.

Thither Where the nations have gathered.

Thy mighty ones Not the heroes, the mighty ones of Judah, but heavenly powers, angels, who execute the commands of God (Psalms 68:17; Psalms 103:20; Zechariah 14:5). In all periods of their history the Israelites believed that Jehovah was fighting their battles; so in this last great conflict he will be the one supreme moving power; he will use his own hosts to bring victory to his people.

To this brief petition Jehovah replies, though not directly, in Joel 3:12-13. He will look after the interests of his people. Let them come; I will be there to meet them.

Sit to judge Not to listen to further pleas, but to pronounce sentence. On Jehoshaphat compare Joel 3:2; another play upon words in Hebrew.

All the heathen [“nations”] round about As in Joel 3:11, all the nations of the earth. The sentence is announced in Joel 3:13 in words addressed to the mighty ones of Joel 3:11. They are to discharge their judicial office. The judgment itself is represented under a twofold figure, the reaping of grain and the treading out of grapes (Revelation 14:15 f., Revelation 14:19 f.); the latter is a common picture of terrible judgment.

Harvest Not “vintage” (Hitzig, R.V. margin).

Is ripe They are so sinful that they are ready for judgment (Amos 8:1).

Press R.V., “wine-press.”

Is full Another picture of extreme sinfulness, parallel to the preceding and to the following.

Fats Better, vats. The receptacles for the juice after the grapes are pressed out (Joel 2:24). The grapes of sin are so numerous and ripe that even before they are artificially crushed the juice is pressed out by their own weight. The same thought is expressed in the last clause of the verse without metaphor.

In the next few verses we have a picture of the judgment. First (Joel 3:14), the tumult made by the nations as they are assembling; the prophet hears them coming.

Multitudes The word is repeated for the sake of emphasis: great multitudes; literally, tumults, which refers rather to the noise made by the great multitudes than to the numbers.

Valley of decision Defines the term used in Joel 3:12; the judgment will be decisive, the chaff will be separated from the wheat; the doom of the former is certain.

Decision Margin, “threshing”; so the great Jewish commentator Kimchi and a few moderns. The judgment is so severe that it may be likened to the threshing of grain (Isaiah 28:27; Amos 1:3); but the first interpretation is preferable. The nations are gathered because the judgment is ready to burst forth.

15, 16 While the nations are gathering, the supernatural forebodings of the day are seen (compare Joel 2:10; Joel 2:30-31). In Joel 2:10, from which passage Joel 3:15 is quoted, these phenomena marked the beginning of the day of judgment upon Judah; here upon the nations. Nothing is said of the execution of the judgment, but the description of the events accompanying it is so vivid that there can be no doubt about the final outcome.

Jehovah… shall roar The figure of an angry lion is in the prophet’s mind. The verb used describes the angry roar with which the lion springs upon the prey (Amos 1:2; Jeremiah 25:30). Jehovah is ready to leap upon the nations.

Utter his voice The appearance of Jehovah is described frequently in the imagery of a thunderstorm; his voice is the thunder (Psalms 18:9-13).

Zion,… Jerusalem The temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem is the earthly abode of Jehovah; from it the manifestations of his power proceed. The very fact that Jehovah has not left the holy city is a favorable sign to the people.

The heavens and the earth shall shake A severe earthquake is to accompany the storm.

Thus far the prophet takes us; the sequel imagination must supply. The roaring lion will not allow his prey to escape; in the storm and the earthquake the nations will be annihilated. But it is only to his enemies that Jehovah shows himself terrible. From the awful judgment scene the prophet turns abruptly to describe the fate of the pious people of God.

Hope… strength Better, with R.V., “refuge… stronghold,” or “strong tower.”

They may flee to Jehovah for refuge as terrified inhabitants flee to the citadel of a city for protection. These and similar terms are often applied to Jehovah in the Psalms (Psalms 14:6; Psalms 18:3), 17. The present crisis, the destruction of the nations, and the deliverance of Israel will teach the latter that Jehovah is their

God They will now recognize him in his supremacy (Joel 2:27; Hosea 2:8; Ezekiel 38:23).

Dwelling in Zion Synonymous with “in the midst of Israel” (Joel 2:27); near enough to respond to any appeal for assistance.

Then shall Jerusalem be holy Set apart for God, and pure in character (compare Joel 2:1). Judgment, in the thought of the prophets, always has a purifying effect (Isaiah 4:4). The destruction of the enemies will prevent future defilement by them (Nahum 1:15).

Strangers Aliens, members of foreign nations, who have no interest in nor love for the things precious to the Jews (Hosea 7:9; Jeremiah 30:8).

Verses 18-21

18-21. After the judgment upon the nations, Judah, under the care and protection of Jehovah, will enjoy the fullness of the divine blessing. The seat of the former world powers will become a barren waste, while in Judah there will be fertility and peace. 18.

In that day The day of judgment upon the enemies and of deliverance for the Jews, and so the beginning of the Messianic age. Now follows a hyperbolical description of extreme fertility.

Mountains… hills The territory of Judah was “strewn with limestone rocks. The little soil between yielded only a meager subsistence in return for the most wearisome labor.” But the fertility in the new age will be so great that it will seem as if the mountains and hills themselves were giving forth the wine and milk.

New [“sweet”] wine See on Joel 1:5 (compare Amos 9:13).

Milk Canaan is called a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). The prophet, on the whole adopting the language of Amos, takes the liberty to make the change in accord with the rest of the description.

Rivers (Joel 1:20) shall flow with waters Water was doled out but sparingly in Judah, most of the brooks dried up entirely during the dry season. That will happen no more; water will be plentiful for man and beast.

