(Calvin, Commentary on Joel, Part 11)

Lecture Forty-eighth. 
Joel 3:12 
Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of 
Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round 
    The Prophet proceeds with the same subject, - that God will at 
length become an avenger of the wrongs of his people, when they 
shall be unjustly harassed by profane men. We indeed know that God 
does not immediately succor his servants but rests as though he did 
not regard their troubles; but this he does to try their patience; 
and then at a suitable time he declares that he had not been 
indifferent, but had noticed the evils done to them, and deferred 
punishment until the wickedness of his enemies had been completed. 
So he says now, that God will at length be the defender of his 
people against all the nations assembled from every quarter in the 
valley of Jehoshaphat. Of this valley we have said enough already. 
But the chief thing is, that the afflictions of the Church shall not 
go unpunished; for God at the right time will ascend his tribunal, 
and cause all nations from every part of the earth to assemble and 
to be there judged. Now it follows - 
Joel 3:13 
Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; 
for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness [is] 
    As God defers his judgments when miserable men groan under 
their burdens, the Prophet uses a form of speech, which represents 
God as not delaying, but, on the contrary, as hastening to judgment, 
though this be not perceived by carnal minds; for these two things 
well agree together - God waiting his opportunity as to the ungodly 
and suspending the punishment they deserve - and yet quickly 
accelerating their destruction; for he is said to defer with respect 
to men, because one day with us is like a hundred years; and he is 
said to hasten, because he knows the exact points of time. So he 
says in this place, "Put forth the sickle, for the harvest has 
ripened". He uses metaphorical words, but he afterwards expresses 
without a figure what he means and says, that "their wickedness had 
    But there are here two metaphors, the one taken from the 
harvest, and the other from the vintage. The Prophet calls those 
reapers who have been destined to execute his judgment; for God 
makes use as it were of the hired work of men, and employs their 
hands here and there as he wills. He afterwards adds another 
metaphor, taken from the vintage, "Full, he says, are the presses 
and the vats overflow"; and at last he expresses what they mean, - 
that their wickedness had multiplied, that is, that it was 
overflowing. God said to Abraham, that the wickedness of the 
Canaanites was not then completed; and long was the space which he 
mentioned for he said that after four hundred years he would take 
vengeance on the enemies of his people: that was a long time; and 
Abraham might have objected and said "Why should God rest for so 
long a time?" The answer was this, - that their wickedness was not 
as yet completed. But the Prophet says here, that their wickedness 
had multiplied; he therefore gives to God's servants the hope of 
near vengeance, as when the harvest approaches and the vintage is 
nigh at hand; for then all have their minds refreshed with joy. Such 
is the Prophet's design; to encourage the faithful in their hope and 
expectation of a near deliverance, he declares that the iniquities 
of their enemies had now reached their full measure, so that God was 
now ready to execute on them his vengeance. This is the purport of 
the whole. It follows - 
Joel 3:14 
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the 
LORD [is] near in the valley of decision. 
    The Prophet confirms the same truth; but he multiplies words, 
because the devastation of the Church might have taken away all hope 
from God's servants; for who could have said that the Church could 
be restored when it was so miserably wasted, yea, almost reduced to 
nothing? For the people were so scattered that the name of Israel 
was of no account. The people then had ceased to exist, for they had 
lost their name; in short, the constitution of the Church was 
dissolved, and all might have said, that the people were given up to 
thousand modes of destruction, as all execrated the name of Israel. 
Since it was so, whatever the Prophets said of the restoration of 
the people might certainly have seemed incredible. The repetition 
then is not superfluous, when the Prophet in various forms of words 
testifies and affirms that God would abide faithful, and that, 
though Israel should perish according to what men could see, yet God 
had power enough to vivify the people when dead: hence the Prophet 
speaks emphatically, "Nations! Nations! for he assumes here the 
character of a herald, as indeed this office had been committed to 
him, and shows that his predictions would not be fruitless, that he 
declared not words which would vanish into air, but that whatever he 
declared in God's name was full of power and energy. It might indeed 
have appeared ridiculous in the Prophet to summon all nations since 
his doctrine was laughed to scorn, even at Jerusalem. How could his 
voice penetrate to the utmost borders of the world and be there 
heard? Though hidden then was the power of this prediction, it yet 
showed itself at last, and it was really made evident that the 
Prophet spoke not in vain. 
