(Calvin, Commentary on Joel, Part 6)

Lecture Forty-third. 
Joel 2:15-17 
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn 
16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the 
elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let 
the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her 
17 Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the 
porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and 
give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule 
over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where [is] 
their God? 
    Here again the Prophet reminds them that there was need of deep 
repentance; for not only individuals had transgressed, but the whole 
people had become guilty before God; and we also know how many and 
grievous their sins had been. There is no wonder then that the 
Prophet requires a public profession of repentance. 
    He bids them first to sound the trumpet in Zion. This custom, 
as we have seen at the beginning of the chapter, was in common use 
under the Law; they summoned their meetings by the sound of 
trumpets. There is then no doubt but that the Prophet here refers to 
an extraordinary meeting. They sounded the trumpets whenever they 
called the people to the festivals. But it must have been unusual 
for the Jews to proclaim a fast on account of God's heavy judgment, 
which was to come on them unless it was prevented. He then shows the 
purpose of this, bidding them to sanctify a fast. By this word 
"kadash", he means a proclamation for a holy purpose. "Sanctify, 
then a fast", that is, Proclaim a fast in the name of God. 
    We slightly touched on the subject of fasting in the first 
chapter, but deferred a fuller discussion to this place. Fasting, we 
know, is not of itself a meritorious work, as the Papists imagine it 
to be: there is, indeed, strictly speaking, no work meritorious. But 
the Papists dream that fasting, in addition to its merit and worth, 
is also by itself of much avail in the worship of God; and yet 
fasting, when regarded in itself is an indifferent work. It is not 
then approved by God, except for its end; it must be connected with 
something else, otherwise it is a vain thing. Men, by private 
fastings prepare themselves for the exercise of prayer, or they 
mortify their own flesh, or seek a remedy for some hidden vices. Now 
I do not call fasting temperance; for the children of God, we know, 
ought through their whole life to be sober and temperate in their 
habits; but fasting, I regard that to be, when something is 
abstracted from our moderate allowance: and such a fast, when 
practiced privately, is, as I have said, either a preparation for 
the exercise of prayer, or a means to mortify the flesh, or a remedy 
for some vices. 
    But as to a public fast, it is a solemn confession of guilt, 
when men suppliantly approach the throne of God, acknowledge 
themselves worthy of death, and yet ask pardon for their sins. 
Fasting then, with regard to God, is similar to black and mean 
garments and a long beard before earthly judges. The criminal goes 
not before the judge in a splendid dress, with all his fine things, 
but casts away every thing that was before elegant in his 
appearance, and by his uncombed hair and long beard he tries to 
excite the compassion of his judge. There is, at the same time, 
another reason for fasting; for when we have to do with men, we wish 
to please their eyes and conciliate their favor; and he who fasts, 
not only testifies openly that he is guilty, but he also reminds 
himself of his guilt; for as we are not sufficiently touched by the 
sense of God's wrath, those aids are useful which help to excite and 
affect us. He then who fasts, excites himself the more to penitence. 
    We now perceive the right use of fasting. But it is of public 
fasting that the Prophet speaks here. For what purpose? That the 
Jews, whom he had before summoned, might present themselves before 
God's tribunal, and that they might come there, not with vain 
excuses, but with humble prayer. This is the design of fasting. We 
now see how foolishly the Papists have abused fasting; for they 
think it to be a meritorious work; they imagine that God is honored 
by abstinence from meat; they also mention those benefits of fasting 
to which I have referred; but they join fasts with festivals, as if 
there was some religion in abstaining from flesh or certain meats. 
