Vol. 6, No. 8
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Several different Bible characters bore the name Joel. "Not much is revealed concerning Joel; he is differentiated from the other eleven men in the Bible who wear the name, as 'Joel ('Jehovah is God'), the son of Pethuel ('sincerity of God')' (1:1)" (Cates 62). "Nothing is known of Joel's birthplace or biography, his career and personality being shrouded in obscurity" (Robinson 30). "The name Joel means 'Jehovah is God,' or 'Whose God is Jehovah'" (Pledge 212) and is congruent with the theme of God's judgment throughout the Book of Joel.
A number of compelling circumstances provide a relative date for the Book of Joel and the prophecies contained therein. The dating of the volume enhances the understanding of the prophetic material in Joel and how it was intended to be interpreted in Joel's day respecting the time of Joel as well as the distant future.
The absence of references to a king, references to priestly authority, that the Temple was standing, that the city walls were intact and that there was no idolatry point to a time within the first 16 years of the boy-king Joash (Cates 63, 67-68).
The prophet Joel was one of the earliest writing prophets, as some of the prophets quoted from Joel. "If an early date of approximately 835 B.C. is to be accepted, then Joel is quoted or alluded to by Isaiah, Amos, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Obadiah, Ezekiel and Malachi. He would be the first to speak of the 'Day of the Lord'" (McGee 330). Those quotations by other prophets from Joel are abbreviated compared to the material from which they quoted in the Book of Joel. "Joel is quoted by Amos. …Clearly evident to the reader is the fact that Joel's reference is more full… the text begins abruptly in Amos, and ends abruptly" (Cates 65). "Since no king is mentioned, the book has been dated to the time of Joash's childhood when Jehoida the high priest was his guardian. The dates of Joash's reign are 835 BC - 796 BC." (Nelson's).
The Hebrew Bible and the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible align the Book of Joel with the earlier writing prophets, which is further indication of the relative time during which Joel's prophetic ministry unfolded. "It is significant, however, that its position in the Hebrew canon is between Hosea and Amos. If Joel lived in the postexilic period why was his book placed among the eighth century prophets?" (Yates 192).
Grouping the Book of Joel, and the time to which the volume refers, with the 800's B.C. corresponds to the absence of mention of the latter enemies of Judah and reference instead to the enemies of Judah prior to and leading up to the captivities (Pledge 212). "This early date will account fully for the absence of all mention of Babylon, Assyria, and Syria. In Joel the nations that are causing trouble are the Edomites, the Egyptians, the Philistines and the Phoenicians" (Yates 192).
Joel was a prophet to and resided in the southern kingdom of Judah; he may have lived in Jerusalem. Though the northern kingdom of Israel had not yet fallen to the Assyrians, Joel chose not to mention that segment of the Israelite family, but he rather focused his prophetic forthtelling and foretelling on his nation of Judah. "Joel prophesied before Amos, i.e., before the twenty-seven years of the contemporaneous reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam II" (Keil & Delitzsch). Butler dubs Joel and his contemporaries among the so-called Minor Prophets (Obadiah, Jonah, Amos and Hosea) as "The Prophets of the Decline" preceding the respective Assyrian and Babylonian captivities (title page).
The overriding message of the Book of Joel is that God and God's people win, and God's foes and the enemies of God's people lose. In the Book of Joel, God is portrayed as "…announcing in solemn language the final doom of Israel's foes, and closing with a description of the glorious victory of the people of God" (Robinson 31). Herein, the fundamental messages of Joel and Revelation are the same. "The basic message of the book of Joel is the doom of the wicked nations and the ultimate glory of the Lord's cause. In this it sounds very much like the New Testament book of Revelation" (McGee 330).
"The chief purpose of the book seems to be to call God's people to repentance and to show the great judgment coming upon the nations who oppress the people of God" (Pledge 212-213). "Joel is brokenhearted; he mourns for the people, calling for them to repent" (Cates 69). Consequently, Joel explains to the children of God that the natural calamities (i.e., devastation caused by hordes of locust, etc. and subsequent famine) are really God-sent, divine judgments because of their spiritual waywardness, which God will undo upon the nation's penitence (Joel 1:1-2:27). "…Joel wrote to convince them that these were not merely unfortunate tragedies, but were instead God's punishments upon the nation because of its sins. Since it has always been the case that 'Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people' (Prov. 14:34)…" (Duncan 10).
