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This chapter begins with the announcement that "the day of Jehovah cometh," and the summons of all of the people to a solemn convocation in the presence of God (Joel 2:1-3). There is a strong eschatological overtone in Joel 2:1, a note which is echoed again and again in the chapter. "The eschatological warning already sounded in Joel 1:15 is several times repeated (Joel 2:1,2,10 and 11)."F1 "A more terrific judgment than that of the locusts is foretold, under imagery drawn from that of the calamity then engrossing the afflicted nation."F2 Next comes a description of the threatened judgment, "in metaphors more distinctly military in nature,"F3 (Joel 2:4-11). A solemn appeal for genuine heart-felt repentance is then made, based upon the premise that, "Who knoweth whether he (God) will repent, and leave a blessing behind him?" (Joel 2:12-14). The call for a solemn assembly is repeated (Joel 2:15-17); a reaffirmation of God's care for his people and a promise of his blessing are given (Joel 2:15-20); a continued affirmation of the favored status of Israel as God's chosen people appears (Joel 2:21-27); and, finally, the chapter has, "a promise of the Holy Spirit in the last days under the Messiah, and the deliverance of all believers in Him,"F4 (Joel 2:28-32). This last paragraph is written as a separate chapter in the Hebrew Bible, giving four chapters instead of three in that version of Joel.
Blow ye the trumpet in Zion
This verse interprets the awful calamity that had come upon the people, as a warning of `the day of Jehovah' which was to come, the dawn of which was already breaking.F5 The blowing of the trumpet was used in the early history of Israel to call the people to the door of the tent of meeting (the tabernacle) during the wilderness wanderings, as a signal to start their journey from one station to another, or as means of calling the people together for a great assembly. This horn blowing therefore became a symbol connected with such occasions in all the subsequent history of Israel, and at times long after there was any possibility that all the inhabitants of the land would actually be able literally to hear the sound of a trumpet blown in Jerusalem. The N.T. writers extended the imagery of this blowing of the trumpet in a number of references to the final judgment, a usage that goes back to Christ himself who said, And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matthew 24:31). (See 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16; and Heb. 12:19). In the light of this, how unreasonable are the interpretations which insist that because of Joel's using this figure, the entire nation of the Jews was only a small community when he wrote, and actually living within earshot of Jerusalem! This is one of those interpretations relied upon heavily as evidence of a late post-exilic date.
Sound an alarm in my holy mountain
The holy mountain here is the same as Zion, both being poetic references to the high hill (2,539 feet above sea level)F6 in Jerusalem upon which the temple was built. It was also called Mount Moriah and is the same as the mountain where Abraham offered up Isaac, and where David returned the ark of the covenant from Obed-Edom, and where the cross of the Son of God was lifted up. As Deane said, This mountain was the visible symbol of the divine presence;F7 and therefore the spiritual impact of this blowing of the trumpet (or ram's horn) had the effect of a summons for the people to stand in the presence of the Lord.
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble
Perhaps those whose place of residence made it possible for them would also have actually assembled in the city of Jerusalem.
For the day of Jehovah cometh, for it is nigh at hand
(For discussion of the day of Jehovah, see under Joel 1:15.) To the prophets of the O.T., and even the N.T. for that matter, the day of the Lord is always at hand, the same being profoundly true, if the expression be understood as signaling the impending judgment of God upon the grossly wicked, or if it is taken as a reference to that great and final day, when Almighty God shall rise in righteous wrath and throw evil out of his universe. The first is always an earnest of the second. No greater misunderstanding of the Sacred Scriptures is current in the world today than the notion that Christ himself, and all of his apostles, thought that the end of the world was just around the corner. Christ indeed mentioned the end of the world in Matt. 28:10, but he certainly did not indicate that that event was impending or immediate. The day of the Lord and the day of judgment, in its last and final manifestation will indeed evidently occur at the end of the world; but the widespread assumption that every N.T. reference to such things as the day of the Lord, the day of judgment, or the coming of Christ (in judgment) is a certain reference to the end of time is absolutely incorrect. Many cities, nations and peoples have already experienced the day of the Lord, as did Tyre, Sidon, Sodom, Gomorrah, Nineveh, Babylon, Jerusalem and Rome; and doubtless many others will also yet pass through similar judgments before the actual end of time is reached.