We now then perceive by what gross puerilities the Papists trifle 
with God. We must then carefully notice the end in view, whenever 
the Scripture speaks of fasting; for all things will be confounded, 
except we lay hold on the principle which I have stated - that 
fasting ought ever to be connected with its end. We shall now 
    "Proclaim, he says, a meeting". "'Atsarah" is not properly an 
assembly, but the deed itself: hence also the word is transferred to 
festivals. "Proclaim, then, a meeting, call the people, sanctify the 
assembly". The word, sanctify, seems to be taken here in a sense 
different from what it had been before. The people, in order to 
engage in holy services, performed those rites, as it is well known, 
by which they cleansed themselves from their pollutions. No one 
entered the temple without washing; and no one offered a sacrifice 
without abstaining from an intercourse with his wife. The Prophet 
then alludes to these legal purgations when he says "Sanctify the 
    He afterwards adds, "Bring together the old, gather the young 
sucking the breasts". With regard to the old, we have said before 
that they are separately named, because they ought to have taken the 
lead by their example; and further a greater guilt belonged to them, 
for we know that it is a duty incumbent on the old to govern others, 
and, as it were, to hold the reins. But when the old themselves 
become dissolute, and restrain not the lusts of the young, they are 
doubly culpable before God. It is no wonder then that the Prophet 
bids here the old to be called; for it became them to be the leaders 
of others in confessing their repentance. But what follows seems 
strange. He would have the young, sucking the breasts, to be 
assembled. Why are these brought in as involved in guilt? Besides, 
the people were to own their repentance; and yet infants are without 
understanding and knowledge; so that they could not humble 
themselves before God. It must, then, have been a mockery and a vain 
show; nay, the Prophet seems to encourage the people in hypocrisy by 
bidding young infants to assemble together with men and women. To 
this I answer, that children ought to have been brought together, 
that those grown up and advanced in years might through them 
perceive what they deserved; for the wrath of God, we know, reached 
to the very infants, yea, and to brute animals: when God puts forth 
his hand to punish any people, neither asses nor oxen are exempt 
from the common scourge. Since, then, God's wrath comes upon brute 
animals and upon young infants, it is no wonder that the Lord bids 
all to come forth publicly and to make a confession of repentance; 
and we see the same to have been the case with brute animals; and 
when, if the Lord grants, we shall come to the Prophet Jonah, we 
shall then speak on this subject. The Ninevites, when they 
proclaimed a fast, not only abstained themselves from meat and 
drink, but constrained also their oxen and horses to do the same. 
Why? Because the very elements were involved, as it were, with them 
in the same guilt: "Lord, we have polluted the earth; whatever we 
possess we have also polluted by our sins; the oxen the horses, and 
the asses, are in themselves innocent, but they have contracted 
contagion from our vices: that we may therefore obtain mercy, we not 
only offer ourselves suppliantly before thy face, but we bring also 
our oxen and horses; for if thou exercises the fullest severity 
against us, thou wilt destroy whatever is in our possession." So 
also now, when the Prophet bids infants to be brought before God, it 
is done on account of their parents. Infants were in themselves 
innocent with regard to the crimes of which he speaks; but yet the 
Lord could have justly destroyed the infants together with those of 
advanced age. It is then no wonder that in order to pacify God's 
wrath the very infants are summoned with the rest: but as I have 
already said, the reason is on account of their parents, that the 
parents themselves might perceive what they deserved before God, and 
that they might the more abhor their sins by observing that God 
would take vengeance on their children, except he was pacified. For 
they ought to have reasoned from the less to the greater: "See, if 
God exercises his own right towards us, there is destruction not 
only hanging over us, but also over our children; if they are guilty 
through our crimes, what can we say of ourselves, who are the 
authors of these evils? The whole blame belongs to us; then severe 
and dreadful will be God's vengeance on us, except we be reconciled 
to him." 
    We now then perceive why infants were called, together with 
their parents; not that they might confess their penitence, as that 
was not compatible with their age, but that their parents might be 
more moved, and that such a sight might touch their feelings, and 
that dread might also seize them on seeing that their children were 
doomed to die with them for no other reason, but that by their 
contagion and wickedness they had infected the whole land and 
everything that the Lord had bestowed on them. 
    He afterwards subjoins, "Let the bridegroom go from his closet, 
or recess, and the bride from her chamber". It is the same as though 
the Prophet had bidden every joy to cease among the people; for it 
was of itself no evil to celebrate nuptials; but it behooved the 
people to abstain from every rejoicing on seeing the wrath of God 
now suspended over them. Hence, things in themselves lawful ought 
for a time to be laid aside when God appears angry with us; for it 
is no season for nuptials or for joyful feasts, when God's wrath is 
kindled, when the darkness of death spreads all around. No wonder, 
then, that the Prophet bids the bridegroom and the bride to come 
forth from their chamber, that is, to cast aside every joy, and to 
defer their nuptials to a more suitable time, and now to undergo 
their delights, for the Lord appeared armed against all. It would 
have been then to provoke, as it were, His wrath, to indulge 
heedlessly in pleasures, when he wished not only to terrify, but 
almost to frighten to death those who had sinned; for when the Lord 
threatens vengeance, what else is indifference but a mockery of his 
power? "I have called you to weeping and wailing; but ye have said, 
'We will feast:' as I live, saith the Lord, this iniquity shall 
never be blotted out." We see how extremely displeased the Lord 
appears there to be with those who, having been called to weeping 
and fasting, did yet indulge themselves in their pleasures; for 
such, as I have said, altogether laugh to scorn the power of God. 