In addition to the call to repentance with the promise of renewed physical blessings, Joel prophesied of two spiritual blessings that were to be fulfilled in the distant future from Joel's day. The first in Joel 2:28-32 is clearly identified with the birthday of the church, confirmed by the inspired correlation made by the apostle Peter in Acts 2:16-21. The second prophesied spiritual blessing occurs in Joel 3:1-21 and is the subject of this writing. This latter prophecy is embodied in Joel 3:14, "Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision," from which the title of this discourse is derived (emphasis added). The second prophesied blessing is only a blessing to faithful people of God, but it contains harsh, inalterable and final judgment against all the enemies of God and his people.
Often writers or other propounders of Scripture make casual references to "the valley of decision" in Joel 3:14 and use it aside from the context in which it appears to teach something comparable to Joshua's challenge to his generation in Joshua 24:15, "…choose you this day whom ye will serve…" In its context, "the valley of decision" pertains not to choices we make or are called upon to make, but to the judgment of God. Varner has correctly styled "the valley of decision" of Joel 3:14 thus: "We are ever in 'Verdict Valley'" (81 emphasis added).
Through the God-sent, punishing calamities in the first two chapters of Joel and in Joel Chapter Three, the phrase "the day of the LORD [Jehovah]" sounds forth the judgment of God, both on the wayward people of God and the oppressors of the people of God (Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:14). "That 'the Day of the Lord' is coming, is the central teaching of the book -- the day when the Lord will manifest himself in the destruction of his enemies and the exaltation of his friends" (Wycliffe). "…Joel uses the expression day of the Lord. This expression occurs twenty-five times in all of the Bible, and five of those twenty-five are found in the short book of Joel. It is obvious that that term does not always refer to the same day, but refers to any day when God brings judgment upon a people. Isaiah uses the term twice in referring to the time when God would destroy Babylon (Isa. 13:6, 9)" (Duncan 8). Pledge observes regarding "the day of the LORD":
The message of Joel is that the day of the Lord must come when every wrong shall be righted and every injustice shall be recompensed. … The "day of Jehovah" is a day when all the enemies of God will know that the events are from God. …He declared the absolute supremacy of God. The prophecy of Joel points out the fact that the divine purposes of God will ultimately be realized through God's government. God is on the throne, in the book of Joel. (213)
Whereas some students of the Bible see the fulfillment of Joel 3:1-21 culminating in the first century destruction of Jerusalem (Duncan 10), many others relate the prophecy to the Final Judgment at the end of time. Taken as a whole, Joel Three must transcend A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Please note the following observations.
It seems odd that Joel would be thought to be referring to the return from Babylonian captivity, as Duncan supposes, when the captivity was not known yet and in excess of 200 years in the future (besides the 70 years of captivity): "The third chapter of Joel begins with what appears to be a reference to the return of Judah from Babylonian captivity" (Duncan 9). From the time of the institution of Judaism, God abundantly warned the nation of Israel that when they turned from him he would send them into captivity, and God further told the Israelites that he would return them to their land. Deuteronomy 30:1-10 reads almost exactly like Joel 3:1, though Deuteronomy was written at the dawn of Judaism, not as Judah was in the shadow of Babylonian captivity. See also similar references in 2 Chronicles 6:37-38; Psalm 14:7 and 85:1, also well before either captivities of the divided Israelite kingdoms.
Later, the prophet Isaiah prophesied about the punishment of the nations who oppressed Judah and wrote about a return from captivity. Jeremiah prophesied likewise in 16:15; 23:3-8; 29:14-15; 30:3, 18. Ezekiel, too, prophesied of return from captivity in 37:21-28; 39:25-29. In addition to references to Judah's return from Babylonian captivity, these passages have Messianic overtones respecting the establishment the Lord's church about which Peter spoke when he made the correlation between that Pentecost and Joel 2:28-32. Joel Three possesses Messianic overtones respecting not primarily the establishment of the church, but the exoneration of the church by way of divine judgment against the wicked. That is, Joel 2:28-32 speaks to the establishment of the heavenly kingdom or church, whereas Joel 3:1-21 speaks to the final vindication of the kingdom or church against the enemies of God throughout all time. God wins! God's people win! The opponents of God and his people lose!
