(Calvin, Commentary on Joel, Part 4)

Lecture Forty-first. 
Chapter 2. 
Joel 2:1-11 
1 Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy 
mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day 
of the LORD cometh, for [it is] nigh at hand; 
2 A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick 
darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people 
and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be 
any more after it, [even] to the years of many generations. 
3 A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the 
land [is] as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a 
desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them. 
4 The appearance of them [is] as the appearance of horses; and as 
horsemen, so shall they run. 
5 Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they 
leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, 
as a strong people set in battle array. 
6 Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall 
gather blackness. 
7 They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men 
of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall 
not break their ranks: 
8 Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his 
path: and [when] they fall upon the sword, they shall not be 
9 They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the 
wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at 
the windows like a thief. 
10 The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the 
sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their 
11 And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp 
[is] very great: for [he is] strong that executeth his word: for the 
day of the LORD [is] great and very terrible; and who can abide it? 
    This chapter contains serious exhortations, mixed with 
threatening; but the Prophet threatens for the purpose of correcting 
the indifference of the people, whom we have seen to have been very 
tardy to consider God's judgments. Now the reason why I wished to 
join together these eleven verses was, because the design of the 
Prophet in them is no other than to stir up by fear the minds of the 
people. The object of the narrative then is, to make the people 
sensible, that it was now no time for taking rest; for the Lord, 
having long tolerated their wickedness, was now resolved to pour 
upon them in full torrent his whole fiery. This is the sum of the 
whole. Let us now come to the words. 
    "Sound the trumpet, he says, in Zion; cry out in my holy 
mountain; let all the inhabitants of the earth tremble". The Prophet 
begins with an exhortation. We know, indeed that he alludes to the 
usual custom sanctioned by the law; for as on festivals trumpets 
were sounded to call the people, so also it was done when anything 
extraordinary happened. Hence the Prophet addresses not each 
individually; but as all had done wickedly, from the least to the 
greatest, he bids the whole assembly to be called, that they might 
in common own themselves to be guilty before God, and deprecate his 
vengeance. It is the same as though the Prophet had said that there 
was no one among the people who could exempt himself from blame, for 
iniquity had prevailed through the whole body. But this passage 
shows that when any judgment of God is impending, and tokens of it 
appear, this remedy ought to be used, namely, that all must publicly 
assemble and confess themselves worthy of punishments and at the 
same time flee to the mercy of God. This, we know, was, as I have 
already said, formerly enjoined on the people; and this practice has 
not been abolished by the gospel. And it hence appears how much we 
have departed from the right and lawful order of things; for at this 
day it would be new and unusual to proclaim a fast. How so? Because 
the greater part are become hardened; and as they know not commonly 
what repentance is, so they understand not what the profession of 
repentance means; for they understand not what sin is, what the 
wrath of God is, what grace is. It is then no wonder that they are 
so secure, and that when praying for pardon is mentioned, it is a 
thing wholly unknown at this day. But though people in general are 
thus stupid, it is yet our duty to learn from the Prophets what has 
always been the actual mode of proceeding among the people of God, 
and to labour as much as we can, that this may be known, so that 
when there shall come an occasion for a public repentance, even the 
most ignorant may understand that this practice has ever prevailed 
in the Church of God, and that it did not prevail through 
inconsiderate zeal of men, but through the will of God himself. 
    But he bids "the inhabitants of the land to tremble". By these 
words he intimates, that we are not to trifle with God by vain 
ceremonies but to deal with him in earnest. When therefore, the 
trumpets sound, our hearts ought to tremble; and thus the reality is 
to be connected with the outward signs. And this ought to be 
carefully noticed; for the world is ever disposed to have an eye to 
some outward service, and thinks that a satisfaction is given to 
God, when some external rite is observed. But we do nothing but mock 
God, when we present him with ceremonies, while there is no 
corresponding sincere feeling in the heart; and this is what we 
shall find handled in another place. 
