(Calvin, Commentary on Joel, Part 10)

Lecture Forty-seventh. 
    We said in our yesterday's Lecture, that God proves the 
singular love he has to his Church by condescending to undertake her 
cause, and contend as a worldly man would do for his paternal 
inheritance. He says, that "his heritage, Israel, had been dispersed 
among the nations"; as though he said, that it was an intolerable 
thing that enemies should, like robbers, thus divide his heritage. 
He speaks first of the people, then of the land; for God, as it is 
well known, consecrated the land to himself, and he would not have 
it occupied by profane nations. There was then a twofold sacrilege, 
- the people were carried away into distant lands, and others were 
sent to inhabit and possess their land, which God had destined for 
his children and elect people. 
    There follows now another indignity still greater; for they 
cast lot on God's people, - "On my people they have cast lot, and 
prostituted a boy for a harlot, and a girl have they sold for wine, 
that they might drink". By these words the Prophet enhances the 
injury done them; for the Jews had been reproachfully treated. Some 
measure of humanity is mostly shown when men are sold; but the 
Prophet here complains in the person of God, that the Jews had been 
exposed to sale, as though they were the off scourings of mankind, 
and of no account. They have cast lots he says; and this was to show 
contempt; and the Prophet expresses more clearly what he meant, and 
says, that a boy had been given for a harlot, and a girl for wine. 
Some consider the Prophet as saying, that boys were prostituted to 
base and scandalous purposes; but I prefer another view, - that the 
enemies sold them for a mean price to gratify their gluttony, or 
their lust; as though the Prophet had said, that the Jews had to 
endure a grievous reproach by being set to sale, as they say, and 
that at the lowest price. He farther adds another kind of contempt; 
for whatever price the enemies procured by selling, they spent it 
either on harlot or on feasting. We hence see that a twofold injury 
is here mentioned, - the Jews had been so despised as not to be 
regarded as men, and had been sold not for the usual prices, but had 
been disposed of in contempt by their enemies almost for nothing; - 
and the other reproach was, that the price obtained for them was 
afterwards spent on gluttony and whoredom: yet this people was 
sacred to God. Now this contumelious treatment, the Prophet says, 
God would not endure, but would avenge such a wrong as if done to 
himself. This is then the meaning. 
    But the reason which induces me thus to interpret the Prophet 
is because he says that a girl was sold for wine, as the boy for a 
harlot; and the construction of the Prophet's words is the same. It 
is indeed certain that in the latter clause the Prophet meant 
nothing else but that the price was wickedly spent for vile and 
shameful purposes; then the former clause must be understood in the 
same way. Let us proceed - 
Joel 3:4-6 
4 Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all 
the coasts of Palestine? will ye render me a recompence? and if ye 
recompense me, swiftly [and] speedily will I return your recompence 
upon your own head; 
5 Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into 
your temples my goodly pleasant things: 
6 The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye 
sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their 
    God expostulates here with Tyre and Sidon, and other 
neighboring nations, and shows that they vexed his people without 
cause Had they been provoked some excuse might have been made; but 
since they made war of their own accord, the wrong was doubled. This 
is what God means these words. "What have ye to do with me, O Tyre 
and Sidon?" He indeed continues the subject before explained: but he 
speaks of the concern here as hid own; he seems not now to undertake 
the protection of his own people, but detents his own cause. "What 
have ye to do with me?" he says. God then interposes himself; as 
though he said, that the Syrians and Sidonians were not only called 
by him to judgment because they had unjustly wronged his people, and 
brought many troubles on men deserving no such things; but he says 
also, that he stood up in his own defense. "What have I to do with 
you, O Syrians and Sidonians?" as we say in French, Qu'avons-nous a 
desmeller? (what have we to decide?) Now the Prophet had this in 
view, that the Syrians and Sidonians became voluntary enemies to the 
Jews, when they had no dispute with them; and this, as we have said, 
was less to be borne. "What then have ye to do with me, O Syrians 
and Sidonians? Do I owe anything to you? Am I under any obligation 
to you? Do ye repay me my recompense?" that is, "Can you boast of 
any reason or just pretence for making, war on my people?" He then 
means, that there had been no wrong done to the Syrians and 
Sidonians, which they could now retaliate, but that they made an 
attack through their own wickedness, and were only impelled by 
avarice or cruelty thus to harass the miserable Jews: "Ye repay 
not," he says, "a recompense to me; for ye cannot pretend that any 
wrong has been done to you by me." 
