God's judgments against the enemies of his people. God will be known in his judgment: his blessing upon the church.
Before Christ 800.
For, behold, in those days, &c.— As the foregoing promise of the Spirit was an assurance to the Jews, that, notwithstanding they might be reduced very low by their enemies, yet they should not be destroyed as a nation till God had accomplished all the great prophesies relating to the Messiah; so he in this chapter assures them of a deliverance from the oppression of their enemies, which they then laboured under; particularly from the Tyrians, Sidonians, Philistines, Egyptians, and Idumaeans, who were the neighbouring nations, and had each in their turns invaded them, pillaged their treasures, and led them into captivity. Upon this account God expostulates with them, Joel 3:2-6 promises the Jews that their captives should return, and that he would cause them to execute his just vengeance on their enemies, who, with all their power and forces, should not be able to deliver themselves; Joel 3:7-16. That Jerusalem should be taken under his protection, and the Jews enjoy such great prosperity, and see the violence, unrighteousness, and insolence of their enemies so signally avenged, as should cause them to acknowledge the power of Jehovah their God, and adore him for his great and unmerited favours towards them; Joel 3:17 to the end. Houbigant reads this verse, Behold, after those days, and after that time, &c. And he supposes that these words refer to the 27th verse of the preceding chapter, as they evidently cannot refer to the times posterior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.
I will—gather all nations, &c.— It is very evident from the phrase at the close of the verse, Who have parted my land, that all is not to be taken in a very extensive sense. It is to be understood of the neighbouring nations;—All the heathen round about, as in Joel 3:12. In this third and last part of his prophesy, Joel relates what will come to pass in those days, and in that time, when the Lord shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem. He apparently describes the great actions of the Maccabees; and that this is the period of time, to which this part of the prophesy relates, is evident from the raising up the children of Judah and of Jerusalem, whom their enemies had sold to the Greeks; Joel 3:7. This return happened under Demetrius. The nations gathered in the valley of Jehoshaphat, which was near to Jerusalem, are the Seleucidae, who were afterwards destroyed in the same valley, which is therefore called The valley decision, or of the threshing.—Tyre and Sidon, and the coasts of Palestine, Joel 3:4 mean the descendants of the ancient enemies of the Jews; who assisted in the destruction and plundering of Jerusalem, and whose posterity were destroyed by the Maccabees. The word יהושׁפט Jehoshaphat signifies, The Lord judges, or the judgment of the Lord. See Joel 3:14. And possibly, says Dr. Chandler, thus translated, the valley of Jehoshaphat may denote no particular place in the country of Judaea, but only some place where God would execute his vengeance on the enemies of the Jews. Houbigant renders the last clause, Because they have scattered them among the nations, and have parted my land. See Chandler, and Sharpe.
And they have cast lots for my people— That is, "They have divided my captive people by lot among themselves, according to the laws of war then in use among mankind." See Nahum 3:10. Obad. Joel 3:11. They have given a boy for a harlot; that is to say, they gave a boy as the price of a harlot; and a girl for wine; that is, as the price of wine. They put both boys and girls to the most infamous uses: the boys to wait on their harlots; the girls to be ruined by their sellers of wine. The boys are given as a reward for gratifying their vile passions, and the girls as the price of their intemperance. See Chandler.
Yea, and what have ye to do, &c.— But what have ye to do, &c. After God by the prophet had put them in mind of their injustice and cruelty towards his people, he now comes to inquire into the reason of so unrighteous a conduct. But, what have ye to do with me? The expression denotes the same as that other, so common in the sacred books, What have I to do with you?—"What is the reason of your so frequently invading and often plundering my land and people." The next words may be read, Will ye take your revenge upon me?—But if ye vent your spite upon me, I will swiftly and speedily return your vengeance, &c. Kimchi paraphrases the whole verse thus; "What is this that ye do even unto me?—Do ye think to be revenged on me, because I have done you evil?—If you say, that you do now of your own accord evil to me, (for he that doth evil to Israel, his imagination is to do evil to me, for they are my sons,) if this be the case, I will soon return your reward on your own heads?" See Chandler.
Out of the place whither, &c.— It is said in the preceding verse, that the Jews were sold to the Grecians. Therefore this place is to be understood principally of Greece; whence the Jews should hasten to the Maccabees, on hearing of their victory.
Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles— God, having foretold these judgments against Tyre and Sidon, the Philistines, and the neighbouring nations, who had used the Jews with injustice and cruelty, proceeds here to confirm his people in the belief of the certainty of their destruction; which, he tells them, should be as sure as if they themselves had gathered them together by proclamation for it: for so are these words, proclaim ye, &c. to be understood; not as commanding what they were actually to do, but in order to stir up their attention, and to let them know that God was as certainly preparing to bring this vengeance on their enemies in the course of his providence, as if he had actually sent messengers from the Jews to proclaim it among them. See chap. Joel 2:1 and Chandler. Instead of, Prepare war, Houbigant reads, Denounce war.
