“For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.” Joel 3:1-2
In this last chapter, Joel describes the day of the Lord, a day of judgment that is to be proclaimed to all nations. If you ask the question, “What will the day of judgment be like? What will it be like to be there when all nations will be gathered together in one place?” It seems unimaginable. Joel uses words to paint pictures. He portrays the day of the Lord so you can taste, see, and picture what this day will be like.
I know that when we arrive at church, our minds can often be full of our busy schedules. We are barely finished with the last thing and inside an hour we will be onto the next thing. Sometimes we just need to stop and ask “What really matters?”
Wise people do this often. Effective leaders do it in business: “What do I most need to do to move this business forward?” Wise parents do it in the home: “What do we most need to change for our family to thrive?” Wise students do this early in life. They look at people who are doing what they want to do and they ask, “What do I need to learn? What skills do I need to have?”
Now move that up a level: Think beyond your career, beyond your family, beyond your studies. Think about your life. Think about your eternity. Think about yourself! Think about what it will be for you to stand in the presence of God. Even if I were to never think about it again, I am going to think about it now. What do you most need to prepare for? Could there be something that matters more than everything that is consuming your life right now?
God says to you, “Here’s what you need to attend to. There’s something bigger by far than everything that presses in on you right now: The day of the Lord.” The day of the Lord may sound remote to you. But if you believe what Joel says here today, it will matter more to you than anything that has happened this week.
For some of us, huge, life-changing events have happened this week. But nothing will change your life more than the decision God announces about you on the day of judgment.
Why There Will Be a Judgment
“I [will] restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem… I will gather all the nations… I will enter into judgment with them there…” Joel 3:1-2
“Restore” is the key word of this whole book, how God can give back what you have lost.
Then God says, “I will gather all the nations.” This is inclusive: France, Britain, the United States of America, the vast populations of India, China, Brazil, and Russia, and on and on. This is the Creator speaking, and he says, “I will gather all the nations.”
We are used to seeing mega events. Some of you have been part of a crowd of a million people. This is a much larger gathering that only God himself could possibly orchestrate.
If you ask me where or how God will do this, I cannot answer you. I do not know. Joel speaks about “the Valley of Jehoshaphat” (Joel 3:2). You say, “Where is that?” There isn’t a place on the map that bears that name. And it’s the only time in the Bible that this name is used.
The significance may be in the name rather than in the location. Jehoshaphat means “God has judged.” So when God says, “I will bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat,” he is saying, “I will bring them to the place of judgment and enter into judgment with all people there.”
Words often slide right over us, so God brings the reality of this day to our attention by describing it in a picture. His picture is of a valley, with vast multitudes of people crammed into this space, and God himself visibly present, entering into judgment with the nations.
The judgment of nations has special reference to the way the nations have treated God’s people Israel: “I will enter into judgment with them there on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel…” (Joel 3:2). Great evils were done against God’s people in the Old Testament and since. All of them are known to God. Not one of them will ever be forgotten. All that has been done will one day be brought to account.
Particular charges are laid out here. For example, they “have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it” (Joel 3:3). What is Joel talking about? This describes what we would call today: “human trafficking!” It was happening in Old Testament times and it is still happening today.
Sometimes we wonder if there can ever be justice in the world. The answer in Scripture is yes. God will bring justice: “He has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31). On that day, he will gather all people, and he will enter into judgment against all sins.
The evils God will bring to judgment are many. They include the evils done against Israel, but they are not limited to these: “Their evil is great” (Joel 3:13). We get caught up with the latest shooting, the latest genocide, because it’s thrust in front of us and we forget about it until the next one.
We may have forgotten about the half million people who were slaughtered in Rwanda between April and June 1994, nearly half of whom were children. God has not forgotten about one of these. Not one of the 1.6 million killed in Cambodia between 1975 and 1978 is forgotten. None of the 6 million Jewish men exterminated in 1930s and 1940s is forgotten. And none of the 20 million purged in Russia in the time of Stalin, which is less than half of the number of abortions in the United States since 1973—56 million—is forgotten.
The Bible tells us that God has books and a bottle. In the books, he records all human evil (Revelation 20:12). In the bottle, he gathers the tears of suffering people (Psalm 56:8).
Every act of human cruelty and violence is completely known to God. He knows the full effect of it in terms of human pain and sorrow. God will bring all evil to judgment. One writer, David Prior, picks up on this:
God’s memory and attention to detail does not… change like our contemporary media, according to the latest disaster or genocide. God has both books and a bottle, which together are more accurate that the world’s most up-to-date computer with the latest software. They have limitless capacity. 
God sees all the great evils of human life and never forgets one. On the day of the Lord, the books will be opened. Every sin, every crime, every evil will be brought to account. Every secret will be revealed and God “will bring to light things now hidden in darkness” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
If we ask why there should be a judgment, the answer is because of human evil: “Their evil is great” (Joel 3:13). Evil is etched into human history and human character to such a degree that, without a judgment, there can never be a restoration.
The restoration of Judah and Jerusalem in Joel 3:1, happens through the gathering for judgment in verse 2. Evil goes on and on and multiplies itself in every generation.
This judgment will happen. The same God who says, “I will restore the years that the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25), and “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh” (2:28), also says, “I will gather all the nations” and, “I will enter into judgment with them.”
What the Judgment Will Be Like
“Proclaim this among the nations…” Joel 3:9
What God says here is to be “proclaimed” to every person because it touches every life. It’s not culturally bound; it’s worldwide. God says, “This is what every person needs to hear.”
Again, Joel paints a picture, and for all of you who draw, adults and children, you might like to sketch this rather than writing notes. Try and visualize this. Try and capture this in your imagination.
