In Joel 3:2, the Lord says: “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. Then I will enter into judgment with them there on behalf of My people and My inheritance, Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; and they have divided up My land.” (3:2)
Nevertheless, international pressure on Israel to carve up the Holy Land like a Thanksgiving turkey continues to build following President Obama’s May 2011 speech calling for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders. Nearly every world leader — and certainly every American president since the Six Day War — has demanded Israel give up significant amounts of territory within Judea, Samaria, and the Golan Heights in order to create a sovereign Palestinian state and make peace with Syria, but never this much territory. The Obama plan would force Israel to give it all up, to divide Jerusalem, and return to indefensible borders. This would be a grave error. It would severely jeopardize Israeli national security. It would do so in direct defiance of the Holy Scriptures. And it would draw the judgment of the Lord Almighty against the United States and all other countries involved in the process.
Historically, we know that the nations have repeated divided the Land of Israel. Prophetically, we know they will continue to do so until the Day of the Lord comes. We cannot necessarily stop our countries from making foolish errors of Biblical proportions. But we can loving, gently, but firmly and clearly warn them. And we must. That’s why at The Joshua Fund’s 2011 Epicenter Conference, I taught the last chapter of the Book of Joel, focusing specifically on the implications of this passage warning the nations. You can watch that message and the others at www.epicenterconference.com. Today, I am also posting the notes from my message at the conference. I hope you find them helpful.
- For Part 1 of my notes on this series on the Book of Joel, please click here.
- For Part 2 of this series on the Book of Joel, please click here.
- For Part 3 of this series on the Book of Joel, please click here.
- For Part 4 of this series on the Book of Joel, please click here.
- For Part 5 of this series on the Book of Joel, please click here.
A MESSAGE OF WARNING TO THE NATIONS: Book of Joel, Chapter Three
The Book of Joel is a wake up call and a trumpet call to Israel and the Church. It is also a message of warning to the nations – and a very sobering message at that.
Joel 3:1 – “in those days and at that time” – what time?
The last of the last days
- The time of the physical, literal, actual Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ
- The end of human history as we have known it and the dawn of the Millennial Kingdom, the 1,000 year reign of Christ on the throne of David in Jerusalem
- The time when God is going to fully and completely and graciously “restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem”
- The time of the end of the nations crushing Israel and the Jewish people
Joel 3:2 – the Lord is going to gather all the nations – not some of the nations….not a few of the nations….the text says “all” of the nations….true, the Lord singles out a few specific nations with whom He is angry…..among them:
- Tyre and Sidon (Lebanon) Joel 3:4
- Philistia (Gaza) 3:4
- Greece 3:6
- Egypt 3:19
- Edom 3:19
But let there be no doubt – He is going to judge “all” the nations…He will gather them to the Valley of Jehoshaphat….the valley of judgment…what we know today as the Kidron Valley right here in Jerusalem….“Then I will enter into judgment with them there on behalf of My people and My inheritance Israel whom they have scattered among the nations; and they have divided up My land.” (3:2)
The Lord is going to judge the nations for at least six reasons:
- For scattering Israel and the Jewish people among the nations (Joel 3:2)
- For dividing up the land of Israel, which the Lord describes as “My land” (3:2)
- For selling the Jewish people into slavery (3:3,5)
- For engaging in sex trafficking (3:3)
- For stealing treasures from the Lord (perhaps from the Temple), and from Israel (3:5)
- For murdering Jews and shedding Jewish blood (3:19, 21)
Some of these are atrocities that various nations and empires have committed against Israel and the Jewish people over the centuries. Yet some of these are atrocities that will be committed against Israel and the Jewish people during the “time of Jacob’s troubles” (Jeremiah 30:7), also known as the Tribulation.
- The Bible teaches us, for example, from the Book of Daniel that the Antichrist will invade the Beautiful Land and set up his reign of power here in Israel. (Daniel 11:41-45)
- The Hebrew Prophet Zechariah tells us that under the reign of the Antichrist and his global, one-world, tyrannical government that two-thirds of the Jewish people will be murdered. (Zechariah 13:8-9)
- As horrifying as this is, Jews will not be the only ones to suffer terribly during under the Antichrist’s global reign of terror. Anyone who resists the Antichrist will suffer. Many will perish. Indeed, the Bible reveals that this includes people who have become followers of Jesus Christ during the Tribulation and refuse to bow to the Antichrist. They will be beheaded. They will be martyred. En masse. [Read Revelation 6:9-11 – how long, O Lord, until you avenge….]
The good news is that Joel tells us a day of reckoning is coming….the Day of the Lord is coming….surely it is near.
- “I will avenge their blood which I have not avenged, for the Lord dwells in Zion.” (Joel 3:21)
- Psalm 9:11-12 – “Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion; declare among the peoples His deeds. For He who requires (or avenges) blood remembers them; He does not forget the cry of the afflicted.”