    Besides, he addresses the nations as though they could hear; 
but he raises thus his voice, and nobly triumphs over all the wicked 
for the sake of the godly, though the wicked then proudly ruled and 
with high disdain: "They shall come," he says, "at length before 
God's tribunal, though they now tread the Church under foot; yea, 
the nations, the nations." He does not now mention the valley of 
Jehoshaphat, but of concision. "Charuts" some take for a fixed 
decree; but the word means a sledge or an instrument for threshing. 
We know not the mode of threshing used by the Jews, but it is 
evident from several passages that "charuts" was an instrument with 
which they were wont to thresh; and I am inclined to adopt this 
sense; for the Prophet had first called God's judgment a harvest, 
then he compared it to presses. But if the word "concision" is more 
approved, I object not; at the same time, I do not doubt but that 
the Prophet alludes to threshing, as he ascribes to God his own 
office, that of scattering nations, who seem now to have conspired 
for the destruction of the Church. If any one considers it to mean a 
fixed decree, or a cutting off, as it means in Isaiah, I make no 
objection; for many give this interpretation. I have, however, 
explained what I most approve. 
    As to the drift of the subject, there is no ambiguity; the 
meaning of the Prophet is, - that God will so punish all the 
ungodly, that he will cut down and scatter them all, as when the 
corn is threshed on the floor. 
    At last he adds, that "nigh was the day of Jehovah in the 
valley of the sledge". He intimates, that though God as yet connived 
at their wickedness, yet the day was coming on, unknown indeed to 
men, and that he would come at length to that valley, that is, that 
he would inflict such punishment as would prove that he was the 
protector of his people. Of this valley we have spoken already; and 
no doubt he has throughout a reference to it, otherwise he would not 
have used a suitable language, when he said, "Ascend into the 
valley". But what is to ascend into the valley? for, on the 
contrary, he ought to have spoken of descending. But he compares 
Judea with other parts of the world; and it is, as it is well known 
elevated in its situation. Then the higher situation of Judea well 
agrees with the ascent of which the Prophet speaks. But he ever 
means that God would so punish the nations as to make it evident 
that he did this in favor of his Church, as we shall soon see more 
clearly. But he says - 
Joel 3:15 
The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw 
their shining. 
    I have already explained this verse in chapter 2: the Prophet, 
as we then stated, describes in these words the terrible judgment of 
God, in order to shake off the indifference of men, who carelessly 
hear and despise all threatening, except the Lord storms their 
hearts. These figurative expressions then are intended to awaken the 
ungodly, and to make them know that it is a serious matter when the 
Lord proclaims his judgment. Let us now go on with the passage - 
Joel 3:16 
The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from 
Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD 
[will be] the hope of his people, and the strength of the children 
of Israel. 
    The Prophet explains here more clearly his object, or the end 
for which he had hitherto spoken of God's judgment; for what we have 
heard served only to spread terror: but now the Prophet shows that 
his purpose was to console the faithful, and to give some relief to 
their troubles and sorrows. This is the reason why he introduces God 
as roaring from Zion and crying from Jerusalem. Roaring is ascribed 
to God, inasmuch as he compares himself in another place to a lion, 
when representing himself as the faithful protector of the salvation 
of his people: "I will be," he says, "like the lion, who suffers not 
the prey to be taken from him, but boldly defends it with all the 
fierceness he possesses: so also will I do, I will not suffer my 
people to be taken from me." In this sense does the Prophet now say, 
that "God will roar from Zion". God had been for a time despised; 
for the nations had prevailed against his chosen people, and 
plundered them at their pleasure; and God then exercised not his 
power. Since God had been for a time still, the Prophet says now, 
that he will not always conceal himself, but that he will undertake 
the defense of his people, and be like a lion; for he will rise up 
in dreadful violence against all his enemies. 
    "And tremble, he says, shall the heaven and the earth". As 
almost the whole world was opposed to his elect people, the Prophet 
carefully dwells on this point, that nothing might hinder the 
faithful from looking for the redemption promised to them: "Though 
the heaven and the earth," he says, "raise oppositions God will yet 
prevail by his wonderful power. Tremble, he says, shall all the 
elements; what, then, will men do? Though they muster all their 
forces, and try all means, can they close up the way against the 
Lord, that he may not deliver his people?" We now understand the 
Prophet's design in speaking of the shaking of heaven and earth. 
