When Disaster Strikes – Part 5: Death Valley

Book of Joel

Joel 3:1-21

3 “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.

“What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on 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 nation far away, for the Lord has spoken.”

9Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. 10Beat your plowshares into swords,

and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” 11Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O Lord. 12Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. 13Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow,

for their evil is great. 14Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. 15 The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. 16 The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.

17 “So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it. 18“And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the Valley of Shittim. 19 “Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the people of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. 20But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. 21I will avenge their blood,

blood I have not avenged, for the Lord dwells in Zion.” i

Over the last 4 weeks, we have been studying the Word of God delivered through the prophet Joel. We’ve learned that the only things we know for certain about Joel is that he was a prophet of YHWH and that his father’s name was Pethuel. Exactly when Joel wrote and preached is up for debate. But it seems most likely, given the quotations from other prophets, that he may have preached in Judah, in the Jerusalem temple, perhaps even after the Babylonian exile.

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Our series is titled, “When Disaster Strikes” because Joel opens by preaching into the disaster of a prolonged drought and plague of locusts that fell upon God’s covenant land at a time when God’s people were trusting into their stuff (idolizing wealth) rather than worshipping YHWH. Joel preached God brought disaster as a foretaste of the ultimate judgment awaiting all those who reject him. That time of ultimate judgment is what the prophets called, “The Day of the Lord.”

In Joel’s first two prophecies, God warned that his people had become like Egypt; so they were experiencing many of the plagues God visited upon Egypt during the Exodus when God redeemed his people from slavery. He demanded their repentance and renewed worship in exchange for future blessings upon their land.

In the third prophecy, God promised to heal and restore the land since the people repented and renewed their heartfelt worship. God promised an eternally-productive land in which He would live in the presence of his people forever. God will dwell with his people by pouring out his Spirit on all of his people. All of them will know his will and share it with others.

In Acts 2 as 120 of Jesus’ disciples – with Shekinah glory dancing on their heads and foreign languages on their lips – share the Good News of Jesus with thousands of Pentecost pilgrims, Joel’s promise begins to be fulfilled in the post-Calvary chapter of the Day of the Lord. Calvary was a day of God’s terrible judgment on sin and rich eternal blessing for his people. Jesus’ crucifixion was a manifestation of The Day of the Lord because God’s wrath against sin was poured out on the Son, resulting in blessing for God’s people and judgment on those rejecting the Son.

INDICTMENT AND SUMMONS (3:1-12)

In his final prophecy, Joel sings of the great and terrible judgment God is bringing on the enemies of his people. The first 12 verses are God’s indictment and summons of Juda’s enemies. This section begins and ends the same way, with a call for God’s enemies to gather for war and judgment in Jehoshaphat Valley. The war theme echoes the first prophecies in which God’s locust army marched against Judah’s land. But now God invites all outside his covenant to come march against him, just as he earlier invited his covenant insiders to his temple for repentance and renewal.

Joel teaches us God uses disasters to draw his people close to him, bless them through dependence upon him alone. But disaster coming upon Juda’s enemies is a foretaste of his final judgment upon all those in rebellion against him. And like the rest of Joel’s prophecies, here there are an immediate judgment and an allusion to the great final judgment (“already” and “not yet” aspects of prophecy).

In the prophets, the Day of the Lord is a primarily described as the day of judgment upon all those who are outside of God’s people. Listen to Zephaniah’s description (Zeph. 3:8):

Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, / “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. /For my decision is to gather nations, /to assemble kingdoms, /to pour out upon them my indignation, /all my burning anger; /for in the fire of my jealousy /all the earth shall be consumed. ii

Joel declares the place of God’s judgment to be Jehoshaphat Valley. “Jehoshaphat” means “God judges.” The name is intended as a theological symbol rather than a particular place: “the place where Yahweh is to judge” (see: Zech. 14:4; Isa. 22:1,5; 2 Chron. 20:20-28). In verse 14, God calls it “the valley of decision.”iii It is the place God summons those outside his covenant for a trial. But it’s no courtroom trial. This is a summons to a trial by combat.