    "But if ye repay this to me, he says, I will swiftly return the 
recompense on your head". "Gamal" means not only to repay, as the 
Hebrew scholars ever render it, but also to confer, to bestow, as it 
has been stated in another place. 'What shall I repay to the Lord 
for all the things which he has recompensed to me?' This is the 
common version; but it is an improper and inconsistent mode of 
speaking. David no doubt refers to God's benefits; then it is, 'What 
shall I repay for all the benefits which the Lord has bestowed on 
me?' Then he who first does wrong, or bestows good, is said to 
recompense; and this is the sense in this place. 'If ye,' he says, 
'thus deal with me, "swiftly", "meherah" suddenly (for the word is 
to be taken as an adverb,) will I return recompense on your head;' 
that is, "Ye shall not be unpunished, since ye have acted so 
unjustly with me and my people." We now perceive the whole meaning 
of the Prophet: He enhances the crime of the Syrians and Sidonians, 
because they willfully distressed the Jews, and joined themselves to 
their foreign enemies, for the purpose of seizing on a part of the 
spoil. As, then, vicinity softened not their minds, their inhumanity 
was on this account more fully proved. But, as I have said, the Lord 
here places himself between the two parties, to intimate, that he 
performs his own proper office when he takes care of the safety of 
his Church. 
    He afterwards shows that this wickedness should not be 
unpunished - "If ye deal thus with me, he says, I shall swiftly 
(suddenly) return the recompense on your heads". This passage 
contains a singular consolation; for God declares that whatever 
evils the faithful endure belong to him, and also that he will not 
suffer those under his protection and defense to be distressed with 
impunity, but will quickly return recompense on the heads of those 
who unjustly injure his heritage. We now understand the Prophet's 
design: he doubtless intended to support the minds of the godly with 
this thought, - that their afflictions are objects of concern with 
God and that he will shortly be the avenger of them, however 
necessary it may be that they should for a time be thus violently 
and reproachfully treated by wicked men. 
    Let us now proceed: He says that their silver and their gold 
had been taken away by the Syrians and the Sidonians. All who were 
the neighbors of that people, no doubt, derived gain from their 
calamity, as is usually the case. They were at first ill disposed 
towards them; there was then a new temptation; they gaped after 
booty: and they showed themselves openly their enemies, when they 
saw that there was hope of gain. Such was the case with the Syrians 
and Sidonians. There is no doubt, but that they sedulously courted 
the favor of the Assyrians, that they helped them with provisions 
and other things, that they might partake of the spoil. It was, 
therefore, no wonder that gold and silver was taken away by them, 
for the carriage of them [to Assyria] would have been tedious: and, 
as I have just hinted, it is usually the case, that conquerors 
gratify those by whom they have been assisted. Many extend this 
plunder generally to the whole wealth of the people; that is, that 
the enemies plundered what gold and silver there was in Judea, and 
that the Sidonians got a portion of it for themselves. But there 
seems to have been a special complaint, that the sacred vessels of 
the temple were taken away by the Syrians and Sidonians: I therefore 
prefer to render the word, temples, rather than palaces. Some say, 
'Ye have carried away my silver and my gold to your palaces.' Though 
the word is capable of two meanings, yet the Prophet, I have no 
doubt, refers here to the temples. The Syrians, then, and the 
Sidonians profaned the silver and the gold of the temple by 
dedicating them to their idols; they adorned their idols with spoils 
taken from the only true God. This was the reason why God was so 
exceedingly displeased. There was, indeed, a cause why God, as we 
have said, contended for the whole nation of Israel: but it was a 
far more heinous wrong to spoil the temple, and to strip it of its 
ornaments, and then to adorn idols with its sacred vessels; for God 
was thus treated with scorn; and in contempt of him, the Syrians and 
Sidonians built, as it were, a trophy of victory in their own dens, 
where they performed sacrilegious acts in worshipping fictitious 
    "Ye have taken away, he says, my gold and silver, and my 
desirable good things". God speaks here after the manner of men; for 
it is certain that even under the law he stood in no need of gold or 
silver, or of other precious things; he wished the temple to be 
adorned with vessels and other valuable furniture for the sake of 
the ignorant people; for the Jews could not have been preserved in 
pure and right worship, had not God assisted their weak faith by 
these helps. But yet, as obedience is acceptable to him, he says 
that whatever was an ornament in the temple was a desirable thing to 
him; while, at the same time, by speaking thus, he put on, as I have 
said, a character not his own, as he has no need of such things, nor 
is he delighted with them. We ought not, indeed, to imagine God to 
be like a child, who takes delight in gold and silver and such 
things; but what is said here was intended for the benefit of the 
people, that they might know that God approved of that worship, for 
it was according to his command. He therefore calls every thing that 
was in the temple desirable, "Ye have, he says, carried away into 
your temples my desirable good things". 