It would appear that far more than any locust plague is in view here. "The locusts are now pictured on a scale larger than life, and many commentators have understood them here as prefiguring some invading army from the north."F8 We do not hesitate to interpret this as a prophecy of the invasion of Israel by the Assyrians, who usually entered Palestine from the north. Some commentators, of course, hesitate to accept this, due to their erroneous decision that Joel was written at a time when the Assyrian scourge had already disappeared from the earth.
There hath not been ever the like
The unique terror of the Assyrians is a historical phenomenon; even the friezes that decorated the palaces of Ashurbanipal, and Ashurnasipal depicted the slaves and captives without skin, exposing the muscles and tendons as articulating with the bones in such a manner as to indicate that the Assyrians were more familiar with the human anatomy without skin, than they were with the normal body.F9 They customarily flayed their victims, and often did this while the unfortunates were still alive!
As has been repeatedly stressed in this series, the prophetic description of "the day of the Lord" invariably appears in the very darkest colors. Another example is Amos 5:18ff, where the impact of that day upon men will be like that of one who flees from a lion, but who meets a bear, and then, finally reaching what might have been supposed as the safety of his house, he went in and leaned against the wall; and a serpent bit him! The seven parallel presentations of the Judgment Day in the Book of Revelation all follow this tragic and exceedingly distressing pattern.
None hath escaped them
This is the key that unlocks the extended meaning of the locusts in this passage. The locusts never hurt people; and clearly the disaster threatened here is against the population itself. The probability of this view being correct is greatly enhanced by the dual presentation of the locusts in Rev. 9. In phase I, there was no loss of human life; but in phase II, the locusts became a murdering army of 200,000,000 with a commission to destroy a third of the human race! The genius of the inspired writers in discerning these two phases in the life-cycle of the actual locust is certainly reflected in both Joel and the Book of Revelation. This two-phase phenomenon in the life of the locust was not known to the scientific community for generations; because it was not until 1921 that, The centuries-old question posed by a locust swarm was answered (in 1921) by Sir Boris Uvarov.F10 The revelation of this Secret of the Locust was elaborately discussed by Robert A.M. Conley in 1969 thus:
"He discovered that one of the familiar green grasshoppers of the African and Asian bush is really the ravenous locust in another guise. When repeated rains dampen desert sands, thousands of eggs hatch. The hoppers constantly touch one another, triggering a change of behavior and color; they seek each other's company and turn yellow, black, and red."F11
Quite evidently the peculiar use of the locust as a "type" by both Joel and the apostle John resulted from their inspiration in knowing what would remain unknown about the locusts until long millenniums afterward! The connection that this portion of the Bible has with the Book of Revelation is further pointed up by the mention here of the garden of Eden, that being the place where human rebellion against God began, where the sentence of death was imposed (and never repealed), and where God uttered his curse upon the ground "for Adam's sake." That ancient paradise (Eden) is also repeatedly mentioned in Revelation, and for exactly the same reasons as here. This reference by the prophet to the garden of Eden is laden with great significance.
Fire devoureth before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness...
There is no need whatever to see this as any kind of metaphor. An invading army always burns everything in its path, leaving nothing behind except desolation.
Rev. 9:7-12 has a remarkable elaboration of this same comparison of the locusts to "many horses rushing to war," even the sound of the locust's wings being compared to the noise of a cavalry charge. The impossibility of understanding John's words in Revelation as a reference to any literal locusts greatly enhances the probability that the true interpretation of them in this chapter is that they represent an impending military disaster coming soon to Israel in the invasion of the Assyrians.
These verses (Joel 2:4-11) describe disaster which Joel prophesied in much of the imagery of the locust plague, but there are the strongest military overtones throughout. "He must be speaking of real warriors under the figure of real locusts."F12
To be sure, there were characteristics and appearances of the locusts which suggest horses rushing to war, but it is our conviction that it was God's Word regarding this which was delivered by the prophet; he was not merely describing the way the locusts seemed to him. This does not deny the appropriateness of the comparison. As Jamieson said, "The locust's head is so like that of a horse that the Italians call it (the locust) cavalette."F13 It is also said that, "The amazing noise of the locusts can be heard six miles off!"F14
This is a continuation of the prophecy of a military invasion, presented in the strongest military imagery. Horses were, above all other animals, the instruments of war, as were also the chariots. The passage in Rev. 9:7-12 should be consulted in connection with what is said here.
