A. A mighty army to invade Judah.
1. (1-5) What the mighty army looks like.
Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand: A day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, like the morning clouds spread over the mountains. A people come, great and strong, the like of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them, even for many successive generations. A fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns; the land is like the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; surely nothing shall escape them. Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; and like swift steeds, so they run. With a noise like chariots over mountaintops they leap, like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble, like a strong people set in battle array.
a. Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand: In Joel 1, the prophet spoke of the judgment that had arrived in Judah (a plague of locusts and drought). In Joel 2, he begins by describing judgment that will come - a mighty army set against Judah. Since this is all part of "God's day" not "man's day," it is described as the day of the LORD.
i. When we are right with God, we want the day of the LORD. We long for Him to show His strength because we know that we abide in Him. When we are not right with God, we dread the day of the LORD, because when God shows Himself strong, His strength may work against us. In Joel's day Judah was not right with God, so the day of the LORD would be nothing but darkness and gloominess to them.
b. A people come, great and strong: It's hard to know what invasion Joel predicts. Probably Joel predicted an invasion that never happened because Judah responded to the invitation to repent and God held back this army. The 40-year godly reign of King Joash in Judah began right after the time of Joel's prophecy.
i. There are some commentators who believe that Joel is referring back to the army of locusts, and describing them poetically. This is possible, but it seems best on balance to say that he writes of a literal human army that will come against an unrepentant Judah.
c. A fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns: The urgent nature of this prophecy probably spurred Jehoiada to depose the wicked Queen Athaliah and set Joash on the throne, even though he was only seven years-old (2 Kings 11:4-21). Perhaps he would have waited until Joash was older, but Joel's prophecy showed him that it had to be done immediately.
2. (6-11) What the mighty army will do.
Before them the people writhe in pain; all faces are drained of color. They run like mighty men, they climb the wall like men of war; every one marches in formation, and they do not break ranks. They do not push one another; every one marches in his own column. Though they lunge between the weapons, they are not cut down. They run to and fro in the city, they run on the wall; they climb into the houses, they enter at the windows like a thief. The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble; the sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness. The LORD gives voice before His army, for His camp is very great; for strong is the One who executes His word. For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; who can endure it?
a. They do not break ranks . . . everyone marches in his own column: With a chilling poetic flair, Joel describes the discipline and effectiveness of this army. Because they keep ranks and work with energy (they run to and fro in the city) they bring a devastating attack on Judah.
i. If we consider the people of God to be like an army - perhaps based on the military images Paul sprinkled through his letters - then this passage shows us two things that can make God's people more effective. First they must keep order, with every soldier keeping ranks. Second they must work hard, with every soldier serving with energy.
b. The LORD gives voice before His army: As impressive as this army is, Joel does not want Judah to forget that it's real power lies in that God has sent them. They will be His tool of judgment against Judah - unless they repent.
i. When the plague of locusts and the drought devastated Judah, you might have thought that Joel would encourage the people. He might have said, "Hang in there! Things are bad, but they will get better. Tough times don't last, but tough people do." Instead Joel said, "You think that was bad? Worse is to come if we don't repent."
B. A promise of help to a repentant Judah.
1. (12-17) The prophet calls God's people to repent.
"Now, therefore," says the LORD, "Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning." So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him; a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and nursing babes; let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, and the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar; let them say, "Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
a. Now, therefore . . . Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning: Because they heard the warning of judgment, God's people should repent. It's doesn't make their repentance less valid because they had to be "scared" into it. The important thing is that they turn back to the LORD in sincerity, and God tells them how.
i. Sincere repentance is to turn to God, and therefore away from our sin.
ii. Sincere repentance is done with all your heart, giving everything you can in surrender to God.
iii. Sincere repentance is marked by action (with fasting) and emotion (with weeping . . . mourning). Not every act of repentance will include fasting and weeping, but if action and emotion are absent, it isn't real repentance.
b. Rend your heart, and not your garments: One expression of mourning in Jewish culture is tearing the clothes. It was a way to say, "I am so overcome with grief that don't care if my clothes are ruined and I look bad." Joel knew that one could tear their garments without tearing their heart, and he describes the kind of heart-repentance that really pleases God.