The Prophet's exhortation ought then to be noticed, when he bids the 
bridegroom and the bride to leave their nuptials, and to put on the 
same mournful appearance as the rest of the people. He thus shook 
off heedlessness from all, since God had appeared with tokens of his 
wrath. This is the sum of the whole. 
    Then it follows, "Between the court and the altar let the 
priests, the ministers of Jehovah, weep". It was the priests' 
office, we know, to pray in the name of the whole people; and now 
the Prophet follows this order. It was not, indeed, peculiar to the 
priests to pray and to ask pardon of God; but they prayed in the 
name of all the people. The reason must be well known to us; for God 
intended by these legal types to remind the Jews, that they could 
not offer prayers to him, except through some mediator; the people 
were unworthy to offer prayers by themselves. Hence the priest was, 
as it were, the middle person. The whole of this is to be referred 
to Christ; for by him we now pray; he is the Mediator who intercedes 
for us. The people stood then afar off, we now dare to come nigh to 
God; for the vail is rent, and through Christ we are all made 
priests. Hence, we are allowed in familiar way and in confidence to 
call God our Father: and yet without Christ's intercession, no 
access to God would be open to us. This then was the reason for the 
legal appointment. Hence the Prophet now says, "Let the priests 
weep"; not that he wished the people in the meantime to neglect 
their duty; but he expresses what had been prescribed by the law of 
God; that is, that the priests should offer supplications in the 
name of the people. 
    And he says, "Between the court and the altar"; for the people 
remained in the court, the priests themselves had a court by its 
side which they called the sacerdotal court; but the people's court 
was over against the sanctuary. Then the priest stood, as it were, 
in the middle between God, that is, the ark of the covenant, and the 
people: the people also were standing there. We now perceive that 
what the Prophet meant was, that the people had the priests as their 
mediators to offer prayers; and yet the confession of them all was 
public. He calls the priests the ministers of Jehovah, as we have 
before found. He thus designates their office; as though he had 
said, that they were not more worthy than the rest of the people, as 
though they excelled by their own virtue or merits; but that the 
Lord had conferred this honor on the tribe of Levi by choosing them 
to be his ministers. It was then on account of their office that 
they came nearer to God, and not for any merit in their own works. 
    He further adds, "Spare, Lord", or be propitious to, "thy 
people; and give not thy heritage to reproach, that the Gentiles may 
rule over them". Here the Prophet leaves nothing to the priests, but 
to flee to God's mercy; as though he had said that now no plea 
remained for the people, and that they were greatly deceived if they 
pretended any excuse, and that their whole hope was in God's mercy. 
He afterwards shows the ground on which they were to seek and to 
hope for mercy; and he calls their attention to God's gratuitous 
covenant, Give not thy heritage for a reproach to the Gentiles. By 
these words he shows, that if the Jews depended on themselves, they 
were past recovery; for they had so often and in such various ways 
provoked God's wrath, that they could not hope for any pardon: they 
had also been so obstinate that the door as it were had been closed 
against them on account of their hardness. But the Prophet here 
reminds them, that as they had been freely chosen by God as his 
peculiar people, there remained for them a hope of deliverance, but 
that it ought not to have been sought in any other way. We now then 
understand the design of the Prophet, when he speaks of God's 
heritage; as though he had said, that the people could now undertake 
nothing to pacify God, had they not been God's heritage: "Give not 
then thy heritage to reproach". He had in view the threatening, 
which he had before mentioned; for it was an extreme kind of 
vengeance, when the Lord determined to visit his people with utter 
destruction; after having worn them out and consumed them by famine 
and want, God resolved wholly to consume them by the sword of 
enemies. It is then to this vengeance that he now alludes when he 
says, "That the Gentiles may not rule over them". It is therefore 
absurd, as many do, to connect with this the discourse concerning 
the locusts: such a thing is wholly inconsistent with the design of 
the Prophet. 
    It is then added, "Why should they say among the people, Where 
is their God?" The Prophet now adduces another reason, by which the 
Jews might propitiate God, and that is, because his own glory is 
concerned: this reason has indeed an affinity to the former, for God 
could not expose his heritage to the reproaches of the Gentiles 
without subjecting also his holy name to their blasphemies. But the 
Prophet shows here more distinctly that God's glory would be subject 
to reproach among the nations, if he dealt with the people according 
to the full demands of justice; for the Gentiles would 
contemptuously deride him, as though he could not save his people. 
