Joel 3 starts with, “In those days and at that time . . . ” and a prophecy about judgment to come on those nations that have destroyed Jerusalem and scattered Judah. This doesn’t sound like any kind of ultimate judgment, but those nations getting some of their own medicine. Then we get full on eschatological when the Lord will “judge all the nations on every side,” and it is not a pretty picture because “so great is their wickedness.” Then we read this poetically beautiful and ominous verse:
14 Multitudes, multitudes
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
in the valley of decision.
While I can see certain kinds of fundamentalists using this verse to prompt an audience to make a decision for the Lord, we find the key to it’s interpretation in verse 2:
2 I will gather all nations
and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
There I will put them on trial
for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel,
because they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land.
The word Jehoshaphat means the Lord judges, so this valley Joel speaks of is one where the Lord has made his decision to judge the nations, or what is called “the day of judgment.” The concept of such a “day” is mainly a new testament one, but you can find oblique references in some of the prophets a time or two. Here’s it’s “the day of the Lord.” “The day of judgment” is used four times by Jesus, but only in Matthew’s gospel. Paul refers to the “day of God’s wrath,” and Peter and John use it as well. This will not be a great day because God’s just judgment of great wickedness will not be pleasant.
Being an eschatological phrase, or a phrase referring to the end of things, this judgment Joel refers to is contrasted with the blessing to come for God’s people. This is how things will end on that “day”:
16 The Lord will roar from Zion
and thunder from Jerusalem;
the earth and the heavens will tremble.
But the Lord will be a refuge for his people,
a stronghold for the people of Israel.
He speaks of Judah being “inhabited forever,” and “Jerusalem through all generations,” but there is no way this refers to the nation state of Israel, that tiny piece of land in the Middle East. This blessing promised is not a physical place, but the place where God’s presence resides. We get a hint that this points to Christ when the Lord says:
21 Their bloodguilt which I have not pardoned, I will pardon.”
The Lord dwells in Zion!
The word for pardon is translated in various ways, but the Hebrew word means “to be empty or clean.” The Lord will dwell with his people when their sin is wiped away, forgiven, and atoned for. As the hymn says, Jesus paid it all. On that “day,” which we are currently living in and will one day live in forever (the already and the not yet), God does and will dwell with, in, and through us. Our hope is in his presence, forever!