i. Spurgeon tells the story of a woman who came seeming to be in great sorrow, saying what a great sinner she was, but Spurgeon suspected her repentance wasn't sincere. He said, "Well, if you are a sinner of course you have broken God's laws. Let's read the Ten Commandments and see which ones you have broken." They started at the first: "You shall have no other gods before Me," and Spurgeon asked her if she ever broke that commandment. "Oh no," she said, "not that I know of." "'You shall not make any graven image' - did you ever break that one?" "Never, sir," she answered. As you might suppose, Spurgeon went through all Ten Commandments and she could not find a single one that she had broken, and what he suspected was true. She didn't really consider herself a sinner, and she was making a show of repentance because she thought it was expected of her.
c. Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm: Knowing the goodness and mercy of God is another motive for true repentance. We come to Him confident that He will heal and forgive, and that He may relent from the judgment He announced.
i. We don't repent with the idea "God is so mean that if I don't return to Him, He will squash me." Instead the idea is "God is so gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness that He will spare me from what I deserve if turn back to Him." Ultimately, it is His goodness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
d. Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, and the bride from her dressing room: In addition to the same pattern of repentance he presented in Joel 1:14, Joel adds the ideas relevant to the bridegroom and the bride. The idea with these images is that in a time of repentance God's people cannot carry on "as usual." Usually the bridegroom belongs in his chamber and the bride belongs in her dressing room, but not now - it is time to repent. True repentance does not carry on with business as usual.
e. Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar: Leaders among God's people must especially lead in repentance. They can't come with the attitude that "the people" must repent. They must regard themselves as the people and the people as themselves and lead in repentance.
f. Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not give Your heritage to reproach: Joel puts a rich prayer of repentance into the mouths of God's priests. It as if the priests should pray with the thought, "How can we persuade God to have mercy on us?"
i. Spare: This implies that God's people deserve judgment, but they plead for mercy.
ii. Your people: This reminds God that they belong to Him, and provides another motivation for mercy.
iii. Do not give Your heritage to reproach: This tells God that mercy unto His people will bring Him glory among the nations and that judgment may bring His name into discredit.
2. (18-20) God promises to defend His repentant people against the mighty army.
Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, and pity His people. The LORD will answer and say to His people, "Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations. But I will remove far from you the northern army, and will drive him away into a barren and desolate land, with his face toward the eastern sea and his back toward the western sea; his stench will come up, and his foul odor will rise, because he has done monstrous things."
a. Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, and pity His people: Judah could know that when God's people sincerely repent, He notices from heaven. His zeal and pity are then turned for His people.
b. I will send you grain and new wine and oil . . . I will remove far from you the northern army: God promised to restore material prosperity to a repentant Judah, and to defeat the mighty army from the north. Because this mighty army had done monstrous things, God would turn the attention of His judgment away from His people and now against this mighty army.
3. (21-27) Confidence in God's promise of restoration.
Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done marvelous things! Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field; for the open pastures are springing up, and the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their strength. Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God; for He has given you the former rain faithfully, and He will cause the rain to come down for you; the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil. "So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and My people shall never be put to shame. Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the LORD your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame."
a. Be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done marvelous things! Joel looks forward to the restoration that God has promised, and he tells Judah to look forward in faith, and to praise God for the restoration He promises - even before they see it with their own eyes.
b. The open pastures are springing up, and the tree bears its fruit: With the eye of faith, Joel can already see it happening. All around him are the lush, fruitful pastures and trees that God has restored after the destruction of the locusts.
c. He has given you the former rain faithfully . . . and the latter rain in the first month: At the end of Joel 1, the prophet saw the destruction drought brought. Now with the eye of faith he sees God restoring both the former and latter rain to Israel.
i. Ancient Israel had no irrigation system, and relied on rain to water their crops. In a time of drought, nothing grew. God promises to restore both the former rain (falling in autumn) and the latter rain (falling in spring). When God restores these rains, Judah will have full threshing floors and wine vats.
ii. This passage along with others (Deuteronomy 11:14, Hosea 6:3) were taken to give the name of the "Latter Rain Movement" starting in 1948 by William Branham. Branham influenced a generation of Pentecostal preachers, including a young protégé named Oral Roberts. Marked by strange and aberrant doctrine and practices, the movement eventually faded from prominence and Branham himself died in a traffic collision with a drunk driver in 1965. He died on Christmas Eve, and his faithful followers believed that he would rise from the dead, so they delayed his burial for several days. But the influence of the Latter Rain movement lived on. The Latter Rain popularized many attitudes and doctrines popular in revival movements today:
ˇ The "five-fold ministry" and "restoration of apostle and prophets"
ˇ The "foundational truths" of Hebrews 6:1-2
ˇ An emphasis on signs and wonders as marks of true revival
ˇ A strong emphasis on unity
ˇ Replacement theology, replacing Israel with the church
ˇ Dominion theology, saying the church will conquer and rule the world
ˇ An elitist attitude, promoting the idea of a group of "superchristians"
iii. Many researchers - and many within these modern groups today - believe that many modern "revival" movements are really just a continuation of the Latter Rain movement. Movements such as "Joel's Army," the Manifest Sons of God, the Dominion Movement, the Kansas City Prophets, the Toronto Blessing, the Pensacola Revival are connected in some way to the Latter Rain movement. For example, Paul Cain - later to re-emerge as head of the Kansas City Prophets in 1989 - traveled with William Branham and called him "the greatest prophet that ever lived."
