(Calvin, Commentary on Joel, Part 7)

Lecture Forty-fourth. 
    Yesterday the Prophet spake of the northern enemy, and said 
that it was in God's power to drive him far away, that he might not 
hurt the people, that his vast army would not prevent the dispersion 
of his power and enterprises. Now he adds this, which we could not 
finish yesterday, "Ascend will his ill savour, and ascend will his 
rottenness; for highly has he borne or exalted himself to do his 
purpose". The Prophet expresses here more than in the former 
sentence, and that is, that God would turn to reproach the whole 
power of the Assyrian. The reason he subjoins deserves to be 
noticed, 'He has highly exalted himself in his doings,' which means, 
that he was elated with great pride, thinking he could do anything; 
therefore he says, 'Ascend will his rottenness and ill savor.' This 
contains a very striking allusion; for when men deliberate about 
great things, it is the game as if they were to raise up themselves 
on high; and we also observe that hither tend their designs, who are 
engaged in difficult and arduous undertakings; for they are not 
content with their lots but try to climb above the clouds. Since 
then the design of all mortals is to rise aloft, when they seek for 
themselves more than what is just, the Prophet, deriding this folly, 
says, "Ascend will the ill savor of the Assyrian, as a bad smell 
ascends from a putrid carcass. He thinks," he says, "that he can do 
what he pleases, as though heaven and earth were under his control: 
his power, enterprises forces and splendor, shall not ascend; but 
his ill savor only shall ascend as from a dead carcass." Why so? "He 
has mightily exalted himself," he says, "to do his purpose." 
    He now understand the design of the Prophet: and hence this 
useful instruction may be gathered, that God so checks the foolish 
confidence of those who pride themselves on their own strength, that 
he not only casts them down, but also turns their glory into shame, 
so that nothing ascends from them but ill savor and the smell of 
rottenness. Now follows what is of an opposite character: - 
Joel 2:21 
Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great 
    Here he shows that God would have his turn to exalt himself, 
which the Assyrian presumptuously attempted to do. For God seems for 
a time to lie still, when he withholds himself, when he puts not 
forth his power, but waits to see the tendency of the insane 
conspiracies and the Satanic madness of those who rise up against 
him and his Church. But having for a time thus restrained himself, 
he at length comes forth; and this is what the Prophet means when he 
says, "God has highly exalted himself to do" his purpose. The 
Assyrian first attempted this; but now the Lord in his turn will 
raise up himself. God indeed could have done this before, but he 
would not; and we see this to be his usual mode of proceeding, to 
connive at the presumption of men, till the ripened time comes which 
he has predetermined; and then he dissipates in a moment their 
    God, then, has now nobly exalted himself; therefore "rejoice 
and exult, O Land". But he says first, Fear not, O Land; and then, 
Exult and rejoice. For it was necessary, in the first place, to 
remove the fear with which the minds of all were now seized. The 
Prophet, then, begins with consolation; for the Jews could have 
hardly entertained any joy, except the fear that oppressed them was 
first shaken off. Hence the Prophet maintains due order by saying, 
"Fear not, O Land, but rather exult and rejoice." He afterwards 
subjoins - 
Joel 2:22 
Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the 
wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree 
and the vine do yield their strength. 
    Here the Prophet turns his address to the beasts; not that his 
instruction suited them; but it was a more efficacious mode of 
speaking, when he invited the very beasts to a participation of the 
people's joy; for except the Jews had been made to know that God's 
wrath was now nigh at hand, no consolation which the Prophet has 
hitherto applied would have been of any weight with them. But now 
since they perceived that God's wrath did not only suspend over 
them, but extended much farther, even to the beasts, and since the 
Lord would have mercy on them, so that his blessing would be 
partaken in common by the beasts and brute animals, the address was 
far more impressive. We hence see that the Prophet, for the best 
reason, directed his discourse to the very beasts, though destitute 
of mind and discernment. For in addressing brute animals he 
addressed men with double force; that is, he impressed their minds 
more effectually, so that they might seriously confess how great was 
God's wrath, and also how great would be his blessing. 