And then comes more good news – the Millennial Kingdom….during this time:
- The Lord will make Jerusalem holy and pure…..there will be no “strangers” there, Joel tells us in 3:17….only those who have been born again and made righteous by the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross for the remission of sins….only those who have been adopted into His family by receiving Jesus as the Messiah
- The mountains of Israel will drip with sweet wine (3:18)
- The mountains of Israel will nourish cattle who flow with milk (3:18)
- The land of Judah will always flow with springs of water (3:18)
- A spring will actually burst forth underneath the Temple and flow into a river down to the Dead Sea, which will be resurrected (3:18 – see also Ezekiel 47)
- Israel/Judah/Jerusalem will be inhabited forever (3:20)
- The Lord Jesus Christ Himself will dwell in Zion (3:21)
The Hebrew Prophet Joel gives us a great hope…that God is sovereign and He will reign from this city and make all things new and beautiful by His grace and power.
There is so much richness to each and every verse of chapter three. I’ve taken most of the last year to study it and I’m still finding treasures I didn’t see before. But given the moment that we are in I want to focus on verse two.
“I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. Then I will enter into judgment with them there on behalf of My people and My inheritance, Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; and they have divided up My land.” (3:2)
Consider these words carefully and completely….and let the United Nations be warned….let the United States be warned….let the European Union be warned….let the Arab League be warned….let the Palestinian Authority be warned….let Hamas be warned….let the Government of Israel, too, be warned.
It may look like a brilliant idea to divide the City of Jerusalem….to divide Judea and Samaria – a.k.a., the West Bank – away from the State of Israel….to give away the Golan Heights….as it seemed brilliant to some to give away the Gaza Strip in 2005….but let there be no mistake: the Word of God warns us in no uncertain terms that judgment is coming for all who divide Israel….and divide Jerusalem….and scatter, oppress and mistreat the Jewish people.
As I say this, the United Nations is preparing to hold a vote in the next few months to divide Jerusalem and the rest of Jerusalem and unilaterally declare a sovereign Palestinian state. For many, this seems wise and fair and just…..but willfully disobeying the Word of God is never wise….never fair….never just….and it comes with consequences.
I recognize that these Scriptures can be difficult for many Palestinian Arabs and many Israeli Arabs to read and accept, especially if they are Muslims and nominal Christians without a personal relationship with Christ….but even if they are born again brothers and sisters in the Lord. Most Palestinians long for a sovereign state of their own…many have been deeply hurt during the rebirth of the State of Israel and throughout the past 63 years….I am sympathetic with this pain and this longing.
The Bible indicates that Jews would be a sinful people when they return to the Land in the last days. Only after they return, the Bible teaches, will the Holy Spirit be poured out upon the Jewish people in an increasingly significant way (Ezekiel 39:29 and Joel 2:28-32 — or Joel chapter 3 in Hebrew Bibles). Only then will a growing number of Jewish people will repent and return to a personal relationship with the Lord. Jesus said in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 that there would be “wars and rumors of wars” and “revolutions” and “lawlessness” in the last days. Certainly, the rebirth of Israel — while prophetic and God-ordained — has come with wars, rumors of war, revolutions, sins, and even crimes committed by some Arabs as well as some Jews.
The Bible doesn’t teach this period of the last days will be easy, and the Bible is right…..that said, while these are painful facts, they are facts nonetheless…..and each one of us must be true to the revealed Word of God….we do not please the Lord — or do our Arab brothers any favors, or do the nations any favors — if we ignore, deny or try to explain away the plain meaning of these verses, that Israel would be prophetically reborn and the Jews would come back to the Land that the Lord promised Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendents.
Genesis 12:1-3 tells us that the Lord will bless those who bless the children of Abraham, and He will curse those who curse the children of Abraham. Those who have cursed Israel have, sadly, found themselves facing great pain and suffering. Those who have tried to divide the Land again and again have found themselves both causing but also experiencing great pain and suffering.
For many, these are not easy truths to hear or to hold…..but God in His love and fairness puts us on notice that there are consequences to rejecting these truths.
At the same time, we who accept by faith what the Bible teaches about God’s divine love, plan, purpose and Land for Israel and the Jewish people must remind ourselves and each other of two other truths:
- First, how we communicate Biblical truth – how we say what we say in light of the Word of God – matters to God.
- Second, how we live out Biblical truth – how we do what we do in light of the Word of God – also matters to God.
What do I mean? Allow me to explain.
First, our communication — consider John 12:49 (NIV), where Jesus said, “the Father commands Me what to say and how to say it.” What we say matters to God….but so does how we say it. It’s not enough just to communicate what is Biblically true….we must also examine how we communicate it….are we speaking the truth in love?….are we being gentle?….are we being humble?
- Proverbs 12:18 – “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
- Proverbs 15:1 – “A gentle turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
- Proverbs 15:28 – “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer”
- Proverbs 21:23 – “He who guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from troubles.”
- Proverbs 25:11 – “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.”
