The Prophecy of Joel

F.A. Blair

THIS world is the wonderful sphere where God displays what He is in relation to man, so that the mind of man may understand the ways of God. He makes Himself known by His ways according to the perfect purity of is nature and in the activity of His infinite love, bringing man by the revelation of what God is as !light and love, into new relationships with Himself through Christ.

The revelation of the Godhead is fully manifested in Christ; in Him the Godhead was pleased to dwell bodily. Christ is heir of all things, for all things were made by Him, and for Him, as the Son. "And he is before all, and all things subsist together by him" (Col 1:17, JND). He is also appointed by God "Heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds" (Hebrews 1:2). As Son He holds title to all things, for He is the Creator; as man risen from among the dead. He receives the inheritance; and the Church, one with Him in His glory by the indwelling of the Spirit which unites saints on earth with the glorified Head on high, is heir with Him. The children of God are "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17).

Christ first came in flesh to fulfil the promises made to Israel, who ought to have received Him as the Heir of the promises; but the Jews would not have Him, they said, "This is the heir, come let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours" (Mark 12:7). When the Jews refused their Messiah who had come in lowliness and meekness, although their prophets had predicted that He would come in this manner, it opened the way for a yet more glorious revelation of blessing. Israel was set aside for the moment, that the counsels of God, which had remained hidden in Himself, and which He had purposed in Christ from eternity, should be revealed. The heavenly companion and bride of the One rejected by Israel was about to be gathered from all nations, while her Bridegroom, risen from the dead, took His place at the right hand of God: she will appear with Him in His glory when he appears.

God has not cast off His people Israel; He cares for them providentially in the days of their obscurity, just as He did, in the days of Esther under the Persian rule. In their captivity they were far from the plane of favour, yet known to God and protected in spite of attempts to harm them. The Jews (the name applied to the Hebrews in Persia) even rose to the place influence and power, and the Esther, the Jewess, was exalted to the throne when the disobedient Gentile queen, who failed to show her beauty to the world at the command of the king, was cast aside. Haman, the Amalekite, a type of the power of the enemy who seeks to exterminate the Jew, was himself destroyed.

For a thousand years God had tried Israel under law and ordinances, and when they broke down He pleaded with them through the prophets to keep His people, if possible, true to the covenant which they had entered into with Him. He gave them a priesthood to maintain their relationship with Him, and when the priesthood failed in Eli, He intervened sovereignly by a prophet, and promised a king before whom His faithful priest would walk (1 Samuel 2:5) There is a reference in this promise to Phinehas, who earned an everlasting priesthood because of his zeal for the LORD, in the days when Balaam taught the Midianites to seduce Israel, whom, he could not curse (See Numbers 25).

Samuel, the prophet, introduced the king of Jehovah's choice, David, and carried the people, by prayer and the word of the LORD, over the time during, which the king was rejected. In this part of David's history he is clearly a type of Christ, who was born to be King (John 18:37), but was not received, and was chased from the world.

In time David was set upon the throne, and at the end of his days appointed his son Solomon to be king. For the moment the two kings reigned together, setting forth a picture of the kingdom which will be set up in Christ, the Messiah-king, and shall never be removed. Christ, who once suffered, will again come, first as the warrior King to subdue His enemies, and when they are put down He will reign on the throne of glory and peace, the true Solomon great David's greater Son. All prophecy looks on to the "day of Christ" when He shall reign supreme.

The failure of the house of David and the divisions of Israel into two kingdoms is the occasion for a further intervention for God. Prophets arise in Israel and in Judah to open the eyes of the people to see their state before God, and to warn them by pronouncing God's moral judgment on their ways. The chastening correction of the LORD by the bands of their enemies is foretold, and the character of these rods of His anger is fully described, adding also the judgment of the LORD on the instruments He uses.

