Joel 2:31
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.
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Joel 2:31. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, &c. — Particular judgments upon kings and nations are often described in such terms as properly belong to the general judgment and conflagration of the heavens and the earth, as has been observed on Joel 2:10 th of this chapter. The expressions here used, in their literal sense, import the failing of light in the sun and moon, whether by eclipses or any other cause, such as perhaps, at the time here referred to, by the prodigious quantity of smoke arising from the burning of cities, towns, and villages on every side, and also of Jerusalem itself, which undoubtedly was sufficient to obscure the heavenly luminaries for some time. Or, the expression in this verse may be interpreted figuratively of the dark and melancholy state of public affairs before and at the destruction of the Jewish nation by the Romans, and of the utter overthrow of their state and government: see note on Isaiah 13:9-10. The last destruction of Jerusalem, the desolation of Judea, and the prodigious slaughter made of the Jews, might with great propriety be called, as it is here, The great and terrible day of the Lord; since the divine justice was then executed with a severity which had never been used before toward the Jewish people. The calamities of those times were indeed dreadful, almost beyond description, and seem to have exceeded any thing that any other nation had ever suffered; which was agreeable to what Moses, in the very beginning of their state, had foretold should happen to them, if ever, by their disobedience to God’s commands, and their other crimes, they should fill up the measure of their iniquity: see notes on Deuteronomy 28.

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.Before the great and terrible Day of the Lord come - o: "The days of our life are our days wherein we do what we please; that will be the "Day of the Lord," when He, our Judge, shall require the account of all our doings. It will be "great," because it is the horizon of time and eternity; the last day of time, the beginning of eternity. It will put an end to the world, guilt, deserts, good or evil. It will be "great," because in it great things will be done. Christ with all His Angels will come down and sit on His Throne; all who have ever lived or shall live, shall be placed before Him to be judged; all thoughts, words, and deeds shall be weighed most exactly; on all a sentence will be passed, absolute, irrevocable throughout eternity; the saints shall be assigned to heaven, the ungodly to hell; a great gulf shall be placed between, which shall sever them forever, so that the ungodly shall never see the godly nor heaven nor God; but shall be shut up in a prison forever, and shall burn as long as heaven shall be heaven, or God shall be God." : "That day shall be great to the faithful, terrible to the unbelieving; great to those who said, 'Truly this is the Son of God;' terrible to those who said, 'His blood be upon us and upon our children.'" : "When then thou art hurried to any sin, think on that terrible and unendurable judgment-seat of Christ, where the Judge sits on His lofty Throne, and all creation shall stand in awe at His glorious Appearing and we shall be brought, one by one, to give account of what we have done in life. Then by him who hath done much evil in life, there will stand terrible angels. "There" will be the deep gulf, the impassable darkness, the lightless fire, retaining in darkness the power to burn, but reft of its rays. There is the empoisoned and ravenous worm insatiably devouring and never satisfied, inflicting by its gnawing pangs unbearable. There that sharpest punishment of all, that shame and everlasting reproach. Fear these things; and, instructed by this fear, hold in thy soul as with a bridle from the lust of evil." 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. Having mentioned the prodigies which were to be wrought on earth, now the prophet specifieth what shall be done in heaven, where the great luminaries shall be wonderfully affected.

The sun shall be turned into darkness; shall be greatly obscured; shall seem to be turned from a body of light to mere darkness.

The moon into blood; either by eclipse, or by the intervention of vapours drawn up from the places where was great slaughter and effusion of blood; however as to manner, it is most certain as to the event; the moon shall seem to be blood.

Before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come; great to all, terrible to the rejecters and persecutors of Christ. This day was the day of Jerusalem’s’ destruction, and burning of the temple, and slaughter of the Jews, for their violence against and murder of the Messiah, for their sins against the gospel: this was fulfilled partly in the devastation of Jerusalem, but shall fully and finally be fulfilled in the day of judgment, and at the consummation of the world.

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood,.... Not by eclipses, as Aben Ezra; but by the clouds of smoke arising from the burning of towns and cities, which would be so great as to obscure the sun, and through which the moon would look like blood: or all, this may be understood in a figurative sense of the change that should be made in the ecclesiastic and civil state of the Jewish nation, signified by the "heavens" and "earth"; and particularly that their king or kingdom should be in a low, mean, and distressed condition, designed by the sun; and the change of their priesthood is signified by the "moon": so Vitringa on Isaiah 24:23; interprets the "sun" here of King Agrippa, the last king of the Jews in obscurity; and the "moon" of Ananias junior, the high priest, slain by the zealots:

before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come; not the fall of Gog and Magog, as Kimchi; not the day of the last judgment, but of the destruction of Jerusalem; not by the Chaldeans, but by the Romans; their last destruction, which was very great and terrible indeed, and in which there was a manifest appearance of the hand and power of God; see Malachi 4:1. Maimonides (u) interprets it of the destruction of Sennacherib near Jerusalem; but if that sense is not acceptable, he proposes that of the destruction of Gog and Magog, in the times of the Messiah.

