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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Joel 3

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Judgment in the Valley of Decision

A. A warning to the nations.

1. (Joe 3:1-3) A promise to bring back scattered and mistreated Israel.

"For behold, in those days and at that time, when I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; and I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; they have also divided up My land. They have cast lots for My people, have given a boy as payment for a harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they may drink."

a. In those days and at that time: Joel's prophecy still concerns the time period connected with it shall come to pass afterward mentioned in Joel 2:28. This is the broad period of the Last Days, initiated by the Ascension of Jesus and the birth of the Church on the Day of Pentecost.

i. Many have the wrong idea of the "last days," thinking only in terms of the final years or months immediately before the return of Jesus in glory to this earth, or the rapture of the Church. Scripturally, we can think of the last days as an era, one that began with the birth of the Church on the Day of Pentecost. Since that time, the Church has not been rushing towards a distant edge that represents the consummation of all things. Instead, at the Day of Pentecost the Church came to the edge - and has run parallel to the brink for some 2,000 years.

b. When I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem: In a lesser, immediate sense this was fulfilled in the return from the Babylonian exile. In the greater, ultimate sense it will be fulfilled in the end-times regathering of Israel, to the point where an expectant Israel welcomes Jesus saying, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" (Matthew 23:39) and salvation comes to Israel as a whole (Romans 11:26-27).

c. I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat: Joel here describes the final gather of the nations in rebellion against God at the Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-16). There is no place in Israel known as the Valley of Jehosphaphat but the name Jehoshaphat means, "The Lord Judges." It describes God's place of judgment.

i. "There is no such valley in the land of Judea; and hence the name must be symbolical. It signifies the judgment of God, or Jehovah judgeth." (Clarke)

ii. This is a judgment of all nations. Joel was written at a time when a terrible plague of locusts brought the judgment of God upon the people of God. At a time like that, it is easy to think "God, You are dealing harshly with us, but what about the ungodly nations? We may be bad, but they are worse. Don't you care about them?" God uses Joel 3 to assure Israel that the nations will be dealt with.

d. I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people: God's complaint against the nations is that they have mistreated His people. Primarily, this has in view the way the nations treat Israel, but also extends to how the nations treat the Church. When God's people are mistreated, God takes it personally and will avenge it.

i. In the judgment of the nations Jesus described in Matthew 25:31-46, the criteria is not faith in Jesus Christ but how the nations have treated the people of Israel - the brethren of Jesus. Held on the earth after His return in glory, this judgment determines who is allowed to enter into the Millennial Earth, and who goes straight to judgment.

ii. They have cast lots for My people: It is bad enough for man to regard any human life as cheap; it is worse to regard the people of God as cheap. God remembers and will repay.

2. (Joe 3:4-8) God warns the nations that He will retaliate against those who have mistreated His people.

"Indeed, what have you to do with Me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the coasts of Philistia? Will you retaliate against Me? But if you retaliate against Me, swiftly and speedily I will return your retaliation upon your own head; because you have taken My silver and My gold, and have carried into your temples My prized possessions. Also the people of Judah and the people of Jerusalem you have sold to the Greeks, that you may remove them far from their borders. Behold, I will raise them out of the place to which you have sold them, and will return your retaliation upon your own head. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off; for the LORD has spoken."

a. Will you retaliate against Me? God virtually challenges the nations to come against Him or His people. He vows to return your retaliation upon your own head to those who come against Him or His people.

i. Judgment is about the only aspect of God's plan of the ages that is plainly logical. The grace and mercy of God is not plainly logical. Salvation by grace through faith is not plainly logical. The high standing and destiny of the believer in Jesus is not plainly logical. Judgment - God simply giving those who reject Him what they deserve - is plainly logical. It is as if God says to the wicked, "You rejected the saving logic of heaven, so I will give you the plain logic of earth: you will receive what you deserve before the holy court of My justice."

b. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah: The nations treated God's people with contempt, and had no sense of their worth. Therefore, God will repay them with the contempt they put upon His people, vowing to return your retaliation upon your own head.

i. Trapp details the horrors that befell the ten Emperors of the Roman Empire that persecuted Christians:

- Nero lost 30,000 of his subjects by pestilence, had his armies utterly defeated in Britain, suffered a revolution in Armenia, and was so hated by the senators of Rome that they forced him to kill himself
- Domitian was butchered by his own soldiers
- Trajan died of a foul disease
- Severus died miserably on a military campaign in Britain
- Maximus was cut in pieces, together with his own son
- Decius died as an exile in a far country
- Valerian was whipped to death by the King of Persia who captured him
- Aurelian was killed by his own soldiers
- Dioclesian poisoned himself
- Maximum hanged himself

ii. "Ye cannot tread upon the least toe in Christ's mystical body, but the head cries out from heaven, Why hurtest thou me?" (Trapp) Paul found this out on the road to Damascus, when Jesus asked him Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? (Acts 9:4)

B. A proclamation to the nations.

1. (Joe 3:9-13) Gathering the nations for a war of judgment.