A fountain… of the house of Jehovah There are two other passages speaking of a fountain that shall come forth from Jerusalem or from the temple of Jehovah (Zechariah 14:8; Ezekiel 47:1-12). All three passages may have been suggested by the fact that there was a spring which came forth from beneath the temple in a perennial stream (Isaiah 8:6; compare Psalms 46:4; John 9:7). “The idea which the three prophets share in common is that these waters should be increased in volume to such an extent as to be capable of fertilizing effectually the barren parts of Judah.”

Valley of Shittim R.V. margin, “That is, the valley of acacias.”

Valley Hebrews nahal. Not the same word as in Joel 3:12; Joel 3:14; it corresponds to the Arabic wady, a gorge between hills, through which runs a water course which in the rainy season becomes a rushing torrent, while in the dry season it dries up partly or entirely.

Shittim Literally, acacias The name of the last encampment of the Israelites before their entrance into Canaan (Numbers 25:1; Joshua 3:1); but this does not seem to be the place in the mind of Joel, for “it is hardly likely that the prophet would picture the stream as crossing the Jordan and fertilizing the opposite side.” There is to-day a depression southwest of Jerusalem, Wady-es-Sunt ( Sant), probably identical with the vale of Elah (1 Samuel 17:2), through which runs the road to Ashkelon. Sunt, the modern name of this wady, is identical with Shittim, and a few scholars (Wellhausen, Nowack) identify the valley mentioned by Joel with this depression. The great majority of scholars, however, think that the prophet uses the name to designate the Kidron valley, or at least a part of the same, now called Wady-en-Nar. It begins northwest of Jerusalem, runs along the east side of the city, separating it from the Mount of Olives, then continues in a southeasterly direction, and finally reaches the Dead Sea about ten miles from its northern end. Acacias still grow on the west shore of the Dead Sea (Tristram, Land of Israel, 280, 295). That Ezekiel has this depression in mind is beyond doubt. Whether it or the Wady-es-Sunt is referred to here cannot be determined. Wherever located, the term was chosen to designate a barren valley, as the acacia grows in dry soil; even the dry, barren soil will, in the new age, become fertile and productive. That fertility and material prosperity are an essential element of the divine blessing in the Messianic age is frequently taught by the prophets (Hosea 2:21-22; Amos 9:13; Isaiah 4:2).

Verse 19

19. While Judah is thus prospering, the curse of desolation (Joel 2:3) will fall upon Edom and Egypt on account of the crimes committed against the children of Israel.

Egypt Much had Israel suffered from Egypt from the time of the Exodus to the Exile. The only time when friendly relations existed was for a brief period during the reign of Solomon ( 1Ki 3:1 ; 1 Kings 9:16, etc.). The friendship during the Assyrian period, condemned by the prophet Isaiah, was not sincere. Egypt was well watered by nature and by artificial irrigation, but this will avail nothing when the blow from Jehovah will fall.

Edom Located south and southeast of the Dead Sea. After the destruction of Jerusalem the Edomites occupied territory in southern Judah. They also were long-time enemies of the Israelites, and they are severely condemned for rejoicing over the fall of the holy city (Psalms 137:7). It is quite possible that these two hostile nations are mentioned merely as types of all enemies of Israel and of the God of Israel.

Violence This violence consisted in the shedding of innocent blood. In their land Not in the land of the Judaeans (Wuensche), but of the Egyptians and Edomites.

Shed innocent blood Not in time of warfare, but in unprovoked massacres of peaceable Jews dwelling in these lands (Exodus 1:16; Amos 1:11; Obadiah 1:10).

Verse 20

20. While the surrounding nations become desolate, Judah and Jerusalem, the dwelling place of Jehovah and of his saints, shall flourish forever.

Dwell Margin, “abide”; literally, sit. A poetical expression of the idea of continued habitation and prosperity (margin R.V.; Isaiah 13:20; Jeremiah 17:6; Jeremiah 17:25).

Forever Hebrews ‘olam. An endless period only in so far as the speaker cannot see the end; the actual extent may be long or short, and must be determined by other considerations. Here synonymous with from generation to generation.

Verse 21

21. For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed The meaning is expressed more clearly in margin of R.V., “And I will hold (or, declare) as innocent their blood, that I have not declared innocent.” For [“And”]-Better, And so, that is, by the execution of judgment upon Edom and Egypt and the showering of abundant blessings upon Judah and Jerusalem. “I will declare as innocent” The Hebrew is chosen with reference to the expression “innocent blood” in Joel 3:19 (compare Exodus 20:7; Job 9:28). So long as Jehovah permitted the Jews to suffer and their enemies to prosper it might be supposed that the former had deserved all their afflictions; but the judgment sent as punishment upon the oppressors is decisive proof of the latter’s guilt, and so implies the innocence of the Jewish victims. The emendation of Nowack, “and I will avenge their blood, nor will I suffer (the enemies) to go unpunished,” is unnecessary. Jehovah dwelleth in Zion (Joel 2:27; Joel 3:17) This clause does not state the reason why all the promises will be fulfilled namely, because Jehovah is in Zion; nor is it a corroboration of the preceding promise: this shall come to pass as truly as Zion is the habitation of Jehovah; rather a reiteration of the greatest of all promises: The judgment executed, Jehovah will establish himself in Zion forever; never again will he forsake his people so that they become a reproach among their enemies.

The prophecy of Joel opens with a picture of utter hopelessness and despair; it closes with the promise that even the highest hopes of the most optimistic Jews shall be realized in all their fullness.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Joel 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/joel-3.html. 1874-1909.
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