    "Beasts, he says, fear not". Then the beasts of the field ought 
to have dreaded the judgment of God which he had before denounced; 
for except God had been pacified to his people, the fire of his 
wrath would have consumed the whole land, trees and pastures; so all 
the beasts must have been famished. But now when God is reconciled 
to his people, his blessing will smile on the brute animals. What 
then is to be said of men? For God is properly propitious to them, 
and not to brute animals. We hence see that the fruit of 
reconciliation is made more evident, when it is in part extended to 
the brute creation. 
    He therefore says, "Fear not, ye beasts of the field: for the 
pastures of the desert will grow, the trees will bring forth their 
fruit". By these words the Prophet intimates, that had God's wrath 
toward his people been implacable, the sterility of the land would 
not have been improved. Now then whence came so sudden a change that 
the pastures grew, that the trees produced their fruits, both the 
fig-tree and the vine, except that God was pleased to bless the 
land, after having received men into favor? We now then apprehend 
the meaning of the Prophet, even this, - that the land would be made 
by an angry God to execute his judgment, and that there would be no 
remedy for the barrenness of the land until men propitiated God. 
This is the sum of the whole. It now follows - 
Joel 2:23 
Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: 
for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause 
to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain 
in the first [month]. 
    He now exhorts the Jews also to rejoice, but in a way different 
from that of the land and of the beasts. "Rejoice, he says, in your 
God". For the beasts and the sheep, while rejoicing, cannot raise 
their thoughts higher than to their food: hence, the joy of brute 
animals, as they say, terminates in its object. But the Prophet sets 
forth God before the Jews as the ground of their joy. We then see 
how he distinguishes them from brute animals from the land and other 
elements; for he not only bids them to rejoice in meat and drink, in 
the abundance of provisions, but he also bids them to rejoice in the 
Lord their God; and he says no more, "The land will yield its 
strength, or the vines and fig-trees, or the trees, will produce 
their fruit, and the pastures will grow;" no, he speaks not now in 
this manner, but he says "God himself will give you rain:" for he 
had to do with men, endued with understanding, yea, with those very 
Jews who had been from their childhood taught in the law of God: he 
speaks, not only of the land, not only of bread and wine, but of the 
Giver himself. 
    He then reminds them of God's blessing, and declares that God 
would be so propitious to them as to pour down his grace upon them, 
and act the part of a father and a guardian towards them. God then, 
he says, will bring forth or give to you rain according to what is 
necessary. Some translate "hamoreh" a teacher; and the meaning of 
the word, we know, is doubtful. At the same time "moreh" is very 
often taken for rain, and sometimes generally, and sometimes for a 
particular kind of rain, as we shall presently see. Though then 
"moreh" signifies a teacher, yet the context here seems not to allow 
that sense. They who have thus taken it seem to have been led by 
this one reason, - that it is absurd to set in the first place, and 
as it were on a higher grade, those fading blessings which belong 
only to the support and nourishment of the body. But this reason is 
very foolish; for the Prophets, we know, lead children as it were by 
initial principles to a higher doctrine. No wonder then that the 
Prophet here affords them a taste of God's favor in blessings 
belonging to the body; he afterwards ascends higher, as we shall 
see: and this view is certainly what the context demands; for the 
Prophet says at last, "I will hereafter pour my Spirit on all 
flesh," &c. In these words the Prophet commends the favor of God, 
which ought to be held as the most valuable: but he begins now with 
temporal benefits, that he might lead by degrees, and by various 
steps, a people, rude and weak, to something higher. 
    Then the word, teacher, by no means suits this place; and we 
must mark also what immediately follows. He introduces a word 
derived from "moreh"; he afterwards adds "moreh" the second time, 
which no doubt, means rain; all confess this, and confess it to be 
taken for rain in the same verse. When all agree then on this point, 
it seems somewhat strained to render it in the same verse a teacher 
and also rain; especially since we find that the Prophet's object is 
this, - to make the people to recognize God's blessing in outward 
things. There is also another thing which has lead astray these 
interpreters. There follows immediately the word "litsdakah", 
according to what is just. When they join together these word, 
"hamoreh litsdakah", they ask, What is the rain of righteousness? 
