Joel Chapter Three
God's judgments in the latter days. (1-8) The extent of these judgments. (9-17) The blessings the church shall enjoy. (18-21)
Commentary on Joel 3:1-8
The restoration of the Jews, and the final victory of true religion over all opposers, appear to be here foretold. The contempt and scorn with which the Jews have often been treated as a people, and the little value set upon them, are noticed. None ever hardened his heart against God or his church, and prospered long.
Commentary on Joel 3:9-17
Here is a challenge to all the enemies of God's people. There is no escaping God's judgments; hardened sinners, in that day of wrath, shall be cut off from all comfort and joy. Most of the prophets foretell the same final victory of the church of God over all that oppose it. To the wicked it will be a terrible day, but to the righteous it will be a joyful day. What cause have those who possess an interest in Christ, to glory in their Strength and their Redeemer! The acceptable year of the Lord, a day of such great favour to some, will be a day of remarkable vengeance to others: let every one that is out of Christ awake, and flee from the wrath to come.
Commentary on Joel 3:18-21
There shall be abundant Divine influences, and the gospel will spread speedily into the remotest corners of the earth. These events are predicted under significant emblems; there is a day coming, when every thing amiss shall be amended. The fountain of this plenty is in the house of God, whence the streams take rise. Christ is this Fountain; his sufferings, merit, and grace, cleanse, refresh, and make fruitful. Gospel grace, flowing from Christ, shall reach to the Gentile world, to the most remote regions, and make them abound in fruits of righteousness; and from the house of the Lord above, from his heavenly temple, flows all the good we daily taste, and hope to enjoy eternally.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Joel》
 For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem,
In those days — When I shall by Cyrus bring Judah out of Babylon.
Of Judah — As the type of the whole remnant that are saved.
And Jerusalem — For beside what refers to the two tribes restored by Cyrus, the bringing back the captivity of the whole Israel of God by Christ is to be considered all along through this chapter.
 I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.
All nations — In the type it is all those nations that have oppressed Judah, in the anti-type, all nations that have been enemies to Christ and the church.
Into the valley of Jehoshaphat — I will debate my people's cause, and do them right in the midst of my church, signified by the valley of Jehoshaphat.
Parted my land — Such is the injustice of the persecutors of the church now, and so God will judge them in due time.
 And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink.
Cast lots — It was customary with conquerors to divide the captives by lot, and so did these enemies of the Jews.
 Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? will ye render me a recompence? and if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompence upon your own head;
Yea — Have I done you any wrong, which you avenge upon my people? Or do you begin to violate the laws of neighbourhood and friendship, and think to escape? Do ye think you have to do with a poor opprest people, my people, and I nothing concerned at it? Palestine - On which were towns of trade, and merchants that bought and sold these captives.
A recompence — Have I or my people so dealt with you? And if - If you will deal thus, I will speedily avenge myself and my people of you.
 Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things:
Taken — Either as part of the spoil, or as part of your pay.
My silver — Silver and gold vessels dedicated to my service.
 The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their border.
Remove them — That there might be no hope of their return to their country.
 Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will return your recompence upon your own head:
I will raise them — This was fulfilled when Alexander, and his successors dismissed all the Jews that were slaves in Greece, and gave them leave to return to their own country.
 And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off: for the LORD hath spoken it.
And I will sell — Give them up into the hands of the Jews.
 Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up:
This — These things which I will do to the enemies of God's people.
The Gentiles — The Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Grecians successively.
Prepare war — Make ready for wars against the enemies of my people.
 Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong.
I am strong — Put on strength and valour; let none be absent from this war.
 Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O LORD.
Round about — All round about Judah.
Thither — Toward Jerusalem; the church and heritage of God.
Thy mighty ones — All those mighty warriors whom thou wilt make use of successively to punish the oppressors of thy church.
 Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.
The heathen — The several nations in their appointed time, perhaps the Assyrians first under Salmaneser, next under Sennacherib, both of whom came up to the valley of Jehoshaphat.
For there — In the midst of my people to plead with, condemn and punish the heathen round about Judea.
 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 great.
Put ye — Ye executioners of divine vengeance: begin to reap, cut down sinners ripe for judgment; let Tiglath Pilneser and his soldiers cut down Syria and its king, for their violence against my people. Let Cyaxares and his armies cut down Assyria. Let Nebuchadnezzar cut down Moab, Ammon, mount Seir, Egypt, Tyre, Zidon and the Philistines; after this let Cyrus reap down the ripened Babylonians, and Alexander the Medes and Persians. And let the divided Grecian captains cut down one another, 'till the Romans cut them down. And when this is done God will have mighty ones still to cut down his enemies, 'till the final judgment wherein they all shall for ever be destroyed.
Get you down — In another metaphor the prophet declares the cutting off the church's enemies.
The press — As the grapes in the press are trod, so the enemies of God's people, are to be trodden in the wine-press of God's displeasure.
Overflow — The blood of slaughtered men runs as wine prest out, in greater abundance than the vats can hold.
Is great — The violence and all manner of sins of these kingdoms is grown exceeding great.
