OAKRIDGE BIBLE CHAPEL

Retribution and Restoration (Joel 3:1–21)

Imagine I told you we were going to have a conversation about classic story structure, and invited you to finish the following sentence: “and they all lived…” Exactly. We all know it. In most cases, we probably expect it. And while it’s obviously not true of every story, the opposites are infrequent or undesirable enough that “and they all lived terribly ever after” just isn’t a thing we say.

Think of the last fictional book you read or movie you watched (ones that actually resolved the story, not the ones with the cliffhanger setting up for the sequel) and I can almost guarantee there was a scene involving the punishment of the “bad guys” before seeing the happy future for the “good guys”. Because in many ways, part of that happy ending involves this acknowledgement that the evil ones are getting what they had coming, fair retribution for what they have done to the world and to the protagonists themselves. We know in our hearts, even in our fictional stories, that bad things deserve punishment, and a “happily ever after” with evil still on the loose just isn’t “happy” or “ever after”.

As I mentioned a few moments ago, today we’re going to get to the resolution of the prophetic story in the book of Joel. And in that resolution, we’re going to see everything required for that proper “happily ever after”.

SERMON MANUSCRIPT 

Well we’re finally here. I know it’s only been four weeks, and in some ways I can’t believe we’re already done. And yet in others, it feels like we’ve been in Joel for a long time! But alas, for my last time from this pulpit, I’ll invite you to turn to the book of Joel, where today we’ll be reading through chapter 3.

As we’ve gone through this short, prophetic book of the Old Testament, we’ve seen God’s disciplinary judgement on his people in Judah in the form of a plague of locusts and an invading army. We’ve seen multiple calls to repentance, calls to mourning and grieving over sin and its consequences, calls to proper worship of God, and calls to trust in his blessed promises. We’ve seen God mercifully relenting of his punishment and promising to bless his people with an abundance, including the promise of his own Holy Spirit and salvation when they call on him. And today, we’re going to see the promise-filled resolution to this story of discipline and deliverance.

Imagine I told you we were going to have a conversation about classic story structure, and invited you to finish the following sentence: “and they all lived…” Exactly. We all know it. In most cases, we probably expect it. And while it’s obviously not true of every story, the opposites are infrequent or undesirable enough that “and they all lived terribly ever after” just isn’t a thing we say.

But let’s think about that one we all know: “And they all lived happily ever after.” Who is it referring to? Clearly it can’t actually be “all”, because that would include the villains too, and no one wants that. Of course not. It’s the heroes, the protagonists, the main characters of the story. And for the heroes to truly enjoy happiness ever after, the villains, the evil ones in the story, need to face judgement, justice, punishment for their wrongdoings.

Think of the last fictional book you read or movie you watched (ones that actually resolved the story, not the ones with the cliffhanger setting up for the sequel) and I can almost guarantee there was a scene involving the punishment of the “bad guys” before seeing the happy future for the “good guys”. Because in many ways, part of that happy ending involves this acknowledgement that the evil ones are getting what they had coming, fair retribution for what they have done to the world and to the protagonists themselves. We know in our hearts, even in our fictional stories, that bad things deserve punishment, and a “happily ever after” with evil still on the loose just isn’t “happy” or “ever after”.

As I mentioned a few moments ago, today we’re going to get to the resolution of the prophetic story in the book of Joel. And in that resolution, we’re going to see everything required for that proper “happily ever after”. We’re going to see the promised, impending judgement on “the nations” for the ways they have sinned against God and mistreated his people, followed by a description of that judgement, all wrapped up with a promise of restorative blessing.

Interestingly enough, the structure of this final chapter and the way it’s laid out reminds me of the different movements in the book so far, in the weeks previous. The first week involved judgement and promise of more judgement, the second week gave a description of judgement, and last week was all about restorative blessings. And we’re going to see all of those this morning.

So in many ways, this chapter is a perfect resolution to the story of Joel. Let’s start reading.

PROMISE OF JUDGEMENT (1–11)

Read Joel 3:1–3. Right away we see an introductory statement that goes over the “when” and a bit of the “what” that we can look forward to in this chapter. We of course have to ask the question “in what days, at what time?”, to remind ourselves of the context from the end of chapter 2, which was all about a future day of the Lord.

