Joel 2:30
And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
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(30, 31) The sun . . . and the moon.—These words, recalling some of the portents in the ancient history of the Jews (especially as instanced in some of the plagues of Egypt) are taken up by our Lord Himself, as ushering in the great day of judgment; and they are echoed again by St. John in the vision of the opening of the sixth seal: “For the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” (Comp. Joel 2:11 of this chapter.) The sun and moon, &c., may include the luminaries in heaven and the potentates on earth.

Joel 2:30. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, &c. — Whoever will be at the pains to compare this prediction with the prophecy of Christ, Matthew 24., and Luke 21., will have no doubt concerning the application of it. It principally and evidently refers to the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, and the desolation of Judea by the Romans; a judgment justly inflicted upon the Jewish nation for their rejecting and crucifying their Messiah, resisting the Holy Spirit, contemning the gospel and the means of grace connected therewith, and persecuting the apostles and God’s other messengers. Thus Malachi, after he had foretold the coming of the Messiah, preceded by that of his forerunner John the Baptist, (chap. Joel 3:1,) immediately adds, that his coming should be attended with terrible judgments upon the disobedient, Joel 3:2-5, and chap. 4:1. The prophet in the next clause predicts also the extraordinary signs which were to be forerunners of that destruction, by blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke, meaning probably the great slaughter which should be made of men, and the burning of the towns and cities of Judea, events which preceded that last and finishing stroke of the divine vengeance, the destruction of Jerusalem. He may also refer, perhaps, in the last expression, to the comet which hung over their city, and the fearful sights seen in the air some time before, which are mentioned by Josephus, and were foretold by Christ, Luke 21:11; and of which the reader may see an account in the note on Isaiah 66:6.

2:28-32 The promise began to be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, and it was continued in the converting grace and miraculous gifts conferred on both Jews and Gentiles. The judgments of God upon a sinful world, only go before the judgment of the world in the last day. Calling on God supposes knowledge of him, faith in him, desire toward him, dependence on him, and, as evidence of the sincerity of all this, conscientious obedience to him. Those only shall be delivered in the great day, who are now effectually called from sin to God, from self to Christ, from things below to things above.And I will shew wonders - Each revelation of God prepares the way for another, until that last revelation of His love and of His wrath in the Great Day. In delivering His people from Egypt, "the Lord shewed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt Deuteronomy 6:22. Here, in allusion to it, He says, in the same words, of the new revelation, "I will shew," or "give, wonders, or wondrous signs," (as the word includes both) wonders beyond the course and order of nature, and portending other dispensations of God, of joy to His faithful, terror to His enemies. As when Israel came out of Egypt, "the pillar of the cloud was a cloud and darkness to the camp of the Egyptians," but "gave light by night" to the "camp of Israel" Exodus 14:19-20, so all God's workings are light and darkness at once, according as people are, who see them or to whom they come. These wonders in heaven and earth "began in" the First Coming and "Passion of Christ, grew in the destruction of Jerusalem, but shall be perfectly fulfilled toward the end of the world, before the final Judgment, and the destruction of the Universe." At the birth of Christ, there was "the star" which appeared unto the wise men, "and the multitude of the heavenly host," whom the shepherds saw. At His Atoning Death, "the sun was darkened," there was the three hours' darkness over the whole land; and on earth "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened" Luke 23:44-45; Matthew 27:45, Matthew 27:51-52 : and the Blood and water issued from the Saviour's side. After His Resurrection, there was the vision of Angels, terrible to the soldiers who watched the sepulchre, comforting to the women who sought to honor Jesus. His Resurrection was a sign on earth, His Ascension in earth and heaven. But our Lord speaks of signs both in earth and heaven, as well before the destruction of Jerusalem, as before His second Coming.

With regard to the details, it seems probable that this is an instance of what we may call an inverted parallelism, that having mentioned generally that God would give "signs in (1) heaven and (2) earth," the prophet first instances the "signs in earth," and then those "in heaven." A very intellectual Jewish expositor has suggested this, and certainly it is frequent enough to be, in conciser forms, one of the idioms of the sacred language. In such case, "the blood and fire and pillars of smoke, will be signs in earth; the turning of the sun into darkness and the moon into blood will be signs in heaven." When fortelling the destruction of Jerusalem, the Day of vengeance, which fell with such accumulated horror on the devoted city, and has for these 1800 years dispersed the people of Israel to the four winds, our Lord mentions first the signs on earth, then those in heaven. "Nation shall arise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. Luke 21:10-11. Before the Day of Judgment our Lord also speaks of both Luke 21:25-26;

(1) "there shall be signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars;

(2) and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; people's hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven shall be shaken."