    It follows, "And the children of Judah, and the children of 
Jerusalem, have ye sold to the children of the Grecians". There is 
here another complaint subjoined, - that the Syrians and Sidonians 
had been sacrilegious towards God, that they had cruelly treated 
God's afflicted people. In the last verse, God inveighed against the 
Syrians, and Sidonians for having prostituted to their idols gold 
and silver stolen from him; he now again returns to the Jews 
themselves, who, he says, had been sold to the children of the 
Grecians; that is, to people beyond the sea: for as Javan passed 
into Europe, he includes under that name the nations beyond the sea. 
And he says, that they sold the Jews to the Greeks that they might 
drive them far from their own borders, so that there might be no 
hope of return. Here the cruelty of the Syrians and Sidonians 
becomes more evident; for they took care to drive those wretched men 
far away, that no return to their country might be open to them, but 
that they might be wholly expatriated. 
    We now perceive what the Prophet had in view: He intended that 
the faithful though trodden under foot by the nations, should yet 
have allayed their grief by some consolation, and know that they 
were not neglected by God; and that though he connived at their 
evils for a time, he would yet be their defender, and would contend 
for them as for his own heritage, because they had been so unjustly 
treated. He afterwards adds - 
Joel 3:7 
Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold 
them, and will return your recompence upon your own head: 
    The Prophet declares here more fully and expressly, that God 
had not so deserted the Jews, but that he intended, in course of 
time, to stretch forth his hand to them again. It was indeed a 
temporary desertion: but it behaved the faithful in the meantime to 
rely on this assurance, - that God purposed again to restore his 
people: and of this the Prophet now speaks, "Behold, he says, I will 
raise them from the place unto which ye have sold them"; as though 
he said "Neither distance of place, nor the intervening sea, will 
hinder me from restoring my people." As then the Syrians and 
Sidonians thought that the Jews were precluded a return to their 
country, because they were taken away into distant parts of the 
world, God says that this would be no obstacle in his way to collect 
again his Church. 
    But it may he asked, When has this prediction been fulfilled? 
as we indeed know that the Jews have never returned to their own 
country: for shortly after their return from exile, they were in 
various ways diminished; and at length the most grievous calamities 
followed, which consumed the greatest part of the people. Since this 
then has been the condition of that nation, we ought to inquire 
whether Christ has collected the Jews, who had been far dispersed. 
We indeed know that they were then especially scattered; for the 
land of Judea never ceased to be distressed by continual wars until 
Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people were almost wholly consumed. 
Since then it has been so, when can we say that this prediction has 
been fulfilled? Many explain the words allegorically, and say, that 
the Prophet speaks of apostles and martyrs, who, through various 
persecutions, were driven into different parts; but this is a 
strained view. I therefore do not doubt, but that here he refers to 
a spiritual gathering: and it is certain that God, since the 
appearance of Christ, has joined together his Church by the bond of 
faith; for not only that people have united together in one, but 
also the Gentiles, who were before alienated from the Church, and 
had no intercourse with it, have been collected into one body. We 
hence see, that what the Prophet says has been spiritually 
fulfilled; even the children of Judah and the children of Jerusalem 
have been redeemed by the Lord, and restored again, not on foot or 
by sea; for Jerusalem has been built everywhere as it is said in 
    "I will therefore gather them", he says; and he adds, I will 
return recompense on your head". He again confirms what he said 
before, - that though the ungodly should exult, while ruling over 
the children of God, their cruelty would not be unpunished; for they 
shall find that the Church is never neglected by God; though he may 
subject it to various troubles, and exercise its patience, and even 
chastise it, he will yet be ever its defender. It follows - 
Joel 3:8 
And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the 
children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a 
people far off: for the LORD hath spoken [it]. 
