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Joel 3

Joel 3 needs to be understood in the context of Joel Chapter 2 and of what the Bible says about conditional prophecy.
"For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem," (Joel 3:1)
"Those days" are what days? Let's look at previous verses to see what days Joel was just talking about:
  1. Joel 2:28 "afterward" which Peter interprets as "in the last days."
  2. Joel 2:29 "in those days" - same as "in those days" of 3:1
  3. Joel 2:30 wonders
  4. Joel 2:31 before the day of the Lord
  5. Joel 2:32 deliverance in the remnant (or survivors)
  6. Joel 2:20 northern army - sounds like Babylon

There, no doubt, was a local application to Joel in the plague of locusts in chapter 1, but Peter's quotation of Joel 2:28:32 points to the last-days for an ultimate fulfillment.

What does "bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem" mean? (Note that there is no reference to the 10 tribes who went into exile earlier.) It is the people that were held captive (the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem) not the city and nation. It must be referring to bringing them from where they are held captive to somewhere where they would be free. They were actually held captive mostly in an area to the north of Israel, near the Caspian Sea.

The expression "bring again the captivity of my people" is used often in Jeremiah in various ways"

  1. "... I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah ..." (Jer 30:3)
  2. "... I will bring again the captivity of Jacob’s tents ..." (Jer 30:18)
  3. "... I shall bring again their (the land of Judah) captivity ..." (Jer 31:23)
  4. "... I will cause their (in the land of Benjamin, and in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, and in the cities of the mountains, and in the cities of the valley, and in the cities of the south) captivity to return ..." (Jer 32:44) (No mention of Israel)
  5. "... I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return ..." (Jer 33:7)

Does this mean that the Israelites will be restored to the land of Israel in the last days; to the literal city of Jerusalem and the literal land of Judah? See my All Eyes on Israel series for some insights on this question. And here is another article that speaks of Ezekiel's temple that some are looking for.

"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." (Joel 3:2)

In order to understand this, it helps to compare the situation in Joel's day to our day.

In Joel's day:
  1. Who were Israel? - the literal Israelites
  2. Where were they captive? - in the kingdom of Babylon
  3. They were promised a return to where? - the land of Israel
  4. What key event that had to happen for their release? - the fall of Babylon
  5. What finally freed them? - the decree of Cyrus, king of Persia who was a type of Christ
  6. Where was the valley of Jehoshaphat? - In the 4th century, the term was applied to the Kidron Valley between Jerusalem and the Mt. of Olives but there is no evidence that this valley was ever called that in ancient times. The Kidron Valley is about 1/4 km wide and not very long - it couldn't accommodate many people.
In the Last Days:
  1. Who is Israel? - If this is happening near the end of time, future from now, then who are now God's people Israel? What does Paul say?
"And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal 3:29)
  1. Where is end-time Israel held captive? - in end-time Babylon, this world of sin
  2. They were promised an escape to where? - the heavenly promised land
  3. What key event has to happen first? - the fall of last-day, spiritual Babylon
  4. Who will finally free them? - Jesus at the Second Coming
  5. Valley of Jehoshaphat? - since "Jehoshaphat" means "God judges" it may have reference to the place or even just the situation (see below) of judgment. Also, note that there was an incident involving King Jehoshaphat recorded in 1 Kings 22 but there is no indication that it occurred in a valley by that name or of any connection to what Joel said.

We can summarize the comparison from Joel 3 like this:

Joel's Day
Last Days
Who is Israel? literal Israelites spiritual Israelites
Captive where? in ancient Babylon end-time Babylon, world of sin
Promised return to where? promised land of Israel promised land of heaven
Key event needed? fall of ancient Babylon fall of last-day Babylon
Freed by what? decree of Persian king Second Coming of Jesus
Valley of Jehoshaphat some unknown location place or situation of judgment

Key in this is that when Peter quoted from Joel chapter 2, he left out the last part of verse 32:

"... for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there is an escape, As Jehovah hath said, And among the remnants whom Jehovah is calling!" (Joel 2:32)

What does the phrase "will plead with them there for my people" mean? "Will plead" ("shaphat") as in "Jehoshaphat" means and is most commonly translated "to judge." In many ancient courts, the judge would, by default, take the position that the accused was innocent unless and until evidence showed otherwise (innocent until proven guilty).