The Jewish historian relates signs both in heaven and in earth, before the destruction of Jerusalem. : "A star stood like a sword over Jerusalem;" "a light which, when the people were assembled at the Passover at 9 at night, shone so brightly around the altar and the temple, that it seemed like bright day, and this for half an hour; the eastern door of the temple, which 20 men scarcely shut at eventide, stayed with iron-bound bars and very deep bolts let down into the threshhold of one solid stone, was seen at 6 o'clock at night to open of its own accord; chariots and armed troops were seen along the whole country, coursing through the clouds, encircling the cities; at the feast of Pentecost, the priests entering the temple by night, as their wont was for worship, first perceived a great movement and sound, and then a multitudinous voice, 'Let us depart hence.'" These signs were authenticated by the multitude or character of those who witnessed them.

30, 31. As Messiah's manifestation is full of joy to believers, so it has an aspect of wrath to unbelievers, which is represented here. Thus when the Jews received Him not in His coming of grace, He came in judgment on Jerusalem. Physical prodigies, massacres, and conflagrations preceded its destruction [Josephus, Wars of the Jews]. To these the language here may allude; but the figures chiefly symbolize political revolutions and changes in the ruling powers of the world, prognosticated by previous disasters (Am 8:9; Mt 24:29; Lu 21:25-27), and convulsions such as preceded the overthrow of the Jewish polity. Such shall probably occur in a more appalling degree before the final destruction of the ungodly world ("the great and terrible day of Jehovah," compare Mal 4:5), of which Jerusalem's overthrow is the type and earnest. And I will show wonders; as he promiseth such grace to believers, so he warneth them that they should not be surprised with those alarming prodigies which in those days God would show, which would usher in the hard times that should be chastisement to the best, and destruction to the worst: whoso will read and observe what historians and naturalists report of those times will see this fulfilled in the very letter, and Matthew 24:7,29 Mr 13:24 Luke 21:11,25.

In the heavens and in the earth; above men, and under their feet; all which signs are particularly named, and first the signs on the earth.

Blood; possibly eruption of blood, as some fountains have been reported to have run with blood, and these prefiguring the great effusion of blood by the sword and wars following, or by antichristian persecutions.

Fire; either breaking out of the earth, or else unusual lightnings, and unparalleled flashes of lightnings in the lower region of the air, setting many things on fire.

Pillars of smoke; from those burning things fired by lightnings, or by extraordinary flashes, a smoke shall go up like a pillar. Particular instances of these may not here be gathered together, but Hottinger, that learned and painful historian, hath gathered many together of the first age, and so of the following ages of the church, in his Ecclesiastical History, which who desireth may consult.

And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth,.... This, and what follow, refer to the prodigies seen in the air, and done in the earth, a little before the destruction of Jerusalem (r); when in the air were seen comets and blazing stars, particularly one in the form of a sword, hanging over Jerusalem, and appearances of armies engaged in battle; and, on the earth, a flame was seen in the temple, and a voice heard in it, saying, let us go hence; the doors of it opened of themselves; an idiot went about, crying woe to the people, woe to the city, &c.

blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke; "blood" may design the great slaughter of then by the Roman army in the land of Judea, and by murders committed among themselves in the city of Jerusalem, which were very horrible, and of great numbers; "fire", the burning of towns and cities; though Kimchi interprets it of lightnings in the heavens; and "pillars of smoke", rising up in straightness and height like palm trees, as the word (s) signifies, vast quantities of it arising from cities and towns burnt. Gussetius (t) interprets this of the burning of the martyrs in the first ages of Christianity, and of their spiritual affections, which ascended upwards to God, and were grateful to him; see Sol 3:6.

(r) Vid. Joseph. De Bello Jud. l. 6. c. 5. sect. 3.((s) "palmas fumi", Piscator, Cocceius. (t) Ebr. Comment. p. 947.

And I will shew {s} wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.

