Joel 3:16 (CSB)
16 The Lord will roar from Zion and make his voice heard from Jerusalem; heaven and earth will shake. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the Israelites.
This passage provides a description of a coming final “battle” between God and the disobedient nations of the world. As it turns out though, the “battle” isn’t much of one. The one true God is in complete control, and the “battle” is actually his sovereign judgment upon those who reject him. Yet his chosen people, Israel, not literal Israel, but spiritual Israel, remains in him, the great, and gracious, stronghold.
Seems this is either referring to the surrounding nations, the enemies of Israel at the time, or literally all nations, the whole world, in the final judgment. I think the latter seems more likely. The idea of God gathering all these nations for judgment only makes sense in that context.
God’s people will no longer be “prisoners” of the world. In v2 we see that one of the tribulations of god’s people is to have been “scattered” by the nations.
“Jehoshaphat” = “Yahweh judges”
God gathers the nations, God is the initiator and in control.
The nations are to be judged, and they will be judged of their opposition to God as demonstrated by their division of his land and people.
“Cast lots” brings a reminder of Christ at his crucifixion.
The other two symbolic examples are of children (innocence) being traded for wicked, sinful lusts: sex and drunkenness.
The mentions of the ancient peoples of Tyre and Sidon, and the Philistines, seems more likely a representation of examples of the enemies of God, not that these are literally the nations to be gathered.
The rhetorical question is interesting though, and maybe suggests a spiritual struggle going on between the divine enemies of God and the Almighty.
Again, it seems that the crimes outlined here are again examples of the nation’s opposition to God, not a laundry list of what is to be judged. Likewise, it seems improbable that the judgment of the nations is solely a reversal of fortune, or just a case of giving them “a taste of their own medicine.” Instead, I think, it outlines the reversal, and setting right, of the obvious power and glory of God, and his favorable grace for his people. The phrase, “for the Lord has spoken,” put s finality upon this as well.
These verses outline a call to the nations to gather everyone to come face God in “battle”. And the call is comprehensive, “even the weakling,” is called to join as a warrior. Certainly this is not a literal, physical, battle, but the imagery is clear in the oppositional nature of the conflict.
The reversal of Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3 to convert plows into swords and pruning knives into spears, again emphasizes the conflict.
The end of v11 is somewhat confusing, as it doesn’t seem to fit the surrounding verses, but the meaning of the section remains clear.
Joel 3:12 reminds us of the nature of the gathering though, not a literal battle, but the judgment of God upon the nations.
The imagery here is interesting. Joel is clear that the “abundance” of the harvest and the grapes are a sign of the “fullness” of wickedness in the nations, they are “overflowing” with wickedness. But we would have expected, following the destruction of the locust plague and it’s tie to agriculture, that this reference would have been a boon to Israel. It would seem that there is a twist here and the abundant harvest if of God’s wrath through judgment instead.
Tons of people, countless, stupendously numerous, exceedingly bountiful… the emphasis here is the sheer number of people present at judgment. “Valley of decision” is not a suggestion that there is still time to “make a choice” for God… it is too late at this point, the “decision” is the execution of God’s judgment.
“For the day of the Lord is near,” does not suggest that at this moment in the valley it is still not yet the day of the Lord. This scene is the day of the Lord. Instead, it is the reminder that this day is close.
Darkness suggests death. The final moments are upon the earth.
The power of God comes through here, his “roar” shaking both earth and heaven. There is a finality here, that the earthly and heavenly disobedience against God will come to an end at the exertion of his almighty power, through his judgment, culminating in this roar that Joel has recorded.
But Joel does not leave it there, he reminds us that amidst this great judgment of sin and evil, on earth and in heaven, that God remains the solid, protective, stronghold for his people.
Lord, thank you for your sovereign judgment. It seems odd to be thankful for it, but it is who you are, our nature, you are just. And no truly great God could be anything but just! And we also thank you for your grace! Unearned grace, applied to those who place their hope and faith in you alone. And you are our stronghold, saving us from your wrath. I pray that your kingdom would continue to expand, that the valley of decision has less and less people as they come to you. Help us to reach them, speak through us to save lives. Amen.