    The Prophet describes here a wonderful change: the Syrians and 
Sidonians did sell the Jews; but who is to be the seller now? God 
himself will take this office, - "I, he says, will sell your 
children", as though he said, "The Jews shall subdue you and reduce 
you to bondage," - by whose authority? "It shall be, as if they 
bought you at my hands." He means that this servitude would be 
legitimate; and thus he makes the Jews to be different from the 
Syrians and Sidonians, who had been violent robbers, and unjustly 
seized on what was not their own: and hence the manner of the sale 
is thus described, - "I myself shall be the author of this change, 
and the thing shall be done by my authority, as if I had interposed 
my own name;" and the Jews themselves shall sell, he says, your sons 
and your daughters to the Sabeans, a distant nation; that is, the 
people of the East: for the Prophet, I doubt not, by mentioning a 
part for the whole, meant here to designate Eastern nations, such as 
the Persians and Medes; but he says, that the Tyrians and Sidonians 
shall be driven to the meet distant countries; for the Sabeans were 
very far distant from the Phoenician Sea, and were known as being 
very nigh the Indians. 
    But it may be asked here, When has God executed this judgment? 
for the Jews never possessed such power as to be able to subdue 
neighboring nations, and to sell them at pleasure to unknown 
merchants. It would indeed be foolish and puerile to insist here on 
a literal fulfillment: at the same time, I do not say, that the 
Prophet speaks allegorically; for I am disposed to keep from 
allegories, as there is in them nothing sound nor solid: but I must 
yet say that there is a figurative language used here, when it is 
said, that the Syrians and Sidonians shall be sold and driven here 
and there into distant countries, and that this shall be done for 
the sake of God's chosen people and his Church, as though the Jews 
were to be the sellers. When God says, "I will sell," it is not 
meant that he is to descend from heaven for the purpose of selling, 
but that he will execute judgment on them; and then the second 
clause, - that they shall be sold by the Jews, derives its meaning 
from the first; and this cannot be a common sake, as if the Jews 
were to receive a price and make a merchandise of them. But God 
declares that the Jews would be the sellers, because in this manner 
he signifies his vengeance for the wrong done to them; that is, by 
selling them "to the Sabeans, a distant nation". We further know, 
that the changes which then followed were such that God turned 
upside down nearly the whole world; for he drove the Syrian and the 
Sidonians to the most distant countries. No one could have thought 
that this was done for the sake of the Jews, who were hated and 
abominated by all. But yet God declares, that he would do this from 
regard to his Church even sell the Syrians and the Sidonians, though 
it was commonly unknown to men; for it was the hidden judgment of 
God. But the faithful who had been already taught that God would do 
this, were reminded by the event how precious to God is his 
heritage, since he avenges those wrongs, the memory of which had 
long before been buried. This then is the import of the whole. The 
Prophet now subjoins - 
Joel 3:9-11 
9 Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the 
mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: 
10 Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into 
spears: let the weak say, I [am] strong. 
11 Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather 
yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to 
come down, O LORD. 
    Some think these words were announced lest the people, being 
terrified by their evils, should become wholly dejected; and they 
elicit this meaning, - that God placed this dreadful spectacle of 
evils before their eyes, that the Jews might prepare and strengthen 
themselves for enduring them; that though nations should everywhere 
rise up, they might yet abide arm in the hope, that God would be the 
defender of his own Church. But the Prophet, I doubt not, continues 
the same discourse, and denounces war on the heathen nations, who 
had molested the Church with so many troubles; "Publish this, he 
says, among the nations, proclaim war, rouse the strong; let them 
come, let them ascend": and we know how necessary it was by such 
means to confirm what he had previously said: for the ungodly are 
moved by no threats, nay, they laugh to scorn all God's judgments; 
while the faithful yielding to their evils, can hardly raise up 
their minds, even though God promises to be a helper to them. 
Except, then, the matter had been set forth as painted before their 
eyes they would not have experienced the power of consolation. Hence 
the lively representation we see here was intended for this end, - 
that the people, being led to view the whole event, might entertain 
hope of their future salvation, while they now saw God collecting 
his army, and mustering his forces to punish the enemies of his 
Church. The faithful, then not only hearing by mere words that this 
would be, but also seeing, as it were, with their eyes what the Lord 
sets forth by a figure, and a lively representation, were more 
effectually impressed and felt more assured that God would become at 
length their deliverer. 
    We now then see why the Prophet here bids war to be everywhere 
announced and proclaimed, and also why he bids the strong to 
assemble, and all warlike men to ascend; as though he said, "The 
Lord will not disappoint you with empty words, but will come 
provided with an army to save you. When ye hear, then, that he will 
be the author of your salvation, think also that all nations are in 
his power, and that the whole world can in a moment be roused up by 
his rod, so that all its forces may from all quarters come together, 
and all the power of the world meet in obedience to him. Know, then, 
that being provided with his forces, he comes not to you naked, nor 
feeds you with mere words, as they are wont to do who have no help 
to give but words only: this is not what God does; for he can even 
to-day execute what he has denounced; but he stays for the ripened 
time. In the meanwhile, give him his honor, and know that there is 
not wanting the means to protect you, if he wished; but he would 
have you for a time to be subject to the cross and to tribulations 
that he may at length avenge the wrongs done to you." 
