(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 wounded. 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 shining: 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 indifferent. 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 strongholds. 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 them." 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 intention. Prayer. 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 .