    The Prophet now adds threatening, that he might stir up the 
minds of the people: "For coming, he says, is the day of Jehovah for 
nigh it is". By these words he first intimates that we are not to 
wait until God strikes us, but that as soon as he shows signs of his 
wrath, we ought to anticipate his judgment. When God then warns us 
of his displeasure, we ought instantly to solicit pardon: nigh, he 
says, is the day of Jehovah. What follows has a regard to the end 
which we have mentioned; for the Prophet paints the terrible 
judgment of God with the view of rousing minds wholly stupid and 
    And then he says, "A day of darkness and of thick darkness, a 
day of clouds and of obscurity, as the dawn which expands over the 
mountains". By calling it a dark and gloomy day, he wished to show 
that there would be no hope of deliverance; for, according to the 
common usage of Scripture, we know that by light is designated a 
cheerful and happy state, or the hope of deliverance from any 
affliction: but the Prophet now extinguishes, as it were, every hope 
in this world, when he declares that the day of Jehovah would be 
dark, that is, without hope of restoration. This is his meaning. 
When he says afterwards, "As the dawn which expands", &c., he 
mentions this to signify the celerity with which it would come; for 
we know how sudden is the rising of the dawn on the mountains: the 
dawn spreads in a moment on the mountains, where darkness was 
before. For the light penetrates not immediately either into valleys 
or even into plains; but if any one looks at the summits of 
mountains, he will see that the dawn rises quickly. It is then the 
settle as though the Prophet said, "The day of the Lord is nigh, for 
the Lord can suddenly stretch forth his hand, as the dawn spreads 
over the mountains." 
    He then mentions its character, "A people great and strong to 
whom there has not been the like from the beginning, or from ages 
and after whom there will be no more the like, to the years of a 
generation and a generation. Here the Prophet specifies the kind of 
judgment that would be, of which he had generally spoken before; and 
he shows that what he had hitherto recorded of God's vengeance ought 
not to be so understood as that God would descend openly and visibly 
from heaven, but that the Assyrians would be the ministers and 
executioners of his vengeance. In short, the Prophet shows here that 
the coming of that people ought to have been as much dreaded as if 
God had put forth his hand and executed on his people the vengeance 
deserved by their sins. And by these words he teaches us, that men 
gain nothing by being blind to the judgments of God; for God will 
notwithstanding execute his works and use the instrumentality of 
men; for men are the scourges by which he chastises his own people. 
The Chaldeans and the Assyrians were unbelievers; yet God used them 
for the purpose of correcting the Jews. this the Prophet now shows, 
that is, that God was the avenger in these very Assyrians, for he 
employed them as the ministers and executioners of his judgment. We 
see at the same time that the Prophet describes here the terrible 
wrath of God to shake off from the Jews their tardiness; for he saw 
that they were not moved by all his threatening, and ever laid hold 
on some new flattering pretenses. This is the reason why he gives 
such a long description. 
    "Before them", he says, "the fire will devour, and after them 
the flame will burn". He means that the vengeance of God would be 
such as would consume the whole people: for God has in various ways 
begun to chastise the people, but, as we have seen, without any 
advantage. The Prophet then says here that the last stroke remained, 
and that the Lord would wholly destroy men so refractory, and whom 
he could not hitherto restore to a sound mind by moderate 
punishments. For he had in a measure spared them, though he had 
treated them sharply and severely, and given them time to repent. 
Hence, when the Prophet saw that they were wholly irreclaimable, he 
says, that it now only remained that the Lord should at once utterly 
consume them. 
    He adds, "As the garden of Eden the land is before them, and 
after them it is the land of solitude; and so (and also) there will 
be no escape from them". Here the Prophet warns the Jews, that 
though they inhabited a most pleasant country and one especially 
fruitful, there was no reason for them to flatter themselves, for 
God could convert the fairest lands into a waste. He therefore 
compares Judea to the garden of Eden or to Paradise. But such also 
was the state of Sodom, as Moses shows. What did it avail the 
Sodomites that they dwelt as in Paradise, that they inhabited a rich 
and fertile land, and thought themselves to be nourished as in the 
bosom of God? So also now the Prophet says, "Though the land is like 
Paradise, yet when the enemy shall march through it, a universal 
waste shall follow, a scattering shall everywhere follow, there 
shall be no cultivation, no pleasantness, no appearance of inhabited 
land, for the enemy will destroy every thing." His purpose was to 
prevent the Jews, by confiding in God's blessing, which they had 
hitherto experienced, from heedlessly disregarding in future his 
vengeance; for his wrath would in a moment consume and devour 
whatever fruitfulness the land had hitherto possessed. This is the 
meaning. He therefore concludes that there would be no escape from 
these enemies, the Assyrians, because they would come armed with a 
command to reduce to nothing the whole land. 
