(Calvin, Commentary on Joel, Part 9)

Lecture Forty-sixth. 
Joel 2:32 
And it shall come to pass, [that] whosoever shall call on the name 
of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem 
shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom 
the LORD shall call. 
    We said yesterday that the Prophet denounced future calamities, 
that he might thus stimulate men, distressed by many evils, to seek 
God: we indeed know how tardy we are by nature, except the Lord 
goads us continually. The subject, then, on which we discoursed 
yesterday tended to show, that as so many and so grievous calamities 
would press on the Jews, all would be miserable who fled not to God, 
and that this consolation only would remain to them in their extreme 
evils: but now the Prophet seasonably adds, "Whosoever shall call on 
the name of the Lord shall be delivered". Having then stimulated men 
to seek God, he now gives them firm assurance of being saved, 
provided they in sincerity and from the heart fled to God. 
    This is indeed a remarkable passage, for God declares that the 
invocation of his name in a despairing condition is a sure port of 
safety. What the Prophet had said was certainly dreadful, - that the 
whole order of nature would be so changed, that no spark of light 
would appear, and that all places would be filled with darkness. 
What, therefore, he says now is the same as though he declared, that 
if men called on the name of God, life would be found in the grave. 
They who seem to be even in despair, and from whom God seems to have 
taken away every hope of grace, provided they call on the name of 
God, will be saved, as the Prophet declares, though they be in so 
great a despair, and in so deep an abyss. This circumstance ought to 
be carefully noticed; for if any one takes this sentence of the 
Prophet by itself, though then it would not be frigid, it would not 
yet be so striking; but when these two things are joined together, - 
that God will be the judge of the world, who will not spare the 
wickedness of men, but will execute dreadful vengeance, - and that 
yet salvation will be given to all who will call on the name of the 
Lord, we see how efficacious the promise is; for God offers life to 
us in death, and light in the darkest grave. 
    There is, therefore, great importance in the expression, 
"wehayah", 'Then it shall be;' for the copulative is to be regarded 
as an adverb of time, 'Then whosoever shall invoke the name of the 
Lord,' &c. And he uses the word "deliver;" for it was needful to 
show that the saved differ nothing from the lost. Had the Prophet 
used the word "preserve," he would have spoken less distinctly; but 
now when he promises deliverance, he bids us to set up this shield 
against trials even the heaviest; for God possesses power 
sufficiently great to deliver us, provided only we call on him. 
    We now then understand what the Prophet had in view: He shows 
that God would have us to call on him not only in prosperity, but 
also in the extreme state of despair. It is the same as though God 
had called to himself the dead, and declared that it was in his 
power to restore life to them and bring them out of the grave. Since 
then God invites here the lost and the dead, there is no reason why 
even the heaviest distresses should preclude an access for us or for 
our prayers; for we ought to break through all these obstacles. The 
more grievous, then, our troubles are, the more confidence we ought 
to entertain; for God offers his grace, not only to the miserable, 
but also to those in utter despair. The Prophet did not threaten a 
common evil to the Jews, but declared that by the coming of Christ 
all things would be full of horror: after this denunciation he now 
subjoins, 'Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be 
    But as Paul cites this place in Rom. 10, and extends it to the 
Gentiles, we must inquire in what sense he takes the testimony of 
the Prophet. Paul means to prove that adoption was common to the 
Gentiles, that it was lawful for them to flee to God, and familiarly 
to invoke him as a Father: 'Whosoever,' he says, 'shall call on the 
name of the Lord shall be saved.' He hence proves that the Gospel 
ought to have been preached even to the Gentiles, as invocation 
arises from faith: for except God shines on us by his word, we 
cannot come to him; faith, then, is ever the mother of prayer. Paul 
seems to lay stress on the universal particle, "Whosoever"; as 
though he said, that Joel did not speak of the Jews only, but also 
of the Gentiles, that he testified that God would indiscriminately, 
and without exception, receive all who would seek him. But Paul 
appears to misapply the Prophet's words; for Joel no doubt addresses 
here the people, to whom he was appointed as a teacher and prophet. 