 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
In the valley of decision — Where God having gathered them, decided their quarrels, and by the conqueror punish the conquered for their sins against God and his people.
The day — The day of vengeance.
 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.
Shall roar — He will strike the enemy with astonishment as the roaring of the lion astonishes the weaker beasts of the forest.
 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.
Dwelling — Very graciously present with you, and ever watching over you, and delighting to save you.
Then — After her enemies are destroyed and the remnant is saved, and the Messiah is come; for to him and his days these things ultimately refer.
Jerusalem — The church of Christ.
Strangers — No profane or unclean person shall pass through it, or be found in it any more for ever.
 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 Shittim.
The mountains — The vines planted upon the mountains.
Shall flow — So fruitful shall the hills be, that milk shall abound every where.
A fountain — The prophet alludes to those waters which were conveyed from some spring through conduit pipes towards the altar. This no doubt is a shadow of the purifying blood of Christ, and his sanctifying spirit and word. And in that it is said to come from the house of the Lord, it intimates that this saving grace shall be first preached from Jerusalem, and by the church, which is the house of God, shall be published to others.
Shittim — Was a place in the plains of Moab. These spiritual waters shall flow down to the dry and thirsty, the barren and fruitless Gentiles, and make them fruitful.
 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.
Egypt — By Egypt we may understand all the enemies of the church who carry it toward the church, as Egypt carried it toward Israel.
Edom — Edom was an implacable enemy to Judah in his greatest distress. And all who come under Edom's character are here threatened under this name.
Judah — The people of God.
 But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation.
Judah — The redeemed of the Lord, his church.
 For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the LORD dwelleth in Zion.
And I will cleanse — Purge away both by the spirit of sanctification and by free pardon in the blood of the redeemer.
Their blood — Their sinfulness, which before I had not taken away.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Joel》
03 Chapter 3
For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem.
The year of recompense
I. It shall be the year of the redeemed. Though the bondage of God’s people may be grievous and long, it shall not be everlasting. That in Egypt ended at length in their deliverance into the glorious liberty of the children of God. That in Babylon shall likewise end well.
II. It shall be the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion. Though God may suffer the enemies of His people to prevail against them very far, and for a long time, yet He will call them to an account for it, and will lead those captive that led His people captive.
1. Who those are that shall be reckoned with. “All nations.” This intimates--
(1) That all the nations had made themselves liable to the judgment of God for wrong done to His people. But the neighbouring nations should be particularly dealt with.
(2) That whatsoever nation injured God’s nation, they should not go unpunished. Little persecutors shall be taken account of as well as great ones.
2. The sitting of this court for judgment.
3. The plaintiff called, on whose behalf this prosecution is set on foot.
4. The charge exhibited against them, which is very particular.
(1) They had been very abusive to the children of Israel.
(2) They had unjustly seized God’s silver and gold.
5. The sentence passed upon them. “Return your recompence upon your own head.”
(1) They shall not gain their end in the mischief they designed.
(2) They shall be paid in their own coin. (Matthew Henry.)
The persecution of good men
I. There have ever been good men on earth.
1. “My people.” They are His--
(1) They have surrendered themselves to His will.
(2) He has pledged them His loving guardianship.
2. “My heritage” (Exodus 19:5). He who owns the universe, esteems holy souls as the most valuable of His possessions.
II. These good men on earth have generally been subject to persecution. “Whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted My land.” There is a persecution that, whilst it does not involve bonds, imprisonments, and physical violences, involves the malice of hell, and inflicts grievous injury. There is social calumny, scorn, degradation, and various disabilities.
III. Their persecution will be avenged by heaven. “I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there, for My people and for My heritage Israel.” Ah! the time hastens when persecutors of all types and ages will have full retribution dealt out to them in some great valley of Jehoshaphat. (Homilist.)
Prepare war, wake up the mighty men.
The final battle between good and evil
I. In this battle evil will gather all its available energies. “Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the up.” mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come This is sublime irony. The wicked will collect all their agencies for this last struggle. The prophet intimates that all this shall only render their destruction more complete. Great armies are arrayed against God. They are bold in atheism. They are cunning in sin. They are malicious in temper. But “let them come up,” and they shall be consumed by the breath of the Lord. Evil has many agencies. It has many “mighty men” on its side. They are united in their purpose. Their dormant energies will be awakened. But they cannot be finally victorious.
II. In this battle evil will turn many useful agencies into destructive instruments. “Beat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong.” When Isaiah and Micah prophesied of the kingdom of Christ, they said, “Beat your swords into pruning-hooks, and your spears into ploughshares” (Isaiah 2:1-22.; Micah 4:1-13.). This sentence is now inverted by Joel. The words of Isaiah show the condition of the world under the rule of goodness. The words of Joel show the condition of men under the tyranny of evil. Sin converts the instruments of peace into the implements of war. And in the last great battle between good and evil, many useful principles and institutions will be converted into the means of attack upon truth. The peaceful life and words of Christ have been turned into swords; and eminently will this be the case in the last great conflict with evil.