Proclaim this among the nations: "Prepare for 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.'" Assemble and come, all you nations, and gather together all around. Cause Your mighty ones to go down there, O LORD. "Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; for the winepress is full, the vats overflow; for their wickedness is great."

a. Prepare for war! God challenges the nations to prepare for war against Him. They will do this exact thing (Revelation 16:12-16), but God will simply laugh at the puny and futile preparations by the nations (Psalm 2).

i. Beat your plowshares into swords: If you are going to go into battle against God, you should have every weapon available! You should also practice your best positive thinking: let the weak say, "I am strong."  Nevertheless, the most positive attitude can't work when man sets himself against His Maker. There was a Broadway play titled "Your Arms are Too Short to Box with God." This is what the nations don't know, but will learn the hard way.

b. I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations: Though the nations come against God and His Messiah with every weapon and the most positive frame of mind, it is all for nothing. They will be plucked like a ripe harvest and crushed in judgment.

ii. Psalm 2 beautifully expresses the folly of the nations and the triumph of the LORD: Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, "Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us." He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: "Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion." (Psalm 2:1-6)

c. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; for the winepress is full: Revelation 14:14-20 also uses this image of the winepress of the wrath of God to describe Jesus' judgment on the nations at Armageddon.

2. (Joe 3:14-17) The Day of the LORD in the valley of decision.

Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will diminish their brightness. The LORD also will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the LORD will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel. "So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, dwelling in Zion My holy mountain. Then Jerusalem shall be holy, and no aliens shall ever pass through her again."

a. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! Joel looks out upon the Valley of Jehoshaphat at the Battle of Armageddon, and sees multitudes facing their eternal fate - truly, it is a valley of decision, and those who fight against the LORD and His Messiah are in the wrong place in the valley of decision, ultimately fulfilled at the Battle of Armageddon.

i. The idea of the "Valley of Decision" has been used in countless evangelistic meetings to show people that they stand in the "Valley of Decision," and must decide for or against Jesus. Joel's context is exactly the opposite. Man does indeed stand in the valley of decision, but it is God who does the deciding, not man. It is a valley of judgment - and we should decide for Jesus right now so we never stand in this valley of decision.

b. The heavens and earth will shake: Joel goes back to the descriptions of cosmic cataclysm that were mentioned in Joel 2:30-31. In the midst of it all, the LORD will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel, and He will restore both His people and His city to glory.

3. (Joe 3:18-21) Blessing on God's people, desolation for the nations.

And it will come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drip with new wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water; a fountain shall flow from the house of the LORD and water the Valley of Acacias. "Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom a desolate wilderness, because of violence against the people of Judah, for they have shed innocent blood in their land. But Judah shall abide forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. For I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I had not acquitted; for the LORD dwells in Zion."

a. The mountains shall drip with new wine … all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water: After God's final victory, there is lasting abundance and the days of drought are just a distant memory. Instead, Egypt shall be a desolation, along with the other enemies of the LORD and His people.

i. A fountain shall flow from the house of the LORD: Ezekiel 47 describes waters flowing from the house of the LORD in the time after Jesus' triumphant return, in the Millennium. Zechariah 14:8 also speaks of a great flow of water from Jerusalem, emptying both into the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

ii. The Valley of Acacias (Valley of Shittim) was a place associated with both failure and victory. It is located on the eastern side of the Jordan River, to the north of the Dead Sea. It was where the King of Moab sent his young women to the men of Israel to seduce them into idolatry and sexual immorality (Numbers 25:1-3). It was also the launching place for the armies of Israel when they set out against Jericho and Canaan in the days of Joshua (Joshua 2:1 and 3:1). When water from the house of the LORD flows down to the valley of Acacias, then God's grace and provision covers the past - every sin, every victory is covered over by Him.

b. But Judah shall abide forever … for the LORD dwells in Zion: God will show mercy to His people, and grant them forgiveness.  This prophecy of Joel, which began with the desperate plague of locusts, ends with a promise of restoration and redemption.

i. "This is the last promise, but not the least. It referreth, saith Danaeus, to Christ taking our flesh, by which he dwelt among us being God manifest in the flesh … since he dwelleth with his Church for ever, as it is in the precedent verse, and maketh her a true Jehovah Shammah, as she is called Ezekiel 48:35." (Trapp)

ii. "This prophet, who has many things similar to Ezekiel, ends his prophecy in nearly the same way: Ezekiel says of the glory of the Church, Yehovah shammah, THE LORD IS THERE. Joel says, Yehovah shochen betsiyon, THE LORD DWELLETH IN ZION. Both point out the continued indwelling of Christ among his people." (Clarke)

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

Study Guide for Hosea 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Amos 1 Next Book →
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