Yes, the Day of the Lord is coming….Yes, God is going to bless and save the nation of Israel….Yes, the nations are going to be judged for dividing the Land and shedding Jewish blood and for committing atrocities against the Jewish people….These are truths….they are from the Lord….they are just and true….But we must be careful in how we communicate these truths because they are so difficult for so many to hear…..especially our Arab brothers and sisters….Let us be wise and humble and respectful in how we teach what we teach lest we inadvertently sin with our callousness or insensitivity….lest we cause additional pain or even create a new stumbling block to our listeners being able to hear and truly receive the truth.
Second, our actions — Are we living out the fullness of the implications of Biblical truth, especially when it comes to the Book of Joel? Today, those of us who believe in the Abrahamic Covenant that God gave the Land of Israel to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants as an “everlasting possession” and who agree with the Apostle Paul that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29) are at risk.
At risk of what?
At risk of being outflanked on the justice issue….at risk of being – and/or being perceived around the world as being – insensitive to the charges that we are blind to or callous towards injustice suffered by the Palestinian people….“Justice” can be a politically loaded word…..and it can be wielded for unscriptural ends. But it is a Biblical word….it is an important word….and we must embrace it and passionately pursue its true Biblical meaning.
As the Hebrew Prophet Micah taught us, “He has told you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you, but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)
You and I are passionate advocates of justice for Israel because of what the Bible teaches. We must also be passionate advocates of justice from Israel because of what the Bible teaches. This does not mean Israel should divide the Land. This does not mean Israel should ignore her real and serious security needs. But too often, Christians who love Israel are not aware of — or sufficiently concerned about and responsive to — the plight of the Palestinian people, and particularly the struggles of the Palestinian believers.
- Are some of the political, moral and historical charges of the Palestinians against Israel overblown? Yes.
- Is some of the rhetoric of the Palestinians against Israel, Jews and Christians who love Israel hyperbolic and unfair? Yes.
- But are the Palestinian people struggling in real and very painful ways? Yes – the truth is they are. And we should care because Jesus cared.
- Much of this struggle has been caused by the unwise and ungodly choices of their leaders….and their Arab and Islamic allies in the region….and by the terror groups in their midst.
- But is some of this pain sometime caused by – or exacerbated by — Israeli mistakes….excesses….and even sins? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
Again, this does not mean the Land should be divided…That does not mean a sovereign Palestinian state should be created….It does mean that followers of Jesus Christ should care about justice and mercy – for the Jews and for the Palestinians, and for all of Israel’s neighbors who are suffering in this fallen world….After all, while the Bible clearly explains that the Lord will bring the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel and allow them to reclaim their God-given ownership of the Land, nowhere in the Bible are Jews (or any group of people) given a license to commit injustice.
- To the contrary, the Bible teaches Israel to love her neighbors (Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 19:19).
- The Bible also teaches Israel to love her neighbors and pray for those who persecute them (Matthew 5:44).
The Jewish people do have rights to the ownership of the Land, but they also have responsibilities to govern justly and compassionately, in accordance with the Scriptures.
- In Leviticus 19:13, for example, the Lord says: “You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.”
- Leviticus 19:15 — “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.”
- Leviticus 19:33-34 — “When a stranger [non-Jew] resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”
- Exodus 22:21-24 – “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry and My anger will be kindled….”
Those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ need to not just preach but also to practice sound Bible doctrine regarding Israel and the Palestinians….We need to love both….bless both….pray for both….We need to stand with and encourage our brothers and sisters in the Messiah whether they are Jewish or Arab….The Bible gives us no freedom to ignore, deny, or oppose our brothers and sisters on either side….Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
We need to be pro-actively building relationships with Israelis and Palestinians….we need to be faithful ambassadors of Christ….we need to be true agents of reconciliation whenever and wherever possible….We do not have to agree with everything that our brothers and sisters believe — especially if those beliefs are unscriptural — but we are commanded to love them unconditionally and sacrificially….We are commanded to see struggle and suffering and respond in love and compassion, whether it’s a Jewish person in pain or an Arab.
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Jesus loves the Jews….Jesus loves the Arabs….Jesus loves the Iranians….Jesus loves the Druze, the Bedouins, and all who live in the epicenter….Jesus died for all….Jesus rose again for all….Jesus is coming back again to this city for all…The Day of the Lord is coming….surely it is near….Joel teaches us that the Day of the Lord is a day of great sadness and judgment for those who reject the Lord and disobey His Word….But Joel also teaches us that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”
Which leads me to my final point.
In addition to praying for Jews and for the Palestinians….
In addition to seeking real and practical ways to bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus….
In addition to providing food, clothing, medical supplies and other humanitarian relief to the poor and needy on both sides of the security fence….of caring for widows and orphans….of caring for Holocaust Survivors and victims of war and terrorism….We need to make sure everyone from Tel Aviv to Tehran hears the good news of God’s amazing love and grace as revealed through Jesus Christ.
Let those of us who love Israel also love Israel’s neighbors and enemies enough to make sure they hear the gospel….to strengthen the Church in the Arab and Iranian world….to help them train pastors and plant churches and fulfill the Great Commission.
Precisely because the Day of the Lord is coming….surely it is near.
As the Apostle Peter taught us, “the Day of the Lord will come like a thief” and “the Lord is not slow about keeping His promise , as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:10,9)