It is clearly not the destruction of vegetation that is indicated here; it is a prophecy of the appearance of "the breakers," the ruthless and savage army of Assyria that was capable of striking the fear of death into every heart and blanching the faces of all the people with paleness. As Keil said, "Joel is no doubt depicting something more here than the devastation caused by the locusts in his own day."F15
The mention of "ranks" again suggests the military, not a swarm of insects; and, although it is true enough that the locusts move in a straight trajectory, turning aside neither to the right or the left, and even scaling walls and houses in their procedure, it has never been alleged by anyone that the locusts were definitely arrayed in "ranks" and "echelons." The prophecy throughout this section (Joel 2:4-11) moves beyond the locust plague to something more terrible. However, the locust plague was also terrible in its own right:
When a wall or a house lies in their way, they climb straight up, going over the roof. When they come to water, whether a puddle, river, lake, or the open sea, they never attempt to go around it, but unhesitatingly leap in and are drowned; and their dead bodies floating on the surface make a bridge (over lesser bodies of water) for their companions to pass over. Thus the scourge often ends, causing a stench which sometimes produces a fearful plague.F16
This also has its counterpart in the stench of battlefields with the rotting of the dead bodies of men and horses.
Burst through the weapons
is another stern military term, the weapons in view being the defensive weapons employed in warfare, not any kind of clubs used against locusts. The people visited by a locust plague already know the hopelessness of attacking the swarms with any type of weapons, such things as fire, smoke, poisons, insecticides, and trenches filled with water being the usual defenses. The imagery here is that of a city's defenses being overwhelmed with military force.
This terminology is invariably associated with the coming of Christ, or God, in judgment upon mankind. Jesus said, "The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven" (Matthew 24:20,30). Fanciful illustrations of how a great swarm of locusts may cut off the light of sun, moon and stars, together with the denomination of this passage as hyperbole, fail to fill the bill here. The whole passage must be applied to "the day of Jehovah." Furthermore, as Hailey said, such a description as this verse, "became the prophetic description of Jehovah's judgments by the prophets that followed Joel,"F17 and was also adopted by the sacred writers of the N.T. as a description of the final judgment day, as seen repeatedly in Revelation (cf. Rev. 6:12-14).
This verse is a picture of the dreadful consequences of the present and temporary locust plague; but it is also a picture of the future judgment of God upon Israel, being also, even a type of the final judgment of all humanity on the Last Day.
Rev. 6:17 has this: "For the day of their wrath (that of God and the Lamb) is come, and who shall be able to stand?" The passage there is a reference to the eternal judgment. As Keil observed:
"That these words affirm something infinitely greater than the darkening of the lights of heaven by storm-clouds is evident from the predictions of the wrath of the Lord ... at which the whole fabric of the universe trembles and nature clothes itself in mourning."F18 "These words give a theological and eschatological interpretation of the locust invasion."F19
The contingency of all God's warnings of impending judgments is seen in this. No matter how closely a rebellious people might have moved toward that hidden boundary between God's mercy and God's wrath, the Father will even then be deterred from the execution of his wrath, if only the people will truly repent and turn to him with all their hearts.
Contrary to the widely advocated notion that it is merely the inward response alone that is important, this passage shows that a genuine turning to God with all the heart was an absolute essential; but so also was an acceptable outward manifestation of it, "fasting, weeping and mourning." "Genuine sorrow and shame for sin were to be accompanied by fasting, tears of penitence, and other indications of mourning."F20
We should not leave this verse without noting that, "When the Bible says heart it means man's thinking powers, not his emotions."F21 Jesus once asked the Pharisees, "Why think ye evil in your hearts?" indicating clearly enough, that in the Bible, the heart is actually the mind. Emotions are always exposed in the sacred text as very unreliable.