III. In this battle evil will present itself as naturally ready for destruction. “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 great.” There are here two metaphors, one taken from the harvest, the other from the vintage,--.indicating that sin shall reach its limit. This gives us insight into the method of the Divine government. Sin is not always destroyed in its earliest stage. It remains as a discipline to the world. It tests the patience and moral resistance of the good. The time of its harvest is not yet.
IV. In this battle the natural and helpful agencies of the universe shall aid the defeat of moral evil. “The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.” When the wicked gather for the great battle they will find the ordinary agencies of the universe against them.
V. In this battle the good shall enjoy the divine protection. “The Lord also shall roar out of Zion,” etc. Lessons:--
1. That evil often leads the Church of God into captivity.
2. That moral evil is advancing to its perilous destiny.
3. That the good will finally triumph over the combined forces of evil. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.
The end of the world represented by the harvest
All things are evidently tending to decay and dissolution. As there was an hour fixed from all eternity for the creation of the world, so there is an hour fixed for its dissolution. Many scriptural figures represent the brevity of human life, the frailty of man’s existence. The text contains a prophetic description of the destruction of all God’s enemies, who are represented as a field of corn.
I. The ripeness for the great harvest. There is a ripeness to which every one must attain. Even the wicked fill up the measure of their sin. The righteous are acquiring ripeness; and for this due preparation and daily cultivation are needed. True., thorns and briars spring up among the flowers; but they are only allowed to grow together for good and useful purposes.
II. The holy scriptures alone can furnish the true test of the ripeness referred to in the text. Compare the condition of a sinner meet for destruction with the happy state of a soul ripe for the blessedness of eternal glory. Such a review must induce every one to pray that the life he lives in the flesh may be a life of faith on the Son of God; of conformity to the will of God; and of preparation for the judgment of God.
III. When the corn is fully ripe, the sickle is to be put in. When our measure of sin and holiness is complete, we shall be reaped down: the saints will depart and be immediately with God. Address the undecided. (Nat. Meeres, B. D.)
This emblem of the harvest is used elsewhere in the Bible. The text probably refers to the harvest of the wicked. Two things for consideration.
I. The process of ripening. In the natural world we think of the later period of growth, after the ear is formed, as the ripening time. Consider the process of ripening as regards the wicked.. (Genesis 15:16.) “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” It was ripening, but not ripe. Sin has dominion over a man. Sin is the spring and root of eternal ruin. The signs that sin is ripening are two.
1. The habit of sinning wilfully, and living wilfully under the dominion of known sin.
2. Growing insensibility to the truths which have a tendency to awaken the mind. The ripening process as regards the righteous is the converse of that which takes place with the wicked. There is a ripening process going on in every child of God. That which is the cause of this ripening in the Christian is holiness. Increasing holiness alienates him more and more from sin, and from the follies and vanities of the world. Signs of the ripening process are--
1. A deepening sense of our own personal unworthiness, and helplessness, and guiltiness in the sight of God.
2. Growing simplicity of trust in the person and work of Christ. It is the work of the Spirit to reveal Christ to the soul.
II. The harvest itself. For the individual the time of death. For the world the judgment day. The children of God are ripening for a blessed harvest. The wicked are ripening for a harvest of wrath, of fiery indignation. (Emilius Bayley, M. A.)
These words suggest three remarks concerning man’s moral character.
I. It is a growth. The harvest begins with the germinating seed. Moral character, both good and bad, is a growing thing; thoughts grow, affections grow, principles grow, habits grow. Character is not like a rock, which remains the same from year to year; but rather like the tree, ever growing. Men get worse or better every day.
II. It has a maturity. Every character ripens, reaches its harvest. Hemlock as well as wheat ripens; character, both evil and good, comes to maturation.
III. It has retribution. “Put ye in the sickle.” ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’ He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, he that soweth to the spirit shall reap everlasting life.” The time for the sickle hastens to all. (Homilist.)
Multitudes in the valley of decision.
The valley of decision
These words were spoken in a time of deep depression. Joel says the sadness and gloom were mainly due to the indecision of the people, who did not know whether to trust foreign alliances or Jehovah. So they would have to be led into a valley of judgment, from which they would not emerge until they had come to a decision. In our day much of the prevailing darkness is due to indecision. We feel that things are wrong, but we are not exactly sure what is required to set them right.
I. In regard to what we believe. There is peculiar difficulty in this generation, owing to the methods of modern inquiry and discussion. This is an age of specialism. Each branch of theology has its own special students. Each presses his own conclusions to the furthest limit. It is our duty to look for ourselves at the general lines of revealed truth, and to measure our relation to them. We must come to a decision with regard to Jesus Christ. Certainly--
1. Christ was the revealer of God.
2. He was the remover of barriers.
3. The guidance He gave us for our actual conduct was authentic.
These three simple truths can be isolated from all disputed doctrines, and used as a test. The man who sincerely accepts these truths has found his way out of the valley of decision.