Hence in this second clause he reminds us, that when engaged in 
seeking pardon, we ought to place before our eyes The glory of God, 
that we ought not to seek our own salvation without remembering the 
holy name of God, which ought of right to be preferred to all other 
things. And at the same time he strengthens also the hope of the 
people, when he teaches that the glory of God is connected with the 
salvation of those who had sinned; as though he had said, "God, that 
he may provide for his own glory, will have mercy on you." They must 
then have come more willingly to God's presences when they saw that 
their salvation was connected with the glory of God, and that they 
would be saved that the name of God might be preserved safe and free 
from blasphemies. 
    We now then perceive what the Prophet meant in this verse: he 
first strips the Jews of all confidence in works, showing that 
nothing remained for them except they fled to God's free mercy. He 
then shows that this mercy is folded on God's gratuitous covenant, 
because they were his heritage. In the third place, he shows that 
God would be merciful to them from a regard to his own glory, lest 
he should expose it to the reproaches of the Gentiles, if he 
exercised extreme severity towards his people. Let us now proceed - 
Joel 2:18,19 
Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people. 
Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will 
send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied 
therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen: 
    The Prophet here again repeats, that prayers would not be in 
vain, provided the Jews truly humbled themselves before God. Then 
God, he says, will be jealous for his land and spare his people. He 
confirms what I have already said that God would deal mercifully 
with his people, because they were his heritage, that is because he 
had chosen them for himself. For the title of heritage, whence does 
it proceed except from the gratuitous covenant of God? for the Jews 
were not more excellent than others, but election was the only 
fountain from which the Jews had to draw any hope. We now then see 
why these words, "God will be jealous for his land", are added; as 
though he said "Though this land has been polluted by the wickedness 
of men, yet God has consecrated it to himself: He will, therefore, 
regard his own covenant, and thus turn away his face from looking on 
their sins." "He will spare, he says, his people", that is, his 
chosen people: for, as I have said, the Prophet no doubt ascribes 
here the safety of the people, and the hope of their safety, to the 
gratuitous election of God; for the jealousy of God is nothing else 
but the vehemence and ardor of his paternal love. God could not, 
indeed, express how ardently he loves those whom he has chosen 
without borrowing, as it were, what belongs to men. For we know that 
passions appertain not to him; but he is set forth as a father, who 
burns with jealousy when he sees his son ill-treated; he 
acknowledges his own blood, his bowels are excited, - or, as a 
husband, who, on seeing dishonor done to his wife, is moved; and 
though he had been a hundred times offended, he yet forgets every 
offense; for he regards that sacred union between himself and his 
wife. Such a character, then, does God assume, that he might the 
better express how much and how intensely he loves his own elect. 
Hence he says, "God will be jealous for his land". As he has 
hitherto been inflamed with just wrath, so now a contrary feeling 
will overcome the former; not that God is agitated by various 
passions, as I have already said, but this mode of speaking 
transferred from men, is adopted on account of our ignorance. 
    He afterwards says, "God has answered and said to his people, 
Behold, I will send to you corn, wine, and oil". The Prophet does 
not here recite what had been done, but, on the contrary, declares, 
that God in future would be reconciled to them; as though he said, 
"I have hitherto been a herald of war, and bidden all to prepare 
themselves for the coming evil: but now I am a messenger to proclaim 
peace to you; if only you are resolved to turn to God, and to turn 
unfeignedly, I do now testify to you that God will be propitious to 
you; and as to your prayers know that they are already heard; that 
is, know that as soon as they were conceived, they were heard by the 
Lord." Hence he says, He "has answered"; that is "If, moved by my 
exhortation, ye return with sincerity to God, he will meet you, nay, 
he has already met you; he waits not until ye have done all that ye 
ought to do; but when he bids you to come to his temple and to weep, 
he at the same time wipes off your tears, he removes every cause of 
sorrow and anxiety." God, then, has answered; that is, "I am to you 
a certain and sufficient witness, that your prayers have been 
already accepted before God, though, as I have before reminded you, 
ye have not offered them." 
    And, at the same time, he speaks of the effect, "Behold, I will 
send to you corn, wine, and oil; and ye shall be satisfied". Here, 
by the effects, he proves that God would be propitious; for want of 
food was the first evidence of God's displeasure, to be followed by 
the destruction which the Prophet had threatened. What does he say 
now? God will restore to you abundance of corn, wine, and oil; and 
he says further, "I will not give you to the Gentiles for a reproach 
that they may rule over you". 
