Joel 3:1-21 (4:1-21)

In “those days” or at the time when YHWH would give his favorable attention to those whom he recognizes as his people, he would “turn,” or bring an end to, the captive condition that had previously existed for the inhabitants of Judah and the capital city Jerusalem. In view of the earlier reference to the pouring out of God’s spirit, there would be a basis for considering the prophetic word as relating to those who became disciples of Jesus Christ. In that case, the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem to other nations would be representative of enslavement to sin, and the turning of that captivity would denote being forgiven of sins and reconciled to God. (3:1 [4:1]; compare John 8:31-36.)

The prophetic words are expressed in language that reflected the then-existing circumstances. Therefore, the assurance of security for God’s people appears to be represented in terms of God’s promise to act against their enemies for what they had done to them. YHWH is portrayed as having determined to “gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat.” During the reign of the Judean monarch Jehoshaphat, the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites (warriors from Mount Seir or the mountainous country of Seir) formed an alliance to attack the two-tribe kingdom of Judah. According to the biblical account, YHWH saved his people by means of an ambush, causing the Moabites and Ammonites to join in fighting against the warriors from the mountainous territory of Seir. After having annihilated the Edomite warriors, the Moabites and Ammonites slaughtered one another. (2 Chronicles 20:22, 23) Accordingly, the valley of Jehoshaphat appears to be representative of a location where the enemies of God’s people would face destruction. (3:2 [4:2])

YHWH’s judgment against the assembled nations would be based on what they had done to his people. He is portrayed as calling his people “my inheritance Israel.” The enemy nations had attacked his people, had scattered them among other nations, and had divided the land that they had seized from them. As the Creator, YHWH was the owner of the land, and he had promised to the forefathers of the Israelites that he would give this land to their descendants. (Genesis 12:7; 26:3; 28:4; Leviticus 25:23) Therefore, he is spoken of as calling it “my land.” (3:2 [4:2])

When defeating God’s people, the enemies humiliated the captives. They would cast lots to determine to whom the Israelite captives would belong. Treating them like goods to be bought and sold, the victors would give a boy “for a harlot,” probably meaning as the price for the services of a prostitute. According to the rendering of the Septuagint, they gave boys to harlots. The enemies would sell a girl (“girls,” LXX) for the amount needed to purchase wine to drink. (3:3 [4:3])

YHWH considers what has been done to his people as having been done to him. The question as to what Tyre, Sidon and all the “regions of Philistia” were to him implied that the people from those locations had no relationship with him. They did not recognize him as the only true God who would take action against those who resisted his will, and he did not acknowledge them as his own. The rhetorical question about repaying repayment implied that the people of Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia were repaying YHWH for what he had done to them. There was, however, no basis for their hateful actions against his people and, accordingly, against him. So, if they were repaying YHWH, doing so without any justification, they could only expected “swift” and “speedy” repayment on their “heads” or upon themselves. Retribution would not be delayed. (3:4 [4:4]; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

Just as the Israelites and their land belonged to YHWH, so did everything they possessed. For this reason he is represented as saying “my silver and my gold” and “my good treasures.” When these precious metals and other valuables fell into their hands through warfare, the Philistines and the people of Tyre and Sidon deposited these treasures in their temples, thereby honoring their deities and wrongly imagining that their gods and goddesses were superior to YHWH. (3:5 [4:5])

Captives of war often were sold into slavery. The Philistines and the people of Tyre and Sidon sold captive “sons of Judah and sons of Jerusalem to the sons of the Greeks.” In this case, “sons” denotes people. As slaves in a distant country, Israelites from Judah and Jerusalem found themselves far from the border of their homeland. (3:6 [4:6])

YHWH promised to liberate his enslaved people. From the place to which the Philistines, Tyrians, and Sidonians had sold Israelites from Judah and Jerusalem, he would “arouse” them, not leaving them in a state of servitude. At that time, he would return repayment on the “head” (“heads,” LXX) of the Philistines, Tyrians, and Sidonians for what they had done. By having the retribution coming upon their heads, they themselves would experience like treatment. (3:7 [4:7])

