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Joel and the day of the Lord (2)

The phrase “day of the Lord” is used five times in Joel. The first three (1:15, 2:1, 2:11) have to do with a judgment coming upon Judah in Joel’s time if the nation doesn’t turn from their ways (2:12-14). We’re told in 2:18ff that Yahweh relents (which I take as a sign that Judah repented) and that “day of the Lord”/judgment never happens.

A fourth occurrence of the phrase is in 2:31, which is part of a larger block of text (v. 28-32) that the apostle Peter refers to on Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21). From the context of Acts 2, it appears that the “day of the Lord” has reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. If the Jewish people of Peter’s day refused God’s covenant overtures through Jesus (v. 36-39), they would become part of the corrupt generation (v. 40) and be cut off from their people (3:20).

The final time “day of the Lord” appears in Joel is 3:14 where we’re told of “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.”

Joel’s statement in 3:1 “in those days and at that time” clearly connects what follows with what he has been discussing in 2:28-32. We are also told that during this time the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem will be restored (v. 1). This is in concert with what we see in the early chapters of Acts where Jesus, David’s descendant, ascends to heaven and begins His reign.  Peter declares that He is Lord and Messiah (2:30-36). The kingdom has been restored to Israel (1:6—i.e., “the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem” have been restored). Amos talks about much the same thing in 9:11-15. All of this ties in nicely with the last part of Joel 2.

The rest of chapter 3 is a little more challenging. The conversation expands from Judah and Jerusalem to the nations (v. 2, 4, 9, 11-12, 17, 19). They will be gathered in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (v. 2, 12) where judgment will be brought against them for what they have done to the people of God (v. 2-8, 12). For this reason, it is also referred to as the “valley of decision” (v. 14)—it is where Yahweh decides the fate of the nations. In this valley of decision we are told that the day of the Lord is near (v. 14).

In all of this, I believe we’re being presented with an idealized picture of the Messiah’s reign. There is no literal Valley of Jehoshaphat alluded to elsewhere in the Scripture or outside of it. The contemporary enemies of Judah are named but they are merely representative of whoever it might me that is opposing the God’s people (v. 4-8). And much like the battle of Armageddon in Revelation 16 and 19, there is no literal battle that will take place (v. 9-12). Through Christ’s resurrection and ascension to rule at the right hand of God, the nations have been defeated and judged in regard to their evil intentions, purposes and deeds. God’s redemptive kingdom through Israel has been established and will not be overthrown.

The tone of this section is very much like what we hear in the Psalm 2, where Yahweh installs His king in the midst of the defiant nations who are warned about the consequences of continued rebellion. When Joel extends the judgment scene with the nations being invited to arm themselves for their appearance in the valley (v. 9-12), he simply wants us to see that no matter what the enemies’ strength or preparation might be, God has made His decision--their evil ways will not prevail (v. 13-14). The “day of the Lord” is Yahweh’s judgment on the nations through His Messiah.

The mention of the valley of Jehoshaphat is probably meant to bring to their minds the great victory Yahweh brought to the king and the people over Judah over their Gentile opposition (2 Chronicles 20). Before the battle Jehoshaphat instructed everyone to “Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe His prophets, and you will succeed” (v. 20). The army of Judah was then led by singers praising God “for the splendor of His holiness” (v. 21 NIV). While this was happening, Yahweh defeated the coalition forces (v. 22-23). In the same way, Joel is now assuring his audience that the Messiah’s kingdom will stand against all opposition. 

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