God’s indictment is listed in verses 2-8. It is his response to the prayers of his people in 2:17, “Spare your people, O Lord, /and make not your heritage a reproach, /a byword among the nations. /Why should they say among the peoples, / ‘Where is their God?’iv In the OT economy, the nations were any group of people outside of God’s covenant. God dealt with all outsiders according to how the outsiders treated his land and his people. In the NT economy, God no longer deals with political nations states because his covenant people are from every land, tribe, language, and nation.

God lists some of the outsider’s actions against Judah: selling children as slaves, scattering his people, taking his land, stealing treasures out of his temple and placing them into the temples of demon gods. God’s charges center on the themes of people, temple, and land. It’s likely these charges arise out of neighboring Gentile countries actions following the Babylonian captivity (Lam. 5:2). But the actual events are not as important as the principals involved.

“The people of God are his by two acts: creation and redemption. They are his because he made them. This applies to all, but there is a special application to Israel (in the Old Testament period) and to the church (in the New Testament period). God brought each into being. He created Israel by calling Abraham and giving him descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:5). Of the New Testament community, Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18).”v

Jesus echoed Joel 3 in Matt. 25:31-46 as he described the return of the Son of Man: before him will “be gathered all nations” for a trial based on the treatment of his brothers and so of himself (Matt. 25:31–46).vi See the shift from the Old Economy to the New? In the New Covenant, God’s people are no longer confined to a particular land; we have the promise of the New Heaven and New Earth, and the Jerusalem that is above (Gal. 4:26). God’s people are all are those found to be in Christ, Gal. 3:28-29,

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. vii

The promised judgment in Joel comes on the basis of how Judah and Jerusalem were treated. They were no ordinary country and capital. They were the temporal expression of YHWH’s covenant people. So God’s judgment is dealt on the basis of “Hurt my people, hurt me.” God owns the land and the people and God is not mocked; he will repay.

Whatever judgment God dealt to the nations who shamed Judah and offended him (the “already” of Joel’s prophecy), the New Covenant promises a greater and final judgment (the “not yet”). Paul spoke of this day when he told the Athenians:

In the past God overlooked the ignorance of pagan worship but “now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed [that is, by Jesus]. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).viii

Biblical doctrine about the Day of the Lord teaches the return of Messiah Jesus, the resurrection of all the dead, and the final judgment. The resurrection of the dead has no logic apart from eternal judgment and blessing. All human beings are eternal creatures and eternity is a physical as well as spiritual state. The only question is whether our eternal physical existence is in a perfect land flowing with the milk and honey of God’s loving presence with his people, or whether we are sent off to an eternally-cursed land to live a hideous existence far worse than Judah’s during the season of drought and locusts (Joel 1-2:16).

To God’s covenant people goes the abundant land and the eternal feast. To those outside his covenant blessing (the nations) goes a land where God is present only in his wrath, a land of eternal starvation and wrath. Joel gives us a chilling, graphic look into God’s just wrath poured out against covenant outsiders as he challenges them to a holy war of trial by combat in verses 9-12. ix

God’s call to arms for the outsiders in Joel 3:10 is an ironic contrast to the peace God promised for his covenant people in Isa. 2:4 (and Mic. 4:3), “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, /and their spears into pruning hooks; /nation shall not lift up sword against nation, /neither shall they learn war anymore.x Here he commands the outsiders to, “Beat your plowshares into swords, /and your pruning hooks into spears;

/let the weak say, ‘I am a warrior.’xi

God is saying to the outsiders that they will need every available weapon and every available warm body for their battle. There is no exemption for physical challenges. No delicate personality is to be excluded. There are no “4-F” rejects in this final judgment/battle because “…there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22b-23).xii All who are outside God’s covenant loyalty love must and shall drink from the bitter foaming cup of the wine of God’s wrath as Jeremiah prophesied (Jer. 25:15-16, 28–29):

Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.28 “And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! … You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts.’xiii

The bitter wine of God’s wrath, a theme of the prophets, finds its way into Joel’s text in the images God uses to describe the fate of the outsiders assembled in the Valley of God’s Judgment.