In the figure of the nations that were oppressors of Judah in Joel's day, God challenges all the enemies of God to assemble for battle against him. The valley into which these enemies are invited is physically incapable of sustaining such a mass of humanity. Butler notes:
God's judgment (His victory over the enemies of His people) is given a contemporary setting. Jehoshaphat, by the miraculous help of God, won a great victory over a Gentile army in a valley which was afterward named for him (II Chron. 20). So the prophet's use of the king's name and the valley of Jehoshaphat would remind the people of this glorious victory over the enemies of God. Also, the name Jehoshaphat means "Jehovah judges." That there is ever going to be a literal gathering of all the nations into a valley near Jerusalem is a geographical impossibility! …The prophet was led by the Holy Spirit to use the valley of Jehoshaphat in a symbolic or figurative way much the same as we say that someone has met his Waterloo. At the end of the Messianic age (which will be the end of all ages) God is going to demonstrate a complete and final victory over all the forces of evil. (193)
The most often cited location of the valley under discussion lies on the eastside of Jerusalem; "…from the 4th century A.D. onwards the name 'valley of Jehoshaphat' has been given to the valley between the Temple Hill and the Mount of Olives" (Douglas). This valley is otherwise known as the Kidron Valley (International).
Joel 3:14 reads, "Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision." Although the so-called Living Bible is hardly either a Bible translation or typically worthy of note at all, to my surprise, its rendering of Joel 3:14 accurately represents the sentiment of the verse: "Multitudes, multitudes waiting in the valley for the verdict of their doom! For the Day of the Lord is near, in the Valley of Judgment" (emphasis added). In fact, Joel 3:12 defines the happening in verse 14: "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" (KJV emphasis added).
Wycliffe says of the event portrayed here:
The picture of judgment begins here. Multitudes, multitudes. Literally, tumults. That is, great multitudes. The repetition is for emphasis. Valley of decision. The judgment will be decisive! The nations are assembled because judgment is ready to burst forth. (emphasis added)
Keil & Delitzsch adds:
…[I]n v. 14 ff. the judgment is simply depicted thus: first of all we have a description of the streaming of the nations into the valley of judgment, and then of the appearance of Jehovah upon Zion in the terrible glory of the Judge of the world, and as the refuge of His people. … valley of the deciding judgment… to decide, to determine irrevocably...
Barnes' Notes specifies:
…[T]he place where they are gathered, (although they know it not,) is the "valley of decision," i.e., of "sharp, severe judgment." The valley is the same as that before called "the valley of Jehoshaphat;" but whereas that name only signifies "God judgeth," this further name denotes the strictness of God's judgment. The word signifies "cut," then "decided;" then is used of severe punishment, or destruction decided and decreed...
Of the "multitudes" pouring into the Valley of Decision, they are colorfully described variously. Keil & Delitzsch as well as Butler (195) describes these multitudes as "noisy crowds." Barnes' Notes calls them "tumultuous masses" and says, "It was one living, surging, boiling, sea: throngs upon throngs, mere throngs!" Butler adds, "The picture Joel draws for us is that of 'throngs upon throngs' of these enemies of God in a blind, raging confusion surging headlong and headstrong into a showdown with an omnipotent Judge" (195 emphasis added).
Joel 3:15-16 employ the often-used references to severe natural disasters to signal a major event or judgment brought about by God (demise of Babylon, Isaiah 13; birthday of the church, Joel 2:28-32 & Acts 2:16-21; A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem, Matthew 25). In this context, they refer to the final judgment of God against all wickedness.
Joel 3:17-18 and 20 figuratively represent the final and lasting victory of God and his people. "…[T]he prophets used contemporary terms of agricultural prosperity to depict in a figurative way the blessings of God in the Messianic age (cf. Isa. 25; 55; etc. )" (Butler 199). Wycliffe observes regarding the revived Jerusalem and Zion:
A hyperbolical picture of extreme fertility now follows. The territory of Judah was covered with limestone rocks, and the soil yielded only a meagre subsistance in return for the most arduous toil. But in this new age the fertility is pictured in terms of the mountains and hills themselves shooting forth wine and milk. Canaan is called "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 3:8).
Keil & Delitzsch hastens to distinguish between literal and figurative references to Jerusalem and Judah in this context.
For Zion or Jerusalem is of course not the Jerusalem of the earthly Palestine, but the sanctified and glorified city of the living God, in which the Lord will be eternally united with His redeemed, sanctified, and glorified church. We are forbidden to think of the earthly Jerusalem or the earthly Mount Zion, not only by the circumstance that the gathering of all the heathen nations takes place in the valley of Jehoshaphat, i.e., in a portion of the valley of the Kidron, which is a pure impossibility, but also by the description which follows of the glorification of Judah.