d. I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten: God promises to restore what was taken away in chastisement. When the locusts did their work, it looked complete and final, but God promises that He can even restore the years that the swarming locusts has eaten.
i. "It will strike you at once that the locusts did not eat the years: the locusts ate the fruits of the years' labor, the harvests of the fields; so that the meaning of the restoration of the years must be the restoration of those fruits and of those harvests which the locusts consumed. You cannot have back your time; but there is a strange and wonderful way in which God can give back to you the wasted blessings, the unripened fruits of years over which you mourned. The fruits of wasted years may yet be yours." (Spurgeon)
4. (28-32) The ultimate restoration and the ultimate day of the LORD.
"And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the remnant whom the LORD calls."
a. It shall come to pass afterward: After the restoration Joel spoke of previously in the chapter, there will come a time of ultimate restoration and blessing. This latter time will be marked by an outpouring of God's Spirit on all flesh - not only selected men at selected times for selected duties.
i. The Old Testament has a rich record of the work of the Spirit, but He was not poured out on all flesh under the Old Covenant. Instead, certain men were filled with the Spirit at certain times and only for certain duties. It was rather selective:
ˇ Joseph was filled with the Spirit of God (Genesis 41:38)
ˇ The craftsmen who built the tabernacle were filled with the Spirit of God (Exodus 31:3)
ˇ Joshua was filled with the Spirit of God (Numbers 27:18)
ˇ The judge Othniel was filled with the Spirit of God (Judges 3:10)
ˇ The judge Gideon was filled with the Spirit of God (Judges 6:34)
ˇ The judge Jephthah was filled with the Spirit of God (Judges 11:29)
ˇ The judge Samson was filled with the Spirit of God (Judges 13:5, 14:6, 14:19, 15:14)
ˇ Saul was filled with the Spirit of God (1 Samuel 10:9-10)
ˇ David was filled with the Spirit of God (1 Samuel 16:13)
ii. Here, Joel looks forward to the glorious New Covenant, when the Spirit of God would be poured out on all flesh. Why, even your sons and daughters, your old men, and your young men would be filled with the Spirit of God.
iii. This was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost when the disciples gathered in the upper room, waiting in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised would come (Acts 1:4-5). When the outpouring of the Spirit came, the 120 followers of Jesus were all filled with the Spirit and began to praise God in other tongues. Jerusalem was crowded at that time, because of the feast of Pentecost - so a crowd quickly gathered because of the commotion. Those who heard the disciples praise God in these miraculous languages began to mock them, claiming they were drunk. Peter stood up and boldly set the record straight: the disciples were not drunk at all, but this was a fulfillment of Joel's great prophecy of the outpouring of the Spirit.
iv. At first, any Jew would scoff at the idea of 120 followers of a crucified man being filled with the Holy Spirit. Based on their understanding of the Old Testament they would think, "These 120 people are not kings or prophets or priests; God only pours out His Spirit on special people for special duties. These are common folk, and God doesn't pour out His Spirit on them." Peter uses the prophecy of Joel to show them that things are different now, just as God said they would be. Now, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon all who believe and receive, even the common folk. Now God offered a New Covenant relationship, and part of the New Covenant was the outpouring of the Spirit for all who receive in faith.
v. Peter's sermon of the Day of Pentecost also shows us that there is never any disparity between the work of the Spirit and the work of the Word. When Peter was filled with the Spirit of God in the midst of miraculous signs and wonders as he had never experience before, what did he do? He said, "Let's open up our Bibles to the book of Joel." He had a Bible study, one that both taught the 120 disciples (they better understood their experience according to the Scriptures) and called the lost to salvation.