So, in the days when God’s Spirit is poured out, in the days when his people can call on his name and be saved, here’s what will happen: The fortunes will be restored to Judah and Jerusalem, God will gather all the nations, and bring them to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. A place that most agree is likely not a specific valley, but given that Jehoshaphat means “God is judge” or God will judge”, it’s basically saying “God will bring them to the Valley of God’s Judgement”. Which makes sense when God, through the words of Joel, says that he “will enter into judgement with them there.” So it could be a literal place, but it’s most likely a poetic imagining of their coming destination.

As we continue through verse 2 and into 3, we see a bit more of the “why” (which also shouldn’t come as a surprise for those who have read the rest of the book. The book of Joel…or really the rest of the Old Testament). His judgement will come “on behalf of his people, his inheritance, Israel”. Those who have been scattered, divided, removed from their promised land. Those who have been traded and sold, as if they have no value; their lives being exchanged to pay the cost of revelry and debauchery.

God cares about his people, he has seen their suffering, the ways they have been treated by their enemies, and he will do something about it. And yet it wasn’t just God’s people who had been spurned and scorned, but God himself. Let’s continue in verses 4 through 8. Read Joel 3:4–8.

You can see in the content the way that the tone shifts here. He’s started by preparing the nations for judgement, and he will pick that up again in verse 9, but in between he does this sort of aside, calling out specific nations for their crimes. He starts by addressing how the enemies have treated his people, and then it’s almost like he pauses:

“You scattered my people, sold them for nothing and… What are you to me? (Who do you think you are?) You’re coming against me? I’ll come right back on you. Because you didn’t just mess with my people, you messed with me. It was my silver and gold, my precious treasures you stole. It was my people you sold just to get them out of their land (which is ultimately, also, my land!) “You’ve all but guaranteed the same things and more are coming back against you. Because when you mess with my things, my land, and my people, you are messing with me.” Retribution is coming.

There’s a reason bullies pick on their targets when they are alone. It’s because they think they can get away with it. Most aren’t stupid enough to try and bully someone right in front of an authority figure, and especially not the victim’s parents. Because they don’t generally have the confidence or even interest in going toe-to-toe with the parents, they want to go against someone they feel they can have power over.

Makes things complicated for these enemy nations, given that the people they’ve been harassing have a Father who is omniscient and sees everything they’ve ever done. Makes things complicated when the land they’ve overtaken, the temples they’ve destroyed, the items they’ve stolen actually belong to the God of all power and dominion. It’s hard to pick on a kid on the playground when the playground is in the dad’s courtyard, and everything the kid has belongs to him. And yet that’s exactly what these enemy nations did. They thought they could pick a fight with God’s people, but in so doing, they invited him into the ring, and brought promise of divine retribution on themselves.

Well with this little aside done, God, through Joel, returns to calling the nations to prepare for judgement, and in this case, it’s like he’s calling them to prepare for war. Read Joel 3:9–11. This is a call, for all those who have been enemies of God’s people to get ready for battle, for a “holy war” is coming. Notice all the imperative statements, the commands: proclaim, prepare, stir up, beat, hurry, come, bring; all in very quick succession. This immediately brings my mind back to the alarm horn sounding in chapter 2, waking people up, altering them to trouble on the horizon. It’s a call to prepare, for the soldiers and warriors to wake up, suit up, pick up their arms, and be ready to fight.

In fact, it goes beyond the soldiers. Verse 10 is a call out to everyone, even those who normally let the soldiers go to war for them. The farmers who typically tend to the crops should turn their tools into weapons, beat their plowshares to swords; a phrase that may sound familiar. The opposite is said in some of the other prophetic Old Testament texts, pointing to the future kingdom when there will be no more war or violence. Those who are typically too weak to fight should pump themselves up, because a fight is coming.

It reminds me of that scene in The Two Towers (yes, two Lord of the Rings references in one sermon series!) But there’s a scene where the nation of Rohan knows an invading army is coming, and they are forced to prepare for war. They know they don’t have enough soldiers, and so they have no choice but conscript anyone who is physically able to bear arms. Old men, strong lads. At one point Aragorn comments, “Farmers, ferries, stable-boys: these are no soldiers”, to which his friends reply, “Most have seen too many winters! Or too few.”