Beat your plough-shares into swords— He bids them turn all such of their instruments as they used in times of peace, into instruments of war: so Virgil,
———Non ullus aratro Dignus honos: squalent abductis arva colonis, Et curvae rigidum falces constantur in ensem.
Dishonour'd lies the plough; the banish'd swains Are hurried from th' uncultivated plains; The sickles into barbarous swords are beat. GEOR. I. ver. 506. WARTON.
Times of peace are on the contrary described thus; They shall beat their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: Isaiah 2:4.
Thither cause thy mighty ones to come down— The Lord shall cast down the strong ones: Houbigant. Our translation, however, may be justified. At the ninth verse the proclamation is for the enemies to ascend, Judaea being a high and mountainous situation; and, as God's mighty ones were to meet them, the prophet prays, Thither, namely, to the appointed place, cause thy mighty ones to descend: "Lead thither thy people, thy mighty army, and give them the victory over their cruel enemies." In this view the sense is natural and easy, and the prayer is a proper introduction to the following verses. See Chandler.
Let the heathen be wakened— The prophet seems to deliver the words of this verse by way of answer to his own prayer: "That God would lead down his people, and give them the victory over their enemies." Let the heathen be wakened, should rather be rendered, the heathen shall be wakened: "When they shall find themselves invaded by God's mighty ones, they shall awaken out of their security, or be forced to leave the employments and pleasures of peace, and come up to battle in their own defence." The prophet, as is very usual in the Scripture, here explains the meaning of the word Jehoshaphat: There will I sit to JUDGE, &c. "There will I certainly punish them, and execute the judgment on them which they have deserved;" for the word שׁפט shapat, denotes the whole process of any cause, whether it issue in the acquittal or condemnation of the person impleaded. See the note on Joel 3:2 and Chandler.
Put ye in the sickle— God here either calls on his people the Jews to prepare themselves to execute his vengeance, for that the time of it was drawing near; or comforts them by an assurance that he would provide proper instruments to effect it; and this under a metaphorical representation, Put in the sickle. He compares the nations to ripened fruits, and the time of their destruction to the time of harvest: The harvest is ripe; that is to say, "They are fit for destruction, as the ripened corn for reaping." Come, get ye down; namely, into the appointed valley, as if they were going into a vineyard to gather grapes. But Houbigant, more agreeably as he thinks to what follows, would read, Come, tread ye, namely, the wine-press; for the press is full, the fats overflow: that is, as it is immediately explained, their wickedness is great; it is come to its full measure. See Revelation 14:15; Revelation 14:20.
Multitudes, &c.— After the prediction of the slaughter of the enemies of God's people, Joel cries out with prophetic warmth and agitation, Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! as if he had said, "See what mighty numbers are brought together for their destruction!" The sentence, thus abrupt and broken, is very strong and emphatical. Instead of decision, Houbigant reads excision; and Chandler, very agreeably to the Hebrew word, the appointed valley; where God had appointed or determined to execute his judgments.
The Lord—shall roar out of Zion— This verse may be thus paraphrased; "Thus shall Jehovah take vengeance on the enemies of his people, and make the inhabitants of Zion and Jerusalem to execute his judgments upon them, like a roaring lion devouring his prey. Their destruction shall be as certain, as if they were destroyed by thunders and lightnings from heaven, or swallowed up by an earthquake. But Jehovah shall be a sure refuge to his believing people, and his mighty arm shall save the children of Israel." See Isaiah 13:13.Psalms 14:6; Psalms 61:4.
Then shall Jerusalem be holy— That is, "After this, Jerusalem shall be safe under my care, and be no more profaned by the hostile armies of these mine enemies." These expressions, perhaps, may have a further reference; and as we have found in the former prophets, that, under predictions of deliverances from particular enemies, great and future deliverances also in some remote ages are signified, this possibly may be the case with this latter part of Joel's prophesy; wherein it has been thought by some (and I doubt not is the case), that he refers to the great and final restoration of the Jews, when the fulness of the Gentiles shall be come in.
