Harry Whittaker

Joel 3: The Last Days

3:1,2 "For, behold, in those days, and at that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, 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, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land."

The conjunction "For" (ki) requires that chapter 3 be not read as a separate prophecy. There must be no carving up of Joel into pieces. This prophecy is a unit. But here is a first-rate example of how Joel moves backwards and forwards between invasion, suffering, captivity, repentance, blessing and the glory of Messiah’s reign. Yet amidst it all, he never mentions Messiah once. Will somebody please elucidate this mystery? Is it that when he writes "the Lord" or assumes a use of the first person pronoun (as in 2:25; 3:1,2) it is to be understood that Messiah himself speaks or is spoken about?

Here, then, in v. 1,2 is a preparatory warning of how the final drama will work out. There is to be another captivity of Israel, making all others dwindle into obscurity with their unimportance. "I will bring again the captivity" means "I will bring back from captivity." Joel is, of course, building on the experience of his people when, in his own day, they were stricken and apparently brought to irreparable ruin. By comparison with the thoroughness of Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar’s captivity was a boy-scout exercise. To appreciate the Nazi ruthlessness of those Assyrians, the reader is directed to the Taylor Prism and to "Isaiah" (HAW), Index on "Captivity".

But the worst is still to come. No matter how blood-curdling the AD 70 fulfilment of Luke 21:24 may appear after a reading of Josephus, that will be a kindergarten story by comparison. For the real down-treading of Jerusalem is to endure through "the times of the Gentiles"! Those "times" (‘a time, times, and a half’) have not yet begun.

There have been some astonishing and rather unintelligent attempts to read the words "all nations" with strict literality, as though the entire United Nations will combine against Jerusalem, including Hottentots and Eskimos and Fiji Islanders sharing a common hostility against God’s people and God’s land.

Yet there are passages in plenty to show that "all nations" means ‘the nations surrounding Israel’. Here is one example. One consequence of the destruction of Sennacherib’s army was that "many brought gifts unto the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth" (2Chr.32: 23). Cp. also Is.29: 7,8; 17:12-14; I Ch.14: 17; 18:11; Ps. 118:10; Is. 14:26; 34:2,4; Jer. 27:7; Obad. 15. Samples of the nations concerned in this final vindication of Israel are given; Tyre and Zidon (Lebanon), Philistia (the Gaza strip), Egypt, and Edom (v.4, 19).

"The valley (emek) of Jehoshaphat" where this open outpouring of wrath is to take place is not identifiable. The Kidron defile is too narrow to be called an emek. The valley of Hinnom seems more likely, especially since, according to Isaiah 30:33, the Assyrian prototype of this great crisis was to be found in Tophet (lit: set up from yesterday—an allusion to Joel 3?). It is "the valley of the judgment of Jehovah, and He will accomplish judgment there" ("plead" is a poor translation, not to be adopted in any occurrence of this Hebrew Niphal).

The ground for this divine act of wrath is simply this: "they have scattered my people among the nations (the nations already mentioned in this verse 3)".

3:3-6 "And 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.

Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? Will ye render me a recompense? And if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompense upon your own head;

Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things:

The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their border."

It is a terrible picture of the despite to be done to Israel when the time is ripe. Jerusalem will be captured, and half its population (the Jewish half, of course) will be hauled away to endure every horror of captivity that Arab cruelty can devise (Zech.14:2). There will be competition for possession of slaves (the Arab races have maintained slavery long after the rest of the world has given it up). The whore and the drug peddler will take their pay in this new currency. And many will be shipped away to other lands (Greece, Turkey, Egypt; v.4,6,19 and notes there).

It goes without saying that there will be a ruthless plundering of every Israeli resource worth plundering. In the prophet’s own day the personal pronouns used here had special force: "my goodly pleasant things...carried into your temples. " Literally true, then! The sanctuary in Jerusalem was stripped of its finest treasures in a desperate but futile attempt to buy off the invader (2 Kgs. 18:16). And, whilst there is no holy building in Jerusalem today dedicated as it should be to the glory of Jehovah, it may be taken as certain that the magnificent Muslim mosque on Mount Zion ("temples" being taken as an intensive plural) will be jubilantly adorned with all the finest trophies captured from the Israelis.

The dominant motive for this ravaging of the land will be revenge — "a recompense". The Arabs are people with long memories. The successive defeats inflicted in one Arab-Israeli war after another are laid up in unflagging Muslim memories. Today the world’s fourth super power. Soon the trampled remnant of a broken state!