And not your garments
The prohibition in this is not directed against the demonstration of adequate external signs of repentance, for such indications of the inward condition of penitence had just been commanded in the preceding verse; what is forbidden, therefore, is the reliance upon such outward things in the absence of the truly penitent condition they were designed to demonstrate.
Joel here spoke of the same qualities of God's infinite graciousness, mercy, and lovingkindness that were known to Jonah (Jonah 4:2), but it is very unlikely that either writer had received much information from the other, the same being a part of the heritage of Israel, and fully known to long generations prior to either Joel or Jonah.
And repenteth him of evil
Such an expression as this is a source of question to some; but the meaning is quite simple, beautifully stated thus by Hailey:
"God's repentance is a change of his will toward the people and is the result of a change of will and conduct on their part. Their repentance would cause God to pour out a blessing instead of judgment."F22
Coupled with such terrible judgments as Joel had been proclaiming, was the possibility that the people might become overly discouraged and think that all was lost, no matter what they did; but in this great verse, Joel showed himself ready to, "claim the covenant promise and hold it out as a lifeline to the people of his day."F23
The tremendously beautiful message of this wonderful verse is given a musical treatment in Elijah, by Felix Mendelssohn.
Thompson also observed that the expression "and not your garments .... does not absolutely forbid this common sign of grief."F24 However, it is not forbidden at all, being one of the things commanded in the immediately preceding verse. What is meant by this passage is that no reliance should be placed in either the heart-felt repentance, or the outward observance of the actions indicating it, in the absence of the other. The genuine repentance without any outward tokens of it would fail as an example to others, for they would not be aware of it; and the outward tokens of it without the true repentance itself, would likewise fall utterly short of God's approval.
This was exactly the response of the people of Nineveh to the preaching of Jonah. They said: Who knoweth whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? (Jonah 3:9). This very likely indicates knowledge on the part of the Ninevites of this very passage in Joel; because all of the ancient Gentile nations were fully aware of God's special dealings with Israel, of his bringing them up out of Egypt; and they had, perhaps, also a knowledge of what their prophets had said. It is very difficult to believe that the Ninevites would have made exactly this response without a prior knowledge of Joel; a fact that advocates of a post-exilic date of Joel cannot explain at all.
This passage is an elaboration of Joel 2:1 and indicates that the utmost participation in the solemn assembly must be achieved, even bridegrooms who by Jewish custom were exempted from all public duties during the first year of marriage (even war), as well as brides and infant children were required to attend. (See Deut. 24:5.)
The duties of priests, even including the exact prayer they were to pray, were included. Significantly, that prayer was not for the alleviation of the locust plague, but that God should avert the delivery of Israel into the hands of "the nations that they should rule over them." If proof were needed that this 2nd chapter deals with a great judgment symbolized by the locust plague, and not merely with such a plague itself, it surely appears here.
Between the porch and the altar
This and other related expressions in these verses have been made the basis of postulating a late post-exilic date; but as Robertson said:
"Too much is made of the references to ritual, as if they necessarily implied a post-exilic date. It is not legitimate here .... The meaning of "old men" or "elders" is no such indication. The expression everywhere in Joel means nothing more than "old men"; and, even if it had an official connotation, the official elders are an old tribal institution in Israel."F25
Give not thy heritage to reproach. Wherefore should they say, Where is their God? ..
Such expressions as this are all anterior to the earliest possible date of Joel, and prove that at an early time there was a consciousness in Israel that the fortunes of the people were bound up with the honor of God.F26 Such an idea was certainly very much older than the times of the exile. As a matter of fact, this particular idea goes back to Moses himself who used exactly this same appeal in his plea to God to avert the threatened destruction of the nation upon the occasion of their worshipping the golden calf. He said:
"Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, saying, For evil did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce anger, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants" (Exodus 32:12,13).
Also, the Book of Deuteronomy casts a great deal of light on this prophecy. Moses specifically warned the people of their becoming a "byword" among all nations, and that locusts would destroy their harvests (Deuteronomy 28:36-46); and, in the light of Moses' warning, it was actually no difficult thing to connect the present locust plague with the ultimate dispersion of Israel as a reproach among all nations as foretold by Moses.