They have hence thought that a teacher is here meant. But we know 
that "mishpat" and "tsedakah" are often taken in Scripture for a 
just measure, for equity. "God then will not deal with you unequally 
as hitherto; but having been reconciled to you, he will reassume the 
part of a father, and will also observe towards you a legitimate 
order; for things have been on both sides in confusion, inasmuch as 
ye have been carrying on war against God, and your wickedness has 
subverted the whole order of nature. But now, God being pacified 
towards you, there will be on both sides an equable state of things, 
everything will be in a fitting condition; he will not deal with you 
any more in an irregular manner." We now then perceive the real 
meaning of the Prophets and see how frivolous are the reasons which 
influenced these interpreters, who have rendered the words, "Teacher 
of righteousness." I do not love strained expositions. 
    Let us now return to the words of the Prophet: "He will give to 
you, he says, rain according is what is fit"; then he adds, "He will 
make to descend on you showering rain", (using another word;) and he 
adds again the word "moreh", which, no doubt, means rain, and no one 
denies this. But yet it seems that the word "geshem" has here a 
specific meaning, and some think it to be a violent shower, 
occasioned by a storm or tempest; and yet we may gather from many 
parts of Scripture that the word means rain in general. Now "moreh" 
seems here to be taken for the rain of September, which the Greeks 
call "proimon"; and so they call "malkosh" "opsimon", or the latter 
rain, as a common interpreter has rendered it. And the cultivated 
land, we know, needs these two rains, that is, after sowing, and 
when the fruit is ripening, - after sowing, that the ground by 
receiving moisture may make the seed to grow; for it then wants 
moisture to nourish the roots. Hence, the rain of September or 
October, which is after sowing, is rightly called seasonable rain; 
and the Greeks, as I have already said, call it "proimon"; and 
James, following them, so calls it in the fifth chapter, 'He will 
give you rain,' he says, 'both of the first time and the late rain,' 
that is, of the month of March. For in those warm climates the 
harvests we know, is earlier than with us. We here gather the corn 
in July but they gather it there in May. The fruit then ripens with 
them in March, when they need the late rain. And in the fifth 
chapter of Jeremiah it appears quite evident, that "moreh", as in 
this place, is called the rain, which comes down after sowing; for 
God says there, 'I will give you,' &c., and first he uses the 
general word "geshem", and then he adds the two kinds of rain, which 
are also mentioned here; and afterwards he adds, 'In their time,' 
that is, each rain in its time and season. - Then "moreh" has its 
time, and "malkosh" also has its time; otherwise the words of the 
prophet would not be consistent. We now see what the Prophet means. 
Of the word "malkosh" we halve said something in the sixth chapter 
of Hosea. Then the Prophet says now, that God would be so propitious 
to the Jews, as to neglect no means of testifying his favor towards 
them; for he would give them rain in the month of October and in the 
month of March, to fertilize the ground after sowing, and before the 
harvest or before the fruit came to maturity. Here then is promised 
to the Jews that the land would be made fertile by natural means. It 
now follows - 
Joel 2:24 
And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow 
with wine and oil. 
    He goes on with the same subject in this verse, and shows the 
effects of rain; for when the earth is irrigated and satiated with 
sufficient moisture, it brings forth fruit, rich and plentiful. God 
then will cause that the rains shall not be useless, for the floors 
shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine as 
well as oil. He afterwards adds - 
Joel 2:25 
And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the 
cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army 
which I sent among you. 
    The Prophet confirms what he had previously said, and states 
what is of an opposite character, - that God can as easily restore a 
rich fruitfulness to the land as he had before rendered it barren by 
sending devouring insects. "I will give you years", (for the other 
years,) he says; and that the Jews might more fully understand that 
all this was in God's hand, he expressly declares that the 
cankerworms, the chafers, and the locusts, were his army and as it 
were his hired army, whom he had employed as it seemed good to him. 
The spoilers, then, which had destroyed the whole produce of the 
land, were, as the Prophet declares, the messengers of God: it was 
not, he says, by chance that the locusts, or the cankerworms, or the 
chafers came; but God hired these soldiers, they were his forces and 
his army to distress the whole people; then famine and want consumed 
them. It is not then to no purpose that the Prophet mentions here 
that these destructive insects were God's army; it is to show more 
fully what is here promised; for God, who had by this army devoured 
the whole increase of the land, can now easily restore plenty for 
the barrenness of past years. Now, when any one lays down his arms, 
the land is afterwards cultivated, and brings forth its usual fruit: 
so the Lord also now shows, that the land had been barren, because 
he had sent forth his army, which laid waste its whole produce. But 
now, he says, when I shall restore you to favor, there will be no 
army to devour your fruit: the land then will nourish you, for there 
will be nothing to prevent you to receive its wonted produce. 