Ezekiel 39:23-25 is a powerful passage, eloquent about the reasons for this final phase of Israel’s bitter bondage. The utter godlessness of a big proportion of Israel’s population and the gross perversion, by the "orthodox", of the wholesome religious truth which Moses and the prophets bequeathed to the nation, are more than sufficient to explain why the incomplete Hitler holocaust must yet be resumed. Many’s the time that the question has been argued and debated in all Jewish communities: "Why, why this sustained suffering of God’s chosen people?" And the answer, never even considered, is: Because they are the chosen people who yet refuse to honour the God of their fathers.

Yet God does not forget His promises: "So I will seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day" (Ez. 34:12). The rest of Joel 3 goes on to tell how this will come about.

3:7,8 "Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will return your recompense upon your own head:

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: for the Lord hath spoken it."

This verse 8 is difficult, for its picture of a restored Judah turning itself into a nation of slave-traders at the behest of Jehovah is unseemly. But ought not this to be seen as the Almighty’s salvation to the mixed population problem in Israel? Wealth appropriated from oil-rich Arabs will easily pay for the transplanting of 800,000 hate-filled sons of Esau back into the land that God assigned to Esau (Gen. 36:6,8). It was this very solution, which was advocated by Professor Brodetsky (Leeds Univ.) in 1929. The cost, then: £11m.

3:9,10 "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 plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong."

"Sanctify war" could hardly be more appropriate to the holy war, which the neareast Muslims have long since written into their BASF. And of course! For do they not proclaim Jerusalem to be their third holy city?

"Ploughshares into swords, pruning hooks into spears" seems to be a deliberate parody of Isaiah’s lovely description of the Messianic era, as who should say: ‘We’ll show them what we think of their Messiah and his kingdom of true religion (Is. 2: 4). So, let the frail weaklings among us become stout men of war! This is to be the day of triumph and vengeance!’

3:11-13 "Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord.

Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.

Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the vats overflow; for their wickedness is great."

The summons to the Gentile enemies to "come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat" reads strangely. Would not "come down into the valley... " be more suitable? But if the earlier identification (see on v.2) is correct, each of the valleys "round about" Jerusalem (v.12c) is more than 2000 feet above sea-level. The ascent from the coastal plain involves a considerable climb.

By contrast, "thither cause Thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord" is an urgent prayer that the angels of the Lord of hosts will intervene on Israel’s behalf. (Compare Is. 13:3: "my sanctified ones. mighty ones. . .them that rejoice in my highness"). The situation described by the two prophets is the same (see "Isaiah", HAW, p.198). And the climax is the same also (Is. 37:36 and 3:16,17 here). The judgment on the army of Sennacherib in Tophet will be utterly outmatched by this fine display of divine concern for the holy city.

In the figure used, the complete process involves not only the severing of all the grapes in their huge luscious bunches, but also the vigorous treading of them in the winepress. But in Revelation 14:15-18, in a passage packed with allusions to Joel 3 there appear to be two sickles in use, two judgments described. Apparently the first is Messiah’s reaping of his corn harvest (Mt. 13: 30). The other is more obviously the vine harvest described in Joel 3—this is an angel executing a judgment of destruction on behalf of the Almighty.

This distinction in judgments is not evident in Joel 3; all the details there refer to the winepress. But it is remarkable that there the LXX version has a plural: "sickles" (v. 13).

This reading must be right, for verse 14 goes on to make dramatic declaration of a "day of decision"—and the primary meaning of this word is "threshing" (see Is. 28:22,27; 41:15; Micah 4:13 would seem to be a very close parallel). But a difficulty still remains: Joel certainly speaks of both vintage and harvest threshing, but apparently with reference to the same crisis.

3:14,15 "Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.

The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining."

Perhaps putting the effect for the cause, LXX reads here: "Noises resound in the valley of judgment (or, vengeance)". As already intimated in comment, emek rather suggests a level place (v.2), perhaps in this instance the temple area of Zion, which was originally a threshing floor (2 Sam. 24: 18). And "this day of the Lord is near" makes an ominous play on words, suggesting the word for cherub—the chariot of the Lord going into action.

At this point the repeated mention of "sun, moon, and stars" losing their "shining" (Heb. nogah) is highly appropriate to the parlous state in which Israel finds itself at this time, for the expression plainly implies that any sign of divine glory has completely disappeared from Israel. It is also highly inappropriate to the ruling powers of the world and the ecclesiastical powers and sundry other vaguely indeterminate lesser lights. What has Joel got to do with them? This traditional misinterpretation sent abroad in the 1 8th century by a French parson should have been jettisoned long ago. Apparently in his later years Dr. Thomas came to recognize the Israelitish reference of this figure, especially in Joel (Eureka 3.612).