Apart from immediate events that had a local effect, and were brought on the people for some departure from the law and ordinances of the LORD, the main theme of prophecy is "the day of the LORD", and in certain string instances to proclaim the coming of the Messiah as the One in whom the hopes of Israel rested, but allowing for His rejection.

Local happenings become in the eyes of the prophet the precursors of greater events that will introduce "the day of the LORD". It is this day that the prophet Joel has in mind, and the key-note of his prophecy is "the day of the LORD".

When the ten tribes had been taken captive to Assyria and David's family had failed in the long line of kings who followed him, God removed His throne from Jerusalem and raised up another system of human supremacy. Zing Nebuchadnezzar, monarch of Babylon ruled the world by divine authority, and he was the only head of a Gentile empire appointed by God. But this system also failed in its head. As a pledge of that which God will yet fully bring to pass a few thousand Jews returned to Palestine under the decree of Cyrus the Persian to rebuild the temple; later, in Nehemiah's day, the walls of the city were repaired.

Joel is not occupied with the empires which ruled the world when Judah was in captivity and Jehovah's throne was no longer in Jerusalem. He speaks of Jehovah as connected with His people, and at the end of the prophecy Jehovah is dwelling in Zion. One of the earliest prophets of Judah, he sees in a glance, as it were, the whole of Israel's future history from the time of their falling away and until they are restored again in mercy. He gives the grand outline of the whole terrible scene which other prophets depict more and more in detail. It is thought that he prophesied a few years after Israel was taken captive to Assyria, and when Judah was fast following the idolatrous ways of Israel in the reign of Manasseh, the wickedest king in David's line. (Compare with Ezekiel 23). The spirit of the prophet was stirred, surrounded as he was by strange altars and many high places". (See 2 Kings 21).

The eye of a jealous God saw the iniquity of His people and He chastened them, warning them, in this way, of worse judgments to come when He would no longer endure a rival to His holy claims of worship; but act for the glory of His own great name, and remove the evil from among them by judgment. In that day- Jehovah would appear in their midst, and He would dwell in Zion for the blessing of His people in whose hearts grace had wrought repentance, and whom He had delivered.

 

Chapter 1

A devastating plague of locusts and caterpillars in the early and later stages of their growth, making havoc of the crops and so causing famine, is the picture immediately at hand which the prophet uses to arouse the attention of the people to the coming day of the LORD. The day was coming when He would not merely visit them with adversity to restrain the evil, but deal with it openly and fully. The prophet, considering the visitation a direct ordering of God against the impiety of the people, uses the occasion as a type, foreshadowing "the day of the LORD". God will summon the whole power of man to be the instrument of His judgment, which He will use against the wickedness that has gained the mastery over His people. Israel was the centre of God's ways on earth, and the witness to all peoples of the one true God, but they turned away from Him and refused to hear the testimony He sent in reproof. Through Israel He will again make His name known in the earth.

The ravages of the insects and the lack of rain laid the land bare. There remained not enough meal for meat-offering, nor wine for a drink-offering; it was time for the ministers of the altar to lament, to call a solemn assembly and cry unto the LORD.

But the mind of the prophet is in the presence of the LORD, he looks on to the day when the LORD will be magnified, though it be by judgment. All nations will be called up to Jerusalem to witness, as far as an earthly scene can demonstrate to them, the governmental wrath of God against the evil which displaced Him from the worship of His people, and which He denounced in the strongest terms by the mouth of the prophet long ago (Joel 1:5-12; comp. Zechariah 14: 1-3; also 11:16-17).

If God deals in this way with His own people for their sins (Isaiah 40:2), how will He deal with the nations which are godless, and add to their indifference of Him a wholehearted hatred of His people? All human power will come into judgment in that great day when human might, increased by Satanic agency, will be arrayed against Him who is the KING of kings and the Saviour of His people. Though God may use the nations to execute His chastening judgment against His people for their sin, the instruments of His anger have no thought of God in doing it, but they seek their own gain in the destruction of God's people.