What Paul then applies generally to all mankind seems not to have 
been so intended by the Prophet. But to this there is an easy 
answer; for the Prophets after having spoken of the kingdom of 
Christ, had no doubt this truth in view, that the blessing in the 
seed of Abraham had been promised to all nations; and when he 
afterwards described the miserable state in which the whole world 
would be, he certainly meant to rouse even the Gentiles, who had 
been aliens from the Church, to seek God in common with his elect 
people: the promise, then, which immediately follows, is also 
addressed to the Gentiles, otherwise there would be no consistency 
in the discourse of the Prophet. We therefore see that Paul most 
fitly accommodates this place to his subject: for the main thing to 
be held is this, that the blessing in Christ was promised not only 
to the children of Abraham but also to all the Gentiles. When, 
therefore, the Prophet describes the kingdom of Christ, it is no 
wonder that he addresses the Jews and Gentiles in common: and then, 
what he said of the state of the world, that it would be full of 
horrible darkness, undoubtedly refers, not to the Jews only, but 
also to the Gentiles. Why was this done, except to show that nothing 
else remains for them but to flee to God? We then see that an access 
is here opened to the Gentiles that they may with one consent call 
on God together with the Jews. 
    If there is promised salvation and deliverance to all who shall 
call on the name of the Lord, it follows as Paul reasons that the 
doctrine of the Gospel belongs to the Gentiles also; for their 
mouths must have otherwise been closed, yea, and the mouths of us 
all: had not God himself anticipated us by his word, and exhorted us 
to pray, we must have been dumb. It would have been a great 
presumption in us to present ourselves before God, except he had 
given us confidence and promised to hear us. If then the liberty of 
praying is common to all, it follows that the doctrine of salvation 
is common to all. We must now also add, that as deliverance is 
promised to all who shall call on the name of God, his own power is 
taken from God, when salvation is sought in any other but in him 
alone: and we know that this is an offering which he claims 
exclusively for himself. If, then, we desire to be delivered, the 
only remedy is, to call on the name of Jehovah. 
    He afterwards adds, "For in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall 
be deliverance, as Jehovah has promised". The Prophet here 
intimates, that though the people might seem apparently to have been 
destroyed, yet God would be mindful of his covenant so as to gather 
the remnant. Such, indeed, was the slaughter of the people, that no 
hope whatever, according to the flesh, remained; for they were 
scattered through various parts of the world; there was no social 
body, no distinct nation, no civil government, no worship of God. 
Who, then, could have thought that the Church of God would survive? 
Nay, the probability was, that after thirty or fifty years, the name 
of Abraham and of his seed would have become wholly extinct; for 
they had joined in one body with the Chaldees and the Assyrians. 
That scattering then was, as it were, the death of the whole nation. 
But God, by Joel, declares here, that there would yet be deliverance 
in mount Zion and in Jerusalem; that is, "Though I shall for a time 
exterminate this people, that the land may remain desolate, there 
shall yet be a restoration, and I will again gather a certain body, 
a Church, on mount Zion and in Jerusalem." This is the substance. 
    We learn from this place, that however much God may afflict his 
Church, it will yet be perpetuated in the world; for it can no more 
be destroyed than the very truth of God, which is eternal and 
immutable. God indeed promises, not only that the state of the 
Church shall be perpetual, but that there will be, as long as the 
sun and moon shall shine in heaven, some people on earth to call on 
his name. Since it is so, it follows, that the Church cannot be 
utterly subverted or wholly perish, however severely and heavily the 
Lord may chastise it. However great then the scattering of the 
Church may be, the Lord will yet gather members, that there may be a 
people on earth to show, that he who is in heaven is true and 
faithful to his promises. And this truth deserves a careful 
attention; for when we see the Church scattered, immediately this 
doubt creeps into our minds, "Does God intend wholly to destroy all 
his people, - does he mean to exterminate all the seed of the 
faithful?" Then let this passage be remembered, "In mount Zion there 
will be deliverance," after the Lord shall have punished the profane 
despisers of his name, who abused his patience, and falsely 
professed his name. 