3:16 "The Lord also shall roar our of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel."

Here comes the only reference in Joel to the Messiah, and that in an indirect fashion, for how will God roar out of Zion except through the Lion of Judah (Rev. 5:5). This will be Messiah’s first manifestation when the Glory of the Lord is seen returning to Jerusalem from the mount of Olives, where he ascended to heaven (Ez. 43:1,2).

Joel borrows this highly dramatic declaration from Amos 1:2, the introduction to the peremptory sequence of judgments which fill chapter 1,2 there. But it would be a serious error to attempt to see those ten edicts of punishment as a chronological sequence, for certainly the last two come first, and the others enumerate the "all nations" of Joel 3:2.

The prototype of this destruction by "the voice of the Lord" was certainly the unique destruction meted out to the Assyrian blasphemer at the gates of Jerusalem. That same Scripture will have its greater fulfilment along with Joel 3.

The earthquake foretold here must surely be understood symbolically, for how is it possible for a quake on earth to affect heaven in any way whatever? The words of Jesus supply a clue. In a prophecy of the same crisis, he added: "for the powers of heaven shall be shaken" (Lk. 21:26). Here the key word is one, which very commonly refers to some exercise of Holy Spirit power. In some places, even more directly, it means angels. Thus the Lord was speaking of such a culmination of evil in the world that the angels, God’s ministers, will be near to losing control of the situation! So also here: "the heavens (angels) and the Land shall shake."

Or, it may be that a different kind of Bible idiom is to be recognized here. As already mentioned an earthquake has one of two associations: (a) the wrath of God (as in Ps. 18:7); (b) the removing of an old disreputable system (Heb. 12:26,27). Generations later, Haggai picked up Joel’s language "Yet once (i.e. uniquely) it is a little while (a mysterious phrase) and I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations (Joel 3: 2) and the desire of all nations (this implies a gospel preached to the Gentiles) shall come" (Hag. 2:6,7). It is fairly evident that the use of those words in Hebrews 10:37; 12:26,27 provides another example of the 1st century church’s expectation of an early coming of the Messiah. The "shaking" certainly happened in AD 70 with its shattering of the Mosaic system —but no Messianic kingdom. Here is another passage needing to be explained (and not juggled with). Revelation 16:18 appears to fall into the same category.

It will be at a time when there seems to be nothing left to salvage from the wreck of the state of Israel (as happened in AD 70), that God’s rescue operation will startle the world. "The Lord (note the Covenant Name here) will be the hope of his people." When Paul declared with such emphatic witness: "For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain" he was looking back to the great Promise made to Jacob of a multitudinous seed bringing blessing on all nations (Gen.28: 13,14). How fitting it will be that at the very time when the national flame appears to be on the verge of extinction, Messiah should be manifest imparting a new and quite unquenchable vigour to the Hope which Israel itself has not believed for centuries.

3:17 "So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more. "

The primary intention behind this Messianic intervention is not to rebuke the Gentiles or to castigate the pride of Israel’s enemies but to re-assert in plain and utterly undeniable fashion to His own people that God is, and that He is the God of Israel. To be sure, the Gentiles also—and especially the Arab enemies (Ps. 83:18; Ez. 35:15; see contexts)—will also be made to understand that Jehovah and not Allah is Lord of all.

And of course He will dwell in Zion, His holy mountain. Where else? Jerusalem truly will become a holy city, not after the fashion of Mecca, nor according to the pattern of the Wailing Wall (whilst the rest of the city is given over to sight-seeing and profit-making), nor after the manner of the first century, Jerusalem with its genius for making God angry. Instead, a true holiness, far out-matching even the best days of David or Solomon or Hezekiah. Today Jews have no rights in what was the temple area. Instead, the "strangers" who at present forbid their entry and who defile that holy site with their false religion shall "pass through her no more" (cp. Zech. 14:20,21).

3:18 "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim."

The transformation just promised will extend far beyond the walls of Jerusalem. And the language of fertility and blessing is such as can hardly be taken literally, so lavish are its terms. Even for a Year of Jubilee, which is the evident basis of the picture presented here, there is unmistakable hyperbole. Hezekiah’s people witnessed a miraculous Jubilee after the Assyrian army was swept away (see the copious Index refs. to "Jubilee" in "Isaiah", HAW), but this, like the language of Isaiah in so many places far surpasses the literality of those God-blessed years.

