The Vision of Joel
6 ‑ Down into the Valley
Exposition of the Book of Joel ch.3
The third chapter of Joel's prophecy is so well known a passage, and so often read and quoted in studies relating to the end of the Age, that it seems almost superfluous to engage upon a detailed exposition of its verses. It is without doubt the "key‑chapter" to all that the Scriptures have to say concerning Armageddon. The short, terse, but vivid description of the nations feverishly arming themselves and coming together to the final conflict, only to meet the might of the Lord rising up out of Zion to destroy them, has no parallel in any other Biblical book. It is a summary of the more detailed explanations given by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah and John in the Book of Revelation. It definitely asserts final and conclusive victory for the powers of righteousness and it closes the prophecy on a note of finality. After all the troubles and disasters Joel has seen, he declares triumphantly that, at last, "the Lord dwells in Zion". The chapter has four sections. First of all, in verses 1‑2, God asserts His intention of bringing to a head all the smouldering opposition to His ways on the part of the Gentile nations. In that day He sets His hand the second time (Isa.11. 11) to recover the remnant of His people from the four corners of the earth. "1 will also gather all nations," He says, "and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land" (v 2). That word 'plead' does not bear the meaning we usually attach to it in these modern days, that of imploring or beseeching. It means literally "to enter into judgment with" and is used to describe the Lord's calling the peoples to account before him. Thus, we have Isa. 66.16 "By fire and by sword will the Lord plead with all flesh", and Jer. 25.31 "the Lord has a controversy with the nations; He will plead with all flesh; He will give them that are wicked to the sword", and Ezek. 38. 22, "I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him. . . . an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone". This latter Scripture is referring to the fate of "Gog's host", another prophetic view of the same event that Joel is now describing, and is the effect of the "pleading" to which the Lord refers in Joel 3. It is a judgment that comes upon the peoples whose deeds merit judgment and according to the inexorable laws of Divine creation, that judgment must surely come.
The scattering of Israel among the nations, and the "parting" (or dividing) of their land, are perfectly well known and understood by students already. The land has been repeatedly divided and re-divided, as one great Gentile empire has succeeded another. The people have been repeatedly driven into captivity and scattered into far countries at the will of every great military conqueror who may have brought them under his dominion. First were the Assyrians, who took the northern kingdom, the "Ten Tribes", captive, and settled aliens in Samaria and Galilee. Then came the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, driving Judah and Jerusalem away and leaving the land desolate. The partial restoration under the Persians was never a real restoration: the people were in subjection to a Gentile power and the land was politically divided into provinces ruled by rival governors. The Greeks drew fresh lines of demarcation and the Romans altered these in their turn, kings of the north and kings of the south marching and counter marching across the hills and valleys, bringing distress and disruption continually upon the unhappy people. Even after the great dispersion during the half century following the capture of Jerusalem by Titus in AD 70, and the ending of the national existence of the chosen nation, Persians, and Arabs and Crusaders and Turks made havoc in the Holy Land. They created and destroyed petty provinces and kingdoms ruling for a space from fortresses and cities until the sword of a stronger compelled the weaker to loose his hold. The twentieth century has seen no interruption of the process; today, the land promised to Jacob and to his seed forever, is divided between half-a-dozen Arab states amidst which the tiny portion conceded to the sons of the patriarch maintains a precarious existence. The land has been divided by the enemies of Israel, and to the time of writing remains divided.
It is against this background that the prophet goes on to declare the sins for which the Gentile nations are being called to account. This is the second section of the chapter (vv 3‑8). The whole picture is that of a people taken captive and sold into slavery at the whim of its captors. They have done so carelessly, never dreaming of retribution. But God has not been indifferent. He has taken note of all that has been done, and now through his prophet He says: "Because you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things... behold, I will… return your recompense upon your own head; and I will sell your sons and daughters..." (vv 5‑8). This is, of course, a symbolic statement. There could be no literal selling of Gentile slaves to the Sabeans, for that people no longer exists; they passed out of existence many centuries ago. And it would be difficult to find any place in the Divine Plan and its outworking for such an excursion into petty slave trading on the part of the Most High. The picture is that of retribution, the operation of the Divine law "what a man sows that shall he reap". These Gentiles have ruled over the seed of Jacob, spoiled their goods, and occupied their land, for many centuries unrighteously.