That is what is being pictured here: a time when anyone and everyone who can needs to prepare, quickly, for battle. Joel even does his own little interjection here in verse 11 and calls for God to send down his warriors in preparation for what is to come. God’s people have been struggling. The have been bullied, harassed, pushed around. Attacked, robbed, pushed from their land at times. And even though some of that was directly allowed by God as discipline for their own disobedience even here in the book of Joel, he wants to make it clear that it won’t always be this way.

Where back in chapter two he described the invading army being removed and punished for their attack, in this chapter it’s a promise of judgement on all the armies, all the nations that have treated them (and their God) with mockery, contempt, and violence. And I have to imagine, to the original audience hearing or reading these words, this probably stirred them up, ready to join in this battle for retribution themselves. For years, centuries even, their people had suffered at the hands of the nations around them.

And so, when word goes out here, calling the enemies to prepare for holy war, I’m sure their minds immediately went to the ways God has used their people to deal his judgement on nations in the past. David’s mighty victories, Joshua leading the people into the promised land, maybe even thoughts of Moses and what happened to Pharoah’s army at the Red Sea. Let’s go! It’s time to make them pay, to show them who’s boss! And yet, a battle isn’t exactly what is described. Instead, it’s more like a court room, with the nations holding a smoking gun.

Or as one author explained, “When the nations were assembled in the valley, they would receive a shock; they would find there the Judge of all the nations, and in their hands they would be holding the incriminating evidence of their own history of violence,” (Craigie, Twelve Prophets, 116).

DESCRIPTION OF JUDGEMENT (12–17)

Read Joel 3:12–13. Another call for the nations to be awakened, stirred up, roused to attention and gathered in the Valley to be judged, pointing us back to the topic at the start of the chapter. They have been gathered in all their military might only to discover that they don’t even have a chance of fighting their way to victory, because they aren’t even going to be fighting in the first place, but rather simply receiving the judgement the Lord has planned.

And notice the language in verse 13. Not only could it be described as violent, but greatly agricultural. The sickle, while sharp, is designed for harvesting wheat, yet here the metaphor is to picture it harvesting the people. The grapes need to be trodden to release the sweet juice for making wine. It seems to be a call back to the lack of wheat, wine, and oil in chapters 1 and 2. Now, instead, the judgement of the nations points to God’s people’s sustenance and plenty. That as the wickedness is cut from and pressed out of their enemies, the vats of God’s people overflow with abundance.

Let’s continue. Read Joel 3:14–16a. This word being translated “multitudes” is an interesting one, because while it points to the sheer volume of people and nations being judged for their evil against God and his people, it’s used elsewhere to describe the sound, the murmur of confusion in a crowd. Notice, too, that Joel has switched to referring to the valley of decision—not the decision of the people, but the decision of God, that almighty judge on his throne. The picture here is not so different from a room of the accused nervously talking amongst themselves as they await their verdict and the punishment the judge will hand down.

Verse 15 points us back to celestial happenings, referred to twice in chapter 2, pointing to the darkness of this day of the Lord that is to come. A day that will be recognizable and foreboding to all. The beginning of verse 16 also connects back to chapter 2. Where the voice of the Lord and the quaking heavens and earth were once a sign of the discipline coming against his people, now they point to his ultimate judgement against their enemies. And just as any good story doesn’t end with the punishment, but goes from the punishment to the happily ever after, we see the beginning of a shift, showing how God will treat his people during this judgement.

Read Joel 3:16b–17. BUT, “the Lord is a refuge for his people, and a stronghold for the sons of Israel.” He is their shelter and protector in the midst of this day of darkness and punishment. And this will once again point them back to the very thing they forgot or ignored so often in days past: He is the Lord their God. He will dwell on his holy mountain, in his holy city, protecting it, guarding it from outside intruders. Not because they’ve earned it or deserve it, but because they are his people. And he will defend his people.