The water flowing from the House of the Lord has been identified with the amazing river of water of life described in Ezekiel 47. However, there are difficulties in the way of this equation, if only because several details in Ezekiel seem to require a figurative interpretation there; so also with Rev. 22:1. Perhaps Zechariah 14:8 provide a better parallel, but even that is not without its difficulty.

The valley of Shittim (acacia trees) watered by the stream is not readily identifiable. From the geography of the Holy Land as it is at present the Kidron wadi is most likely; but it is difficult to be sure. Perhaps this mention of Shittim and of a fountain from the House of the Lord are both intended, along with v.21 here, to make reminder that it was when Israel were right on the doorstep of their inheritance that they committed their most defiling sin (Num. 25: 1). The contemporary allusion to this in Micah 6:5 (where "from Shittim to Gilgal" is surely symbolic) supports the idea that the unexpected inclusion here of "Shittim" is intended to call that early disreputable episode to mind. Israel today is as much tainted with western decay of the Baal-peor character, as it was when at its worst in Old Testament times. This is one of the most shameful symptoms of modern deterioration from the early ideals of Zionism. However, it is a comfort that Joel seems to be intimating that this defilement, from which Israel needs to be cleansed, is itself a further sign of the nearness of the Messianic kingdom. After Shittim came Gilgal and the rolling away of reproach.

3:19 "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."

This blunt pronouncement of judgment against Arab enemies, coming in here, is a plain indication that when these always-hostile neighbours overrun Israel, it will be the last and worst of Israel’s hardships. One Scripture after another makes this evident.

The last verse of Deuteronomy 28, the only verse in that chapter not yet fulfilled, tells of a mass transportation of Jews into Egypt (not possible by ships in AD 70). There are to be five cities in Egypt speaking the language of Canaan (Is. 19: 18-20)— encampments of slave labour? When these cry unto the Lord (a phenomenon not known in modern Israel thus far), He will send them their Messiah.

Edom has ever been the name of the Arab haters of Israel. Last Day prophecies speak of this hostility coming to its climax: Obadiah 19,20; Isaiah 34:5,6,8; Ezekiel 35; 36:1-5; Psalm 83:1-8.

But some will be disposed to argue for a Russian large-scale invasion of Palestine as the phenomenon, which will eclipse all others in its military power and determination to overthrow modern Israel.

Not so! For—as is argued in "Five Minutes to Twelve", HAW, and other prophetic studies, there is no indication at all in Scripture that such an intention will reach achievement. Furthermore, all the evidence available points to the Gog-Magog attack taking place after, and not before, the coming of Messiah.

The solid witness of a block of other prophecies makes plain that Joel 3:19 does not stand alone in its witness to the ultimate triumph of Israel. "The elder shall serve the younger". This list of prophecies has not yet found fulfilment, but it certainly will: Isaiah 11:14,15; 63:1-5; Ezekiel 35; 36:5; Obadiah 10,15; Numbers 24:17,18.

3:20,21 "But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion."

The contrast here with what has just preceded is vivid and powerful. The reader who misses it must surely be reading with his eyes shut or his mind wandering. And the emphatic language: "for ever...from generation to generation" reduces to foolishness the modernist attempt to make Joel’s message into a commentary on his own day—a pious prophet’s pipe-dream of what (so he hoped) might yet emerge from the disastrous events taking place around him.

Just as king Hezekiah provided an awe-inspiring type of the Messiah, in suffering and in glory, so also the events of that era (Joel’s own) are to be read as a striking and unbelievably accurate foreshadowing of the Last Days. At last a repentant and reformed Judah and Jerusalem will come into their own.

What is the cleansing of blood not hitherto cleansed, which rounds off this prophecy? Do the words apply to Israel or to their enemies? Copious usage of this form of the Hebrew verb naqah makes clear that the idea is that of declaring innocent or blameless. A short but violent Arab oppression will seem to declare to the world that the sins of Jewry are still held against them by their God. But a sensational Messianic deliverance, following immediately on the penitence of Jehovah’s "seven thousand" will be sufficient before God to bring an end to the pogrom (Hebrew for "corpse of the People") of many centuries. They will suddenly find themselves declared blameless, and instead of guilt there will be a clean sheet, a robe of righteousness and loving kindness; they will then know themselves to be in truth "beloved for their fathers’ sakes". And now, after seemingly endless years of estrangement, "Jehovah (the Covenant Name!) dwelleth in Zion". Ezekiel copied this matchless conclusion for his own unique message: "Jehovah Shammah: the Lord is gone thither".

One last problem for those who like to ponder such things: Why the switch from "1" (first person) to "the Lord" (third person)? The present writer’s insight (as well as his sight) has given out.

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