During all that time God has been planning for an earthly Servant Nation that is to rule on earth at the end. Just so has He during this present Gospel Age been developing for Himself a heavenly Servant Nation, chosen from amongst men, that shall rule them from the heavens at the end. And when the time comes for the law of the Lord to go forth out of Zion, it shall be that all men will find themselves brought under the righteous rule that is to be administered by the once despised slaves who were sold and scattered over the earth. "The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls" said Isaiah, "and their kings shall minister to you, for the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish. ." (Isa. 60. 10‑11). "In those days it shall come to pass that ten men shall take hold out of all the languages of the nations... of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, 'We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you'". (Zech.8. 23). It is a familiar story; the Scriptures are full of it from Isaiah onwards. Perhaps the Gentiles to whom the message has been witnessed for so many long years have grown so accustomed to it that they do not believe that God will really rise up to judgment and break their power over this long-suffering people. They have been able to spoil them and harry them and destroy them unchecked for so many generations. If God cared at all He would have done something about it long ago; it is not likely that anything so drastic as these prophetic enthusiasts are talking about will happen now.... "Proclaim 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 nations..., come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the nations round about". (vv. 9‑12). Like a thunderclap the prophet's declaration bursts upon the ears of the heedless ones. God is not unmindful; God is not mocked; and now He has suddenly risen up to judgment and the time of retribution is come. The nations are to gather together and it is to be for the last time. When this Day of Assembly has passed there will no longer be any nations, for the kingdoms of this world will have become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. "At the noise of the taking of Babylon the earth is moved, and the cry is heard among the nations."
This is Joel's final vision and the most glorious. It seems almost as if it has burst suddenly upon his consciousness, as though at verse 9 all the glimpses and partial views of the coming Day of Trouble, all the pictures of devouring locusts and marching soldiers, ruthless invaders and terror-stricken defenders, weeping husband - men and praying priests, have suddenly fused together into a clear and vivid picture and Joel sees, resplendent in the light of the glory of God, a regathered and repentant Israel, standing confident in the power of God, waiting the last great conflict of this present evil world, waiting the rising up of God to their defence, anticipating the overthrow and dispersal of their enemies. As they thus wait, the evil powers of earth begin to gather for the assault. It is an assault that according to Ezekiel 38 is expected by them to be one committed upon a helpless people. "To take a spoil and to take a prey". Then voice of the Lord rings out, loud and clear, commanding the angry hosts to come to the valley of their judgment and the valley of their doom. The Valley of Jehoshaphat! What is the mystic meaning of those words? Why is it that the mighty hosts of the Gentiles are to be gathered into the Valley of Jehoshaphat and that Valley becomes then the scene of their defeat and judgment? The Kidron Valley, between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, is sometimes ‑ but not in the Scriptures ‑ called the 'Valley of Jehoshaphat' and both Jewish and Moslem tradition has it that here is to take place the Last Judgment. But Joel was not thinking of the Kidron Valley. He was thinking rather of the Wilderness of Tekoa in Judea, down toward the Dead Sea where there had been a memorable deliverance of Israel in the days of King Jehoshaphat fifty years before Joel's own time. The armies of Moab and Ammon had invaded Israel; it seemed as though all were lost, but under the leadership of their God-fearing king the people placed their trust and faith in God for their defence and went out to meet the invaders, unarmed, with their priests leading the way, and singing the high praises of God. And God delivered them! The story is related in 2 Chron. 20, and it is one of the rare instances in which Israel did rise to the height of faith and reaped the reward of faith.
(To be concluded)