Now before we go on to the final few verses, I want to make another acknowledgement, that this passage is, once again, one that can seem very disconnected from our current situation or circumstances. We aren’t Judah. The “nations” haven’t invaded our land, sold us, attacked us, or pillaged us. And while we, as gentiles, have been graciously welcomed into the family of God and will share in his inheritance, we also know that God has a special covenant relationship with his chosen people.

So while we, once again, don’t want to directly apply their promises to us, we can look at a passage like this and think about what we learn about God. We are reminded by these words that he is a defender, a protector, a judge; he is powerful, formidable, and jealous for his people. He speaks and commands and the multitudes will listen. And perhaps beyond all of that, he is the Lord our God!

Well for one last time before we end, we’re going to see the tone shift, as we finally get to the verses describing what was mentioned in verse 1, the restoration of the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem.

PROMISE OF BLESSING (18–21)

Read Joel 3:18. “And on that day” marks the transition to restorative blessing. We start with the blessing of abundant and celebratory sustenance. So much new, sweet wine that the mountains are pictured to be dripping with it. Interestingly, the same “sweet wine” the drunkards were weeping over not having back in chapter 1. The hills flowing with milk points to plenty of cattle and livestock, again, no-longer panting for water like in chapter 1, but being refreshed at the flowing brooks of Judah. Brooks that, according to my understanding and research, are typically only flowing during the rainy seasons.

Well no-longer! Because they are filled by an everlasting spring that “will go out from the house of the Lord and water the Valley of Shittim.” Another valley that doesn’t seem to have a specific location, but the word actually means “of Acacias” or “where Acacias grow”, a type of tree that typically thrives in dry and arid conditions. Basically saying all of the land, event the parts that are normally dry and barren will be watered with life from the Lord.

And in contrast to this, we have Egypt and Edom facing the opposite of their usual abundance. Read Joel 3:19. Punishment for the shedding of the blood of God’s people. By causing death, they have brought death of their land upon themselves. But to contrast that. Read Joel 3:20–21. I love the back and forth. This, but that, but this! And it’s here that we see the full extent of God’s blessing as not just being abundant sustenance, meeting those physical needs we talked about last week, but his very eternal and protective and avenging presence with them forever.

In case it’s not obvious, this whole section contains language of things to come when Christ returns one day, to judge and to set up his perfect earthly kingdom. And while you’ll notice this section of Joel has no commands for action for God’s people, in contrast to the former 2 chapters, the implications are clear: Trust that the Lord’s perfect judgement and eternal provision is coming!

And this is something we are waiting for as New Covenant members of God’s family too. Because we look around our world, and see that this beautiful, abundant reality; this perfect punishing judgement, has clearly not come to pass yet. The nations roam free, each person a king in their own kingdom, caring mostly for their own interests. A willful ignorance or intentional disobedience to the ways of the Lord. The story is nearing its conclusion but before we can have that happy ending that we know is coming, judgement needs to come!

And I don’t know about you, but it’s in these moments, when I see the evil in our world and long for God’s perfect justice, that I’m also reminded of how doomed we would all be if not for the person and work of Jesus Christ. If not for his sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection, all of us would be suiting up called to battle, marching cluelessly to that Valley of Judgement because we are all guilty of crimes against our God. If not for his grace, we would be standing around, awaiting the verdict.

And don’t get me wrong, we will face God’s perfect judgement. But on that day, for those of us who have trusted in Jesus, he’ll stand in our place and say “I’ve already paid their fine. I served their sentence. They’re with me.” And so we wait. We wait with hope and with anticipation, because we serve the same God. The faithful, promise-keeping God who will dwell with us in abundance forevermore.

Just before the music team leads us in our closing song, I want to take a moment to thank Josiah, the elders, and you all for allowing me the opportunity to take four weeks in a row to go through this incredible, poetic, challenging, and yet hope-filled little book. I hope you are able to leave today inspired by the truth of its words, that God wants our hearts turned to him, trusting in him, and hopefully waiting for him. And I hope you feel encouraged to maybe spend some more time in these often-ignored books of the Bible, to dive in and study them and be challenged by them, because God included them and preserved them for a reason.

Let’s sing about his faithfulness.



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Andrew Longmire

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