    But he adds, "As Jehovah has promised", which serves for 
confirmation; for the Prophet bids us here to regard God rather than 
our own state. When indeed we believe our eyes, we cannot but think 
sometimes that it is all over with the Church; for when God inflicts 
heavy punishment on his servants, there seems to us no remedy; and 
when we believe the diseases of the Church to be incurable, our 
hearts immediately fail us, except God's promise comes to our minds. 
Hence the Prophet recalls our thoughts to God, as though he had 
said, "Judge not of the safety of the Church by sight, but stand and 
rely on the word of God: he has spoken, he has said, that the Church 
shall be perpetual." Let us plant our foot on this promise, and 
never doubt but that the Lord will perform what he has declared. 
    But it is subjoined by the Prophet as a sort of correction, 
"And in the remnant whom Jehovah shall call": and it was necessary 
to state this distinctly, lest hypocrites, as they usually do, abuse 
what had been said. They who occupy high stations in the Church, and 
pass in name for the children of God, swell, we know, with great 
confidences and boldly trifle with God; for they think that he is 
bound to them, when they make a show either of external badges or of 
profession, in which they glory before men: they think this display 
sufficient. We may indeed gather from many parts of Scripture, that 
the Jews were inflated with this false presumption of the flesh, 
that they imagined God to be bound to them. Hence the Prophet shows, 
that he did not address all the Jews indiscriminately, because many 
of them were spurious children of Abraham, and had become 
degenerated. If then under this pretence alone they wished to lay 
hold on the promise of salvation, the Prophet shows that they were 
excluded from the Church of God, since they were not legitimate 
children, after having departed from the faith and piety of their 
father Abraham. He therefore mentions remnant: and by this word be 
means, in short, that the whole multitude could not be saved, but 
only a small number. 
    When therefore we speak of the salvation of the Church, we 
ought not to gather into one bundle all who profess themselves to be 
the children of God; for we see that hardly one in a hundred worship 
God in truth and without hypocrisy, for the greater part abuse his 
name. We see, at this day, how dishonest is the boasting of the 
Papists; for they think that the Church of God dwells among them, 
and they scorn us because we are few. When we say that the Church of 
God is to be known by the word and the pure administration of the 
sacraments, "Indeed," they say, "could God have forsaken so many 
people among whom the gospel has been preached?" They think that 
after Christ has been once made known, his grace remains fixed, and 
cannot by any means be taken away whatever may be the impiety of 
men. Since then the Papists so shamefully lay claim to the name of 
Church, because they are many in number, it is no wonder that the 
Prophet, who had the same contest with the Jews and Israelites, had 
here expressly mentioned a "remnant"; as though he said, "In vain do 
the ungodly boast of God's name, since he regards them not as his 
people." The same truth we observe in Psalm 15, and in Psalm 24; 
where the citizens of the Church are described; they are not those 
who pride themselves on external symbols, but who worship God with a 
sincere heart, and deal honestly with their neighbors; such dwell on 
the mountain of God. It was not a difficult thing for hypocrites to 
thrust themselves into the sanctuary, and to present there their 
sacrifices to God; but the Prophet shows that none are owned by God, 
but those who have a sincere heart and pure hands. So also in this 
place Joel says, that this Church indeed would be saved, but not the 
vast multitude, - who then? the remnant only. 
    But the clause which follows must be noticed, "Whom Jehovah 
shall call". We have already seen that the Church of God consists 
often of a very small number; for God counts not any his children, 
but those who devote themselves sincerely and from the heart to his 
service, as Paul says 'Whosoever calls on the name of God, let him 
depart from iniquity;' and many such are not found in the world. 