(u) Moreh Nevochim, par. 2. c. 19. p. 271.

The {t} sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

(t) The order of nature will seem to be changed because of the horrible afflictions that will be in the world; Isa 13:10 Eze 32:7 Joe 3:15 Mt 24:29.

31. Celestial portents. The imagery may be suggested partly by eclipses (cf. on Amos 8:9), partly by unusual obscurations of sun or moon through atmospheric disturbances,—for instance, sand-storms, cyclones, flights of locusts, &c. “A dreadful whirlwind occurred here [in Allahabad] on June 2, 1838. The whole sky was blood-red, not with clouds, for there was not a cloud to be seen. Overhead moved immense masses of dust; but below there was not a breath of wind. Shortly after, the wind rose, carrying with it sand and dust. It soon became extremely dark, although the sun was still up. The darkness was not only visible but tangible. The wind wrought immense damage” (Asiatic Journal, Nov. 1838, p. 155, referred to by Ewald).

into darkness] comp. Joel 2:10, with the passages there cited.

into blood] comp. Revelation 6:12 (the imagery of which is based upon this passage, as that of Joel 2:13-14 is upon Isaiah 34:4). Ovid (quoted by Credner), among the celestial portents which he describes as preceding the death of Caesar, includes sparsi lunares sanguine currus (Met. xv. 790).

before &c.] exactly the same words as in Malachi 4:5.

Verse 31. - The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. These wonders in the heavens follow the wonders on earth, and these obscurations of the heavenly bodies - the darkening of the sun and the dull blood-like appearance of the moon - were portents of coming judgment. These miraculous phenomena, if literally employed, may refer to those portentous sights which, as the Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus testify, were witnessed, both by besiegers and besieged, during the siege and before the destruction of Jerusalem. But taken symbolically, as is preferable, blood symbolizes bloodshed; fire, the firing of a town in time of war; and pillars of smoke, the clouds of smoke rolling up to heaven from the burning or smouldering ruins of a town or city set on fire by the enemy; while the darkening of the sun and the turning of the moon into a dull blood-red would portend approaching judgment, and a change, political and ecclesiastical, in the existing constitution of things. Here particularly, by reading Joel's prophecy in the light of the New Testament, we shall understand with tolerable clearness the meaning of the symbols of the sun and moon. The symbolic language of Joel's prediction found its fulfilment, at least in part, within less than half a century from the time when Peter spoke. Scarce forty years from that Pentecostal outpouring and the ruling powers, civil and ecclesiastical, of the Jewish nation came to an end. The Jewish Church and Hebrew commonwealth went out in darkness. The moon of the latter began to wane from the first day the Roman power was set up in Palestine, but at the destruction of the capital the light of that moon was extinguished for ever; the sun of the former was long getting obscured by clouds, but at last it underwent a total and final eclipse. But why, it may be asked, are sun and moon thus symbolic of rulers superior and inferior, or of rulers of greater and less importance, or of rulers in Church and state? By the original constitution of these luminaries, as specified in the record of Creation, they were actually appointed to this, and so naturally enough the physical here, as elsewhere, underlies the symbolic, as we read, "God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night." Thus what was commenced when Judaea became a Roman province was completed when Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple burnt by the Roman army under Titus. "The day of the Lord" is an expression very common with the prophets, and always expressive of some severe visitation or special judgment. Thus we read in this same Book of the Prophet Joel, "The day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come." Again in Amos 5:18, "The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light." But other days of judicial visitation were not to be compared with this. The day of Babylon's destruction is called by Isaiah simply "the day of the Lord;" so Jeremiah speaks of the day of the destruction of Pharaoh's army at the Euphrates as "the day of the Lord;" and Joel himself designates the day of Jerusalem's destruction of Nebuchadnezzar as "the day of the Lord." But the day mentioned in the text before us is "that great and notable day of the Lord," and so it was the day of the final destruction and desolation of Jerusalem.