The cause of a temporary famine did not call for the extreme severity of the language which Joel uses. The effects of the plague and drought would pass away. Man and beast groaned: but there was more to consider than physical suffering when God was not getting anything from their worship; there was no joy in their offering. The day was coming when the LORD would rise up in His Almighty power to remove the evil from His inheritance and bring it to a full end. In this way God calls the attention of His earthly people to a recognition of their state, and makes them see, that by refusing to walk with Him in His favour, they make themselves objects of judgment for He cannot endure evil for ever.

 

Chapter 2

Allusion is made in this chapter to the two silver trumpets God instructed Moses to make when He brought the children of Israel out of Egypt (Numbers 10: 1-10). The people assembled at the sound of the trumpets, and when the priests blew an alarm they marched. The alarm is blown in the time of war brought help from Jehovah God, and they were saved from their enemies: they were now to sound an alarm.

With the desolation of the land before him, but with his spirit in the future fearing the day of the LORD, the prophet sees an army approaching from the north, more desolating than the locusts and caterpillars; their numbers greater than ever seen before, and their weapons more terrible than might be imagined. The natural light of the world is darkened in their advance; nothing hinders them: they overrun the city, nothing escapes them.

But it is an army prepared by tile LORD: it is His army, and His camp, therefore nothing can withstand it. Faith takes hope in the fact that it is the army of the LORD, raised up by Him, for it will do His bidding and no more. When there is no outward cause for hope, faith hopes in God. Many Psalms show that Israel will be brought to this extremity, their hope will be in God and His mercy. (See Psalms 44, 69, 70 etc.).

None shall be able to endure the day of the LORD save those who have Him for their help. The sound of the alarm (verse 1) will bring help from the LORD, for great will be their distress. The effect of the judgment from the north will be to bring the people to repentance; the trumpet blown in Zion (verse 15) is to call the people to national repentance. Israel's history of lost battles tells how completely they forgot the use of the silver trumpets; indeed, there is no record that Israel ever used the two silver trumpets in time of war.

The use of the trumpets was to proclaim God's rights in His people; they were His public testimony in the direction and care of His people. At a certain sound the people gathered in solemn assembly; a blast was their battle-cry Israel, as God's people, was to be wholly dependent on God and His testimony.

Christians will readily understand the use of the trumpets as a type. God's people are absolutely dependent on Him at all times, and they can only find instruction and guidance for their movements in divine testimony. It Is well for them if they gather at the proclamation of the testimony to the truth; and go forward by divine command in accordance with the truth, as learned in communion with their Head. The people of God need never fear attack if they give a faithful testimony in truth and in absolute dependence on God; the presence of God inspires them with other thoughts. Fear of the enemy's attacks has its source in the uncertainty of the help of God; His presence is not realized; the testimony is giving an uncertain sound, the conscience is not clear and the heart not settled. Although the whole power of the world and its prince be arrayed against the Christian, there is a power now revealed superior to their own the power of God and God has pledged Himself to help with all His power; but the testimony must be all of one piece, clear and unmistakable, learned in priestly nearness and communion, and used in perfect confidence of the result. "Only let your conduct and not frightened [terrified] in anything by your opponents [adversaries]" (Philippians 1:28).

The LORD will not be mocked, and when others scorns fully say, "Where is their God" (verse 17). He answers with a promise of rich blessing, and removes the northern host no longer called "His army". He destroys there rod He has used, and the desolator will no more pass through the land (Nahum 1:15).

Comparing this prophecy with others we learn to whom the prophet refers when he speaks of the northern army; it is the Assyrian host so often mentioned in prophecy. At the time of the end when Jewry is under the spell of the Antichrist and allied to the apostate western confederacy, the power which controls the land of Assyria will be used for the chastening judgment of the Jews, to rid the land of the unrighteous. (Compare with Isaiah 60:21). Russia will be the power in control of the countries north of Palestine. All the north and east of Palestine will come under the influence of Russia, at first covertly, then at the end openly.