    But it is not enough to hold, that the Church of God is only in 
the remnant; it must be also added that the remnant abide in God's 
Church for no other reason but that the Lord has called them. Whence 
then is it that there is a portion in the Church, which shall remain 
safe, while the whole world seems to be doomed to destruction? It is 
from the calling of God. And there is no doubt but that the Prophet 
means by the word, call, gratuitous election. The Lord is indeed 
often said to call men, when he invites them by the voice of his 
gospel; but there is what surpasses that, a hidden call, when God 
destines for himself those whom he purposes to save. There is then 
an inward call, which dwells in the secret counsel of God; and then 
follows the call, by which he makes us really the partakers of his 
adoption. Now the Prophet means, that those who will be the remnant 
shall not stand by their own power, but because they have been 
called from above, that is, elected. But that the election of God is 
not to be separated from the outward call, I allow; and yet this 
order ought to be maintained, that God, before he testifies his 
election to men, adopts them first to himself in his own secret 
counsel. The meaning is, that calling is here opposed to all human 
merits, and also to virtue and human efforts; as though he said, 
"Men attain not this for themselves, that they continue a remnant 
and are safe, when God visits the sins of the world; but they are 
preserved by his grace alone, because they have been chosen." Paul 
also speaks of the remnant in Rom. 11, and wisely considers that 
passage, 'I have kept for myself seven thousand.' 
    It is then God's peculiar province to keep those who fail not: 
and hence Paul says that they are the remnant of grace; for if God's 
mercy were taken away, there would be no remnant among the whole 
human race. All, we indeed know, are worthy of death, without any 
difference: it is therefore the election of God alone which makes 
the difference between some and others. Thus we see that the 
gratuitous goodness of God is extolled by the Prophet, when he says 
that a remnant shall be saved, who shall be called by the Lord: for 
it is not in the power of men to keep themselves unless they are 
elected; and the gratuitous goodness of God is the security as it 
were of their salvation. Now follows - 
Chapter 3. 
Joel 3:1-3 
1 For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring 
again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, 
2 I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the 
valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people 
and [for] my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the 
nations, and parted my land. 
3 And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an 
harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink. 
    The Prophet confirms in these words what he had before taught 
respecting the restoration of the Church; for it was a thing 
difficult to be believed: when the body of the people was so 
mutilated, when their name was obliterated, when all power was 
abolished, when the worship of God also, together with the temple, 
was subverted, when there was no more any form of a kingdom, or even 
of any civil government, who could have thought that God had any 
concern for a people in such a wretched condition? It is then no 
wonder that the Prophet speaks so much at large of the restoration 
of the Church; he did so, that he might more fully confirm what 
would have otherwise been incredible. 
    He therefore says, "Behold, in those days, and at that time, in 
which I shall restore the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I shall 
then make all Gentiles to come down into the valley of Jehoshaphat". 
And the Prophet says this, because the Jews were then hated by all 
people, and were the execration and the dregs of the whole world. As 
many nations as were under heaven, so many were the enemies of the 
Jews. A fall then inter despair was easy, when they saw the whole 
world incensed against them: "Though God may wish to redeem us, 
there are yet so many obstacles, that we must necessarily perish; 
not only the Assyrians are enraged against us, but we have found 
even greater hatred in our own neighbors." We, indeed, know that the 
Moabites, the Ammonites, the Syrians, the Sidonians, the Idumeans, 
the Philistines, and, in short, all in the surrounding countries, 
were very hostile to the Jews. Seeing then every access to their 
land was closed up to the Jews, it was difficult to entertain any 
hope of deliverance, though God encouraged them. For this reason the 
Prophet now says, that God would be the judge of the whole world, 
and that it was in his purpose and power to call together all the 
Gentiles, as though he said, "Let not the number and variety of 
enemies frighten you: the Assyrians alone, I know, are not your 
enemies, but also all your neighbors; but when I undertake the 
defense of your cause, I shall be alone sufficient to protect you; 
and however much all people may oppose, they shall not prevail. Then 
believe that I shall be a sufficient defender, and shall deliver you 
from the hand of all the nations." We now perceive the Prophet's 
design when he declares, that God would come to the valley of 
Jehoshaphat, and there call together all nations. 
    But the Prophet says, "In those days, and at that time, when 
the Lord shall restore the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem", &c. 