    He afterwards adds many similitudes, which any one of himself 
can sufficiently understand: "I shall not therefore be long in 
explaining them, and many words would be superfluous. "As the 
appearance of horses their appearance, and as horsemen, so will they 
run". This verse sets forth again the suddenness of vengeance, as 
though the Prophet had said, that long distance would be no 
obstacle, for the Assyrians would quickly move and occupy Judea; for 
distance deceived the Jews, and they thought that there would be a 
long respite to them. Hence the Prophet here removes this vain 
confidence, when he says that they would be like horses and 
horsemen. He then adds, "Like the sound of chariots". They expound 
"markavot", chariots, though the Hebrews rather think them to be 
harnesses or saddles as we call them; but yet I prefer to view them 
as chariots; for what the Prophet says, that they "shall leap on the 
tops of mountains" like the sound of chariots, would not be suitably 
applied to the trappings of horses. They then shall leap on tops of 
mountains - but how? as chariots, that is, they shall come with 
great force, or make a great and terrible noise. And he speaks of 
the tops of mountains for there we know the noise is greater when 
there is any commotion. The Prophet, therefore, does in every way 
amplify God's vengeance, that he might awaken the Jews, who by their 
indifference had too long provoked the Lord's wrath. 
    "Like the sound, he says, of the flame of fire", or of a fiery 
flame, "devouring the stubble". He compares the Assyrians to a 
flame, which consumes all things; and he compares the Jews to 
stubble, though they thought themselves fortified by many forces and 
    At length he adds, "As a strong people, prepared for battle; 
their face the people will dread, and all faces shall gather 
blackness". By these words the Prophet intimates that the Assyrians 
at their coming would be supplied with such power as would, by 
report only, lay prostrate all people. But if the Assyrians should 
be so formidable to all people, what could the Jews do? In short, 
the Prophet here shows that the Jews would by no means be able to 
resist enemies so powerful; for they would by their fame alone so 
lay prostrate all people, that none would dare to rise up against 
them. He then compares them to giants. "As giants, he says, they 
will run here and there; as men of war they will climb the wall, and 
man (that is, every one) in his ways shall walk". The Prophet heaps 
together these various expressions, that the Jews might know that 
they had to do with the irresistible hand of God, and that they 
would in vain implore assistance here and there; for they could find 
no relief in the whole world, when God executed his vengeance in so 
formidable a manner. He says further, "they shall not stop their 
goings", though some render the words, "They shall not inquire 
respecting their ways;" for he had said before, "They shall proceed 
in their ways:" then the meaning is, They shall not come like 
strangers, who, when they journey through unknown regions, make 
anxious inquiries, whether any be lying in wait, whether there be 
any turnings in the road, whether the ways be difficult and 
perplexed: "They shall not inquire", he says; they shall securely 
proceed, as though the road was open to them, as though the whole 
country was known to them. This part also serves to show celerity, 
that the Jews might dread the vengeance of God the same as if it was 
quite nigh them. 
    He then adds, "A man shall not push his brother". By this mode 
of speaking the Prophet means that they would come in perfect order, 
so that the multitude would create no confusion, as it is mostly the 
case: for it is very difficult for an army to march in regular order 
without tumult, like two or three men walking together. For when a 
hundred horsemen march together some commonly hinder others. When 
therefore so large a number assemble together, it can hardly be 
possible for them not to retard and impede one another. But the 
Prophet declares that this would not be the case with the Assyrians, 
for the Lord would direct their goings. Though then the Lord would 
bring so large a multitude, it would yet be so well arranged and in 
such order, that no one would push his companion, or be any 
hindrance to him. A man, he says, shall in his way proceed, even 
without any impediment. 
    "And on swords they shall fall, and shall not be wounded": that 
is, they shall not only be strong men of war, so that they shall 
intrepidly face every kind of danger; but they shall also escape 
unhurt from all weapons; though they may rush on swords like madmen 
and show no care for themselves, they shall not yet be wounded. But 
this may be taken in a still simpler way, "They shall not be 
wounded" that is, as if they could not be wounded. And it seems to 
me to be the genuine sense of the Prophet, that they would not 
entertain any fear of death, so as cautiously to attack their 
enemies, but would with impunity provoke death itself by casting 
themselves on the very swords: they would not then fear any wound, 
but dare to face swords as if they were wholly harmless to them. 
Some render the word, "they shall not covet;" and then the word 
means as if the Prophet had said, that they would not be covetous of 
money. But this meaning can hardly suit this place; and we see that 
the best sense seems to be, that they would heedlessly rush on 
swords, as though they could not be wounded. 