Assyria was the ancient enemy and scourge of Israel, and is used as a type of the last enemy that comes up greedily to spoil the people of God at the close of the dispensation. The LORD will be magnified in the sight of all the world by the way He deals with the mighty consuming hosts of Russia and the allied eastern people to whom she is a guard (Ezekiel 38:7).

Israel was redeemed out of Egypt where they were slaves. The Gentile empire destroyed Jerusalem and carried away the Jews into captivity and they have been subject to the Gentiles ever since. Assyria was the scourge of Israel when owned as God's people in His government of the world, and was their active enemy on a number of occasions: from the north, out of Assyria will come the last great attack when the LORD will appear to deliver His people.

The prophet Daniel speaks of the King of the North; but looks no farther north than Syria, where a king will arise in that portion of the old Grecian Empire ruled by the Selucidae when the Empire was divided after the death of Alexander the Great. In Israel's day Syria had been taken by Assyria; and the days are near when the countries north of Palestine will come under the influence of a power strong enough to direct and protect them. The result of these political moves in the effort to gain control, will bring the combined north and east into conflict with the united nations of the west; the smaller countries will be used as pawns in the political strife. Russia will soon hold political sway in these Asiatic lands and Palestine will be a bone of contention.

But God has Palestine in mind: it is called Immanuel's land (Isaiah 8). The nations do not realised why they have been brought around Jerusalem when that city becomes the centre of political intrigue; but it is there the LORD makes His power and His name known to the world; the nations will see what He does to Russia in the day that He delivers Israel. They will then learn that He has earthly rights, and that Israel is the centre of His earthly designs.

As Daniel is occupied with the Jews and the empires, he does not speak of the nations at large, and only mentions Syria immediately north of Palestine warring with Egypt from the south and both, countries in conflict with apostate Jewry led by the Antichrist. It is the same in Revelation, Russia and her allies are not brought into the prophecy; and the east is passed over save in one place; the actions and the end of the kings of the east are not developed (Revelation 16:12).

Isaiah speaks much of the Assyrian, and he is Israel's chief enemy in several of the books of the minor prophets. Assur or Assyria is also joined with the confederacy which seeks to cut Israel off from being a nation (Psalms 83). But the LORD will be in Zion when the Assyrian comes up to make his last attack, and He will be Israel's strength against those who hate them. (Comp. Micah 5:5; Zechariah

It is not because these northern and eastern peoples recognize the hand of the LORD or know why they are mustered, that He uses them as His scourge against apostate Jewry, but because their pride and hatred of God's people, and their hope to gain by their own strength the inheritance of the LORD, makes them willing instruments of His governmental wrath. For the moment they will be His rod of correction, then He will burn the rod 1-le has used "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain" (Psa. 56:10).

The chastening of God's hand, and the message of hope by which He in grace sustains the faithful remnant, will turn Israel's heart to the LORD, and awaken the consciences of the people leading them to repentance. The LORD in His mercy will answer them by delivering them from their enemies, and He will remove the northern army in such a way that ail the world will know that God works for and in Israel. (See Ezekiel 38, 39). He will bless His people with abundance, restoring the years of famine in the day when the long night of their dispersion is over. To enhance the blessedness of that day, He will shed forth the Holy Spirit in power on all flesh. The blessing will be upon Israel first, and then reach out to all flesh far beyond the narrow bounds of Israel.

Verses 28-32 speak of the days at the close of this dispensation, and the prophecy is given in a special order. Verses 28, 29 follow after the repentance of Israel, and when they have been delivered and blessed with many temporal blessings; it is then the Spirit will be poured out upon them and all flesh, so that the blessedness of the reign of Christ may be fully entered into. How gracious of God to give men and women of all classes greater capacity to enjoy the richness of His kindness in earthly benefits, than they could ever know in the weakness of mere nature! All will be founded on His grace and mercy; the government will be in the hands of the Saviour LORD the true Elisha.