This time the Jews limit to their return: they therefore think, that 
when liberty to return was granted them by Cyrus and Darius, what 
the Prophet declares here was then fulfilled; Christian doctors 
apply this prediction to the coming of Christ; but both interpret 
the words of the Prophet otherwise than the drift of the passage 
requires. The Prophet, no doubt, speaks here of the deliverance we 
have just noticed, and at the same time includes the kingdom of 
Christ; and this, as we have seen in other parts, is very commonly 
done. While then the prophets testify that God would be the redeemer 
of his people, and promise deliverance from Babylonian exile, they 
lead the faithful, as it were, by a continuous train or course, to 
the kingdom of Christ. For what else was the Jewish restoration, but 
a prelude of that true and real redemptions afterwards effected by 
Christ? The Prophet then does not speak only of the coming of 
Christ, or of the return of the Jews, but includes the whole of 
redemption, which was only begun when the Lord restored his people 
from the Babylonian exile; it will then go on from the first coming 
of Christ to the last day; as though he said, "When God will redeem 
his people, it will not be a short or momentary benefit, but he will 
continue his favor until he shall visit with punishment all the 
enemies of his Church." In a word, the Prophet here shows, that God 
will not be a half Redeemer, but will continue to work until he 
completes everything necessary for the happy state of his Church, 
and makes it in every respect perfect. This is the import of the 
    We also see that the Prophet Haggai speaks in the same manner 
of the second temple, - that the glory of the second temple shall be 
greater than that of the first, (Hag. 2.) He, however referred, no 
doubts to the prophecy of Ezekiel; and Ezekiel speaks of the second 
temple, which was to be built after the return of the people from 
exile. Be it so, yet Ezekiel did not confine to four or five ages 
what he said of the second temple: on the contrary he meant that the 
favor of God would be continued to the coming of Christ: so also 
Joel means here, when he says, "When God shall restore the captivity 
of Judah and Jerusalem, he will then call together all the nations; 
as though he said, "God will pour out not a small portion of grace, 
but will become the complete Redeemer of his people; and when the 
whole world shall rise against him, he will yet prevail; he will 
undertake the cause of his Church, and will secure the salvation of 
his people. Whosoever then will attempt to delay or hinder the 
restoration of the Church, shall by no means succeed; for the Lord, 
the defender of his people, will judge all nations." 
    Let us now see why the Prophet particularly mentions the 
"valley of Jehoshaphat". Many think that valley to be intended, 
which was called the Valley of Blessing, where Jehoshaphat obtained 
a signal and a memorable victory, when yet he was not provided with 
large forces, and when many nations conspired against him. Though 
Jehoshaphat fought against a large army with a few people, he yet 
wonderfully succeeded; and the people there presented thanks to God, 
and gave a name to the place. Hence, many think that this valley is 
mentioned, that the Prophet might remind the Jews how wonderfully 
they were saved; for their enemies had come for the very purpose of 
destroying the whole of God's people, and thought that this was 
wholly in their power. The memory then of this history must have 
animated the minds of the godly with a good hope; for God then 
undertook the cause of a small number against a vast multitude; yea, 
against many and powerful nations. And this view seems to me 
probable. Some place this valley of Jehoshaphat half way between the 
Mount of Olives and the city; but how probable their conjecture is I 
know not. 
    Unquestionably, with regard to this passage, their opinion, in 
my judgment, is the most correct, who think that there is here a 
recalling to mind of God's favor, which may in all ages encourage 
the faithful to entertain hope of their salvation. Some, however, 
prefer to take the word as an appellative; and no doubt "yehoshafat" 
means the judgment of God; and so they render it, "The valley of the 
judgment of God." If this is approved I do not oppose. And, 
doubtless, though it be a proper name, and the Prophet speak here of 
that holy King, to encourage the Jews to follow his example, he yet 
alludes, no doubt, to the judgment of God, or to the contest which 
he would undertake for the sake of his people: for it immediately 
follows "wenishpatti 'amim sham", "And I will contend with them 
there:" and this verb is derived from "shafat". Hence also, if it be 
the proper name of a place, and taken from that of the King, the 
Prophet here meant, that its etymology should be considered; as 
though he said, "God will call all nations to judgment, and for this 
end, that he may dwell in the midst of his people, and really 
testify and prove this." 
