After a parenthesis of five verses, viz. 4-8, detailing the injurious treatment of the Jews by some of the surrounding nations, and the righteous retribution visited on those nations, the prophet resumes the subject broached at the beginning of the chapter, especially in Joel 3:2 , about the judgment to be visited on the nations in general. The verses now before us describe very graphically the execution of that judgment.
pictures the proclamation and other preliminaries of war. Heralds are sent out to make proclamation among the nations. Prepare (margin, sanctify ) war . Certain formalities of a religious nature were customary among the heathen when war was proclaimed and prepared for. Thus also among the Jews supplication was made and sacrifices offered, as we read in 1 Samuel 7:8 , 1 Samuel 7:9 , that before the battle with the Philistines at Mizpeh, the people urged Samuel to make earnest supplication and sacrifice for them, when in compliance he "took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord: and Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel;" and thus a preparation for war was a consecration of war by religious rites. Wake up the mighty men ; or rather,
Providence, preparation, and prevention.
Circumstances of great solemnity and grandeur shall usher in the day of vengeance on the wicked sinners of every class, especially such as persecute and oppress the people of God.
I. THE PROVIDENCE GOD AT WORK . Men propose, God disposes; they pursue their own individual plans, and yet all the while they are only carrying out the Divine purposes. A remarkable example of the wonderful scheme of God's providence is recorded in the fourth chapter of the Acts, when earthly kings and rulers were gathered against the Lord and his Anointed. "Of a truth," it is added, "against thy holy Child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together;" but in all they planned and purposed and performed, though following their own impulses, they only did "whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." So in the case before us, the Gentiles are assembling in great force and strenuously pushing forward their hostile movements against the people of God; and yet they, without thinking it and without intending it, are accomplishing the Divine purposes against themselves. They are hastening on their own destruction, and rushing on their own ruin.
II. THE PREPARATION MADE . The preparation is heralded among the Gentiles by a formal and fearful proclamation. The warlike preparations are on the grandest scale; they mean the work of war in earnest. Not only mighty men and men of war are summoned to the strife; but, besides the men whose trade is war, husbandmen are called away from their peaceful occupations, their implements of husbandry are changed into weapons of war. Even the weak are for the time to gird themselves with strength. What is the object, one naturally asks, of all this immense assemblage, of their activity and energy and vast preparations? Every one in that huge multitude thinks his mission is to destroy the people and Church of the Most High, and imagines himself commissioned for that purpose; nor do those mighty masses dream that their own doom is sealed, and that they are convened, not for the annihilation of the people of God, but for their own. They are convoked to appear before the august tribunal of the righteous Ruler of the universe to receive their sentence—a sentence in agreement with unerring justice, and to be executed in accordance therewith. The executioners are already on the spot; they are agents appointed and armed for the express purpose. It matters not whether they are angels or men; perhaps the enemies themselves, engaging in internecine strife, as was the case with the confederates that once came to fight against Jehoshaphat, then turned their arms against each other.
III. PREVENTION OF HIS PEOPLE 'S FEARS . God repeats the summons to his enemies to assemble themselves for judgment.
1 . This he does to persuade his own people that their fears are groundless, and to prevent them apprehending peril from the power and preparations of their enemies. To prevent them being troubled by the might and multitude of their enemies, he repeats his challenge, if I may so term it, for them to come on, one and all, with all their powers. Thus he means to show how puny and insignificant all those enemies were in his sight, and let his people know that his hand is in the whole business, overruling all and controlling all.
2 . But he makes it evident that all his proceedings are in righteousness, that justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne. He pleads before he punishes; he sifts the case judicially before he passes sentence. He sits to judge, taking sufficient time and pains, so that he is justified when he speaks, and clear when he judges.