Verses 30, 32 contain a distinct prophecy; they do not, as a prophecy, follow on the two preceding verses, they look to the days. "Before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes", when visible disturbances of nature will fill the hearts of men with fear.

There is another thing to note in these verses. The Spirit of God, who inspired the prophet to write the prophecy in this order, also inspired the apostle Peter when he used the prophecy in his preaching to the multitudes after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). Peter quotes the words in the order given in Joel, and gives them a present application to explain that which had just taken place; in this he was divinely guided In view of what was shortly to come. History records that there were signs in the heavens before the destruction of Jerusalem AD. 70. If this is true it accounts for Peter's use of the prophecy, and suggests a literal fulfilment of it. The Holy Spirit anticipated the day when only the small repentant remnant would receive the gift of the Spirit from above, and the rest of the nation be set aside until the prophecy has its definite and final fulfilment. There was a divine necessity to keep the prophecies distinct, yet make them capable of fulfilment in the order given in the first instance without violating the truth and the sequence. The repentant remnant in the day of our Lord received the gift of the Holy Spirit after Christ was risen and glorified, which gave them capacity and power to enter into the heavenly portion Christ in resurrection has secured for them. The signs which are to precede the great day of the LORD are yet to come.

After the Church is taken away from this scene of coming judgment; Israel will be brought to repentance by judgement and through grace working towards them in a testimony to the Kingdom about to be set up. At the same time there will be fearful signs and disturbances of nature - portents of coming judgments; but the LORD will hear the cry of the needy and will deliver His people out of their troubles. When He delivers Israel He will bless the nation abundantly, restoring the years of plenty richer than they have ever known; and to enjoy His goodness fully, the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon them in a new and remarkable way.

 

Chapter 3

Judah and Jerusalem are the subjects of this chapter. The prophecy does not extend beyond Judea; it speaks of the return of the Jews, but does not develop the gathering of the ten tribes. All nations which have to do with the Jews are to be represented in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The name of the place means "judgment, or sceptre of the LORD", and God will gather the nations there. It will be for a trial of strength; a test as to who shall govern in the world; the nations in their national and political prides or the God of Israel.

This question of earthly government can be settled only in Palestine. Jehovah ceased to govern openly on earth when. His glory departed from Jerusalem. He will take up His government again in Jerusalem and nowhere else. The Jews cannot permanently be settled in any other country. God will govern the earth from Jerusalem, when He again publicly makes Israel His own favoured people. Since the Jew has been cast out of his land he has never found a home, and all people despise him; but he will yet be sought after.

The nations are called to cease their peaceful occupations and to prepare for war (ver. 9). They will appear to come into Judea for political reasons, but God sends forth the command and they must obey; for the LORD will sit in judgment on all nations. They will send their mighty ones, and the LORD will cause His mighty ones to come down (verse 11). It will be the time of harvest when the wheat is reaped, and the good is separated from the bad, and the bad from the good. The time when the grapes are gathered and pressed in the wine vat is here coupled with the wheat harvest. Both figures are used in Revelation 14, and the vintage is the more terrible.

The political light of the world, its pride, and its glory will disappear (verse 15 compare Isaiah 18:10; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 9:2). The military strength and confidence in which the nations come into the land of God's inheritance will dissolve in fear. If the nations show their contempt for the people of God, it is God whom they esteem lightly. The LORD will answer from Jerusalem; He will roar out of Zion (verse 16); and will shake all that can be shaken in heaven and on earth. (See also Hebrews 12:26). Jehovah God will once more govern from Jerusalem; His dwelling-place will be in Zion, "My holy mountain". Jerusalem shall then be holy, and strangers shall no more pass through her (verse 17).