    Had not the Jews been made assured that the land had been 
sterile, because the locusts, and the chafers, and the cankerworms, 
were the army which the Lord had prepared they might have ever 
dreaded these spoilers: "Surely the locusts will spring up, the 
chafers and the cankerworms will come, to devour all the fruit." The 
Prophet shows that this happened not by chance: "Now then, when God 
shall be reconciled to you, the land will yield its increase, and 
nothing shall hinder you from enjoying its abundance." 
    By calling this army "great", he shows that God has no need of 
strong forces to subdue men; for when he prepares locusts and 
insects, which are but little things, they snatch food from the 
mouths of men and leave them in want; though no one puts forth a 
sword against them, they yet pine away with hunger. The Prophet then 
derides here the arrogance of men, and shows that God needs not do 
much, when he intends to reduce them to nothing. Let us now proceed 
Joel 2:26 
And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of 
the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my 
people shall never be ashamed. 
    He now concludes what he has hitherto said of God's blessing. 
As the Jews were starving while God was offended, so he promises 
that when reconciled to him they should have abundance of produce 
from the land: "Ye shall eat plentifully, he says, and satisfy 
yourselves". But he mentions also their gratitude; for it was an 
evidence of true repentance when they praised the name of God, whom 
they understood to be the giver of their abundance; for he had 
before proved that the land was under his power, when he consumed 
its whole substance, so that none of it came to supply the wants of 
man. Hence the Prophet exhorts them to give thanks, that they might 
thus declare that they from the heart repented. "Ye shall then 
praise the name of Jehovah your God". Why? "Because he will deal 
with you wonderfully". He takes away here every plea for ignorance. 
We know how difficult it is to lead men to do this act of religion, 
for which we yet confess that we were born; for what is more natural 
than to acknowledge God's bounty towards us, when we enjoy many 
blessings? But yet, though God in various ways stimulates us, he 
cannot draw from us genuine gratitude. This is the reason why the 
Prophet now says, "God will deal with you wonderful}y: though ye are 
stupid, God will yet by his power awaken you; for he will not deal 
with you in a common way." He then mentions something miraculous, 
that he might leave to the Jews no excuse, in case they considered 
not God's bounty and perceived not in this change, first, what they 
had deserved and then how merciful God had been to them: for this 
change could not have been ascribed to chance; nor was it a common 
thing, that when the Jews had been for four successive years nearly 
consumed with wants and when the enemy was at hand, they should see 
the land now fruitful, that they should see it freed from 
destructive insects, that they should be also at peace, and not 
disturbed by the dread of any foreign enemy. Since the Lord, then, 
would beyond hope give them a serene instead of a turbulent sky, 
should not such a wonderful change deeply affect them? This is what 
the Prophet now means, - "As the Lord will deal with you 
wonderfully, there will be no excuse for your torpidity, if ye will 
not be diligent in praising his name." 
    "Not ashamed, he says, shall my people be for ever". The Jews 
are here reminded by implication of their former disgrace; for they 
had been greatly confounded; though enemies touched them not, no, 
not even with their finger, they yet died through famine; an enemy 
was also prepared, as we have seen, to destroy them. They were 
therefore frightened with dread, and also perplexed with their own 
evils, by which God had almost worn them out. The Prophet says now, 
"My people shall not be ashamed for ever", intimating that God would 
at length relieve his people from their evils, that they might not, 
as hitherto, be ashamed. He at last subjoins - 
Joel 2:27 
And ye shall know that I [am] in the midst of Israel, and [that] I 
[am] the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be 
    He repeats the same sentence; and in the beginning of the verse 
he unfolds what I have already said - that the miracle would be such 
as to constrain the people to praise God. "Ye shall know that I am 
in the midst of Israel": and this was the case, because God showed 
not in an ordinary way his kindness to them, and especially because 
it had been foretold, and also because this reason had been adduced 
- that God was mindful of his covenant. The manner, then, in which 
he dealt with them, and farther, the prediction itself, left to the 
people no pretext for ignorance. Hence the Prophet now says, 'Ye 
shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,' and still more, 'that 
I am Jehovah your God.' By these words the Prophet reminds us, that 
the deliverance of the people from their evils was to be wholly 
ascribed to the gratuitous mercy of God; for we have already seen, 
that things would have been past hope, had not this consolation been 
added - 'Turn ye even now to me.' The Prophet therefore repeats, 
that there would be no other reason why God would deal so kindly 
with his people, and so mercifully spare them, but this - that he 
dwelt in the midst of Israel: but whence was this dwelling, except 
that God had gratuitously chosen this people? This indeed availed 
much to raise up the people; for how could they have hoped that God 
would be propitious to them, had they not been reminded of this 
truth that God was dwelling in the midst of them? Not because they 
were worthy, but because he deigned to come down to them. 