Barnes' Notes likewise notes in these verses the prophesied and long sought conclusion of all things physical and replacement with the heavenly Jerusalem. Especially note his allusions to the final things represented in the Book of Revelation.
"Without," says John, "are dogs and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie" (Rev 22:15). None alien from her shall pass through her, so as to have dominion over her, defile or oppress her. … This special promise is often repeated. "It shall be called the way of holiness, the unclean shall not pass over it" (Isa 35:8). "Henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean" (Isa 52:1). "The wicked shall no more pass through thee" (Nah 1:15). "In that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts" (NOTE: Zech. end). "And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth" (Rev 21:27). These promises are, in their degree and in the image and beginning, made good to the Church here, to be fully fulfilled when it shall be "a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish" (Eph 5:27). … Not earthly Judah, nor earthly Jerusalem, for these must come to an end, together with the earth itself, of whose end the prophets well knew. It is then the one people of God, the true Judah, the people who praise God, the Israel, which is indeed Israel.
Joel 3:19 and 21 are comparable to a passage in the Book of Revelation where finally God vindicates the innocence of his dead saints. Wycliffe notes regarding the shedding of innocent blood for which God determined to avenge: "This violence consisted not only of the shedding of Jewish blood during war, but also of the unprovoked massacre of peaceful Jews living in these lands (Amos 1:11; Obad 10)." Other commentators make similar comparisons between the avenging of the blood of innocents indicated in Joel and the avenging of the blood of innocents mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Clarke comments: "I will avenge the slaughter and martyrdom of my people, which I have not yet avenged."
The phrase "I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed" probably means that when God ushers in the consummation of the Messianic age He will vindicate completely His precious saints. Justice, which in some cases on this earth is left undone, will be carried out by the Just Judge of all the earth. (Butler 200)
The word rendered "cleansed" is not used of natural cleansing, nor is the image taken from the cleansing of the body. The word signifies only to pronounce innocent, or to free from guilt. Nor is "blood" used of sinfulness generally, but only of the actual guilt of shedding blood. The whole then cannot be an image taken from the cleansing of physical defilement, like the words in the prophet Ezekiel, "then washed I thee with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee" (Ezek 16:9). Nor again can it mean the forgiveness of sins generally, but only the pronouncing innocent the blood which had been shed. This, the only meaning of the words, fall in with the mention of the "innocent blood," for shedding which, Egypt and Edom had been condemned. The words are the same. …For in that He punishes the shedding of it, He declared the "blood" innocent, whose shedding He punished. So in the Revelation it is said, "I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held, and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Rev 6:10-11). (Barnes Notes)
A fitting Bible verse to describe the outcome of "the valley of decision" is Psalm 96:10: "Say among the heathen that the LORD reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously." Obviously, because the day of Jehovah -- a day of judgment -- will certainly occur in our own "verdict valley," it behooves each of us to make the right choices or decisions today -- and everyday as long as we live.
Joel proclaims that God wins! Joel proclaims that faithful people of God win! Joel proclaims that the enemies of God and the enemies of God's people lose! Take from God, speaking through the pen of the prophet Joel, 'You do not want to meet an angry God in the valley of decision -- verdict valley!'
Barnes' Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Butler, Paul T. The Minor Prophets. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1977.
Cates, Curtis A. "Introduction to the Book of Joel." The Minor Prophets. Thomas B. Warren and Garland Elkins eds. Southaven, MS: Southaven Church of Christ.
Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke's Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.
Douglas, J. New Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Logos Research Systems, 1996.
Duncan, Bobby. "Joel: Looking Toward Pentecost." Spiritual Sword 26.4 (1995): 7-11.
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.
Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament. New Updated Edition. CD-ROM. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996.
McGee, Pat. "The Living Message of Joel." The Living Messages of the Books of the Old Testament. Garland Elkins and Thomas B. Warren eds. Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press, 1977.
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
Pledge, Charles A. Getting Acquainted with the Old Testament, Vol. 2. Memphis: Pledge Publications, 1971.
Robinson, George L. The Twelve Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974.
Varner, W. Terry. "A Commentary on the Book of Joel." The Minor Prophets. Thomas B. Warren and Garland Elkins eds. Southaven, MS: Southaven Church of Christ.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody Press, 1962.
Yates, Kyle M. Preaching from the Prophets. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1942.