Whether viewed as a prophecy of Joel of relief for the penitent people or as an exclamation of praise after the event of his mercy, this section (Joel 2:15-17) is rich with a portrayal of God's abundant blessings upon the covenant nation (not the secular state, as such, but the spiritual remnant who, in scripture, were always equated with the "true Israel"). "Apparently Joel had been successful in inspiring the people of Judah to repent sincerely, for here we are told that, `The Lord became jealous for his land.'"F27 Two motives may be assigned to God as reasons for his "repentance" of the threatened disaster:
"The first is jealousy, the dishonor done to his name must be forever removed; the second, his pity, which has been stirred by the penitence of his afflicted people."F28
It should be observed that none of this could be applied to the locust plague, a disaster which was already present; but it indicates that the ultimate destruction of Israel and their removal to other nations as captives, the more terrible judgment of which the locust plague was a symbol -- that disaster was indeed averted for the time.
The failure to see this second chapter as the prophecy of a far greater judgment than that of the locusts results in the interpretation of these verses (Joel 2:18-27) as a statement of God's promise to remove the terrible scourge of the locusts, or to bring about the cessation of it. Deere commented thus:
"Evidently the people responded to the prophet's invitation. The solemn convocation was convened; the people repented; and the Lord forgave them. Consequently, he now promises to remove the locusts and restore the prosperity of the land. Now all will know that God Himself dwells with his people."F29
This is, of course, correct as far as it goes; but the great damage of the locust plague still remained; and it is better to view the removal of the locusts as a symbol of a lifting of that greater doom impending, which eventually came, in the invasion of Assyrians and Babylonians.
I will remove far off from you the northern army
This is a prophetic double entendre, rather than a problem."F30 Not only did the worst locust plagues usually descend on Jerusalem from the north,F31 but, "It was also true that Israel's main invaders: Aram, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome all attacked from the north."F32 What is evidently in view in this passage is that the summary end of the locust plague which resulted from their being carried by strong winds into the seas, is cited as a pledge that the greater judgment of invasion has also been averted. The use of the military words "the northern army" precludes the limitation of this to the locust scourge. Even the expressions "forepart" and "hinder part" are "more applicable to a human army's van and rear, than to locusts."F33
Stench shall come up. ill savor ..
One of the most refreshing things about the Bible is its frankness; a bad smell is still a bad smell, even in scripture.F34 As in other things in these verses, the words here have a double meaning, applying first to the bad odor resulting from the drowning death of millions of locusts, and secondly to the terrible odor of a battlefield with its unburied corpses of men and horses.
It should be pointed out that many eminent Biblical commentators insist on seeing nothing in these verses of Joel 2, except a recapitulation of the prophet's very thorough description of the locusts in Joel 1. Deane, for example, said, "The army of this verse we still hold to be the tribes of locusts";F35 but even he admitted that, "The Assyrian enemies of Judah who advanced from the north are in a subsidiary sense represented."F36 Despite the disagreement of many, however, it seems to us that the quality of the language in this chapter, coupled with the fact that there was no necessity whatever for any re-hash of the very adequate depiction of the locusts in chapter 1, compels the view which has been adopted here.
These verses are a beautiful description of the physical blessings which followed the removal of the locusts; and the mention that "Jehovah hath done great things" shows that the continuing act of God's provision for mankind through the abundance of his creation is no less a "great thing," than any of his more spectacular judgments against Israel's enemies. Just as the swarms of locusts were said to have "done great things" in Joel 2:20, the actions of God's benefits are no less so.
These verses, continuing the theme of the whole section (Joel 2:18-27), are the praise of God for the temporal and physical blessings which were given to mankind, and to Israel in particular, because they were the covenant people.
Modern man supposes that he is above attributing any such physical benefits as rain and sunshine to God; and, as the mayor of a north New Jersey township objected to a public prayer meeting "for rain," brought about by a six-year drought which had threatened the water supply of the whole section, "The water supply is too important to be left up to God!" there are many in the current culture who do not believe that God has anything to do with such things; but this is a frightfully short-sighted and inaccurate notion. In the last analysis, everything depends upon the Father's will. The great climatic changes which can change a rain forest into a petrified forest, or through drought destroy the civilization of Frijoles Canyon are finally and absolutely of God Himself. His will is back of everything.