vi. We also notice that Peter's application was exactly the same as the application made by the Prophet Joel: repent. Joel said, "Now, therefore," says the LORD, "Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning." So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God (Joel 2:12-13) Peter said, Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
b. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants: In this latter time, all the servants of the LORD will be filled with His Spirit in this unique and powerful way. Under the New Covenant, every believer can receive the full measure of the Spirit, and be used in a special and wonderful way.
i. Sometimes the common churchgoer simply wants a building to worship in, a nice service that isn't too offensive, and a good sermon - after that he thinks, leave me alone. That isn't New Covenant Christianity, which sees the work of the ministry as belonging to the people, not the "clergy."
ii. Some people have taken this idea and run too far with it saying, "Therefore we don't need ministers or clergy. We believe in the priesthood of all believers, so there is no room for offices of any kind in the church." This ignores the clear teaching of Scripture, which says that the work of the ministry belongs to all the people of God, but the work of equipping the saints belongs to God-appointed offices and ministries (Ephesians 4:7-16). It is because the ministry belongs to all Christians that God has appointed offices and ministries to equip every saint to fulfill their role. Acts 2:42-47 describes a wonderful fulfillment of this ideal.
c. I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: This time of great outpouring of the Spirit of God will culminate with cataclysmic signs in the heavens and the great and awesome day of the LORD.
i. On the Day of Pentecost, the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled, but not consummated. Peter rightly saw that this was a remarkable outpouring of the Spirit of God, given freely upon all who believe and receive as was promised in the New Covenant (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:24-28). The prophecy of Joel was also especially appropriate, because the Day of Pentecost ushered in the last days - with history now moving along the edge of the consummation of all things, not rushing towards it as a distant point.
d. Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved: This is another glorious promise associated with the time Joel said shall come to pass afterward. In this time of the poured-out Spirit of God, salvation will no longer be a matter of association with national Israel. Instead, whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved - no matter what nation they come from.
i. This is a broad call - whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. "'Ah!' you say, 'I wish my name was written down in the Bible.' Would it comfort you at all? If it were written in the Scripture, 'Charles Haddon Spurgeon shall be saved,' I am afraid I should not get much comfort out of the promise, for I should go home, and fetch out the London Directory, and see if there was not another person of that name, or very like it. How much worse would it be for the Smiths and the Browns! No, my brethren, do not ask to see your name in the inspired volume; but be content with what you do see, namely, your character! When the Scripture says, 'Whosoever,' you cannot shut yourself out of that." (Spurgeon)
ii. This is a call to prayer - whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. "You cannot perish praying; no one has ever done so. If you could perish praying, you would be a new wonder in the universe. A praying soul in hell is an utter impossibility. A man calling on God and rejected of God! - the supposition is not to be endured. 'Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' God himself must lie, he must quit his nature, forfeit his claim to mercy, destroy his character of love, if he were to let a poor sinner call upon his name, and yet refuse to hear him." (Spurgeon)
iii. This is a call to come to the true God - whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. Coming to a false god, a god of your own imagination will do you no good. The god of your opinion does not exist and cannot save you. You must come to the God of the Bible. "The pity of it is that the most of people in these days worship a god of their own invention. They do not make an image of clay, or of gold, but they construct a deity in their minds according to their own thoughts. They proudly judge as to what God ought to be, and they will not receive God as he really is. What is this but a god-making as gross as that which is performed by the heathen? What can be more wicked than to attempt to imagine a better god than the one true and living God? As the deity of your fancy has no existence, I would not recommend you to trust in him." (Spurgeon)
iv. This is a call to come to God intelligently - whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. "Now, by the word 'name' we understand the person, the character of the Lord. The more, then, you know about the Lord, and the better you know his name, the more intelligently will you call upon that name. If you know his power, you will call upon that power to help you. If you know his mercy, you will call upon him in his grace to save you. If you know his wisdom, you feel that he knows your difficulties, and can help you through them." (Spurgeon)
v. This is a certain promise - whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. It is a profound mystery why all do not receive this great invitation, but the text itself tells us that only a remnant receives it (among the remnant whom the LORD calls). Yet all who do come are certainly saved. "Suppose we, who trust alone in Jesus, should perish, what then? Why, it would be to the everlasting dishonor of the Lord in whom we trusted. We should lose our souls certainly, but he would lose his honor. Think of one of us being able to say in hell, 'I trusted in the boasted Savior's aid, and rested myself on God, and yet I am lost.' Sirs, heaven itself would be darkened, and the crown jewels of God would lose their lustre, if that could once be the case! But it cannot be. If you trust in the Lord God Almighty, he will save you as surely as he is God." (Spurgeon)