    He afterwards adds, "And none else". By this sentence the 
Prophet more sharply stimulates them to return immediately to God; 
for if they deferred longer disappointment would be in delay. That 
the Jews, then, might not, after their usual manner, procrastinate, 
he says that there is no other God; and thus he shows that there was 
no remedy for their evils, except they sought to be reconciled to 
God. "There is then no God besides me, and I dwell in the midst of 
thee." The Lord claims to himself every power, and then kindly 
invites the people to himself, and for this reason, - because he 
dwells in the midst of them. That the people, then, might not form 
other expectations, God shows that all their hope was in him alone. 
He farther shows, that salvation was not to be sought afar off, 
provided the people had not forgotten the covenant, that God was 
dwelling in the midst of them. But a higher doctrine follows - 
Joel 2:28 
And it shall come to pass afterward, [that] I will pour out my 
spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall 
prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see 
    We have explained why the Prophet began with earthly blessings. 
One may indeed think that this order is not regular; for Christ does 
not in vain remind us, that the kingdom of God ought to be first 
sought, and that other things shall be added in their place, (Matth. 
6;) for food, and every thing that belongs to this frail life, are, 
as it were, additions to the spiritual life. But the Prophet 
designedly mentioned first the evidence of God's favor in outward 
benefits; for we see how slow the perceptions of men are, and how 
slothful they are in seeking spiritual life. As, then, men rise to 
things above with so much difficulty, the Prophet makes use of the 
best helps; and we must indeed be dealt with as we usually deal with 
children. For as there is not so much discernment in them as to be 
influenced by reasons, we set before them what is suitable to their 
weak and simple comprehension; so the Prophet did; for he showed 
first that God would be kind to the Jews in food for the body, and 
having used this as a help, he then added, "Afterwards I will pour 
my Spirit upon all flesh". 
    By these words the Prophet reminds us, that people act absurdly 
when they are satisfied with vanishing things, when they ask of God 
nothing more excellent than to be pampered like brute animals; for 
in what do the children of God differ from asses and dogs, except 
they aspire after spiritual life? The Prophet, then, after having 
set before them lower things, as though they were children, now 
brings before them a more solid doctrine, (for thus they were to be 
led,) and affords them a taste of the favor of God in its external 
signs. "Ascend, then, now," he says, "to spiritual life: for the 
fountain is one and the same; though when earthly benefits occupy 
and engross your attention, ye no doubt pollute them. But God feeds 
you, not to fill and pamper you; for he would not have you to be 
like brute animals. Then know that your bodies are fed, and that God 
gives support to you, that ye may aspire after spiritual life; for 
he leads you to this as by the hand; be this then your object." We 
now, then, understand why the Prophet did not at first speak of the 
spiritual grace of God; but he comes to it now. He began with 
temporal benefits, for it was needful that an untutored people 
should be thus led by degrees, that on account of their infirmity, 
sluggishness, and dullness, they might thus make better progress, 
until they understood that God would for this end be a Father to 
Grant, Almighty God, that since we want so many aids while in this 
frail life, and as it is a shadowy life, we cannot pass a moment, 
except thou dost continually, and at all times, supply through thy 
bounty what is needful, - O grant, that we may so profit by thy so 
many benefits, that we may learn to raise our minds upwards, and 
ever aspire after celestial life, to which by thy gospel thou 
invites us so kindly and sweetly every day, that being gathered into 
thy celestial kingdom, we may enjoy that perfect felicity, which has 
been procured for us by the blood of thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Calvin, Commentary on Joel

(Continued in part 8...)

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