YHWH is represented as effecting the retribution that the Philistines, Tyrians, and Sidonians deserved for what they had done. He would sell their sons and daughters to the “sons” or the people of Judah. In the “hand” of Judeans, these sons and daughters would be subject to their will. The Judeans would sell them to the Sabeans, to a distant nation (Sheba, thought to have been located in the southwestern part of the Arabian Peninsula). This judgment was sure, for YHWH had spoken or so decreed. Just as the Philistines, Tyrians, and Sidonians had been responsible for selling Judeans to people in a distant land, the Judeans would sell their sons and daughters to a land far away from their homeland. Evidence that enslaved Judeans were set free is found in the writings of Josephus. In the second century BCE, Demetrius I Soter, king of the Seleucid Empire, sent a letter to the Jewish high priest Jonathan, which included the words, “I set free the Jews that are inhabitants in my kingdom, and order that no injury be done them.” (Antiquities, XIII, ii, 3) (3:8 [4:8]; see the Notes section.)

Before engaging in military campaigns, the people of the various nations participated in rituals and offered sacrifices to invoke their deities to make them victorious. In this manner, they sanctified war, setting it apart as a sacred undertaking. The proclamation to the people of the nations challenged them to sanctify war, to arouse their mighty men to prepare themselves for battle, and to have the warriors draw near and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat. (3:9, 12 [4:9, 12])

To have sufficient weapons for fighting, the people of the nations are challenged to beat plowshares into swords and pruning knives (“sickles,” LXX) into lances. Implements for peaceful agriculture that contributed food for the sustaining of life were to be transformed into instruments of destruction. Even the weak man among them was to muster up courage, declaring himself to be a mighty man or warrior. (3:10 [4:10])

The Hebrew imperative verb ‘ush does not appear elsewhere in the Scriptures, and there is a measure of uncertainty about what it means. In the Septuagint, the verb is a form of synathroízo, meaning “gather” or “bring together.” The Vulgate reads erumpite, a form of the verb erumpo, which as an intransitive verb denotes “to burst out” or “to break through.” Suggested lexical definitions for the Hebrew word include “give assistance,” “come to aid,” and “hurry.” (3:11 [4:11])

People from “all the nations” are directed to gather together, to render aid, or to come quickly. These are the nations that are located round about YHWH’s people and they, according to verse 11, are to assemble at the valley of Jehoshaphat. The gathering includes both confrontation and judgment, for the appeal to YHWH is for him to “bring down” his mighty ones, which could refer to his host of angels that would then be arrayed against the warriors of the nations. (3:11 [4:11])

In the Septuagint, there is no mention of God, but the concluding sentence reads, “Let the humble one be a warrior.” This rendering suggests that the meek, gentle, or unassuming man should muster up courage to be a warrior prepared for conflict. (3:11 [4:11])

The people of the nations are directed to arouse themselves or to ready themselves to come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat. During the reign of King Jehoshaphat, the Moabite, Ammonite, and Edomite armies that had come together against the two-tribe kingdom of Judah perished. Accordingly, the designation “valley of Jehoshaphat” for the place of assembly indicated that YHWH’s sitting in judgment of “all the surrounding nations” there would denote that they would come to their end. This is because the nations round about his people had proved themselves to be their hateful enemies. That the “valley of Jehoshaphat” represents the location for judgment is also evident from the name “Jehoshaphat,” meaning “YHWH is judge.” (3:12 [4:12])

The hostile people of the nations are likened to clusters of grapes that are ready to be harvested. Since the grapes are ripe, the directive is to send forth the sickle to cut the clusters. The filling of the upper basin of the winepress with the harvested grapes is not mentioned, but the focus is on the result. Those who would be stomping on the grapes are directed to go into the full basin of the press and to tread the grapes. In view of the great evil of the enemy nations, the vats into which the juice from the grapes flows is represented as overflowing. (3:13 [4:13]

