Bible Studies in the Book of Joel

Joel Chapter 3: The Judgement of the Nations

 

By I Gordon

 

Introduction

 

We all live in a world that is becoming more and more anti-God and it is ripe for judgement. If you haven’t noticed you haven’t been paying attention! All that holds it back is the goodness of God who desires none to perish but all to come to repentance. However, the day of judgement is coming and this chapter speaks of that day. We’ve been looking at the prophecies of Joel and have examined the conditions of the ‘day of the Lord’ that are described in some detail in this book. Joel chapter 2 took us to the very end of this period of wrath. Joel chapter 3 continues and shows us the basis for the coming judgement of the nations. That is what we will continue with in this study so buckle up.

The Day for Judah and Jerusalem’s Restoration


Joel 3:1-3 ‘In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,  (2)  I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land.  (3)  They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine that they might drink’. 

 

The chapter starts with ‘In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem[1]’... So what time is that? Good question! Glad you are thinking! This chapter obviously carries on directly from the end of chapter 2 which had just said that The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.’ (Joel 2:31) So the events described here follow on from that same time at the return of Jesus Christ at the end of the tribulation. So what is going to happen then? Well, God will bring all the nations to the valley of Jehoshaphat[2] for judgement. This is described further on in Joel 3 so we’ll move on to the basis of the judgement. On what basis will God judge the nations at this time? What are the criteria upon which they will be judged? Well? Did you see it? You’ll see that God is going to judge the nations on the basis of their treatment of God’s people Israel and for dividing HIS land. Hmmm... that’s not very PC now is it? Not exactly what the world likes to hear![3] But it is true and the nations and all those who like to blame and pressure Israel should take note!   
 

Pay back time is coming...

 

Joel 3:4-8  Now what have you against me, O Tyre and Sidon and all you regions of Philistia? Are you repaying me for something I have done? If you are paying me back, I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done.  (5)  For you took my silver and my gold and carried off my finest treasures to your temples.  (6)  You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, that you might send them far from their homeland.  (7)  See, I am going to rouse them out of the places to which you sold them, and I will return on your own heads what you have done.  (8) I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, a nation far away." The LORD has spoken. 

 

The Lord now focuses in on the actions of Tyre, Sidon and Philistia. Through their aggression against Israel, God asks what they have against Him. God is totally identifying Himself with His people Israel here and an attack on them is an attack on Him! He asks if they are trying to repay Him for something He has done and then ominously warns them that it will be swiftly returned on their own heads. This is likely to have a historical fulfilment though it is unknown amongst scholars. But Biblical prophecy experts point to the context of this verse and see the aggression of these regions and God’s repayment as playing out in the last days. So in this regard it is interesting to see who Tyre, Sidon and the regions of Philistia are today. Tyre and Sidon are modern day Southern Lebanon. The regions of Philistia would refer to Gaza today[4]. Sound familiar? As I write, Hezbollah are in force in South Lebanon and Hamas today rule Gaza. And what do these two organisations live for? Hezbollah and Hamas are both primarily founded for the destruction of Israel![5] So nothing has changed! Tyre, Sidon and Philistia are still living in their irrational ever-lasting hatred of Israel. A hatred that can really only be explained by understanding the spirit behind their belief system. This everlasting hatred is spoken of Israel’s enemies in such places as this prophecy against Mount Seir (Edom – modern day southern Jordan):

 

Ezez. 35:2-7  "Son of man, set your face against Mount Seir, and prophesy against it  (3)  and say to it, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I am against you, Mount Seir, And I will stretch out My hand against you And make you a desolation and a waste.  (4)  "I will lay waste your cities, and you will become a desolation. Then you will know that I am the LORD.  (5)  "Because you have had everlasting enmity and have delivered the sons of Israel to the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, at the time of the punishment of the end, (6) therefore as I live," declares the Lord GOD, "I will give you over to bloodshed, and bloodshed will pursue you; since you have not hated bloodshed, therefore bloodshed will pursue you.  (7)  "I will make Mount Seir a waste and desolation and I will cut off from it the one who passes through and returns.

