So how do you have hope when you feel surrounded by darkness? What are God’s people to do with life seems hopeless and joy is dried up? God through his prophet Joel is proclaiming about what he was going to do for his people in the last days when the Christ would come. We noticed in our last lesson that the apostle Peter stood up with the other apostles on the day of Pentecost and proclaimed that was happened was exactly what Joel had written (cf. Acts 2:15). Joel proclaimed that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28-29). At the same time when the Spirit was poured out, God would also bring judgment (Joel 2:30-31). John the Baptizer preached this message in the first century, declaring that when Jesus came, he would bring a baptism of the Spirit and a baptism of fire (Matthew 3:10-12). This is why Joel said that only those who called on the name of the Lord would be saved (Joel 2:32). The apostle Peter then preached that everyone needed to repent and be baptized to be able to be forgiven of their sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that had been promised to all that the Lord calls to himself (Acts 2:38-39). Joel pictured this hope as a restoration of all that had been lost. God would return and live with his people, restoring the relationship and blessings that had been taken away because of their sins (Joel 2:18-27).
I would like for you to notice that this wonderful message of hope is summed up in the first verse of Joel 3. The Lord would restore the fortunes of his people (Judah and Jerusalem). But that is not the end of what God wants to give his people for their future hope. Before we read this chapter, I want us to consider that one of the ways God offers hope to his people is by telling him what he will do in the future. I think this is really important for us to keep in mind. Sometimes we might wonder why the scriptures tell us about the future and we might be tempted to not care about those things. But this is one of God’s means of stabilizing our faith and giving us hope. God is telling us what he will do in the future so that we do have something to look forward to. For example, in Hebrews 12:2 we are told that Jesus was able to endure cross and disregard the shame because of the joy what was set before him. Similarly, the apostle Paul tells us that the present suffering is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed (cf. Romans 8:18). So God spends time telling us what he is going to do so that we can endure our struggles and look forward to what is coming. Joel 3 reveals what is coming.
Hope in Judgment (3:1-16)
The imagery begins by God proclaiming that he will gather all the nations into the Valley of Jehoshaphat and enter into judgment against them. Scholars point out that there is not a place called the Valley of Jehoshaphat. It should be readily apparent that it is not possible to literally put all the nations into a physical valley. But the name Jehoshaphat means, “The Lord has judged.” So this is the message. God will bring the peoples into the valley where the Lord judges. We do see in Israel’s history is that decisive outcomes to battles were in valleys and declarations of judgment were given in valleys (cf. Genesis 14:3-10; Joshua 7:24-26; Joshua 10:12; 1 Samuel 17:19; etc). The place of important decisions and turning points are found in valleys. We see this in Joel as well. You will notice that God also calls this valley, “The Valley of Verdict” or “The Valley of Decision” in verse 14.
Why must God enter a verdict against the nations? Why must there be a day of judgment? Why must there be a judgment of all peoples? We live in a time today when no one likes the idea of God having a day of judgment. How could God be loving and there be a day of judgment? How could a God who created this world and loves his creation then have a time for wrath and judgment? God gives his answer to this common question. Look against at verses 2-3. God says that he will enter into judgment and give his decision on behalf of his people. His people have been scattered, oppressed, and mistreated. God has to do something about it. It is surprising to me that we have to such a point where we think God should not do anything about all the evil and wickedness that is going on in the world. Even more so, God is saying that he will enter into judgment against those who hurt his people. You will see the essence of God’s justice in verse 4. God says that what the nations have done against him and his people, God will now return as payment on their own heads. God’s justice and judgments are not unfair. They are right. This is what you did to God’s people and so judgment must come. God says this again in verse 7. “I will return on your own heads what you have done” (Joel 3:7 NIV). This is why God expresses the silliness and foolishness of standing against God. What are you doing to do to God? Do you really think that you are getting away with anything? This is the essence of the questioning in verse 4. Resisting God is futile and what we do toward God and toward his people is going to be repaid. In verse 13 God proclaims that the wickedness of the nations is great. God sees and God must act. This is why the day of judgment is a day to look forward to. God is restoring the fortunes of his people and will judge those who have harmed them. Is this not our great hope? This is why we connect to these words in Revelation.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4 ESV)
God will comfort his people. You see this at the end of verse 16 of Joel 2. The Lord will be a refuge for his people. The Lord is the place of strength for his people. Our strength is in our faith of what God has promised to do. Listen to how the apostle John said this:
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (1 John 5:3-4 ESV)
John says that our victory is our faith. We are able to overcome because our faith rests in the fact that we are children of God. So we longingly hope for God’s judgment.