It is of interest that the four names of locusts appearing here are the reverse order of their use in Joel 1:4. God promised the complete recovery of all the losses incurred from the terrible visitation.
My great army which I sent among you
This is a reference to the locusts, since that is the subject being discussed; but this isolated use of the expression here is not sufficient to deny its symbolical and figurative use earlier. It is rather a reminder of the greater disaster symbolized by the locusts. In fact, even this description of the temporal benefits of God's blessings upon Israel is freighted with intimations of the spiritual benefits accruing to God's people in all ages to come. Paul so interpreted this very verse in Rom. 10:11,12, where he spoke of the blessings of believing in Christ, saying, For the scripture saith, whosoever believeth on him shall not be put to shame; for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.
One great fact regarding such precious promises was that in the ultimate and final sense, they were contingent upon Israel's continued penitence and obedience. One may be very sure that the first generation to receive these words failed to get that condition. "My people shall never be put to shame" was a promise which secular Israel mistakenly assumed to be their unique heritage, overlooking the truth that in every age, God's people are those who do his will. These promises then, both here and in the succeeding verse, did not promise unlimited security and blessing for secular Israel, but to God's true people, the spiritual seed of Abraham.
As Cole said, the expression "and there is none else ... is as strong a statement of monotheism as anything in the second half of Isaiah, or anywhere else in the O.T."F37
The ends-of-the-earth implication of these last verses in this section is further emphasized by the switch immediately afterward to the glorious promises of the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit during the times of the Messiah and his kingdom.
And it shall come to pass afterward
The specific fulfillment of this passage occurred on the day of Pentecost, upon which occasion the apostle Peter referred to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the twelve apostles as this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel (Acts 2:17f). To be sure, as Harley said, Only the apostles received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that occasion;F38 but the infusion of the Holy Spirit that became available to mankind on that day was a much more extensive thing than his miraculous demonstration upon the Twelve. Peter on that same occasion promised that all who would repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; and this also is included in the prophecy. It is in this extended sense that it is upon all flesh. Furthermore, there were many isolated examples as seen in the virgin daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9) in which sons and daughters alike received great measures of the Holy Spirit. It was Moses who first expressed the hope that God's Spirit would be upon all the people, saying, Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them (Numbers 11:29). The fulfillment of this desire is seen in the truth that every Christian is endowed with an earnest of the Holy Spirit.
It should be noted that beginning with the previous Joel 2:28, this portion of Joel (to the end of the chapter) forms a separate chapter in the Hebrew version of the Bible, giving four chapters instead of three in that version.
This refers to the universality of membership in the Lord's church and the consequent reception of a measure of God's Spirit in the hearts of all believers during the times of the Messiah. Many of the Christians to whom Colossians and Ephesians were originally addressed were slaves; and in that is a most accurate and extensive fulfillment of these very words. Of course, it is not necessary to suppose that even Joel fully understood the import of this prophetic word, as noted above. As Robinson said: "Joel probably had but a vague appreciation of what these words really meant in the great program of God."F39 Of course, there has never been any need to understand Joel's prophecy here as a promise that "all of God's people" will be supernaturally endowed with the Holy Spirit. It was not so in the days of the apostles, nor is it true now.
Old men shall dream dreams. young men shall see visions ..
The place of dreams in the new covenant is greatly downgraded by a number of considerations:
"No other dream is mentioned in the N.T. save those given to Joseph in the very beginning of the N.T., before the full Gospel had come, and to the wife of Pilate, a Gentile."F40
There is absolutely nothing in the N.T. to indicate that any Christian or any other person (exceptions noted above) ever relied upon a dream for anything whatsoever. Christians of all ages have refused to trust dreams.