    We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet; for he not 
only promises that God would be placable but also declares that he 
was already placable; and this he confirms by external tokens; for 
God would immediately remove the sins of his wrath, and turn them 
into blessings. Hence he says, 'He will give you abundance of corn, 
wine, and oil, so as fully to satisfy you.' As they had perceived 
that God was angry with them by the sterility of the land, and also 
by its produce being consumed by chafers, by locusts, and other 
animals or insects; so now the Lord would testify his love to them 
by the abounding fruitfulness of every thing. And then he joins 
another sentence, "I will not give you any more for a reproach to 
the Gentiles". When he says, "any more," he intimates that they had 
been before exposed to reproach; and we indeed know that they were 
then suffering many evils; but there remained that destruction of 
which we have heard. God does then here promise, that they should no 
more be subject to the reproaches of the Gentiles provided they 
repented; for the Prophet ever speaks conditionally. It now follows 
Joel 2:20 
But I will remove far off from you the northern [army], and will 
drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the 
east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink 
shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he has done 
great things. 
    In this verse he more fully confirms the Jews, that they might 
not be afraid of reproach from the Gentiles. It may have been that 
the Assyrians were now in readiness, prepared for war; it was then 
difficult to free the Jews from every fear. The Prophet had said 
generally that they would be no more subject to the mockeries of the 
Gentiles; but yet fear could not but be felt by them. "We see the 
Assyrians already armed; and what can we expect but to be devoured 
by them? for we are not able to resist them." Anxiety then must have 
constantly tormented the Jews, had he not distinctly and in express 
words declared, "It is in God's power to drive away the Assyrians, 
and to confound all their attempts." The Prophet, therefore, is now 
on this subject. The "Northlander, he says, will I remove far from 
you". The Chaldeans and the Assyrians, we know, were northward of 
Judea. He then means here by the North those enemies, whose 
preparations terrified the Jews. Hence he says, "I will drive them 
from you, and drive them far into a land of desert and of drought". 
By these words he intimates, that though furnished with the greatest 
forces, and gaping for the land of Judea, and ready in their 
cupidity to devour it, the Syrians would yet return home without 
effecting anything; "I will cast them into a desert land". In vain, 
he says, they covet your abundance, and desire to satisfy themselves 
with the fertility of your land; for I will drive them and their 
dread away. 
    He then adds, "His face to the east sea, and his rear to the 
hindmost sea"; that is, I will scatter them here and there, so that 
his front shall be to one sea, (supposed to be the Salt Sea,) and 
his extremity to the hinder most sea, which was doubtless the 
Mediterranean: for the Salt Sea was east to the Jews, that is, it 
lies, as it is well known, towards the east. We now perceive in part 
what the Prophet means. But it must, at the same time, be added, 
that the Prophet removes fear from the Jews, which occupied their 
minds by observing the power of the Assyrians so great and 
extensive. "What is to be done? though God is present with us, and 
protects us by his help, yet how will he resist the Assyrians, for 
that army will fill the land". "God will yet find means," says the 
Prophet; "though the Assyrians should occupy the whole land, from 
the Salt or the East Sea to the Meridian or Mediterranean Sea, yet 
will God drive away this vast multitude: there is no reason then 
that ye should fear." Hence the Prophet has designedly set forth how 
terrible the Assyrian forces would be, that he might show that they 
could not be resisted, unless the Lord should disperse them and 
disappoint all their efforts. At last he adds, "And his ill savour 
shall ascend: but I am not able to finish to-day. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we continue to excite thy wrath against 
us, and are so insensible, though thou exhortest us daily to 
repentance, - O grant, that what thy Prophet teaches may penetrate 
into our hearts, and be like a sounding trumpet, that we may be 
really and sincerely made humble before thee, and be so touched with 
the sense of thy wrath, that we may learn to put off all the 
depraved affections of our flesh, and not merely to deplore the sins 
we have already committed: and do thou also look upon us in future, 
that we may diligently walk in thy fear, and consecrate ourselves 
wholly to thee; and as thou hast deigned to choose us for thine 
inheritance, and gather us under thy Christ, may wc so live under 
him as our leader, until we be at length gathered into thy celestial 
kingdom to enjoy that happy rest, which thou hast promised to us, 
and which thou promisest also daily, and which has been purchased by 
the blood of the same, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Calvin, Commentary on Joel

(Continued in part 7...)

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