Hope in God (3:17-21)
The final pictures are more images to help God’s people hope in his complete restoration. The locusts and the armies had taken everything away and destroyed everything. But God promised to restore what had been lost (2:25-27). These final verses use images of overflowing blessings. The mountains will drip with sweet wine, the hills will flow with milk, all the streams will flow with water, and a fountain will flow from the house of the Lord. God will reverse the drought of their lives and turn it into flourishing. God is just going to overflow throughout the world. But notice where it all begins. It all begins in Zion. It all begins in Jerusalem. It all begins in the house of the Lord. This is why Peter and the apostles are in Jerusalem in Acts 2 proclaiming that these promises are now available. The good news of restoration had to begin in Jerusalem, and then Judea, and then Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8).
Look at verses 20-21. God will be with his people forever. He will never leave his people. Nothing is going to separate us from him. Not only this, God says he will restore and deal with the violence that has been done against his people. God is saying that he will be with his people and he will restore the years that were lost. Is this not exactly what Revelation 21 is saying? Sometimes people read Revelation 21 and are confused by the fact that the text does not say that there are not tears in eternity. Rather, the text says that God is wiping away our tears. How can there be no crying, no mourning, and no pain but God is wiping our tears? The whole picture is that we have come to God with all of our hurts and our tears but God is comforting us in our pain. God did not promise us a pain-free life. God promised to comfort us in our pain-free life by looking forward to comfort God gives. Is this not also one of the main messages in the book of Job? Job loses everything and goes through great amounts of pain in this life. Job also does not understand why he is experiencing such terrible things in his life because he is righteous and a follower of God. The book of Job ends with God restoring what was lost. Chapter 42 is an accounting of how God restored all that was lost. Does Job 42 mean that there will be no pain in following God? No. Job 42 means that God has a comfort promised to us in the future while we go through the hurts and the pains in the wilderness now.
God is teaching his people that he is more than enough to help us through this life and to bring us to eternity. Remember that our first lesson came from chapter 1 where we saw the people’s gladness had dried up. Yet God called for his people to turn to him with all their hearts, experiencing the salvation of their God, and knowing that God’s comfort was on the horizon. God has the power to restore what has been lost. God is able to wipe away every tear from our eyes. I don’t know about you but I feel like I have a lot of tears that will need to be wiped away from my eyes because of how hard this life has been.
Peter wrote to suffering Christians in his first letter. He reminded them that the devil is your adversary who is roaming like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But we must stand firm in our faith and resist him. He is trying to destroy our faith but we can resist him and stand strong in the faith. Now think about what Peter says next.
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10-11 ESV)
The God of all grace will himself restore you, confirm you, strengthen you, and establish you. God is judging the world and will continue to judge the world as he works for his people. The Lord is a refuge to his people (2:16). Our great restoration is that God is with his people again. The scriptures begin with humanity losing God’s presence because of their sins. But now we read in Joel 2:17,21 that the Lord lives in Zion. The Lord lives with his people again. What we need to hear is God is with us now and then, when the final day comes, we will see him face to face, just as he is. So we comfort one another and find our hope in what God has promised for us in the future. By faith we live like Abraham, looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (cf. Hebrews 11:10).