    It may be now asked who are the nations meant by the Prophet? 
for he said before, that God would visit all nations with 
punishment, whereas, there was then no nation in the world friendly 
to the Jews. But in this there is nothing inconsistent; for God 
caused all the enemies of the Church to assail one another on every 
side, and to destroy themselves with mutual slaughters. Hence, when 
he designed to take vengeance on the Tyrians and Sidonians, he 
roused up the Persian and Medes; and when he purposed to punish the 
Persian and Medes, he called the Greeks into Asia; and he had before 
brought low the Assyrians. Thus he armed all nations, but each in 
its turn; and one after the other underwent the punishment they 
deserved. And so the expression of the Prophet must not be taken in 
a too restricted sense, as though the Lord would at the same time 
collect an army from the whole world, to punish the enemies of his 
Church; but that he rouses the whole world, so that some suffer 
punishment from others; and yet no enemy of the Church remains 
unpunished. We now perceive the Prophet's objects in saying, 
"Publish this among the nations"; that is, God will move dreadful 
tumults through the whole world, and will do this for the sake of 
his Church: for though he exposes his people to many miseries, he 
will yet have the remnant, as we have before seen, to be saved. 
    He afterwards adds, "Beat your plowshares into swords". When 
Isaiah and Micah prophesied of the kingdom of Christ, they said, 
'Beat your swords into pruninghooks, and your spears into 
plowshares', (Isa.2, Mic.4.) This sentence is now inverted by Joel. 
The words of Isaiah and Micah were intended figuratively to show 
that the world would be at peace when Christ reconciled men to God, 
and taught them to cultivate brotherly kindness. But the Prophet 
says here, that there would be turbulent commotions everywhere, so 
that there would be no use made of the plough or of the pruninghook; 
husbandmen would cease from their labour, the land would remain 
waste; for this is the case when a whole country is exposed to 
violence; no one dares go out, all desert their fields, cultivation 
is neglected. Hence the Prophet says, 'Turn your plowshares into 
swords, and your pruninghooks into spears;' that is, field labour 
will cease, and all will strenuously apply themselves to war. And 
"let the weak say, I am strong", for there will then be no exemption 
from war. Excuses, we know, availed formerly on the ground of age or 
disease, when soldiers were collected; and if any one could have 
pleaded disease, he was dismissed; but the Prophet says, that there 
will be no exemption then; "God", he says, "will excuse none, he 
will compel all to become warriors, he will even draw out all the 
sick from their beds; all will be constrained to put on arms". It 
hence appears how ardently the Lord loves his Church, since he 
spares no nations and no people, and exempts none from punishment; 
for all who have vexed the Church must necessarily receive their 
recompense. Since then God so severely punishes the enemies of his 
Church, he thereby gives a singular evidence of his paternal love to 
    At length he concludes, "There will Jehovah overthrow thy 
mighty ones". Though the Prophet uses the singular number, "thy", he 
no doubt refers to the whole earth; as though he said, "Whatever 
enemies there may be to my people, I will cut them down, however 
strong they may be." We now perceive that everything the Prophet has 
hitherto said has been for this end - to show, that God takes care 
of the safety of his Church, even in its heaviest afflictions, and 
that he will be the avenger of wrongs, after having for a time tried 
the patience of his people and chastised their faults - that there 
will be a turn in the state of things, so that the condition of the 
Church will be ever more desirable, even under its greatest evils, 
than of those whom the Lord bears with and indulges, and on whom he 
does not so quickly take vengeance. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we ara assailed on every side by 
enemies, and as not only the wicked according to the flesh are 
incensed against us, but Satan also musters his forces and contrives 
in various ways to ruin us, - O grant, that we being furnished with 
the courage thy Spirit bestows, may fight to the end under thy 
guidance and never be wearied under any evils. And may we, at the 
same time, be humbled under thy mighty hand when it pleases thee to 
afflict us and so sustain all our troubles that with a courageous 
mind we may strive for that victory which thou promises to us, and 
that having completed all our struggles we may at length attain that 
blessed rest which is reserved for us in heaven through Jesus Christ 
our Lord. Amen. 

Calvin, Commentary on Joel

(Continued in part 11...)

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