Joel 2:31For Joel 2:31, see at Joel 2:1, Joel 2:11. But it is only by the world and its children that the terrible day of the Lord is to be feared; to the children of God it brings redemption (Luke 21:28). Whoever calls upon the name of Jehovah, i.e., the believing worshippers of the Lord, will be exempted from the judgment. "Calling upon the name of Jehovah" signifies not only the public worship of God, but inward worship also, in which the confession of the mouth is also an expression of the heart. Upon Mount Zion will be pelētâh, i.e., not deliverance, but that which has escaped, or, in a collective sense, those who have escaped the judgment, as the synonym serı̄dı̄m, which follows, clearly shows. Mount Zion and Jerusalem are not mentioned here as the capital of the kingdom of Judah, but, according to their spiritual significance, as the place where the Lord was enthroned in the sanctuary in the midst of His people; that is to say, as the central spot of the kingdom of God. Consequently it is not "to the whole nation of Judah as such that deliverance is promised, on the assumption that in those times of distress the population of the land would have streamed to Jerusalem" (Hitzig), but only to those who call upon the name of the Lord, i.e., to the true worshippers of God, upon whom the Spirit of God is poured out. The words כּאשׁר אמר יי are not synonymous with נאם יי or כּי יי דּבּר (Joel 3:8; Isaiah 1:20; Isaiah 40:5, etc.), but point to a prophetic word already known, viz., to Obadiah 1:17, where the saying of the Lord, that in the midst of the judgment there would be rescued ones upon Mount Zion, occurs word for word. וּבשּׂרידים also depends תּהיה ... כּי: "and among those that remain will be those whom Jehovah calls." Sârı̄d is one who is left after a judgment or a battle; hence in Jeremiah 42:17 and Joshua 8:22 it is connected with pâlı̄t (one who has escaped from destruction), so that here serı̄dı̄m and pelētâh are actually alike, the serı̄dı̄m being just the escaped ones upon Mount Zion. Through this clause there is appended to what precedes the fresh definition, that among the saved will be found those whom the Lord calls. These may either be the believing portion of Judah, or believers from among the heathen. If we adopted the first view, the sentence would simply contain a more precise definition of the thought, that none are saved but those who call upon the name of the Lord, and therefore would preclude the possibility of including all the inhabitants of Judah among those who call upon the Lord. If we took the second view, the sentence would add this new feature to the thought contained in the first hemistich, that not only citizens of Jerusalem and Judah would be saved in the time of judgment, but all who called upon the Lord out of every nation. The latter view deserves the preference, because the expression קרא בשׁם יי did not need a more precise definition. The salvation of believers from the heathen world is implied in the first half of the verse, since it is simply connected with calling upon the name of the Lord. The Apostle Paul has quoted it in this sense in Romans 10:13, as a proof of the participation of the heathen in the Messianic salvation.

If we proceed now to seek for the fulfilment of this prophecy, the Apostle Peter quoted the whole of these verses (28-32), with the exception of Joel 2:32, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, on the first Whitsuntide feast of the apostolical church, as having been fulfilled by that Whitsuntide miracle (Acts 2:17-21); and in his subsequent reference to this fulfilment in Joel 2:39, "For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call," he even adds the closing words of Joel (Joel 2:32).

(Note: In quoting this passage Peter follows the lxx on the whole, even in their deviations from the original text, viz., in ἀπὸ τοῦ πνεύματός μου instead of רוּחי (Joel 2:28, Joel 2:29), in the addition of μου to ἐπὶ τοὺς δούλους and δούλας (Joel 2:29), in ἐπιφανῆ for נורא (Joel 2:4), because these differences were of no consequence, so far as his object was concerned. On the other hand, he has interpreted καὶ ἔσται μετὰ ταῦτα (והיה אחרי כן) by καὶ ἔσται ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέπαις, and added for the same purpose, λέγει ὁ Θεός. He has also transposed the two clauses καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι ... and καὶ οἱ νεανίσκοι, probably simply for the purpose of letting the youths follow the sons and daughters, and placing the old men in the third row; and lastly, he has added ἄνω to ἐν τῶ οὐρανῶ ..., and κάτω to ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, to give greater prominence to the antithesis.)

Consequently the Christian church from time immemorial has recognised in the miracle of Pentecost the outpouring of the Spirit of God predicted in Joel 2:1, Joel 2:2 :

(Note: See Hengstenberg, Christol. i. pp. 345, 346, translation.)

