God Judges the Nations

I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land” (v. 2).

- Joel 3

Faithful members of God’s covenant people in the sixth century BC doubtless asked the question “What about us?” continually. Their former countrymen in the northern kingdom of Israel had already lost their land (2 Kings 17:7–23), and the prophets were predicting Judah’s imminent fall to Babylon (Hab. 1:5–11). Although faithful old covenant members knew that they had no righteousness in themselves but looked forward to the Messiah for their right standing before God, they also knew that the Lord promised to bless those whose lives conformed to His law (Gen. 15:6; Deut. 28:1–14; John 8:56). Yet because they lived in Judah, they were about to feel the effects of God’s judgment upon the nation as a whole, where impenitent covenant-breakers vastly outnumbered penitent covenant-keepers. What would their ultimate end be?

The prophets all give the same answer to this question: faithful members of God’s covenant people will experience a full restoration in the day of the Lord. Joel closes his book with this message, looking forward to the day when God will “gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat” and “enter into judgment with them there” (3:2). The exact location of this valley is unknown, although it has traditionally been associated with the Kidron Valley to the east of Jerusalem. However, Joel may not mean to identify a precise geographic location, for the term Jehoshaphat means “Yahweh has judged.” Judgment, he says, will occur at “the Valley [where Yahweh has judged].”

Whether or not the Valley of Jehoshaphat is a literal, physical location, Joel foresees a final day of judgment for the nations and a vindication of God’s faithful people. The nations had captured many believers and sold them into slavery, which was a capital crime for Israel under the old covenant (Ex. 21:16; Deut. 21:14). As if the kidnapping and selling of the people were not enough, these nations had used the proceeds wastefully on prostitutes and wine on which to get drunk (Joel 3:3). Such wanton evil could not go unpunished, and though God’s faithful old covenant people had suffered at the hands of the nations, this prophecy gave them hope that the Lord would avenge them.

On that day, God will prove Himself the stronghold for His people, guarding them from His final wrath and blessing them tremendously (vv. 17–19). The Lord will return to Zion, never to leave again, and He will preserve His people forever (vv. 20–21).

Coram Deo

Under the fuller revelation of the new covenant, the idea of God as our stronghold is seen more clearly. The Lord protects us from His final wrath by clothing us in the perfect righteousness of Christ, which means He can pass over us in His eternal wrath and provide us the greatest restoration of all in the new heaven and earth. This is the only safety from His eternal judgment that God provides. Our strong tower is the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Passages for Further Study

Pss. 9:9; 18:2; 27:1; 37:39
2 Timothy 4:18
Revelation 7:9–17

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