    He at last adds, "God will be a hope to his people, and 
strength to the children of Israel". In this part he gives a 
sufficient proof of what I have stated, - that he denounces extreme 
vengeance on the nations for the sake of his Church; for the Lord 
will at length pity his people, though they may seem to have 
perished before he succors them. However past hope then the people 
may be in their own estimation and in that of all others, yet God 
will again raise up the expectation of all the godly, who shall 
remain, and will inspire them with new courage. He speaks in general 
of the children of Israel; but what he says belongs only to the 
remnant, of which the Prophet had lately spoken; for not all, we 
know, who derive their origin from the fathers according to the 
flesh, were true Israelites. The Prophet refers here to the true 
Church; and hence Israel ought to be taken for the genuine and 
legitimate children of Abraham; as Christ, in the person of 
Nathanael, calls those true Israelites who imitated the faith of 
their father Abraham. I shall to-day finish this Prophet; I do not 
therefore dwell much on every sentence. It now follows - 
Joel 3:17 
So shall ye know that I [am] the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my 
holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no 
strangers pass through her any more. 
    This is a confirmation of the preceding doctrine, "ye shall 
know", he says, that I am "your God". The Prophet intimates that the 
favor of God had been so hidden during the afflictions of the 
people, that they could not but think that they were forsaken by 
God. His word ought indeed to be sufficient for us in the greatest 
evils; for though God may cast us into the deepest gulfs, yet when 
he shines upon us by his word, it ought to be a consolation 
abundantly available to sustain our souls. But yet, unless God 
really appears, we are confounded, and ask where is his power. For 
this reason the Prophet now says, that the faithful shall at length 
"know", that is, really know him as their God. 
    There is a twofold knowledge, - the knowledge of faith, 
received from his word, - and the knowledge of experience, as we 
say, derived from actual enjoyment. The faithful ever acknowledge 
that salvation is laid up for them in God; but sometimes they 
stagger and suffer grievous torments in their minds, and are tossed 
here and there. However it may be with them, they certainly do not 
by actual enjoyment know God to be their Father. The Prophet 
therefore now treats of real knowledge, when he says, that they 
shall know that they have a God, - how are they to know this? By 
experience. Now this passage teaches us, that though God should not 
put forth his hand manifestly to help us, we ought yet to entertain 
good hope of his favor; for the Prophet spoke for this end, - that 
the godly might, before the event or the accomplishment of the 
prophecy should come, look to God and cast on him all their cares. 
Then the faithful, before they had real knowledge, knew God to be 
their Father, and hence hesitated not to flee to him though what the 
Prophet testified had not yet been visibly accomplished. 
    "Dwelling in Zion, the mountain of my holiness": This has been 
designedly added, that the faithful might know, that God made not a 
covenant in vain with Abraham, that mount Zion had not in vain been 
chosen, that they might there call on God; for we must have our 
attention called to the promises, otherwise all doctrine will become 
frigid. Now we know that all the promises have been founded on a 
covenant, that is, because God had adopted the people, and 
afterwards deposited his covenant in the hand of David, and then he 
designated mount Zion as his sanctuary. Since, then, all the 
promises flow from this fountain, it was necessary to call the 
attention of the Jews to the covenant: and this is the reason why 
the Prophet says now that God dwells in Zion; for otherwise this 
doctrine would no doubt only lead to superstition. God, indeed, we 
know, cannot be included within the circumference of any place, much 
less could he be confined to the narrow limits of the temple; but he 
dwelt on mount Zion on account of his own law, because he made a 
covenant with Abraham, and afterwards with David. 
    It then follows, "And Jerusalem shall be holy,, and aliens 
shall not pass through it any more". While he declares that 
Jerusalem shall be holy, he exempts it at the same time from 
profanation. We know that it is a common mode of speaking in 
Scripture, and what often occurs, that God's heritage is holy, and 
also, that they profaned it. Hence, when the people were exposed as 
a prey to the pleasure of their enemies, the heritage of God became 
forsaken and polluted, profane men trod Jerusalem as it were under 
foot. But now the Prophet exempts the holy city from this pollution, 
as though he said, "The Lord will not allow his people to be thus 
miserably harassed, and will show that this city has been chosen by 
him, and that he has in it his dwelling. "Aliens then shall no more 
pass through it" - Why? For it is first the holy city of God, and 
then, of his Church. 
    But as this promise extends to the whole kingdom of Christ, God 
doubtless makes here a general promise, that he will be the 
protector of his Church, that it may not be subject to the will of 
enemies; and yet we see that it often happens otherwise. But this 
ought to be imputed to our sins, for we make the breaches. God 
would, indeed be a wall and a rampart to us, as it is said 
elsewhere, (Isa. 26;) but we betray his Church by our sins. Hence 
aliens occupy a place in it: Ye we see at this day; for Antichrist, 
as it has been foretold, has now for ages exercised dominion in 
God's sanctuary. Since it is so, we ought to mourn at seeing God's 
holy Church profaned. Let us yet know, that God will take care to 
gather his elect, and to cleanse them from every pollution and 
defilement. It follows - 
Joel 3:18,19 
And it shall come to pass in that day, [that] the mountains shall 
drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the 
rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come 
forth of the house of the LORD, and shall water the valley of 
Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate 
wilderness, for the violence [against] the children of Judah, 
because they have shed innocent blood in their land. 