 

A similar verse speaking of this everlasting enmity (or hatred) is also spoken of the Philistines (today’s region of modern day Palestinians, predominantly in Gaza[6]):

 

Ezez.25:14-17 "I will lay My vengeance on Edom by the hand of My people Israel. Therefore, they will act in Edom according to My anger and according to My wrath; thus they will know My vengeance," declares the Lord GOD.  (15)  'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Because the Philistines have acted in revenge and have taken vengeance with scorn of soul to destroy with everlasting enmity," (16)  therefore thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I will stretch out My hand against the Philistines, even cut off the Cherethites and destroy the remnant of the seacoast.  (17)  "I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes; and they will know that I am the LORD when I lay My vengeance on them."

     

Time for turning plowshares into swords;

 

Joel 3:9-12  Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war! Rouse the warriors! Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.  (10)  Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, "I am strong!"  (11)  Come quickly, all you nations from every side, and assemble there. Bring down your warriors, O LORD!  (12)  Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side. 

 

So what did Joel see as the end result of all of this? Will the world leaders wrangle and negotiate a peaceful end in the Middle East?[7] Can an everlasting hatred be overturned through a clever middle-man with a cheerful smile and smoothing words? Nope. Here is how it will end: ‘proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war! - Rouse your warriors and beat your ploughshares into swords[8]. Come oh nations! Come to the Valley of Jehoshaphat for judgement is waiting for you there.’ This is the scary proposition awaiting the nations. It will seem for the nations that only solution left is to actually adopt Hitler’s ‘final solution’ and exterminate the Jews once and for all. They will be emboldened to come and destroy the Jewish nation. But little do they know that God’s judgement, withheld by love for so long, awaits them and to them it shall be fulfilled that ‘it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’. Such will be the end for the nations that come against Israel at the end of the age. Zechariah tells us that this summoning of the nations by God in the last days will involve ‘all nations’ and look also at the response they will get:

 

‘I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city.  (3) Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle.’ Zec. 14:2-3 

 

So what do we know about this ‘valley of Jehoshaphat’? The exact location is unknown although it could very well be a valley created in the last days (possibly through an earthquake or the splitting of the Mount of Olives as indicated in Zech 14:2). What we do know is that the name Jehoshaphat means ‘Yahweh judges’ and this is the key thought in this passage. The long withheld wrath and judgement of God will be openly seen at this time.[9]      

 

The dreaded winepress of God

 

Joel 3:13-17  Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow-- so great is their wickedness!"  (14)  Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.  (15)  The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine.  (16)  The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.  (17)  Then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her. 

 

The thought of the judgement of the nations continues in this passage. The imagery of a winepress being trodden down with vats overflowing with the wickedness of those trampled is graphic indeed.[10] The valley that the nations come into is called in this passage ‘the valley of decision’. Many evangelists have used this passage to speak of the sinner’s need to make a ‘decision’ for Christ, but the actual context speaks of something entirely different. The decision here is not left to man at this point. It is God’s. Today is the day of salvation when men should cry out to the Lord. This passage describes the end of the ‘day of the Lord’ (with its accompanying celestial signs) and it involves the final decree of a righteous Judge as He utters His verdict upon mankind. I believe this has an accompanying passage in Matt 25:31-46 where the Lord Jesus is shown as judging the nations (the sheep and the goats), when He returns. The basis of that judgement, as it is here in Joel, is upon the nation’s treatment ‘of these brothers of mine’. In other words, with the Church removed during the tribulation period, there will be terrible persecution and treatment of the Jews (addressed in Matt 25:40 as Jesus ‘brothers’) and this treatment will form part of the basis for the judgement of the nations. Help for the Jews during this time will require tremendous courage (and possible loss of life) and would be an outworking of a person’s faith. When the Lord judges the nations, this will be rewarded with entry into the Messianic Kingdom. But hatred and violence against the Jews, Jesus’ brothers, will result in the wrath and final judgement of God.  

 

The passage doesn’t end with darkness however for it starts to glimpse the dawning of a new day that will follow this time. It is a time when the Lord will dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem, and never again will she be invaded. This theme is continued in the final verses...

 

A new day of coming...