II. In regard to what we do. We can test ourselves by our conduct in business, in the family, in general society. There are various plain questions which we ask ourselves too rarely, although we all in the long run shall require to answer them. Do we always do our duty, or only when it suits our plans? Has our life any principle, any plan? We know the road in which we ought to wall are we walking in it? Do we always follow conscience? God often thrusts us into the darkest caves of the valley in order that we may learn our need for giving a plain answer to these questions. In the valley of decision you are bound to fix your faith in God and Christ, and to take the path of goodness. (A. R. MacEwen, M. A. , B. D.)
The valley of decision
There is something very wonderful, and very awe-inspiring in the thought of the multitudinous, the immeasurable multitudinousness, of created things. Infinite space is thronged with multitudes of worlds, and every world with multitudes of things. When we think Of the race of mankind, how vast and inconceivable are the multitudes of men. Each individual that has ever lived exists somewhere. Once born, they can never die. Yet these vast hosts lie easily enough within the reckoning of God. Known unto Him are the history and the character, the temptations and the opportunities, of every single individual of the vast whole of the human race, both quick arid dead. One by one each will personally appear before the personal God in the valley of decision. Where is this valley? Tradition identifies as the valley of Jehoshaphat. But the wady of the Kedron cannot properly be called a valley. Joel invented the name for “Jehovah’s judgment.” Christ never localised the seat of judgment, any more than He announced, the time of judgment. But what is judgment? It is not Christ our judge who decides the bliss of the blessed or the curse of the accursed.’ The blessed are deciding their own blessedness when they cultivate holiness of character, and the cursed are deciding their own doom when they are forgetting God and living in sin. The valley of decision is the valley which each man treads in the road of life. It is here and now. Divine decision, or final judgment, is no swift, sudden, arbitrary act of God’s; but a long, slow process performed by ourselves. In the valley of decision there is no standing still. (Canon Diggle.)
The valley of decision
A sense of ultimate personal responsibility is inseparable from the mind of man. There is a consciousness within him, which announces the existence of a God who judgeth in the earth, and warns him that the great object of his life must be to prepare to meet Him in a final account. In the text is a striking exhibition of this final judgment of man, the great day of his account with God. The “valley of Jehoshaphat” means the “valley of the judgment of the Lord.” The time and manner are His own appointment. In its practical application to man the day of final judgment makes no change in his real character. It simply proclaims that which was before the fact. It declares the sentence which has long been determined. Man’s real time of probation is in the present life. Here is the valley of decision.
I. What may be understood as the valley of decision for man. It is the whole life of man upon the earth. There is actually but a single question pro posed from God to man. As a wandering, rebellious creature, he is invited and commanded, to come back in the spirit and act of reconciliation unto God. Will he lay hold of the hope set before him? This is the great question of human life, and it is generally determined by man long before the last hours of his life have come. Many have settled this question for themselves, and so have passed out of the valley of decision. Others have decided, but have chosen death rather than life. These, too, have passed out of the valley of decision. We cannot therefore justly say that all men, now alive, are in the valley of decision. We must narrow down our view to those for whom the great question remains undecided.
II. The greater portion of those to whom the offers of eternal life are made are undecided. The great majority who listen to the Gospel are still in the valley of decision. A blessing and a curse are yet before them.
III. The great decision must speedily be made. “The day of the Lord is near.” By that day we understand the time of final determination of the destiny of the children of men. Soon for every man, this day must certainly come at the period of death. Then this is the accepted time, and this is the day of your salvation. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
Turning-points in life
It has been well said that in every life there is a turning-point, as in a fever, a turning point that brings either life or death. Napoleon said, “In every battle there are ten minutes on which hangs the fate of nations.” Hundreds of soul battles are fought and won in a few minutes. Unspeakably solemn axe the silence and the quickness with which these spiritual battles are fought. (Old Testament Anecdotes.)
There is a fascination, even a terror, in the appearance of a great multitude. Where is the valley of decision? First of all, here in this world. The world all unconsciously to its teeming myriads is a valley of decision in which they gather together to certain ends and work out certain definite issues. What is being decided in this valley?
1. Character. That strange stamp which gives to each one of us his own individuality, that personality which spreads itself over our likes and dislikes, that stamp whereby men can label us and catalogue us, and yet feel at the end that we elude classification. Circumstances are the material of life, good or bad. It is we who take up our circumstances, and out of them make habits, and habits decide or form our character in this valley of decision which we call human life.
2. Our own happiness or misery. Life was meant to be happy. But this is placed in our own hands for decision.
3. Eternity. The great decision is not, after all, the sudden thing we suppose it to be, except in very rare cases. Here in this world a decision may be altered, it may not be final. The prophet looks on to a day when the decision will be final; it is the great day of judgment at the end of the world. Is this a belief which is still a living and a practical one to you? Then judge yourselves that you may not be, in that day, judged of the Lord. (Canon Newbolt.)
The matters between two armies are going to be finally decided: therefore the valley is called, “the valley of decision.” This place is to-night a valley of decision. See some of the things you have to decide.
1. Whether you will adhere to sin or renounce it. Not your pleasures, but your positive sins. You cannot become a child of God and adhere to any one of your transgressions. Will it pay you to keep your sin? Sin never pays.