    The Prophet here declares that God will be so bountiful to his 
people, that no good things will be wanting to them either in 
abundance or variety. When God then shall restore his Church, it 
will abound, he says, in every kind of blessing: for this is the 
meaning of this language, "Distill new wine shall the mountains, and 
the hills shall make milk to run down; and all rivers also shall 
have abundant waters, and a fountain shall arise from the house of 
Judah to irrigate the valley of Shittim". We now perceive the design 
of Joel. But we must remember that when the Prophets so splendidly 
extol the blessings of God, they intend not to fill the minds of the 
godly with thoughts about eating and drinking; but profane men lay 
hold on such passages as though the Lord intended to gratify their 
appetite. We know, indeed, that God's children differ much from 
swine: hence God fills not the faithful with earthly things, for 
this would not be useful for their salvation. At the same time, he 
thus enlarges on his blessings, that we may know that no happiness 
shall in any way be wanting to us, when God shall be propitious to 
us. We hence see that our Prophet so speaks of God's earthly 
blessings, that he fills not the minds of the godly with these 
things but desires to raise them above, as though he said, that the 
Israelites would in every way be happy, after having in the first 
place been reconciled to God. For whence came their miseries and 
distresses of every kind, but from their sins? Since, then, all 
troubles, all evils, are signs of God's wrath and alienation, it is 
no wonder that the Lord, when he declares that he will be propitious 
to them, adds also the proofs of his paternal love, as he does here: 
and we know that it was necessary for that rude people, while under 
the elements of the Law, to be thus instructed; for they could not 
as yet take solid food, as we know that the ancients under the Law 
were like children. But it is enough for us to understand the design 
of the Holy Spirit, namely, that God will satisfy his people with 
the abundance of all good things, as far as it will be for their 
benefit. Since God now calls us directly to heaven, and raises our 
minds to the spiritual life, what Paul says ought to be sufficient, 
- that to godliness is given the hope, not only of future life, but 
also of that which is present, (1 Tim. 4;) for God will bless us on 
the earth, but it will be, as we have already observed, according to 
the measure of our infirmity. 
    The "valley of Shittim" was nigh the borders of the Moabites, 
as we learn from Num. 25 and Jos. 2. Now when the Prophet says, that 
waters, flowing from the holy fountains would irrigate the valley of 
Shittim, it is the same as though he said, that the blessing of God 
in Judea would be so abundant, as to diffuse itself far and wide, 
even to desert valleys. 
    But he afterwards joins, that the Egyptians and Idumeans would 
be sterile and dry in the midst of this great abundance of 
blessings, for they were professed enemies to the Church. Hence God 
in this verse declares that they shall not be partakers of his 
bounty; that though all Judea would be irrigated, though it would 
abound in honeys milk, and wine, yet these would remain barren and 
empty; "Mizraim, then, shall be a solitude, Edom shall be a desert 
of solitude". Why? "Because of the troubles, he says,  brought on 
the children of Judah". God again confirms this truth, that he has 
such a concern for his Church, that he will avenge wrongs done to 
it. God, then, does not always come to our help when we are unjustly 
oppressed, though he has taken us under his protection; but he 
suffers us for a time to endure our evils; and yet the end will 
show, that we have been ever dear to him and precious in his sight. 
So he says now, that for the "harassments" which the Egyptians and 
Idumeans occasioned to the children of Judah, they shall be 
destitute, notwithstanding the abundance of all good things. 
    "Because they shed, he says, innocent blood in their (or, in 
their own) land". If we refer this to Egypt and Idumea, the sense 
will be, that they had not protected fugitives, but, on the 
contrary, cruelly slew them, as though they had been sworn enemies. 
Many, we know, during times of distress, fled to Egypt and Idumea, 
to seek refuge there. As, then, the Egyptians had been so inhuman 
towards the distressed, the Prophet threatens them with vengeance. 