    It afterwards follows, "Through the city shall they march; over 
the wall shall they run here and there; into houses shall they 
climb; through the windows shall they enter like a thief". The 
Prophet here shows that the Jews in vain trusted in their fortified 
cities, for the enemies would easily penetrate into them. They shall 
march, he says, through the city, that is, as though there were no 
gates to it. The meaning then is, that though Judea abounded in 
cities, which seemed impregnable and appeared sufficient to arrest 
the course of enemies, as it had happened almost always, so that 
great armies were forced to desist when any strong fortified city 
stood in their way; yet the Prophet says that cities would be no 
impediment to the Assyrians at their coming to Judea, for they would 
march through the city, as along a plain road, where no gates are 
closed against them. They shall then march through the midst of 
cities as through a plain or open fields. To the same purpose is 
what follows, They shall run here and there over the wall, he says. 
These are indeed hyperbolical words; yet, when we consider how slow 
men are to fear punishment, we must allow that the Prophet in these 
expressions does not exceed moderation. They shall then run up and 
down through the city; that is, "In vain you expect that there will 
be to you any rest or quietness, for ye think that you sill be able 
for a time to sustain the onsets of your enemies: This," he says, 
"will by no means be the case, for they shall run here and there 
over the wall, as though it were a plain. Besides, they shall climb 
into the houses, and enter in through the windows, and do this as a 
thief; that is, though there should be no hostile attack, yet they 
shall stealthily and secretly penetrate into your houses: when there 
will be a great tumult, when the whole regions shall meet in arms, 
and when ye will think yourselves able to resist, they will then as 
thieves quietly enter into your houses and come in through the 
windows, and ye shall not be able to close up the passage against 
    Then he adds, "Before their face shall the earth tremble, and 
in anguish shall be the heavens; the sun and the moon shall become 
dark, and the stars shall withdraw their brightness". The Prophet 
speaks here more hyperbolically; but we must ever remember that he 
addressed men extremely stupid: it then behaved him to speak in an 
unusual manner, that he might touch their feelings; for it avails 
nothing to speak in all ordinary way to perverse men, especially to 
those who have divested themselves of all shame, and whom Satan has 
fascinated, so that they fear nothing and grieve at nothing. When 
therefore each stupidity lays hold on the minds of men, God must 
thunder that his word may be heard. As then the listlessness of the 
people was monstrous, so it was necessary, so to speak, for the 
Prophet to utter monstrous words. This is the reason why he now 
says, "Before their face (namely, that of the enemies) shall the 
land tremble"; and then he adds, "The heavens also shall be in 
anguish"; not that the heavens would fear the Assyrians; but the 
Prophet intimates that such would be the vengeance, that it would 
terrify the whole world; and this he intimates, that the Jews might 
cease to expect any subterfuges, for they flattered themselves, as 
though they could fly on the clouds, or could find for themselves 
some hiding-places or some corners at a distance. The Prophet gives 
them to understand that the whole world would be full of horror, 
when the Lord would come furnished with his army. He speaks also of 
the sum and the moon; as though he said, "There will be no more any 
hope of aid from created things; for the vital light itself shall 
fail, when the Lord shall pour forth the flood of his fury: The sun 
and the moon, he says, shall become dark; and the stars shall 
withhold their brightness. Though then ye lift up your eyes, not 
even a spark of light will there be to comfort you, for darkness on 
every side will cover you; and ye shall know by heaven as well as by 
earth that God is angry with you." Here, in short, he shuts up 
against the Jews every avenue to hope; for not only the Assyrian 
will rage on earth, but God will also give signs of vengeance from 
heaven, so that the sun will be constrained to show such a sign, as 
well as the moon and all the stars. 