Joel 3:18. The mountains shall drop down new wine— Chandler paraphrases this verse thus: "The consequence of this happy deliverance shall be the utmost plenty; for at this time the vine shall produce the greatest abundance, so that the mountains shall drop down new wine. The hills shall abound with cattle, and, as it were, flow with the plenty of milk which they shall yield. The course of the rivers shall be no more diverted, but stream down throughout all the land of Judah; and a fountain shall go forth from the house of the Lord, which shall water the distant valley of Shittim, or of choice cedars." The expressions here are figurative, and highly poetical; there are many similar to them in Virgil's fourth eclogue, which the heathen poet, I am persuaded, borrowed from our prophet. Calmet observes, that all this is symbolical, and figurative of the doctrine of the Gospel; which was to flow forth from Jerusalem, and to water the Gentile world, as a barren and uncultivated land.
Judah shall dwell for ever— That is, shall subsist a separate kingdom and estate, (as it is explained in the next clause) from generation to generation, or, for several generations or years; referring to the Christian church, and the final restoration of the Jews. The words may be understood in their full force.
For I will cleanse, &c.—cleansed— For I will avenge, &c. avenged. Houbigant reads, I will avenge their blood, and not spare; and the Lord shall inhabit Zion. The reader will see a variety of different interpretations in Pocock: but none of these, says Dr. Chandler, satisfy me. If we read the former part of the words by way of interrogation, the sense will appear strong and beautiful, and the answer in the latter clause just and striking. "Judah shall dwell for ever; but shall I declare their blood innocent? Shall I declare their enemies innocent who have shed their blood, and suffer it to go unrevenged?—I will not declare it innocent. I will not absolve the blood which has been spilled, nor suffer it to go unpunished." Thus, Exodus 34:7 it is said of God, that he will by no means clear the guilty. "Thus be my vengeance executed upon their enemies; and by taking my people under my especial care, it shall be known that Jehovah is present with them, and favours Zion with his peculiar protection."
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The sufferings of God's faithful people, and the destruction of their enemies, have their appointed periods.
1. In those days of the Messiah, I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem; many of them by the preaching of the Gospel being called into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, from the bondage of corruption, more intolerable than that of Egypt or Chaldea. This also may have respect to their recovery from their present dispersion.
2. Their enemies shall be reckoned with; which some apply to Sennacherib and the Assyrians, and suppose the days spoken of to refer to the recovery of the dispersed Jews, who had fled or been taken prisoners on that invasion. Others apply it to the Romans and neighbouring nations, who had severely wasted God's heritage: and some imagine that they see in this prophesy the destruction of the Turkish and Papal powers, assembled to make war against the saints of the most High, after all their former persecutions of them, whose quarrel God will now signally espouse, and avenge their wrongs.
3. The charges lying against these enemies of his people are for their cruelty, robbery, insult, and oppression. They scattered them among the nations; seized and sold them for slaves, particularly to the Grecians, removing them far from their own land, which they parted among themselves; either Titus parcelled it out to his soldiers, or the neighbouring nations, each seized that portion which lay contiguous to them: and they have cast lots for my people; in such vast numbers were they taken captive, and their value so small, that their conquerors gave a boy for the hire of a harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink. Thus in drinking and fornication they squandered the prey that they had taken; the common vices of persecutors. God's gold and silver they had plundered; what he had given to his people, and regarded still as his own: and his pleasant things, perhaps the vessels or treasures of his sanctuary, they had carried to the temple of their idols, adding sacrilege and impiety to robbery. Well may God, therefore, expostulate with them, What have ye to do with me, O Tyre and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? which may be put for all the enemies of Christ's church and people in every age. What have ye to do with me? how dare you distress my people; what provocation have they given? will ye render me a recompense? Have they done you any injury, which you would thus retaliate? No: they were quiet in the land, and had never justly offended them. Note; (1.) No sweetness of temper, or amiableness of disposition, can soften the enmity of the wicked against the work of God. (2.) We must not think it strange, if we receive the greatest unkindness from those whom we have ever studied to oblige.
4. God threatens to return their wickedness into their own bosom. If ye recompense me, pretending to retaliate wrongs that they had received from God's people; swiftly and speedily will I return your recompense upon your own head, and give tribulation to those who troubled them. While God recovered his people from the places whither they had dispersed and sold them, he will sell the children of these his enemies into the hands of the men of Judah; and they, in just retaliation of the wrongs which they have received, shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off. And for this the veracity of God is engaged; the Lord hath spoken it: the accomplishment of which prophet, some refer to the days of the Maccabees; others, to the future destruction of the persecuting powers of Popery or Mohammedism: certain it is, however, that all the enemies of Christ's church and believing people shall at the last be made their footstool. See the critical notes.
2nd, Commentators greatly differ about the times referred to in the prophesies contained in this chapter from Joel 3:9 to Joel 3:17. Some suppose them fulfilled in the destruction of Sennacherib, or the Assyrians, or Antiochus; others, that they look forward to more distant ages, and foretel the ruin of all the antichristian persecuting powers, whether Pagan, Papal, or Mahometan; and many expressions in the Revelations, which seem to speak of that event, are borrowed from this chapter. Some still carry the accomplishment farther; and read in it the great day of final judgment, when the wicked shall be cast into hell, and the glorified saints of God receive the kingdom of their Father.