2. Whether you will have Christ or refuse Him. There is no pardon or heaven without the friendship of Christ. And He is such a precious Jesus.
3. Whether you will have Christian associations or unchristian. Need not apologise for everything that is in the Church. There is some bad and much good in the Church. The fact that there are inconsistent Christians is nothing against Christianity, and nothing against the Church. Come, then, into the ranks of Church members.
4. Whether you will have a Christian deathbed or an unbeliever’s departure. There is a triumphant and there is an ignominious way of getting out of this life, and we come here to choose which it shall be.
5. Whether yours shall be a future world of sorrow or a future world of joy. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Reason for decision
What is here called “the valley of decision” (i.e., of
, is called in verse 12 “the valley of Jehoshaphat” (God judgeth). This was locally the valley of Kedron; the later associations of this valley (Gethsemane was there) figuratively present a great spiritual crisis. The prophets show themselves to be taught of God in the breadth and extent of their visions. While speaking to their own nation only, they announce God’s dealings with all the world. They look forward into the distant future--to the end of time. From time to time God specially interferes, either to enlighten and encourage His own when the adversary is too strong for them; or to overthrow those who are opposing His “will.” The final interference is what is called “the day of the Lord.” In this chapter is a vision, of the final judgment of mankind, and of that which is to precede it.
1. The wickedness of the earth is full.
2. Drawn by a mighty influence, the enemies of God, to a place whither He has summoned them.
3. The powers of nature sink and fade before the presence of the glory of God.
4. But the Lord is the strength and hope of His own people. Note--
(1) The great issues of good and evil which are working out in the world.
(2) Contemplate the predicted end, the final victory of Christ and His people.
(3) Decide on which side we take part in the conflict. (S. J. Hulme, M. A.)
The valley of decision
There is a day coming when all the uncertainties of life will be at an end, when every mask will drop off, when every hidden thing will be exposed to view, and the secrets of every life will be told. The prophet is here looking forward to an occasion of judgment, and every occasion of judgment must of necessity be an occasion of decision. But the work of judgment is by no means confined to the future. Wherever the Gospel message goes, wherever the truth of God is revealed to the understanding of man, there the work of judgment necessarily commences. Our Lord taught that it was in virtue of the relation in which men stood to the Son of Man that their position before God was to be decided. So it is still. The presence of Christ in His Spirit among us still must needs cause judgment. The first work of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. The word “convict” is a judicial term. It may be said of redemption itself, that the Divine mercy is ordained to flow into the human heart through judgment. Unconditioned mercy--mercy that does not come to me through the forms of judgment, and with the sanction of justice--might have a demoralising effect upon me. Ours is a Gospel of merely flowing through judgment. So then, not only does the Holy Ghost judge us when He first brings our sins to remembrance and pronounces us guilty, but in the very act of justifying us He still exhibits, in the most impressive manner, God’s righteous judgment against sin; for it is through the Cross that grace flows forth to us, and the Cross is, above everything else, the place of judgment--the most amazing and impressive vindication that God could give of the majesty of law. We may say that every day of visitation from God to the soul of man is in some sense a lesser judgment day. On the last august occasion, the decision will lie simply and solely with the Judge. There will be no appealing from His judgment. Now, the decision lies with ourselves. It is the work of God the Holy Spirit to bring all with whom He strives, into the valley of decision, the place of judgment. There are two ways out of this valley. Through the gate of life and through the gate of death. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The valley of judgment
Note the vast appearance that shall be in that great and solemn day.
1. The judgment day, that day of the Lord, has all along been looked upon, and spoken of, as “nigh at hand.” We ought to be always ready for it.
2. The day of judgment will be a day of decision, when every man’s eternal state will be determined, and the controversy that has been long depending between the kingdom of Christ and that of Satan shall he finally decided, and an end put to the struggle. The Chaldee calls it, “the valley of the distribution of judgment.” Marg. has “valley of threshing,” carrying on the figure of the harvest.
3. Innumerable multitudes will be gathered together to receive their final doom in that day. O what vast multitudes of sinners will Divine justice be glorified in the ruin of at that day! (Matthew Henry.)
The valley of decision
(Sermon to Children):--The text struck me when I was a lad. Children have a strange way of mixing up things, and I came to think of these words as in some way connected with a place near my native town. Away out on those wild cliffs, with the fierce Atlantic rolling in upon them, there is a valley which came to be in my mind a sort of “valley of decision.”
I. The valley of decision is a place for sober thought. There is the little stream hurrying on between the banks, always hastening away to the great sea. Is not that just like our life? It is hurrying away to the great sea of eternity.
II. A place of solemn warning. Just under this little valley a merry party had come one day for a picnic. One young man slipped away to bathe. Suddenly, as the others sat singing on the rocks, one sprang up and pointed to their friend as he was being borne away by the current. He was drowning before their eyes. What is death but the sweeping in of the waves of eternity, bearing away one and another T Think of these things deeply and seriously.