 

Joel 3:18-21  In that day the mountains will drip new wine and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the LORD's house and will water the valley of acacias.  (19)  But Egypt will be desolate, Edom a desert waste, because of violence done to the people of Judah, in whose land they shed innocent blood.  (20)  Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem through all generations.  (21) Their bloodguilt, which I have not pardoned, I will pardon." The LORD dwells in Zion!

 

When the Jews left Egypt and embarked on their journey to the Promised Land, Canaan was described as a land flowing with milk and honey (Exod. 3:8). When they sent spies into the land to see if it was as good as they were told, they needed two men and a pole to carry a single branch with a cluster of grapes! (Num 13:23). Such was the blessing of God upon the land in that day and even greater shall be the blessing upon the land of Israel (and the earth) in the coming Messianic Kingdom! We read here that the mountains will drip with wine and the hills will flow with milk. The language here shows the blessing of God in that day when:

 

Zec.14:9-11 ‘The LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one.  (10)  All the land will be changed into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; but Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site… People will live in it, and there will no longer be a curse, for Jerusalem will dwell in security.’

 

I long for that day. I really do. Great things are still to come for the one who trusts in the Lord. The difficulties and weariness of the present age will not come to mind in that day. There is, and rightfully should be, an intense inward longing in the heart of the believer for that day. And as we have seen in this study of Joel, the conditions upon this earth bear witness to the fact that it is close. The night of darkness must come first but praise God that it will dawn with the prophetic and blessed new day when the Messiah will return and reclaim this earth to rule and reign.

 

To sum up, the book of Joel began with a locust plague that would devastate Israel. Through it, ‘the field is ruined, the land mourns; for the grain is ruined, the new wine dries up, fresh oil fails.’ (Joel1:10) Joel’s prophetic proclamation continued on to show that this physical locust plague was symbolic of a greater man-made devastation that would come upon the land where successive nations would tread down Jerusalem throughout history leading to a final, all-nation assault in the last days. But praise God that is not the end! The book of Joel ends with how this age will end:

 

The Lord dwells in Zion!

 

The book of Joel started with plagues yet ends with prosperity. It started with ruin but ends with restoration. It started with failure yet ends with fulfillment. And, most importantly, it started with lament but shall end with the Lord! His very presence shall dwell in Zion and on this earth!

 

And may that day come quickly!

 

Bible Studies in the Joel Series


Book of Joel Bible Study Chapter 1 - Locusts, destruction, near and far
Book of Joel Bible Study Chapter 2 - The Day of the Lord
Book of Joel Bible Study Chapter 3 - The judgement of the nations

Related Studies

Book of Habakkuk Bible Study Chapter 1 - God is moving and judgment is coming
Book of Habakkuk Bible Study Chapter 2 - The five woes against society
Book of Habakkuk Bible Study Chapter 3 - The coming deliverer
 

 

[1] Can you remember all the blessings and curses of the law that Moses gave to the nation of Israel? Basically it spoke of great blessings if they would obey but included curses of being scattered amongst the world and finding no rest there (among other things) if they disobeyed. That was all given around 1500 BC and history has seen all these blessings and curses play out on this unique nation. The interesting point is that Moses didn’t stop there. He also saw the restoration of Israel once all these things had taken place. Moses told them:

Deut. 30:1-5  When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations,  (2)  and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today,  (3)  then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.  (4)  Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back.  (5)  He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers.

 

[2] The Bible Knowledge Commentary states the following on the valley of Jehoshaphat: ‘the site of the judgment will be the Valley of Jehoshaphat, mentioned only in Joel 3:2, Joel 3:12. Whether such a geographical site was known by this name in ancient Israel is not certain. Some scholars suggest it is a yet-future valley, to be formed by the splitting of the Mount of Olives at the Messiah’s return (Zec14:4). At any rate, the importance of the name is not in its geographical location, but in its meaning, “the Lord judges.” ‘

 

[3] The world currently is trying to divide up Israel in the present Israeli-Palestinian ‘piece process’. Argh... I mean ‘peace process’. They puzzle long and hard over how they can have two states side by side and who is going to get what. Biblically speaking, the land is GOD’s! I bet they haven’t taken Him or this fact into consideration! 