IV. PERIOD OF EXECUTION . Once judgment is pronounced and sentence passed, the execution is not long delayed. The ripeness of the harvest now ready for reaping, the fulness of the presses now fit for treading, and the overflow of the vats now waiting for the foot of the trampler, are figures easily understood, and of which the corresponding fact is the greatness of the wickedness. Harvest is used in a good sense, oftener in a bad sense; while the treading of the wine-press is always expressive of Divine wrath. The ripeness of the one and the fulness of the other imply not only the height of abounding ungodliness, but that the fulness of the time for punishment has arrived, as in the case or' the old world, when all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth, so that God said, "The end of all flesh is before me;" or as Sodom, when fire and brimstone were rained from heaven on its wicked inhabitants; or as when our Lord said, "Fill ye up the measure of your fathers. "They," says Pococke, "were ripe in their sins, fit for a harvest, and as full of wickedness as ripe grapes, which fill and overflow the vats, through the abundance of the juice with which they swell"
V. PROCESSION OF THE CONDEMNED CRIMINALS TO THE PLACE OF PUNISHMENT . The prophet himself is tilled with amazement at the assembling multitudes. He looks on for a time in wonder, as one mass of living beings follows in quick succession another, till at last, as if the procession would never come to an end, he is lost in wonder, and exclaims, in view of the assembling throngs and multitudes, "Whichever way he looked there were yet more of these tumultuous masses, so that there was nothing beside them. It was one living, surging, boiling sea; throngs upon throngs—mere throngs." The place of rendezvous is the valley of Jehoshaphat, or the valley of judgment, where Jehovah judgeth; but it is also the valley of decision. This is something more than mere judgment; it is the place of sharp, strict, severe judgment
War and judgment.
This is truly prophetic language; for the writer is not merely relating historical facts, or foretelling future events; he is uttering great moral and religions principles. The form these utterances assume is determined by the circumstances of Judah in the time of the prophet; but the truth enunciated is one which is universal and all-important.
I. A PICTURE OF WAR .
1 . The vastness of the scale upon which it is conducted appears from the language employed to designate those who take part in it. They are "the Gentiles;" "all the nations."
2 . The valour and renown of the combatants are set forth in the expressions," the mighty men," "the men of war," etc.
3 . The military preparation and warlike accoutrements are brought before us very vividly and picturesquely in the representation of ploughshares fashioned into swords, and pruning-hooks into spears.
4 . The warlike array is denoted by the directions to "assemble," to "come up," etc.
II. A PICTURE OF JUDGMENT AND RETRIBUTION .
1 . The vast multitudes who intend to gather for battle prove in reality to have gathered for judgment. They came in battle array to contend with the Lord of hosts; and 1o! they find themselves standing at the bar of the great Judge of all.
2 . The Lord sits upon his judgment-seat, his throne, whilst before him are gathered all nations.
3 . Under two striking figures is set forth the judicial process and the punitive consequences which ensue. The harvest is reaped, the wine-press is trodden. The enemies of the Lord and of his people are, as it were, mown down by the hand of the reaper; their blood flows from the wine-press of the wrath of God.
APPLICATION . The passage shows us the omniscient regard of God surveying all the sons of men, and the power of God defeating the counsels of rebels and foes, delivering the righteous from oppression, vindicating the cause of truth and obedience. The sway of the Supreme extends throughout the universe; and however we may be perplexed and baffled by seeming disorder, we may be assured that the sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of God's kingdom, and that every enemy shall be put beneath his feet.—T.
"Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles," etc. Here is the first startling boom of the righteous retribution. Some think the reference is to the approach of Sennacherib, or Nebuchadnezzar, or Antiochus; but the language seems strong and grand enough to represent the approach of the last day. In this retributive scene there are several things observable.
I. THE GREATEST RESISTANCE ABSOLUTELY FUTILE . "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: beat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord." The idea is—Let all the enemies of God do their utmost to ward off this judgment. It means—Do your utmost, muster all your strength, "wake up the mighty men," let them turn their agricultural implements into weapons of war, swords and spears; all will be futile. Heaven bids defiance to all such opposition. "The heathen may rage, and the people imagine a vain thing; but he that sitteth in the heavens laughs them to scorn." "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ." Wicked spirits will fight to the utmost, but will fail.
II. THE GREATEST MULTITUDES ASSEMBLED TOGETHER . "Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision." Oh, this valley of decision, this valley of Jehoshaphat, this scene of judgment! what untold multitudes are summoned to appear therein! All the men of all generations will be there, and the Judge will appear also, and all the holy angels too, etc.
III. THE GREATEST PROPRIETY DISPLAYED IN THE WHOLE . "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." The judgment is only the harvest; hell is only sin ripened into fruit. "In that valley those that have sowed to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; those that have sowed to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap everlasting life." No one, then, will have any just reason to complain. It is mere reaping of what they have sown; it is the mere result of their own labours.
IV. THE GREATEST AWFULNESS DISPLAYED . "The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake." He shall "roar." Now he speaks in the still small voice of mercy, then he shall roar like a lion, striking terror into all ungodly hearts. "At his voice the heavens and the earth shall shake." The idea is
"God's ways seem dark, but soon or late
They touch the shining hills of day;
The evil cannot brook delay,
The good can well afford to wait,"