III. The place suggested our danger and our deliverance. There was a huge, black, rounded cavern, called Ralph’s Cupboard, in a steep, precipitous cliff, never accessible from the land, and scarcely ever to be entered from the sea. A smuggler, hard pressed by the coastguards, turned his boat towards this cave, caught the swelling wave, and was swept into what seemed the jaws of destruction, but to him was harbour of safety. We, too, have broken the law. We want a refuge. And the Bible says, “A man shall be as an hiding-place.” Our only Safety is in Him, our only hope of escape is there. Yet all this will not make a place the valley of decision. When we have made up our mind, the day of the Lord is near. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
Joel was a prophet in the older sense. He was a seer; he had visions. He had, indeed, a work to do for his own generation; but this was all to be impressed by the solemnity of the visions given to him. One of these visions we follow. In Eastern houses there is often a little upper chamber, available for prayer and meditation, and we may imagine Joel, in such a place, poring over the records of Divine law and Divine leadings, and bending in earnest supplication before his God. As he thinks and prays the daylight fades; gradually he becomes absorbed; other scenes open up before him; he sees more than the bodily eye can see; age after age passes in hurried march; dimly, indistinctly, he traces the progress of events as these ages roll on; and gradually he becomes aware of an extraordinary excitement. As the vision clears it is as though heaven were preparing for some grand event; the angelic warriors are girding on their armour, though evidently rather for a day of glory than a day of battle. The angelic attendants are preparing thrones of judgment, palms of victory, robes of beauty, crowns of glory, songs of triumph; and, strangely enough, also chains of darkness and of woe. Hell is moved. Out of its depths spirit after spirit is appearing to join the procession that is ever forming and passing on. The sea is moved, and casts out the dead that are in her. And even as the prophet watches, he sees the last midnight darkness pass away; gradually the grey of dawn streaks the skies, and at the moment when the sun first looks upon the hills, a mighty angel stands forth and cries--“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision, for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” The “day of the Lord” is yet to come. The day of the Lord’s glory, when the multitude of the redeemed shall crown Him with many crowns. The day of the Lord’s vindication, when He shall break down the rebellion of lost souls with the proofs of His forbearance, and the memory of His repeated calls. The day when the “wrath of the Lamb” must be revealed, and He shall come” in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of His Sort.” There must be an end of this dispensation of redemption. There must be a completion of Christ’s special administration. There must be the “day of the Lord.” As Joel’s vision gains distinctness, his attention is arrested by the people assembled on that day. Language fails him in attempting a description. All around, wherever the eye can reach, he sees people, people everywhere; and overwhelmed, he can only cry,--“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!” Few things make stronger impressions on us than the sight of a multitude of people. Many of the greatest wrongs the world has known have been committed under the passionate, unreasoning impulses of multitudes. Many of the most impressive Bible narratives concern multitudes. But if a multitude on earth can exert such power on us, what shall be the effect of multitudes to which our present earth-crowds form no comparison; multitudes in the day of the Lord; multitudes in the valley of decision? Numbers altogether fail for recording that multitude. Language altogether fails for describing it. Even imagination, in its highest flights, utterly fails worthily to conceive it. We may venture to contrast in one or two particulars the ordinary crowds of earth, and the multitudes in the valley of decision.
1. In an earthly crowd the individual is lost in the multitude. In that multitude the number is lost in the individual. Each person will stand out distinct to view, as though he alone were placed before the Judge. And each individual will feel as though he were alone. It will be a time of awful self-consciousness.
2. In an earthly crowd there are almost infinite disguises. The people are not in reality what they seem. The dress of the gentleman too often covers the profligate; the lowly look, and humble clothes, often cover the self-righteous hypocrite. The garb of poverty often hides the noble and generous-hearted. In the valley of decision there are no disguises. All disguise drops off at death. Men’s shrouds are pretty much alike; and even they soon rot and perish in the dampness of the grave. Men rise to judgment with no disguises upon them. Stern, unflinching truth shall dispel all mists, all doubts, and set our characters forth clear as in the sunlight. And what are the great distinctions which shall mark these “multitudes”? We notice the utter absence of all merely human distinctions. Riches--nothing. Poverty--nothing. Position--nothing. Fame--nothing. Knowledge--nothing. Character--everything. One test for everybody--righteous or wicked. The Scriptures do not satisfy our questionings concerning the precise terms of the decision at that assize, but they intimate that there will be a more general term, and a more particular one. The general term is thus expressed,--“Condemned already, because they,, believed not on the Son of God.” The particular term is thus expressed,--We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” How these are to fit into each other, it is beyond any human power to explain. But we can see the two separate facts very clearly. Our life, in its minutest acts, has eternal issues. Everything we do, beyond its bearing on our present character, has its bearing on our eternal destiny, because on our eternal character. Our every-day conduct is, in sober reality, raising our mansion of eternal bliss, or preparing the dungeons of the eternal death. And the general test that is to decide in that great day is very simple. It is this--in Christ or out of Christ? The answer to that question settles all else. And that test may be put now. We shall come out upon that “day of the Lord” as though from a room where we had rested awhile upon a landing-place, from which steps wind upward into a place of beauty and delights; and from which other steps wind downwards into ever-deepening darkness. If out of Christ when you yield up the ghost, then you must be borne downwards, until it can be said of you, “The darkness took them.” If in Christ now, and when the spirit parts with its earthly tabernacle, then, loving angel arms shall entwine you; loving angel songs shall cheer you; loving friends, long lost, shall beckon you; the loving Saviour shall Himself be with you, as you journey up the steps of glory everlasting; the gates of the golden palace shall be flung back for you, and with shouts of triumphant welcome, “the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads, they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Robert Tuck, B. A.)