(s) He warns the faithful what terrible things would come, with the intent that they should not look for continual quietness in this world: and yet in all these troubles he would preserve them.

30–31. The signs of approaching judgement which will then appear.

shew] lit. give, as Exodus 7:9; Deuteronomy 6:22.

wonders] better (for the word used has no connexion with those commonly rendered wonderful, wondrous) portents, extraordinary phenomena—natural, or supernatural, as the case might be—arresting attention: see e.g. Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:9; Isaiah 8:18; Ezekiel 12:11.

blood and fire] i.e. either, as some suppose, wars on an unprecedented scale (‘portents in the earth’), or more probably (as wars are not suggested by the context), abnormal atmospherical phenomena (cf. Joel 2:31).

pillars of smoke] Song of Solomon 3:6, of the smoke of incense, heralding a procession (the word rendered pillars occurs only in these two passages). Possibly of the columns of smoke rising up from burnt cities (Jdg 20:38; Jdg 20:40; cf. Isaiah 9:18); more probably (Thomson, The Land and the Book, Southern Pal., p. 142) with allusion to columns of sand and dust raised high in the air by local whirlwinds accompanying a sirocco, which sometimes “march with great rapidity over the open plain, and closely resemble ‘pillars of smoke’.”

Verse 30. - And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. Along with the wonderful distribution of gifts and graces at the Day of Pentecost, attention is directed to portents of destructive visitation; after a dispensation of mercy follows a dispensation of wrath; mercy and judgment thus succeed each other in the providence of God. The visitation of mercy may, by way of contrast, suggest that of judgment; or the connection of this and the following verses with the preceding may be the plague of the locusts, the mind passing on from that visitation to the visitation at the destruction of Jerusalem, as also to that which shall take place at the judgment of the last day. Our Lord, in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, seems to mingle the portents which were to precede the destruction of Jerusalem with those that shall usher in the judgment-day. There may Be some doubt whether the expressions before us are to Be understood literally or figuratively. In either case coming events were casting their shadows before; and the appearances enumerated, whether taken in a literal or figurative sense, were symbolical of great revolutionary changes. The expressions themselves reflect the miracles of Egypt. Of the wonders on earth which the prophet first mentions, the blood brings to mind the changing of the Nile-water into blood; the fire reminds us of the fire that ran along upon the ground, mingled with the hail; while the smoke carries back our thoughts to the wonderful events of the wilderness and of the encampment at Sinai, when, as Jehovah descended upon the mount, "Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace." Joel 2:30(Heb. ch. 3). Outpouring of the Spirit of God, and Announcement of Judgment.

(Note: Among other special expositions of these verses, see Hengstenberg's Christology, vol. i. p. 326ff. translation.)

Joel 2:28. "And it will come to pass afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men see visions. Joel 2:29. And also upon the men-servants and maid-servants I will put out my Spirit in those days." As 'achărē-khēn points back to bâri'shōn in Joel 2:23, the formula vehâyâh achărē-khēn describes the outpouring of the Spirit as a second and later consequence of the gift of the teacher for righteousness. שׁפך, to pour out, signifies communication in rich abundance, like a rain-fall or water-fall. For the communication of the Spirit of God was not entirely wanting to the covenant nation from the very first. In fact, the Spirit of God was the only inward bond between the Lord and His people; but it was confined to the few whom God endowed as prophets with the gift of His Spirit. This limitation was to cease in the future.

(Note: "There is no doubt that the prophet promises something greater here than the fathers had experienced under the law. We know that the grace of the Holy Spirit flourished even among the ancient people; but the prophet promises here not what the faithful had formerly experienced, but something greater. And this may be gathered from the verb 'to pour' which he employs. For שׁפך does not mean merely to give in drops, but to pour out in great abundance. But God did not pour out the Holy Spirit so abundantly or copiously under the law, as He has since the manifestation of Christ." - Calvin.)