How Prophecy Uses Geography

Verse 14 mentions multitudes of people being "in the valley of decision" after verse 2 said that God will "bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat." With Jehoshaphat meaning "God judges" it seems that, wherever the people actually are, they have been brought to and are in a situation of judgment. They may be having to make a decision (they are judging) or a judgment may be happening regarding them (they are being judged) or both.

In support of that possibility is the Bible's use, in other ways, of geographical terms in connection with events or situations.

The "lake of fire" is defined in Revelation (21:8) as "the second death" which is not a literal place but an event that eternally separates the lost from any connection with or support by God. See more details on "the lake of fire?"

Armageddon is closely associated with the pouring out of the last plagues. While the last days will, no doubt, involve military conflict, Armageddon may also refer to the final conflict between good and evil.

The bottomless pit, while it is used to describe the condition of earth before creation week -" without form and void," is also used in the sense of a place or condition from which there is no escape. Satan is cast into such a place/situation during the millennium (Rev 20:3).

"The valley of the shadow of death" (not the valley of death) mentioned in Psalm 23 is not so much a place as it is a situation. This "valley" may speak of a situation of being in a great emotional struggle (perhaps with death as one option). Think of:

  1. Abraham when asked to sacrifice Isaac
  2. Jacob wrestling with the angel
  3. David when confronted by Nathan
  4. Job used the term several times to describe his struggles

Remember that soon after the Israelites entered the Promised Land they were directed to assemble on Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim and were presented with the consequences of their choices as to whether they would serve God or not. It was an interesting use of geography to make a point (and, of course, there was a valley between the two mountains). We commonly use geographical terms to describe difficult situations:

  1. "I'm in a tough spot"
  2. "between a rock and a hard place."
"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." (Joel 3:3)

Distributing slaves by lot was a common practice. Scripture mentions it:

"In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them." (Obad 1:11)
"Yet was she carried away, she went into captivity: her young children also were dashed in pieces at the top of all the streets: and they cast lots for her honourable men, and all her great men were bound in chains." (Nahum 3:10)

God Speaking to Israel's Enemies (v 4-8)

"Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? will ye render me a recompence? and if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompence 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. Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will return your recompence 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." (Joel 3:4-8)

The "recompense" here may simply be a reference to the fact that God does not prevent the consequences of actions to happen. "What goes around, comes around" so that the same thing happens to these nations.

God identifies the Israelite's goods as His. Or, perhaps it is more specifically referring to gold and silver items from the temple. Think of the Babylonian captivity when so many sacred items were captured.

"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:" (Joel 3:9)
"Wake up" doesn't necessarily mean to awaken from sleep but can be to stir to action.
"Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong." (Joel 3:10)

This points to the end times when one thinks of what Jesus said about the last days:

"And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet." (Matt 24:6)

There has been and is much preparation for war in our time especially by the United States that spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined. I just heard that they have alsready spent $400 billion on their F35 fighter jet development. I have seen "let the weak say, I am strong" applied to North Korea. This is one (and there may be others) nation that while small and economically poor and built a strong military force and boasts about it.

"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 fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision." (Joel 3:11-14)

This may refer to the gathering of the nations for war at the end. "Round about" is literally "from round about." Nations from around the world are involved. "Mighty ones" is from the same original word translated as "strong" in verse 10. As discussed above for verse 2, the nations (or armies thereof) may not be gathered into a literal valley so much as into a situation of judgment. That this is at the end of time is supported again by the use of figures of judgment.

"The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining." (Joel 3:15)

This is not referring to an eclipse. There cannot be a solar and a lunar eclipse at the same time. The light of the stars is somehow obscured; they don't literally stop shining as this verse says:

"Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth." (Isa 40:26)
"The LORD also shall roar out 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." (Joel 3:16)

This is very similar to a verse in Amos:

"And he said, The LORD will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither." (Amos 1:2)

These events are described as happening in the day of the Lord, so it is time for Him to act; to take charge.

"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. 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. 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. 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." (Joel 3:17-20)

Joel 3 and especially these verses suggest to some people a nation of Israel restored on earth ("the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk" etc). But there are also clues that this was meant for another time/fulfilment. Do we suppose that the areas of Egypt and Edom will be desolate in the new earth? How could Judah dwell forever in light of what especially the book of Revelation says about last-day events?

See the study on conditional prophecy for an understanding of how this could have had another fulfillment.  

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