    Some apply this passage to the last judgment, but in too 
strained a manner. Hence also has arisen the figment, that the whole 
world shall be assembled in the valley of Jehoshaphat: but the 
world, we know, became infected with such delirious things, when the 
light of sound doctrine was extinguished; and no wonder, that the 
world should be fascinated with such gross comments, after it had so 
profaned the worship of God. 
    But with respect to the intention of the Prophets he, no doubt, 
mentions here the valley of Jehoshaphat, that the Jews might 
entertain the hope that God would be the guardian of their safety; 
for he says everywhere that he would dwell among them, as we have 
also seen in the last chapter, "And God will dwell in the midst of 
you." So also now he means the same, "I will assemble all nations, 
and make them to come down to the valley of Jehoshaphat"; that is, 
though the land shall for a time be uncultivated and waste, yet the 
Lord will gather his people, and show that he is the judge of the 
whole world; he will raise a trophy in the land of Judah, which will 
be nobler than if the people had ever been safe and entire: for how 
much soever all nations may strive to destroy the remnant, as we 
know they did, though few remained; yet God will sit in the valley 
of Jehoshaphat, he will have there his own tribunal, that he may 
keep his people, and defend them from all injuries. At the same 
time, what I have before noticed must be borne in mind; for he names 
here the valley of Jehoshaphat rather than Jerusalem, because of the 
memorable deliverance they had there, when God discomfited so many 
people, when great armies were in an instant destroyed and without 
the aid of men. Since God then delivered his people at that time in 
an especial manner through his incredible power, it is no wonder 
that he records here the name of the valley of Jehoshaphat. 
    I will contend, he says, with them there for my people, and for 
my heritage, Israel. By these words the Prophet shows how precious 
to God is the salvation of his chosen people; for it is no ordinary 
thing for God to condescend to undertake their cause, as though he 
himself were offended and wronged; and God contends, because he 
would have all things in common with us. We now then, see the reason 
of this contention, - even because God so regards the salvation of 
his people, that he deems himself wronged in their person; as it is 
said in another place, "He who toucheth you toucheth the apple of 
mine eye". And to confirm his doctrine still more, the Prophet adds, 
"For mine heritage, Israel". God calls Israel here his heritage, to 
strengthen distressed minds, and also to comfort them; for if the 
Jews had only fixed their minds on their own state, they could not 
but think themselves unworthy of being regarded by God; for they 
were deemed abominable by all nations; and we also know that they 
were severely chastised for having departed from all godliness and 
for having, as it were, wholly alienated themselves from God. Since, 
then, they were like a corrupted body, they could not but despond in 
their adversity: but the Prophet here comes to their assistance, and 
brings forward the word heritage, as though he said, "God will 
execute judgment for you, not that ye are worthy, but because he has 
chosen you: for he will never forget the covenant which he made with 
your father Abraham." We see, then, the reason he mentions heritage: 
it was, that the Jews might not despair on account of their sins; 
and at the same time he commends, as before, the gratuitous mercy of 
God, as though he had said, "The reason for your redemption is no 
other, but that God has allotted to himself the posterity of Abraham 
and designed them to be his peculiar people." What remains we must 
defer until to-morrow. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou not only invites us continually by 
the voice of thy Gospel to seek thee, but also offerest to us thy 
Son as our Mediator, through whom an access to thee is open, that we 
may find thee a propitious Father, - O grant, that relying on thy 
kind invitation, we may through life exercise ourselves in prayer: 
and as so many evils disturb us on all sides, and so many wants 
distress and oppress us, may we be led more earnestly to call on 
thee, and, in the meantime, be never wearied in this exercise of 
prayer; that, being through life heard by thee, we may at length be 
gathered to thy eternal kingdom, where we shall enjoy that salvation 
Which thou hast promised to us, and of which also thou daily 
testifiest to us by thy Gospel, and be for ever united to thy only 
begotten Son, of whom we are how members; that we may be partakers 
of all the blessings, which he has obtained for us by his death. 

Calvin, Commentary on Joel

(Continued in part 10...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvjoe-09.txt