What Moses expressed as a wish - namely, that the people were all prophets, and the Lord would put His Spirit upon them (Numbers 11:29) - was to be fulfilled in the future. Rūăch Yehōvâh is not the first principle of the physico-creaturely life (i.e., not equivalent to rūăch Elōhı̄m in Genesis 1:2), but that of the spiritual or ethical and religious life of man, which filled the prophets under the Old Testament as a spirit of prophecy; consequently Joel describes its operations under this form. "All flesh" signifies all men. The idea that it embraces the irrational animals, even the locusts (Credner), is rejected with perfect justice by Hitzig as an inconceivable thought, and one unheard-of in the Bible; but he is wrong in adding that the Old Testament does not teach a communication of the Spirit of God to all men, but limits it to the people of Israel. A decided protest is entered against this by Genesis 6:3, where Jehovah threatens that He will no longer let His Spirit rule bâ'âdâm, i.e., in the human race, because it has become bâsâr (flesh). Bâsâr, as contrasted with rūăch Yehōvâh, always denotes human nature regarded as incapacitated for spiritual and divine life. Even in this verse we must not restrict the expression "all flesh" to the members of the covenant nation, as most of the commentators have done; for whatever truth there may be in the remark made by Calovius and others (compare Hengstenberg, Christol. i. p. 328 transl.), that the following clause, "your sons, your daughters, your old men, your young men, and men-servants and maid-servants," contains a specification of כּל־בּשׂר, it by no means follows with certainty from this, that the word all does not do away with the limitation to one particular nation, but merely that in this one nation even the limits of sex, age, and rank are abolished; since it cannot be proved that the specification in Joel 2:2 and Joel 2:3 is intended to exhaust the idea of "all flesh." Moreover, as the prophecy of Joel had respect primarily to Judah, Joel may primarily have brought into prominence, and specially singled out of the general idea of kol-bâsâr in Joel 2:28 and Joel 2:29, only those points that were of importance to his contemporaries, viz., that all the members of the covenant nation would participate in this outpouring of the Spirit, without regard to sex, age, or rank; and in so doing, he may have looked away from the idea of the entire human race, including all nations, which is involved in the expression "all flesh." We shall see from Joel 2:32 that this last thought was not a strange one to the prophet. In the specification of the communication of the Spirit, the different forms which it assumes are rhetorically distributed as follows: to the sons and daughters, prophesying is attributed; to the old, dreams; to the young, sights or visions. But it by no means follows from this, that each of these was peculiar to the age mentioned. For the assertion, that the Spirit of God only manifests itself in the weakened mind of the old man by dreams and visions of the night; that the vigorous and lively fancy of the youth or man has sights by day, or true visions; and lastly, that in the soul of the child the Spirit merely works as furor sacer Tychs., Credner, Hitzig, and others), cannot be historically sustained. According to Numbers 12:6, visions and dreams are the two forms of the prophetic revelation of God; and נבּא is the most general manifestation of the prophetic gift, which must not be restricted to the ecstatic state associated with the prophesying. The meaning of this rhetorical individualizing, is simply that their sons, daughters, old persons, and youths, would receive the Spirit of God with all its gifts. The outpouring of the Spirit upon slaves (men-servants and maidens) is connected by vegam, as being something very extraordinary, and under existing circumstances not to be expected. Not a single case occurs in the whole of the Old Testament of a salve receiving the gift of prophecy. Amos, indeed, was a poor shepherd servant, but not an actual slave. And the communication of this gift to slaves was irreconcilable with the position of slaves under the Old Testament. Consequently even the Jewish expositors could not reconcile themselves to this announcement. The lxx, by rendering it ἐπὶ τοὺς δούλους μου καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς δούλας μου, have put servants of God in the place of the slaves of men; and the Pharisees refused to the ὄχλος even a knowledge of the law (John 7:49). The gospel has therefore also broken the fetters of slavery.

