Expositor's Bible Commentary
For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem,THE JUDGMENT OF THE HEATHEN
Joel 3:1-21HITHERTO Joel has spoken no syllable of the heathen, except to pray that God by His plagues will not give Israel to be mocked by them. But in the last chapter of the Book we have Israel’s captivity to the heathen taken for granted, a promise made that it will be removed and their land set free from the foreigner. Certain nations are singled out for judgment, which is described in the terms of Apocalypse; and the Book closes with the vision, already familiar in prophecy, of a supernatural fertility for the land.
It is quite another horizon and far different interests from those of the preceding chapter. Here for the first time we may suspect the unity of the Book, and listen to suggestions of another authorship than Joel’s. But these can scarcely be regarded as conclusive. Every prophet, however national his interests, feels it his duty to express himself upon the subject of foreign peoples, and Joel may well have done so. Only, in that case, his last chapter was delivered by him at another time and in different circumstances from the rest of his prophecies. Chapters 1-2 are complete in themselves. Chapter 3 opens without any connection of time or subject with those that precede it.
The time of the prophecy is a time when Israel’s fortunes are at low her sons scattered among the heathen, her land, in part at least, held by foreigners. But it would appear (though this is not expressly said, and must rather be inferred from the general proofs of a post-exilic date) that Jerusalem is inhabited. Nothing is said to imply that the city needs to be restored.
All the heathen nations are to be brought together for judgment into a certain valley, which the prophet calls first the Vale of Jehoshaphat and then the Vale of Decision. The second name leads us to infer that the first, which means "Jehovah-judges," is also symbolic. That is to say, the prophet does not single out a definite valley already called Jehoshaphat. In all probability, however, he has in his mind’s eye some vale in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, for since Ezekiel (Ezekiel 38:1-23) the judgment of the heathen in face of Jerusalem has been a standing feature in Israel’s vision of the last things; and as no valley about that city lends itself to the picture of judgment so well as the valley of the Kedron with the slopes of Olivet, the name Jehoshaphat has naturally been applied to it. Certain nations are singled out by name. These are not Assyria and Babylon, which had long ago perished, nor the Samaritans, Moab and Ammon, which harassed the Jews in the early days of the Return from Babylon, but Tyre, Sidon, Philistia, Edom, and Egypt. The crime of the first three is the robbery of Jewish treasures, not necessarily those of the Temple, and the selling into slavery of many Jews. The crime of Edom and Egypt is that they have shed the innocent blood of Jews. To what precise events these charges refer we have no means of knowing in our present ignorance of Syrian history after Nehemiah. That the chapter has no explicit reference to the cruelties of Artaxerxes Ochus in 360 would seem to imply for it a date earlier than that year. But it is possible that Joel 3:17 refers to that, the prophet refraining from accusing the Persians for the very good reason that Israel was still under their rule.
Another feature worthy of notice is that the Phoenicians are accused of selling Jews to the sons of the Jevanim, Ionians or Greeks. The latter lie on the far horizon of the prophet, and we know from classical writers that from the fifth century onward numbers of Syrian slaves were brought to Greece. The other features of the chapter are borrowed from earlier prophets.
"For, behold, in those days and in that time, When I bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all the nations, And bring them down to the Vale of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there, For My people and for My heritage Israel, Whom they have scattered among the heathen, And My land have they divided. And they have cast lots for My people: They have given a boy for a harlot, And a girl have they sold for wine and drunk it. And again, what are ye to Me, Tyre and Sidon and all circuits of Philistia? Is it any deed of Mine ye are repaying? Or are ye doing anything to Me? Swiftly, speedily will I return your deed on your head, Who have taken My silver and My gold, And My goodly jewels ye have brought into your palaces.
The sons of Judah and the sons of Jerusalem have ye sold to the sons of the Greeks, In order that ye might set them as far as possible from their own border. Lo! I will stir them up from the place to which ye have sold them, And I will return your deed upon your head. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hands of the sons of Judah, And they shall sell them to the Shebans, To a nation far off; for Jehovah hath spoken. Proclaim this among the heathen, hallow a war, Wake up the warriors, let all the fighting-men muster and go up Beat your ploughshares into swords, And your pruning-hooks into lances. Let the weakling say, I am strong and come, all ye nations round about, And gather yourselves together. Thither bring down Thy warriors, Jehovah, Let the heathen be roused, And come up to the Vale of Jehoshaphat, For there will I sit to judge all the nations round about. Put in the sickle, for ripe is the harvest. Come, get you down; for the press is full, The vats overflow, great is their wickedness. Multitudes, multitudes in the Vale of Decision! For near is Jehovah’s day in the Vale of Decision. Sun and moon have turned black, And the stars withdrawn their shining. Jehovah thunders from Zion, And from Jerusalem gives forth His voice Heaven and earth do quake But Jehovah is a refuge to His people, And for a fortress to the sons of Israel. And ye shall know that I am Jehovah your God, Who dwell in Zion, the mount of My holiness; And Jerusalem shall be holy, Strangers shall not pass through her again. And it shall be on that day The mountains shall drop sweet wine, And the hills be liquid with milk.
And all the channels of Judah flow with water; A fountain shall spring from the house of Jehovah, And shall water the Wady of Shittim. Egypt shall be desolation, And Edom desert-land, For the outrage done to the children of Judah, Because they shed innocent blood in their land. Judah shall abide peopled forever, And Jerusalem for generation upon generation. And I will declare innocent their blood, which I have not declared innocent, Jehovah who dwelleth in Zion."