A time of judgment
Multitudes in the valley of judgment; multitudes come together that they may be examined, criticised in the light of heaven, judged by the standard eternal and unchangeable. Why not accept that as the basis of an appeal to human intelligence and human conscience? There is to be a time of judgment, when the right and the left shall be specifically distinguished; when the bad and the good shall be known one from the other, and separated for ever. Who undertakes this marvellous classification? Blessed be God, not man; thanks be unto heaven, we are to be judged by the Creator, not by the creature. What man could judge his brother? What does man know about his dearest friend? He knows nothing. We live upon appearances. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
But the Lord will be the hope of His people.
The haven of repair
The margin reads, “The Lord will be a place of repair, or a harbour for His people.” As a secluded, landlocked haven, where storm does not rock, is to a dismasted vessel, so will our God be to those who come in live spiritual need. He will be a haven of repair.
I. There are many experiences which cause us to need a place of repair. Who does not suffer through the fault of others? In every department of our existence we are eyes and hands and feet to each other, in the same body. What is true amongst the smaller things of life’s healthy competition is found also in that more important world, where hearts are wounded, where confidence is shaken, and where hopes are too often crushed. The world is rich in afflictions which are unintentionally caused. Who has not suffered from his own unwisdom? By lack of caution or by over-caution moral weakness is often induced. By hesitation or by impulsiveness we bring disaster upon ourselves. We need some kind of repairing very frequently, and, for the most part, it is on account of self-inflicted damage. The need of repair may come through some want of knowledge. We did not know the seas of life; did not expect a sudden storm; did not understand our own weak side. And so we spread full sail when caution should have counselled; we went right on when we should have sought the anchorage of prayer. But most vessels seek a haven of repair on account of the common wear and strain of voyaging. And so it is with human hearts. We know that we often need a refuge where there is the hope of refitting our shattered strength.
II. The Lord will be our haven of repair. He alone combines the knowledge, the ability, and the will which are needful. No need or danger can be unknown to Him “whose eyes are in every place.” No inability to do after His heart’s desire can fetter Him who “created all things by the breath of His mouth.” His knowledge, His love, and His power, are the three mountains which enclose a haven of blessed security and peace for the sons of men. Storms of temptation should drive us to the refuge that is in God. The winds of intellectual difficulty should drive us to this Divine haven.
III. A harbour of repair equips for future voyages and service. Acceptance with God is not a fact which should be exclusively, or even chiefly, associated with the close of life. It is not life’s end, but the beginning of new effort towards a better life. If the truth has done anything in us to make us free, it is that we may go forth afresh to meet the rising storms, ourselves, perhaps, to be yet more beaten about and tried, but as a recompense to know that we help some to find the great salvation, to enter into His rest. There will always be Divine strength for Divine work. Let us remember in our religious joy, that the haven of refuge is a haven of repair, and that this always means more work for God. (W. H. Jackson.)
The strength of the children of Israel.--
Christ our strength
Few things have been more coveted by man than strength. But man’s superiority to the brutes lies in something more than physical strength. Yet neither a big biceps nor a big brain makes the man in the likeness of God. The really strong men have often to be sought elsewhere than in the ranks of warriors and statesmen. Strength is not the less real for being spiritual. What and whence is such strength as this?
I. The stoic idea of man’s spiritual power. Epictetus thus gives man’s object in living. It is “to know God perfectly, to love Him, to obey Him, to please Him, to overcome all vices, to acquire all virtues, and so to render ourselves holy and companions of God” Then why did Stoicism fail? Because the Stoic philosopher claims that man has in himself every means of acquitting himself of all these obligations, and that the means are always within his own power. In man the mind is free to believe only what is true, and the will is free to follow only what is right.
II. The epicurean idea of man’s spiritual power. This school claims that so far from the mind teaching us truth, there is nothing we can positively state as truth. And so far from our will being always for happiness, and in the right, it is generally likely to lead us into trouble.
III. The Christian idea. Christianity, steering between Hegelian and Calvinistic theories of human nature, teaches that the mind of man, perfectly informed, may possess right knowledge; and the will of man, perfectly established, may be capable of right conduct. But it recognises that man as yet is not thus perfect. His mind is struggling for light, his will for guidance. Christ is the strength of the people of God. In His presence man’s pride must go, since he will recognise his incompleteness and weakness; and his idleness must go, since he will recognise the grace offered to honest effort. Laying hold on the strength of Christ, you are using the resources of Omnipotence. (H. H. Gowen.)