Judgment upon all nations goes side by side with the outpouring of the Spirit of God. Joel 2:30. "And I give wonders in the heavens and on earth, blood, fire, and pillars of smoke. Joel 2:31. The sun will turn into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the day of Jehovah, the great and terrible (day), comes. Joel 2:32. And it comes to pass, every one who shall call upon the name of Jehovah will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem will be fugitives, as Jehovah hath said, and among those that are left will be those whom Jehovah calls." With the word ונתתּי, Joel 2:3 is attached to Joel 2:2 as a simple continuation (Hitzig). The wonders which God will give in the heavens and upon earth are the forerunners of judgment. Mōphethı̄m (see at Exodus 4:21) are extraordinary and marvellous natural phenomena. The wonders on earth are mentioned first, in Joel 2:30; then in Joel 2:31 those in the heavens. Blood and fire recal to mind the plagues which fell upon Egypt as signs of the judgment: the blood, the changing of the water of the Nile into blood (Exodus 7:17); the fire, the balls of fire which fell to the earth along with the hail (Exodus 9:24). Blood and fire point to bloodshed and war. Timrōth ‛âshân signifies cloud-pillars (here and in Sol 3:6), whether we regard the form timrōth as original, and trace it to timrâh and the root tâmar, or prefer the reading תּימרות, which we meet with in many codices and editions, and take the word as a derivative of yâmar equals mūr, as Hengstenberg does (Christol. i. p. 334 transl.). This sign has its type in the descent of Jehovah upon Sinai, at which the whole mountain smoked, and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a smelting-furnace (Exodus 19:18). We have not to think, therefore, of columns of cloud ascending from basons of fire, carried in front of caravans or armies on the march to show the way (see at Sol 3:6), but of pillars of cloud, which roll up from burning towns in time of war (Isaiah 9:17). Joel 2:31. In the heavens the sun is darkened, and the moon assumes a dull, blood-red appearance. These signs also have their type in the Egyptian plague of darkness (Exodus 10:21.). The darkening and extinction of the lights of heaven are frequently mentioned, either as harbingers of approaching judgment, or as signs of the breaking of the day of judgment (it was so in Joel 2:2, Joel 2:10, and is so again in Joel 3:14 : see also Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 34:4; Jeremiah 4:23; Ezekiel 32:1-8; Amos 8:9; Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 21:25). What we have to think of here, is not so much periodically returning phenomena of nature, or eclipses of the sun and moon, as extraordinary (not ecliptic) obscurations of the sun and moon, such as frequently occur as accompaniments to great catastrophes in human history.

(Note: Compare O. Zoeckler, Theologia Natural. i. p. 420, where reference is made to Humboldt (Kosmos, iii.-413-17), who cites no fewer than seventeen extraordinary cases of obscuration of the sun from the historical tradition of past ages, which were occasioned, not by the moon, but by totally different circumstances, such as diminished intensity in the photosphere, unusually large spots in the sun, extraneous admixtures in our own atmosphere, such as trade-wind dust, inky rain, and sand rain, etc.; and many of which took place in most eventful years, such as 45 b.c., a.d. 29 (the year of the Redeemer's death), 358, 360, etc.)

And these earthly and celestial phenomena are forerunners and signs of the approaching or bursting judgment; not only so far as subjective faith is concerned, from the impression which is made upon the human mind by rare and terrible phenomena of nature, exciting a feeling of anxious expectation as to the things that are about to happen,

(Note: Calvin has taken too one-sided and subjective a view of the matter, when he gives the following explanation of Joel 2:31 : "What is said here of the sun and moon - namely, that the sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood - is metaphorical, and signifies that the Lord will fill the whole universe with signs of His wrath, which will paralyze men with fear, as if all nature were changed into a thing of horror. For just as the sun and moon are witnesses of the paternal favour of God towards us, while they give light in their turns to the earth, so, on the other hand, the prophet affirms that they will be the heralds of an angry and offended God.... By the darkness of the sun, the turning of the moon into blood, and the black vapour of smoke, the prophet meant to express the thought, that wherever men turned their eyes, everywhere, both above and below, many things would meet the eye that would fill them with terror. So that it is just as if he had said, that there had never been such a state of misery in the world, nor so many fierce signs of the wrath of God." For example, the assertion that they "are metaphorical expressions" cannot possibly be sustained, but is at variance with the scriptural view of the deep inward connection between heaven and earth, and more particularly with the scriptural teaching, that with the last judgment the present heavens and present earth will perish, and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth will ensue. Moreover, the circumstance that a belief in the significance of these natural phenomena is met with in all nations, favours their real (not merely imaginary) connection with the destinies of humanity.)

but also in their real connection with the onward progress of humanity towards its divinely appointed goal, which may be explained from the calling of man to be the lord of the earth, though it has not yet received from science its due recognition and weight; in accordance with which connection, they show "that the eternal motion of the heavenly worlds is also appointed by the world-governing righteousness of God; so that the continued secret operation of this peculiar quality manifests itself through a strong cosmico-uranian symbolism, in facts of singular historical significance" (Zoeckler, l. c.).

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