    He at last adds, "And Jehovah will utter his voice before his 
army". The Prophet seems in this verse to anticipate whatever 
objection men might adduce. "O! thou denounces on us great terrors, 
and as if the Assyrians were not to be counted as men, as if no 
other people were in the world, as if there was no other army, as if 
there were no other forces, as if none else had courage; but if the 
Assyrians are at this day formidable, they have yet neighbors who 
can gather a force sufficient easily to oppose them." And Egypt was 
then a populous country, and well fortified; and who would not have 
said that the Egyptians were equal to the Assyrians? and the Jews 
also thought themselves safe through a treaty with them. And then 
there was Syria; and there were many kingdoms, with which the Jews 
might have boasted that they were surrounded, so that no access to 
them was open to the Assyrians; for however insufficient were the 
people of Moab or the people of Amman, yet they were all joined 
together, even Edom, and Ammon, and Moab: and then Tyrus and Sidon, 
and the many neighboring kingdoms, might certainly have been 
sufficient to resist the Assyrians. Now, that no one might object 
all this, the Prophet shortly anticipates it by saying, that God 
would be the leader of his army; as though he had said, "I have 
already declared this to be the hand of God: for the Assyrians will 
not come here of their own accord; that is, without being stirred up 
by God: but as this truth has not as yet sufficiently moved your 
feelings, know that God will be the leader of this army: God will 
send forth his voice before his army." Here he distinctly calls the 
Assyrians the attendants of God; they shall not then come as 
soldiers hired by their own king, they shall not come as carrying on 
war for an earthly king, but the Lord himself shall guide them, and 
by his voice encourage them. By this expression the Prophet shows 
that the Jews would not have a contest with one nation only, but 
also with God himself and with all his celestial power. 
    He therefore says, "God will utter his voice before his army; 
for leery great will be his camp". He again repeats that the 
multitude which was to execute the biddings of God would be so 
great, that the Jews would seek forces in vain to resist it. 
"Strong, he says, is he who executes his word". He expresses more 
clearly what I have stated already, that though cupidity impelled 
the Assyrians, that though they were intent on rapine and plunder, 
yet they would not come merely through an impulse of their own, but 
that the Lord would prepare them and use them as his instruments: 
"Powerful, then, is he who does the word of God"; that is, who 
executes his command; not that the Assyrians designed to show regard 
to God or to offer to him their service, as the faithful do, who 
willingly devote themselves to Him; but that the Lord by his secret 
providence guided them and employed them to punish his own people. 
    He afterwards adds in the last place, "For great will be the 
day of Jehovah and terrible, and who will endure it?" In this clause 
he shows that the vengeance would be such as would reduce the Jews 
to nothing, and that it was now time to repent, and that if they 
still turned a deaf ear to what the Prophet denounces, God would 
punish their perverseness. 
    Now with regard to what he says, that "strong" is he who does 
the word of God, we have elsewhere reminded you that men serve God 
in two ways, - they either execute his commands willingly, or are 
led to do so by a blind impulse. The angels and the faithful perform 
God's commands, because they are guided by the spirit of obedience; 
but the wicked also, and the devil who is their head, fulfill God's 
biddings; this, however, is not to be imputed to them as obedience, 
for they are only led by their own wicked purposes, and seek to 
destroy, as far as they can, the whole government of God; but they 
are constrained, willing or unwilling, to obey God, not of their own 
accord or willingly, as I have said, but the Lord turns all their 
efforts to answer the end which he has decreed. Whatever, then, 
Satan and the wicked attempt to do, they at the same time serve God 
and obey his commands; and though they rage against God, he yet 
holds them in by his bridle, and also so guides their attempts and 
their purposes as to answer his own ends. In this sense, then, it 
is, that Joel says, that the Assyrians would do the word of God; not 
that it was their purpose to obey God, not that God had commanded 
them anything, but he puts the word of the Lord here for his secret 
purpose. As, then, the wicked perform no voluntary obedience to God, 
but constrained, when they execute God's commands; so there is a 
twofold command or word of God: there is the command by which he 
teaches his own children and leads them to obey him; and there is 
another, a hidden command, when he deigns not to address men, and 
shows not what pleases him or what he means to do, but suffers them 
to be led by their own sinful desires; in the meantime, he has his 
own secret purpose, which by them he executes though without their 
Grant, almighty God, that as thou invites us daily with so much 
kindness and love, and makes known to us thy paternal goodwill, 
which thou didst once show to us in Christ thy Son, - O grant, that, 
being allured by thy goodness, we may surrender ourselves wholly to 
thee, and become so teachable and submissive, that wherever thou 
guidest us by thy Spirit thou mayest follow us with every blessing: 
let us not, in the meantime, be deaf to thy warnings; and whenever 
we deviate from the right way, grant that we may immediately awake 
when thou warnest us, and return to the right path, and deign thou 
also to embrace us and reconcile us to thyself through Christ our 
Lord. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Joel

(Continued in part 5...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvjoe-04.txt