The repetition of the designation for “crowds” indicates that a very large number of people from the nations are assembled. According to the Septuagint, “noises have resounded,” suggestive of great tumult. The valley of Jehoshaphat is identified as the “valley of the decision” or the “valley of judgment,” for YHWH will judge the avowed enemies of his people. His judgment is final. The “day of YHWH” is the expression that applies to the time of judgment in the “valley of decision” or “judgment,” and this day is referred to as having drawn near. (3:14 [4:14])

The day of YHWH would lead to a dark time for the people of the nations against whom his judgment would be executed. They would be facing doom. It would appear to them that the light of the sun and of the moon had been eclipsed and that the stars were no longer shining. The enemies of God’s people would have no hope of escape from the unchangeable judgment. (3:15 [4:15])

As the location of the temple, Zion or Jerusalem was YHWH’s representative place of dwelling. Therefore, when coming to judge the nations, he is represented as “roaring” from Zion and letting his voice be heard from Jerusalem. This “roaring” probably alludes to a powerful sound like thunder. In the context, the purpose of the “roaring” appears to be to command hosts of angels to carry out his judgment, and this results in the shaking of the heavens and the earth. (3:16 [4:16])

The expression “heavens” or “heaven and earth” may be understood to designate the realm in which humans live and which consists of the earth or land and the heaven or what appears to be a celestial dome that extends from horizon to horizon. With their entire realm shaking, those against whom YHWH’s judgment is directed would become terrified. He, however, would be a refuge for his people and like a secure stronghold. The great quaking would not affect them. According to the Septuagint rendering, YHWH would spare his people and strengthen them, the “sons of Israel. (3:16 [4:16])

As persons whom YHWH approves and safeguards, his people would know him as YHWH their God, with his representative place of dwelling being Zion, his holy mountain. The presence of YHWH made Jerusalem a holy city, and its holiness or cleanness would not be defiled, as “strangers” would not pass through the city again. In this case, the “strangers” would have been enemies who had attacked Jerusalem. (3:17 [4:17]; see the Notes section.)

In view of the earlier reference to the pouring out of God’s spirit, the prophetic language appears to point to a city that is greater than the earthly city of Jerusalem and one that is holy in the absolute sense. This city would be the one referred to centuries later as the “Jerusalem above,” to which no one but God’s approved people can have access as “sons” or citizens. (Galatians 4:16; Hebrews 12:22) As a heavenly city, the Jerusalem above is more than just YHWH’s representative place of dwelling, and its citizens are under his protective care. (3:17 [4:17])

The prosperous condition of God’s people is portrayed in terms of agriculture. In the “day” or the time when YHWH’s judgment would be executed against their enemies, they would no longer experience any devastation of their land. The grapevines growing on the mountain slopes would yield abundant grapes for producing new wine. Hills would then “flow with milk.” The thought appears to be that there would be lush vegetation growing on the hills, providing pasturage for goats and cattle. Thus it would be as if the hills had caused milk to flow by nourishing flocks and herds. During periods of drought many streams would dry up, but this circumstance is depicted as changing. All streambeds would flow with water. (3:18 [4:18])

The reference to a “spring from the house of YHWH” indicates that the portrayal in this verse is representative of a flourishing condition. No spring ever had its source at the temple in Jerusalem, forming a stream that filled the streambed of Shittim (or, “of acacia trees,” which would be growing along the banks of the stream [“torrent of the reeds,” LXX]). Since water is essential for vegetation to grow and flourish, the spring that has its source in the house of YHWH may be regarded as representing a life-giving provision that comes from him. All that is essential for eternal life, a life of an enduring relationship with God, is available through his unique Son, Jesus Christ. This includes forgiveness of sins, complete reconciliation with God as his approved children, and citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem. All these blessings God made possible through his Son. (3:18 [4:18]; compare John 4:12-14; 8:31-36; Galatians 4:26; see the Notes section.)