1. A defiance is sent to all God's enemies. Let them collect their forces; muster their armies; furnish themselves with weapons; encourage each other for the conflict; unite their assembled legions; hasten to the field of battle, rouse up their courage, and stand in array. Multitudes, multitudes, innumerable shall be the host in the valley of decision, the same as the valley of Jehoshaphat; which may not mark any particular place, but the end for which they are assembled, Jehoshaphat signifying the judgment of the Lord, who will there plead with, condemn, and destroy his enemies; and the day is near.
They who refer this to the slaughter of the antichristian powers, Revelation 16:14; Revelation 16:16; Revelation 19:18-21 suppose, that they will in the latter day be gathered together in the land of Judaea, to make war on the saints of the Most High, and by some eminent stroke of vengeance from God be utterly consumed.
Applying it to the day of judgment, we may learn, (1.) That it is near, uncertain when, but surely approaching: highly therefore does it concern us to be always ready. (2.) That day will fix our final state, whether for happiness or misery eternal, according to the unerring decisions of the God of truth and judgment.
2. At the prophet's prayer the executioners of vengeance appear. Cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord; either the holy angels, or the Christian powers under Christ their leader, going down to the valley of decision, to join battle with their foes. Put ye in the sickle; for the harvest is ripe: come, get ye down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; their enemies are ripe for judgment, see Revelation 14:18-20; Revelation 19:15-20 and the reason is given, because their wickedness is great.
3. To the impenitent sinner, or antichristian foe, that day will be full of horror. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining, according to the description given in scripture of the great day of judgment. Or figuratively it refers to the kings and princes of the earth, that are enemies to the Messiah's reign, who shall be cast down before the armies of the living God, when the Lord shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; appearing on the behalf of his church and people, and spreading terror and dismay among their enemies: and the heavens and the earth shall shake; the mightiest will tremble before him; or as at the day of final judgment it will be seen, when the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the earth shall be burnt up. Woe to the wicked! who then shall find no shelter, no rock to hide, no mountain to cover their guilty heads.
4. The saints of God will then triumph and rejoice, for the Lord will be the hope of his people; he who had ever been the object of their hope and trust, will not then disappoint them, but will be their refuge in this day of evil: and the strength of the children of Israel; supporting his faithful people through all their conflicts, and crowning them at last with victory. So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God, by happy experience of his power and grace; dwelling in Zion my holy mountain; in the midst of the church of his faithful saints. Then shall Jerusalem be holy, or holiness; all the saints of God shall be perfect, as their Father who is in heaven is perfect: and there shall no strangers pass through her any more; no enemy being left to hurt them, no hypocrite or ungodly persons being any longer found among them.
3rdly, The great and precious comprized in the conclusion of this chapter, from Joel 3:18 to the end, may refer to the restoration of the Jews, and above all to the universal reign of Christ.
1. There shall be the most abundant plenty, either of temporal good things, or rather of spiritual blessings, diffused among the faithful. The wine and milk of gospel-grace should flow down like torrents from the hills, refreshing, strengthening, comforting the members of Christ's church; and from him, the ever-flowing, overflowing fountain, shall the healing streams go forth, watering the valley of Shittim, a barren valley beyond Jordan, which may signify the Gentile world, and intimate the fruitfulness which this watering of the sanctuary should produce, and the extent of the Redeemer's grace, even to the most distant corners of the earth.
2. The inveterate enemies of the church shall be destroyed. Egypt and Edom had often shewn their implacable hatred against Judah, and shed innocent blood in the land; but they shall now be made perpetual desolations. And these nations are the figures of the present persecutors of God's people, particularly of Rome, called Egypt mystically; Revelation 11:8 and red with the blood of saints and martyrs; but blood shall now be given her to drink, together with all the other persecuting powers, Pagan or Mahometan, who will perish together. Or if this be applied to the last great day, then death, sin, and Satan, the most mortal foes of the saints, shall be destroyed together and for ever.
3. The faithful people of God shall in these glorious days enjoy undisturbed repose. Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation; to the end of time the church of Christ shall be preserved safe from all the attacks of the gates of hell: or in the eternal state of bliss, the faithful shall dwell safely in mansions of glory. For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed; pardoning all their guilt, saving them from the power of all their sins, and destroying the very being of sin in them: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion, and therefore his faithful people may comfortably and confidently expect to be made partakers of the fulness of this his great salvation.