When Egypt and Edom are made desolate because of the violate hatred they have shown the Jews, Jehovah will be the hope of Judah. Blessing will flow freely to Judah and Jerusalem, now cleansed from all unrighteousness, and they shall abide for ever. A fountain of water will spring from the house of the LORD (Ezekiel 47; Zechariah 14:8) to refresh the valley of Shittim - a place east of the Jordan.

The LORD, who has been their refiner and deliverer, will dwell in Zion and secure everlasting blessing for Jerusalem. Without stopping to consider details, the prophet, with one broad sweep of his eyes, surveys the land of Israel in connection with God's rights and government of the world. He sees Israel being judged with the nations, but saved in the judgment. Judah and Jerusalem come especially into view as the focal point of God's earthly plans, and there the power of the LORD will be seen in fullest display. His thoughts pass from the sins of the people and Jehovah's present chastening, to what it all means to the mind of God. The people of God had fallen into the idolatrous ways of their heathen neighbours; a graven image had been set in the house of God (2 Kings 21:7). Israel and Judah were as guilty as the heathen, there was no difference.

God had created man for His own pleasure; and especially chosen and separated a people to bear witness to His ways in His loving-kindness; aIl had turned their backs to God (Ezekiel 8:16), and denied Him in His own creation. What should He do? How bring into such a world the blessings in which His nature delighted? How could He bring to fruition the promises He made in truth and for peace. The answers remained with God. The prophets spoke for Him, and gave hope to faith in the days of old; their words will comfort faith in the days of trial that are to come. Christians have the perfect answer in a risen Christ; but Israel must wait for their deliverance until they see Him; then He will establish truth in mercy and peace in righteousness, not for Israel only but all the earth.

God will gather the might of the world, and He will match it with them strength of His mighty ones who stand in His power. It will be to the astonishment of all, and to the confusion of those who have found no place for Him in their thoughts.

Joel is not occupied with the Messiah who should be King in Zion. The Messiah had more to do with Judah by whom He was rejected when He came. Israel's deliver will surely be Messiah-Jehovah, but Joel speaks of Him as the LORD Almighty, Jehovah God; and this will make the deliverance of Israel the more wonderful; for the power of the Almighty will be with Israel, making them strong for battle to overcome their foes. The LORD will roar from Zion. He will fight for Israel in that day (Zechariah 14:3) and all the world will learn that Jehovah is the God of Israel: He is the true God, and a Saviour God.

The hope of blessing for the earth lies in Christ the risen Man, as also all blessing for the heavenly company; but He is God as Creator. In the place where His majesty was disdained and His rightful claims ignored, He will maintain the glory of His own name and establish His right to govern. How marvellous that He should condescend to do so before men and in their midst, in a way that the mind of man may take in the knowledge of the power and glory of God as He is pleased to show it! He displays Himself amongst men for the blessing of those who, through grace, trust in Him; but to the terror of His enemies.

The Church has a better place. Prophecies are not, properly speaking, given about the Church, but concerning things and happenings on the earth. The Church has her portion in Christ her Head; she will enjoy it fully when He comes to receive her to Himself; but in the days of His rejection, and while Israel is yet estranged from Him, she comforts His heart as she enters into the understanding of His ways of love. She knows His love and favour in spiritual union with Him, and the knowledge of such love carries her through the weary night of her journey while awaiting His coming to take her to His home above, where she in spirit already dwells in Him. Assured of His tender love and unfailing faithfulness, she passes through the scene of conflict around her untouched by it, for she is not of it. She stands where judgment has been, and where death has done its worst and lost its power. Even now the fullness of God in grace is revealed in the Church; and God will be known in the fulness of His glory in the Church in Christ Jesus throughout the eternal ages. The Church has no part in the earthly scene, but she has a great interest in what God is doing on earth. The same God who in fulness of grace called her to a heavenly place and portion displays what He is in relation to man in His government on earth.

Frederick Alexander Blair: Published 1946 (1891 - 1974)
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