Myers' observation that the portents in the heavens "are frequently associated with the coming of great events"F41 is correct. There was also a moral implication. Such omens as are mentioned in these verses "are omens of the Day of Judgment, the day of the destruction of evil in order that good may survive and flourish."F42
On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter quoted this very passage as having already been fulfilled as a prelude to "the great and notable Day of the Lord," the day upon which salvation would be given to all who should "call on the name of the Lord." Since the day on which Peter said that was only fifty three days after the crucifixion of Christ, it is appropriate to look to that event as the time of the portents mentioned here.
Wonders in the heavens
The sun's light failed for a period of three hours, the most remarkable portent ever seen in the heavens by any generation.
And in the earth
These would surely have included a number of wonders such as the rending of the veil of the temple, the earthquake that opened the graves of the righteous, the saints who came out of their graves after Jesus' resurrection, and the undisturbed grave clothes of Jesus. All of these things were surely among the wonders on earth beneath.
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke
These expressions almost certainly indicate one of the great Jewish national festivals as the occasion when God's wonders would be done. The sacrifice of many thousands of animals, the roaring fires of the sacrifices, and the vapor of smoke inevitably associated with those great occasions would appear to be adequate identification. Christ was crucified at the Passover festival, and the Holy Spirit came upon Pentecost, some seven complete weeks later; and thus the blood, fire, vapor of smoke reference was fully applicable to both occasions. (See CA, pp. 44-48.)
The crucifixion of Christ was a day when evil was destroyed (Satan was destroyed through the death of Christ, Heb. 2:14), and was therefore an occasion fully important enough to be heralded by the portents mentioned here.
The echoes of the final judgment are also in these verses, but this should not be surprising. The Final Day actually began with the crucifixion of Christ and will be consummated at his Second Coming.
"The last days" began with Christ's first advent and will end with the second advent. They are the days during which the age to come overlaps the present age; hence the assurance with which Peter quoted Joel's words and declared, "This is that."F43
Peter's use of this passage is most significant. "He equated the gift of the Spirit with the dawning of the Messianic age, which was to usher in the final judgment."F44 It is very likely that Peter and all of the apostles regarded the final judgment as an event to occur in their own times, or shortly thereafter; although, in all fairness, it must be pointed out that no sacred writer ever said so! What the apostolic group "thought" is therefore a very poor basis for interpreting their words, which were not of themselves, but of God. The fact that the Final Judgment is still future, after nearly two thousand years, is no grounds whatever for supposing that the prophets were mistaken. Indeed no! The great and terrible judgment of all mankind will yet occur, as Jesus Christ and all of the apostles and prophets have warned. What appears to be "the delay" is merely the mercy and forbearance of God, "who is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
The Judgment Day will finally occur, and it will, in all probability, be ushered in by these same portents, on a cosmic scale, of which the occurrences known to Peter and the people who heard him were only the dim and feeble types.
The N.T. does not mention the light of the moon having failed during the wonders that attended the crucifixion; but Luke's assertion that "the sun's light failed" would necessarily also have involved the moon. Pagan testimony to the fact of both having occurred was cited in N.T. Apocrypha. Pontius Pilate wrote to the Emperor Tiberius that:
"And when he had been crucified, there was darkness over the whole earth ... so that the stars appeared... as I suppose your reverence is not ignorant of, because in all the world they lighted lamps from the sixth hour until evening. And the moon, being like blood, did not shine the whole night, and yet she happened to be in the full."F45
Similar words are likewise used to describe the final judgment day in Rev. 6:12-17; and therefore, the events connected with the Passion of Christ are most likely symbols of even more terrifying wonders that shall mark the arrival of the Final Assize itself. That those events, foretold by Joel, and mentioned as having already occurred by the apostle Peter, were generally known throughout the Roman empire would seem to be indisputable. Tertullian, in his Apology directed to the "Rulers of the Roman Empire," in paragraph 21, has this:
"In the same hour, too, the light of the day was withdrawn, when the sun at the very time was in his meridian blaze. Those who were not aware that this had been predicted of Christ, no doubt thought it was an eclipse. You yourselves have the account of the world-portent still in your archives."F46
That Tertullian appealed to the rulers of the empire as having a record of the very things prophesied by Joel and fulfilled at the Passion of Jesus Christ would appear to be of the very greatest significance. Tertullian would not have dared to make such an appeal unless it had been generally known and recognized as the truth.