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine.
The golden age
I. It will be an age in which great temporal prosperity will be witnessed. “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.” Here we have set forth the temporal prosperity which the Church of God is destined to enjoy after the destruction of its enemies. The Church is now in great poverty. It does not possess the good things of the material universe. The world itself is barren. It is rendered so by greed and covetousness. But the day is coming when the meek shall inherit the earth, and when the earth shall spontaneously and richly yield her increase. The earth shall yield her harvest responsive to the smile of heaven.
II. It will be an age in which the hallowed moral influences of the sanctuary shall pervade society. “And a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim.” Thus in the age to come there will issue from the sanctuary of the Lord a moral influence as pure, refreshing, and quickening as a stream of water, which shall be beneficial to the social life of men; indeed, society will be pervaded by the tide of thought, feeling, and praise which takes its rise in the secret place of the Most High. This tide shall reach even to the valley of Shittim; the most distant and barren places of society shall be awakened into moral verdure by the advent of the life-giving stream.
III. It will be an age in which moral goodness will be continuous and progressive. “But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation.” Then the redemption of the good will be eternal. They shall never again be led into captivity. Their moral condition will be permanent and happy: they shall dwell in it for ever. Sin of every kind is doomed to become a “desolate wilderness”; but purity, righteousness, truth, and virtuous character shall continue and progress in meaning and splendour through the ages.
IV. It will be an age in which the Divine presence will be richly manifested. “For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion.” The men of the age will be made morally pure, and then God will come and dwell in their midst. Lessons:--
1. The world has not yet reached its ideal condition.
2. There are agencies at work seeking to bring the world under Divine influences.
3. Let us derive encouragement from this picture of the future of the race. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion.
These words must be understood in the Christian and spiritual, not in the Jewish and literal sense. The Judah here spoken of is the spiritual Judah; those who are followers of the Lord, by the regenerating grace of God.
I. Vital consecration to god. “I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed.” Take this strictly in a spiritual sense.
1. Medicinally. Illustrate by the circumstances of the cleansing of the leper. It is said, “the priest shall consider”; and we may be sure the Great Physician will consider those who seek Him with their sin-disease. And He will cleanse them, even cleanse the blood which is the life.
2. It relates to their citizenship. For nothing that defileth, worketh abomination, and maketh a lie, can enter into the city, can be reckoned a citizen.
II. The presence of the Lord. “The Lord dwelleth in Zion.”
1. As the strength of Zion. It is strong if salvation be the walls.
2. As the security, or peace, of Zion. The defence of His people.
3. As “the source of happiness” to His people. (James Wells.)
A happy Church
Three things promised it.
1. Purity. “I will cleanse, etc. Put last here, as a reason for the rest.
2. Plenty. “The mountains shall drop new wine.” Such abundance shall they have of suitable provision.
3. Perpetuity. This crowns the rest.
(1) The Church of Christ shall continue in the world to the end of time. All the living members of that Church shall be established in their happiness to the utmost ages of eternity. (Matthew Henry.)
For the Lord dwelleth in Zion.--
God and the Church
The statement of the prophet amounts to this--that the Lord bears a peculiar relation to the Church.
I. The Church is the greatest Witness of God. The very existence of the Church on earth shows that it is a witness of God’s being, providence, and redemption. This will appear if we consider--
1. The Church of God is decidedly opposed to the principles and practice of the great mass of mankind. Its creed and conduct are thought to be holy, just, benevolent, and productive of happiness.
2. A great portion of mankind have in every age and clime opposed the Church. You cannot put your finger on a page of ecclesiastical history without discovering this.
3. Still the Church not only has existed, but it has increased. I am not able to account for this unless it be Divine interposition. From these considerations we can confidently say that the Church is a living witness of God in the midst of faithless generations. May it ever be a bold, brave, honest witness against sin in all its forms.
II. The Church is the brightest illustration of God.
1. By publishing God’s own revelations. This was done by writing, translating, and printing. If this had not been done, we should have been to this day under the influence of Druidism. Let the Word of God have free course, and wherever it goes it will cause the wilderness to blossom as the rose, and the parched earth to appear in verdure, fertility, and beauty.
2. By imitating His moral perfections. It not only says such a being as God exists, but in effect says, Look on me, and you shall see God’s character exhibited. One of the servants of Plato said once, very sagaciously, “Plato has written a book against anger, and yet he is one of the most angry of men.” Christians speak much of Christianity as a system of love, yet they are hating and persecuting one another.
III. The Church is the highest instrument of God.
1. It ameliorates the outward sufferings of the world. I believe that there is throughout the world a favourable disposition towards Christianity, because it is calculated to better the temporal condition of mankind. Let us endeavour not to contradict this impression.
2. It converts the moral heart of the world. What a noble work God has given His Church to do; what a solemn charge! The conversion of the whole world. Let every individual feel his own responsibility. Let us unite in prayer, that we may be baptized with the Holy Ghost. (Caleb Morris.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》