 

Did you know that when God gave the land to the tribes of Israel they were not even allowed to sell the land permanently? Do you know why? Well, it the same reason as just mentioned - It is because the Promised Land is God’s! Here is what God said to the Israelites:

Lev. 25:23  The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me. 

So we could say, ‘well, that was ages ago. Surely God doesn’t think of the land as still His. I mean, He isn’t still interested in this piece of dirt in the Middle East is he?’ The interesting thing is that in Joel here we have a picture of how God judges the nations at the end of the age and you know what? We find that God is very interested in who is dividing HIS land and He is judging the nations because of it. Take note of this US. Listen up EU and all who would pressure Israel in this way.

 

[4] Author and Pastor Bill Randles has written a good blog on this here:
http://billrandles.wordpress.com/category/joels-prophecy-today/

 

[5] Wikipedia says the following concerning the foundation and aim of Hezbollah:
“From the inception of Hezbollah to the present, the elimination of the State of Israel has been one of Hezbollah's primary goals. Some translations of Hezbollah's 1985 Arabic-language manifesto state that "our struggle will end only when this entity [Israel] is obliterated". According to Hezbollah's Deputy-General, Na'im Qasim, the struggle against Israel is a core belief of Hezbollah and the central rationale of Hezbollah's existence.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hezbollah#The_Hezbollah_manifesto

Their leader has said: If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide. (Daily Star, Oct. 23, 2002) For other ‘lovely’ quotes from their leader see http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=11&x_article=1158

Of course, Hamas (now ruling Gaza) is on the same level of hatred. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. From 2006 onwards it has been run by the terrorist organization Hamas and it has been used to fire over 8000 rockets into Israel. (http://www.idfblog.com/facts-figures/rocket-attacks-toward-israel/). Of course, what would you expect from an organisation that puts the following quote from Muhammad in their very charter (article 7)!:

"The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'

 

[6] The Philistines had 5 main cites: Ekron, Gath, Askelon, Ashdod and Gaza (the most prominent). And as mentioned in the previous footnote, the hatred coming out of Gaza today hasn’t changed.

 

[7] It is worrying that more Christians, ignorant of Bible prophecy, are starting to believe the world’s media and blame Israel for the ills of the Middle East. The ‘boycott Israel’ voices are rising – even among parts of the church! I recently had a Christian man write in who was very pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. After explaining the background of the conflict to him, I gave him the following quote from Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu: 'If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.' I agree with this quote. He responded: ‘Benjamin was wrong in your quote. If he would withdraw from Gaza, he may find peace he has never known. You support apartheid and you don't even know it...’ Um, the fact is that Israel did withdraw from Gaza in 2005 so we don’t need to theorise here. So did Israel experience peace for giving up Gaza? Not even close. Hamas soon ruled Gaza and fired over 9000 rockets from Gaza into Israel since that time. What’s coming (in the short term at least) for Israel is not the ‘day of Jacob’s peace’. It is the ‘day of Jacob’s trouble’. I understand that those in the world who aren’t familiar with the Bible would not ‘get’ the conflict. But there isn’t any excuse for Christians to remain ignorant.

 

[8] No doubt you will recognize this phrase. Well, you’ll probably remember the reverse of this phrase. Both the prophets Isaiah and Micah spoke the following words ‘They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.’ (Isaiah 2:4 & Micah 4:3) The United Nations building in New York has a wall with this verse from Isaiah 2:4 inscribed on it. Great sentiment... Wrong timeframe. Before the nations beat their swords into ploughshares (which emphasises the peace that will ensue when the Messiah Jesus rules and reigns from Jerusalem in the Millennium) the nations will in fact do the opposite. They will fulfil the prophecy of Joel and beat their ploughshares into swords and advance against the nation of Israel. And God Himself will rouse them and encourage them to do so for the time of judgement has come.

 

[9] I should add that while Joel speaks of the judgment of the nations, it should be remembered that Israel too will be judged. Zec.13:8-9 In the whole land," declares the LORD, "two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it.  (9)  This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.' "

 

[10] I have spoken elsewhere of this ‘winepress’ at the end of the age so won’t go into it again but if interested, I suggest you read accompanying verses as well on this subject such as Isaiah 63:1-6 and Revelation 14:14-20.