A very excellent statement of the full meaning of this passage was given thus by R. J. Knowling:
"Peter saw in the outpouring of the Spirit the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy (Joel 2:28-32) and the dawn of the period preceding the return of Christ in glory."F47
The last days
A misunderstanding of this phrase clouds many of the interpretations. Ironside thought that, all this can never be fulfilled till the people of Israel are restored to their land.F48 Others are querulous about how it could have been the last days so long ago; but, of course, Peter meant the dispensation of the last days; and besides that, in a very dramatic and genuine sense it was the last days for Israel. Their long occupancy of a favored role as God's chosen people ended with what was prophesied here. It was the end of their whole religious system, which, within forty years would be wiped off the face of the earth, never more to appear again. It was the last days of their secular state which soon would perish and never rise again until millenniums afterward; it was the last days of the High Priesthood of Aaron and the Levites; it was the last days of the daily sacrifices, of the temple, and of the state and nation of Israel.
The ultimate fulfillment in the great and final Day of the Lord cannot, therefore, be in any way contingent upon secular Israel getting possession of "their land." Their status as "God's chosen people" ended forever when they crucified Christ; and there are no promises whatever regarding Israel in the N.T., except as they may be realized by some of their number accepting Christ and thus establishing themselves as "seed of Abraham."
The proximity of the "great and terrible day of the Lord" was real enough for the generation to whom Peter applied these words. Christ had foretold the doom of Jerusalem, and from his understanding of Joel, Peter knew that the judgment against Jerusalem could not be long delayed, nor was it. It was executed by the armies of Vespasian and Titus who besieged and ravished the city of Jerusalem in August, A.D. 70. "That destruction, which fulfilled the prophecy, in turn became a prophetic type of the ultimate end of the world and of the judgment of God on the world of the ungodly."F49
Thus, in the instance of "that great and notable day of the Lord," as in many of God's prophecies, there were two fulfillments, an immediate, and a remote fulfillment. The immediate fulfilment was the destruction of Jerusalem, and the remote fulfillment (yet to be) will appear at the end of the world, the Second Coming of Christ, and the final judgment.
In the light of Peter's use of this passage, the primary meaning of it is applicable to salvation from sin, with the attendant indication that just a few, a "remnant" will actually participate in this salvation. In the extended meaning of the prophecy, "mount Zion and Jerusalem" stand for the church or kingdom of Jesus Christ which began there. In the spiritual sense, it is still true that "the word of the Lord goeth forth from mount Zion and Jerusalem."
This verse has been cited as "the clearest example in the whole book of one author quoting another";F50 but it should be particularly noted that Joel did not say, "Obadiah saith," but that "Jehovah saith." Joel says that he was giving God's Word; and it is not necessary at all to make a portion of this passage a "quote" from Obadiah 1:17. As Cole freely admitted, "It is, however, possible that both Joel and Obadiah are quoting some earlier anonymous prophetic saying."F51 Of course, such a thing is easily possible; but there is yet another possibility that should never be ruled out by one who actually believes that the prophets were writing what they said they were writing, i.e., the "word of Jehovah"; and that is the possibility that Jehovah himself gave identical words to different authors. Why should such a possibility as this be ruled out? Certainly, any adequate theory of "inspiration" must always include it!
One familiar with the Bible knows that the standard formula for one sacred author's quoting another is that of giving the quoted prophet's name, as Peter did when he quoted this passage. In the light of this, many so-called "quotes" cited by commentators are no such thing at all.
"This prophecy looks beyond the time of restoration and rehabilitation of Joel's day, even beyond Pentecost which marked the inception of the new age, to a time of the final consummation of things visualized by the author of Revelation in his announcement of a new heaven and a new earth."F52
The events of any prophetic fulfillment should be carefully studied for clues to possibilities in the ultimate fulfillment. Just as the Christians were warned prophetically of the destruction of Jerusalem, and all of them escaped it by retiring to Pella,F53 all who truly believe in Christ and obey him will escape the ultimate general destruction at the last day.
In view of the N.T. usage of this prophecy, it must be considered one of the most important sections of the O.T.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.