so that the only point upon which there has been a division of opinion has been, whether the fulfilment is to be confined to the feast of Pentecost (as nearly all the fathers and earlier Lutheran commentators suppose); or is to be sought for in certain events of Joel's own time, as well as the first feast of Pentecost (Ephr. Syr., Grot., and others); or, lastly, whether the occurrence at the first feast of Pentecost is to be regarded as simply the beginning of the fulfilment which has continued throughout the whole of the Christian era (Calov., Hengstenberg, and many others). Even the Rabbins, with the exception of R. Mose Hakkohen in Aben Ezra, who sees only a reference to some event in Joel's own time, expect the fulfilment to take place in the future on the advent of the Messiah (Yarchi, Kimchi, Abarb.). Of the three views expressed by Christian commentators, the third is the only one that answers to the nature of the prophecy as correctly interpreted. The outpouring of the Spirit of God, or the communication of it in all its fulness to the covenant nation, without any limitation whatever, is a standing mark with the prophets of the Messianic times (compare Isaiah 32:15 with Isaiah 11:9 and Isaiah 54:13) or new covenant (Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:26.; Zechariah 12:10). And even if the way was opened and prepared for this by the prophetic endowment of particular members of the old covenant, these sporadic communications of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament times cannot be regarded as the first steps in the fulfilment of our prophecy, since they were not outpourings of the Spirit of God. This first took place when Christ Jesus the Son of God had completed the work of redemption, i.e., on the first feast of Pentecost after the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Previous to this the words of John 7:39 applied: οὔπω ἦν πνεῦμα ἅγιον, ὅτι ὁ Ἰησοῦς οὐδέπω ἐδοξάστη. The reference in this prophecy to the founding of the new covenant, or Christian church, is also evident from the words, "And it shall come to pass afterwards," for which Peter substituted, "And it shall come to pass in the last days," interpreting אחרי כן, the use of which was occasioned by the retrospective reference to בּראשׁון in Joel 2:23, with perfect correctness so far as the fact was concerned, by the formula answering to באחרית הימים, viz., ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις, which always denotes the Messianic future, or times of the completion of the kingdom of God. And just as achărē khēn precludes any reference to an event in Joel's own time, so does ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις preclude any fulfilment whatever in the times before Christ. But however certain it may be that the fulfilment first took place at the first Christian feast of Pentecost, we must not stop at this one pentecostal miracle. The address of the Apostle Peter by no means requires this limitation, but rather contains distinct indications that Peter himself saw nothing more therein than the commencement of the fulfilment, "but a commencement, indeed, which embraced the ultimate fulfilment, as the germ enfolds the tree." We see this in Acts 2:38, where he exhorts his hearers to repent and be baptized, and adds the promise, "and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost;" and again in Acts 2:39, where he observes, "The promise belongs to you and to your children, and to all that are afar off (τοῖς εἰς μακράν), as many as the Lord our God will call." For if not only the children of the apostle's contemporaries, but also those that were afar off - i.e., not foreign Jews, but the far-off heathen - were to participate in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which commenced at Pentecost must continue as long as the Lord shall receive into His kingdom those who re still standing afar off, i.e., until the fulness of the Gentiles shall have entered the kingdom of God. See Hengstenberg, Christology, i. pp. 326ff. transl., where further reasons are adduced for taking this to be the allusion in the prophecy.

There is far greater diversity in the opinions entertained as to the fulfilment of Joel 2:30-32 : some thinking of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans (Grotius, Turretius, and the Socinians); and others of judgments upon the enemies of the covenant nation shortly after the return from the Babylonian exile (Ephr. Syr. and others); others, again, of the last judgment (Tertull., Theod., Crus.), or the destruction of Jerusalem and the last judgment (Chrys.). Of all these views, those which refer to events occurring before the Christian era are irreconcilable with the context, according to which the day of the Lord will come after the outpouring of the Spirit of God. Even the wonders connected with the death of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, of which some have thought, cannot properly be taken into account, although the marvellous phenomena occurring at the death of Christ - the darkening of the sun, the shaking of the earth, and the rending of the rocks - were harbingers of the approaching judgment, and were recognised by the ὄχλοις as warnings to repent, and so escape from the judgment (Matthew 27:45, Matthew 27:51; Luke 23:44, Luke 23:48). For the signs in heaven and earth that are mentioned in Joel 2:30 and Joel 2:31 were to take place before the coming of the terrible day of the Lord, which would dawn after the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon all flesh, and which came, as history teaches, upon the Jewish nation that had rejected its Saviour on the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and upon the Gentile world-power in the destruction of the Roman empire, and from that time forward breaks in constant succession upon one Gentile nation after another, until all the ungodly powers of this world shall be overthrown (cf. Joel 3:2). On account of this internal connection between the day of Jehovah and the outpouring of the Spirit upon the church of the Lord, Peter also quoted vv. 30-32 of this prophecy, for the purpose of impressing upon the hearts of all the hearers of his address the admonition, "Save yourselves from this perverse generation" (Acts 2:40), and also of pointing out the way of deliverance from the threatening judgment to all who were willing to be saved.

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