But I prefer to view what is said as having been done in Judea; 
"they have then shed innocent Blood", that is, in Judea itself. As 
God had consecrated this land to himself to pollute it with unjust 
slaughters was a more atrocious crime. Forasmuch then as the 
Egyptians and Idumeans thus treated the Jews, and slew them in their 
own country in a base manner, though they were abiding quietly at 
home, it is no wonder that God declares, that he would be the 
avenger of these wrongs. It follows - 
Joel 3:20 
But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to 
    God here testifies that his redemption would not be for a short 
time, but that its fruit would be for a long, period, yea, 
perpetual: for it would be but a small thing for the Church to be 
redeemed, except God kept it safe under his own power. This second 
thing the Prophet now adds, - that "Judah shall always remain" safe, 
and that "Jerusalem shall be" for a continued succession of ages. 
The ungodly, we know, sometimes flourish for a time, though before 
God they are already doomed to destruction. But the Prophet here 
declares, that the fruit of the redemption he promises will be 
eternal: for God is not led to deliver his Church only for a moment, 
but he will follow it with perpetual favor, and remain constant in 
his purpose and ever like himself; he is therefore the eternal and 
faithful protector of his people. The last verse follows - 
Joel 3:21 
For I will cleanse their blood [that] I have not cleansed: for the 
LORD dwelleth in Zion. 
    The beginning of the verse is in various ways explained. Some 
make a stop after "cleanse" thus, "I will cleanse, yet their blood I 
will not cleanse;" as though God had said, that he would forgive 
heathen nations all their other wrongs, but could not forgive them 
the great cruelty they had exercised against his elect. So the sense 
would be, "Avarice may be borne, I could pass by robberies; but, 
since they slew my people, I am in this case wholly unforgiving." 
Hence, according to this view, God shows how precious to him is the 
life of his saints, inasmuch as he says, that he will not be 
pacified towards those ungodly men who have shed innocent blood. But 
this sense seems rather too forced. Others render thus, "Their blood 
will I cleanse, and will not cleanse," that is, "I will cleanse the 
Jews from their defilements, but I will not use extreme severity;" 
as he says also in Isaiah 48, 'I will not refine thee as gold or 
silver, for thou wouldest turn all into dross.' They hence think 
that God promises here such a cleansing of the Church, as that he 
would not use extreme rigor, but moderate his cleansing, as it is 
needful with regard to our defilements, of which we are all so full. 
    But this sense seems to me more simple, - that God would 
cleanse the blood which he had not cleansed; as though he said, "I 
have not hitherto cleansed the pollutions of my people; they are 
then become, as it were, putrid in their sins; but now I will begin 
to purify all their wickedness, that they may shine pure before me." 
There is a relative understood as is often the case in Hebrew. But 
"nakah" is taken in Jer. 30, in another sense, that God will 
exterminate his Church: but we cannot in this place elicit any other 
meaning than that God will cleanse his Church from pollutions; for 
the Prophet, no doubt, means the defilements of which the people 
were full. They will not, then, be able to enjoy the favor of God 
while lying in their filth. Now God, in promising to be a Redeemer, 
comes to the very fountain and the first thing, - that he will wash 
away their filth; for how could God be the Redeemer of the people, 
except he blotted out their sins? For as long as he imputes sins to 
us, he must necessarily be angry with us, we must be necessarily 
altogether alienated from him and deprived of his blessing. He then 
does not say in vain that he will be a purifier; for when pollutions 
are cleansed, there follows another thing, which we have already 
noticed as to this, future redemption, and with this - 
    He at last concludes and says "And Jehovah shall dwell in 
Zion". The Prophet recalls again the attention of the people to the 
covenant; as though he said, "God has willingly and bountifully 
promised all that has been mentioned, not because the people have 
deserved this, but because God has deigned long ago to adopt the 
children of Abraham, and has chosen mount Zion as his habitation." 
He shows then this to be the reason why God was now inclined to 
mercy, and would save a people, who had a hundred times destroyed 
themselves by their sins. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we have, in this world, to fight 
continually, not only with one kind of enemies, but with numberless 
enemies, and not only with flesh and blood, but also with the devil, 
the prince of darkness, - O grant, that, being armed with thy power, 
we may persevere in this contest; and when thou afflictest us for 
our sins, may we learn to humble ourselves, and so submit to thy 
authority, that we may hope for the redemption promised to us; and 
though tokens of thy displeasure may often appear to us, may we yet 
ever raise up our minds by hope to heaven, and from thence look for 
thy only begotten Son, until, coming as the Judge of the world, he 
gathers us and brings us to the fruition of that blessed and eternal 
life, which he has obtained for us by his own blood. Amen. 
    End of the Commentaries on Joel.

Calvin, Commentary on Joel

(... End, Calvin, Commentary on Joel)

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