FATE AND FORTUNE (3:13-21)

The outsiders in Joel’s prophecy don’t DRINK the wine of wrath; they ARE the wine of God’s wrath.

13 Put in the sickle, /for the harvest is ripe. /Go in, tread, /for the winepress is full. /The vats overflow, /for their evil is great.” xiv

This is irony and horror. It is irony because the harvest is a time of celebration and joy. Remember God’s promise of Judah’s restoration in 2:24? “24 The threshing floors shall be full of grain; /the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.xv At harvest time, the work of the long hot summer was over. The food was guaranteed for the winter. Parties were held (like the harvest festival of Pentecost).

This harvest is horror because God pictures the outsiders assembled in the Valley of God’s Judgment as grapes piled into a vat where they are crushed to the point their blood spills over the top of the valley like grape juice spilling over the top of a wine press. The great army of outsiders is as passive and powerless before the wrath of God as a vat full of grapes ripe for the crushing.

David sang of futility of fighting YHWH and Messiah in Psalm 2:

2 Why do the nations rage /and the peoples plot in vain? /2 The kings of the earth set themselves, /and the rulers take counsel together, /against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, /“Let us burst their bonds apart /and cast away their cords from us.” /He who sits in the heavens laughs; /the Lord holds them in derision. /Then he will speak to them in his wrath, /and terrify them in his fury, saying, /“As for me, I have set my King /on Zion, my holy hill.” / I will tell of the decree: /The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; /today I have begotten you. /Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, /and the ends of the earth your possession. /You shall break them with a rod of iron /and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Joel isn’t the only prophet to use the graphic language of God smashing covenant outsiders like grapes of wrath. John the Revelator uses Joel’s language as well in Rev. 14:14-20. Messiah Jesus, the Anointed King, the Son of Psalm 2 pours out the wrath of God:

14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, [184 miles]. xvi

Vast amounts of grapes of wrath are trampled into a sea of blood. Joel and John are telling you that no army can stand against the judgment of God. There is no safety in numbers. “Multitudes, multitudes, /in the valley of decision!” (3:14). xvii The decision is NOT yours, by the way. This is the judgment of God, God’s decision. The time for your decision is long gone when the great and terrible Day of the Lord comes. There is only the consequence of willfully remaining outside God’s gracious covenant of salvation that comes only by trusting into the sacrificial, blood-shedding death of the risen Son. Jesus took all God’s wrath against sin on behalf of all his “insiders.”

But he was pierced for our transgressions; /he was crushed for our iniquities; /upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, /and with his wounds we are healed. xviii

All humanity is subject to his judgment and there is NO ESCAPE. No power can overcome it. “16 YHWH roars… and the heavens and the earth quake.” All humanity must and shall drink from the bitter cup of the wine of God’s wrath. You may drink God’s wrath in and through Christ’s bloody death on your behalf, or you certainly and personally will drink it to the dregs for eternity in a desolate land.

For the insiders, those who take refuge in Christ by faith, God promises eternal refuge from his wrath. “18 And in that day /the mountains shall drip sweet wine, /and the hills shall flow with milk, /and all the streambeds of Judah /shall flow with water; /and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord /and water the Valley of Shittim.xix

Hear David as he sings of his greater Son:

11 Serve the Lord with fear, /and rejoice with trembling. /12 Kiss the Son, /lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, /for his wrath is quickly kindled. /Blessed are all who take refuge in him. xx

Hear the Son as he invites all who will hear to enter into his covenant love:

17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. xxi

i The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 3:1–21.

ii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Zep 3:8.

iii Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 109.

iv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 2:17.

v James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 151.

vi Allen, 109.

vii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ga 3:28–29.

viii Boice, 150.

ix For holy war, see: Obid.1, 2; Mich. 4:13; Jer. 46:3-6, 9f.

x The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is 2:4.

xi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 3:10.

xii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 3:22–23.

xiii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Je 25:15-16, 28–29.

xiv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 3:13.

xv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 2:24.

xvi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Re 14:14–20.

xvii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 3:14.

xviii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is 53:5.

xix The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 3:18.

xx The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ps 2:1–12.

xxi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Re 22:17.