To indicate the security that God’s people would enjoy, two enemy nations, Egypt and Edom, are represented as becoming desolate. The Edomites were descendants of Jacob’s twin brother Esau and so should have conducted themselves like brothers to the “sons” or the people of Judah. Jacob’s son Judah, from whom the Judeans descended, was Esau’s nephew. The Edomites, though, conducted themselves in a hateful manner toward the people of Judah. Like the Egyptians, they made themselves guilty of “violence” or “injustices” (LXX) to the Judeans. The spilling of “innocent” or “righteous” (LXX) blood is said to have taken place “in their land.” This could mean in the land of Judah, where the Egyptians and the Edomites spilled blood when warring against the Judeans. It is also possible to consider the reference to be either to the land of Edom or to the land of Egypt, and so could apply to the spilled blood of captives taken from the land of Judah. (3:19 [4:19]; see the Notes section.)

With enemy powers, represented by Egypt and Edom, ceasing to exist, those whom YHWH recognized as his people (inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem) would be secure for all time to come, from generation to generation. Unlike Egypt and Edom, Judah and Jerusalem are thus portrayed as continuing to be inhabited. This would especially apply to the heavenly Jerusalem and its citizens. (3:20 [4:20])

There is uncertainty about the meaning of the initial part of the concluding verse of the Hebrew text. A form of the Hebrew verb náqah appears twice, and it has been defined “be free,” “be blameless,” “be emptied,” “hold innocent,” and “leave unpunished.” In the first case, náqah relates to YHWH’s action regarding the “blood” of his people. For the second occurrence, “not” precedes the verb. One possible rendering that preserves the same meaning for náqah in both occurrences could be, “And I will hold their blood innocent [that] I did not hold innocent.” This could mean that, in the past, YHWH did not treat his people as blameless. Therefore, he did not consider their blood to be that of guiltless persons, leading to their being punished for their transgressions. This would change. YHWH would respond in a positive manner toward his repentant people, holding them innocent or approved in his sight. This would be evident from his presence with them, for he is identified as dwelling in Zion. From the standpoint of the earthly Zion or Jerusalem, YHWH would be with his people, guiding, helping, and sustaining them. (3:21 [4:21])

The opening phrase of the Septuagint could be rendered, “And I will avenge their blood and by no means acquit.” This may be understood to mean that YHWH would avenge the unjustly shed blood of his people and that he would not hold guiltless those who had incurred bloodguilt. (3:21 [4:21]; see the Notes section.)

Earthly Zion, as the location of YHWH’s temple, proved to be his representative place of dwelling. The heavenly Zion is where he is present in person, and those whom he recognizes as his people are citizens of that heavenly city. In the case of any of these citizens whose innocent blood may have been shed, YHWH will not leave the guilty ones unpunished. (3:21 [4:21]; compare Revelation 6:9-11.)


In verse 4, the Septuagint rendering for the expression translated “regions of Philistia” is “Galilee of allophyles [those of another tribe].” Both the Hebrew word for “regions” and the designation for Galilee (Galiloth) are the same, and “allophyles” is a common rendering in the Septuagint for “Philistines.” The Septuagint includes a rhetorical question that is not in the Hebrew text. According to the punctuation in Rahlfs’ printed text, this question may be rendered, “Or do you quickly bear resentment against me?”

The Hebrew words for “Sabeans” and “captivity” are similar, and this may account for the difference in the rendering of the Septuagint in verse 8 (“they will sell them into captivity to a nation that is far away”).

In verse 8, a Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIc) contains the partially preserved expression that may be translated “YHWH of hosts.”

In the Masoretic Text of verse 17, YHWH is referred to as “dwelling” in Zion. Instead of the participle that means “dwelling,” a Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIc) contains the reading “who dwells.”

In a Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIc) reading of verse 18, the Hebrew word for “all” precedes náchal, here rendered “streambed.”

With reference to the desolation of Edom (verse 19), the Hebrew word for “wilderness” appears twice (“a wilderness, a desolate wilderness”) in a Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIc).

In verse 21, the Septuagint rendering “by no means” preserves the emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not.”