A vast crowd gathered
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. Joel 3:14
Picture a vast crowd in this valley, beyond any number that a human being could count, as God has gathered the nations for judgment.
They are armed for a fight
Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears. Joel 3:10
What Joel says here is the opposite of the famous words of Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3. This passage is used as the motto of the United Nations:
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Micah 4:3).
There will come a day when people won’t go to war against one another. The nations that have been experiencing peace will go to war against God instead, and they will have weapons: Swords made from plowshares and spears made from pruning hooks.
It’s an extraordinary picture: The nations of the world gathered against God. No weapons that have ever been invented can make the smallest impression against the throne of God. But here are the nations, armed to fight the Almighty with swords and spears. Do you feel that there is something ludicrous about this, something hopeless about this battle against God?
Notice that the entire human race is mobilized for this fight. “Let all the men of war draw near” (Joel 3:9). We expect the men of war to show up, but even the timid show: “Let the weak say ‘I am a warrior’” (Joel 3:10). So the lines are set for battle. On one side are a vast multitude, the strong and the weak, setting themselves against God, armed with the best weapons they can muster. On the other side is God alone.
God is sitting on his throne
Look down into the valley, and you see God Almighty. The extraordinary thing is that he is not even standing up: “Let the nations stir themselves up and come to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge the surrounding nations” (Joel 3:12).
Here is God confronted by millions. They are armed and ready to fight. But God does not even stand up! This reminds me of Psalm 2: “He who sits in the heavens laughs (2:2). The drama of this picture is extraordinary.
I want you to see what happens next: “The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem and the heavens and the earth quake… The sun and the moon are darkened and the stars withdraw their shining” (Joel 3:16, 15). The lights go out. The voice of God gives the command: “Put in the sickle for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great” (Joel 3:13).
The Bible speaks about the last battle, Armageddon, but don’t imagine for one moment that this is some titanic struggle in which God barely wins. Scripture says that the Lord Jesus will overthrow his enemies by the “breath of his mouth” and the “splendor of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8). One breath from him and all his enemies are overthrown.
One writer on Joel says, “God deals with them in the way he might flick an insect off his arm.”  “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire” (Malachi 3:2).
I believe that the Bible is the Word of God. I believe that what God says here will happen. If you don’t believe that, I tremble for you. Most of you do believe in God. You believe in the Bible, but today some are locked into an argument, a dispute, a conflict with him. You’re angry with God. You think he owes you something better than he’s given to you.
Picture yourself standing there with your little sword and your improvised spear taking on the Almighty. It’s a ludicrous picture. The sooner you end your antagonism with God the better it will be for you. Your fight with God is a fight you can never win.
Job was a godly believer who tried to bring his case against the ways and the wisdom of God, and when he saw who he was up against, he got down on his knees and repented. He said, “This is a fight that I cannot win.” Let this picture from the book of Joel lead you to the same place today.
Where You Can Find Refuge
The Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. Joel 3:16
A refuge is a place where you can go to find safety in the face of impending disaster. God is saying, “I am your refuge.” The Lord is the judge you should fear, and he is also the refuge you should seek.
How can God who is the judge be the refuge from his own judgment? That takes us to the very heart of the gospel: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25).
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
That’s why we need a refuge. Everything you have thought, said, and done is written in God’s book. Your sins are many and they are known to him. When he enters into judgment with all people, you are included.
Christ Jesus, whom God put forward (Romans 3:24-25)
God put forward Christ Jesus. He is the refuge, for Jew and for gentile; for men and for women; for old and for young; for rich and for poor.
Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood… (Romans 3:25)
That means that the judgment due to sinners on the day of the Lord was passed on Jesus Christ when he died on the cross.
What Jesus did achieved two things:
Justified by his grace (Romans 3:24) – Justification means forgiveness, absolution, restoration of peace with God that had been lost because of our many sins.
Redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24) – Redemption means that, through his death, Jesus purchased people for his himself, making them his own.
Justified by his grace as a gift (Romans 3:24)
These gifts are offered freely.
A propitiation by his blood to be received by faith (Romans 3:24)
These gifts are received by faith. What is faith? Faith is the bond of a living union in which you become Christ’s and Christ becomes yours. It unites you to Jesus Christ.
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision (Joel 3:14)
This verse has often been used by evangelists to appeal to people to make a decision about Christ. But what Joel is speaking about here is not a decision that we make about God, but the decision God makes about every one of us. That is the decision that really matters.
God’s decision lies at the heart of the word “justified.” When God justifies a person, he makes a decision in their favor. God’s decision about every person will be revealed on the last day. This great announcement will be made at the end of life. Do you want to wait until the last day? Imagine living your whole life not knowing what the outcome of the ultimate decision in your life will be!
Justification is God’s decision, made known in advance to all who are in Christ! All you’ve done, all that’s written in God’s book under your name, has been poured out on Jesus. He bore your sin in his body on the tree. Condemnation came and went at Calvary, as far as your sins are concerned. When you are in Christ, your eternity is not hanging in the balance. God’s decision about you has already been made!
Some years ago I labored on a research degree that was on the great truth of justification. Here it is—221 pages. I thought I might read it to you! I don’t think so…
British degrees in advanced education don’t hang on course work. There isn’t any course work; it’s all research. The examination hangs on one interview where you meet with two professors and defend your thesis.
The day for defending this thesis came, and I was really anxious. I sat down with two professors I had never met before, wondering what they would ask and how I would answer.
The senior of the two said, “We want you to know that we like your work and it meets the standard of the degree. So you can relax and enjoy this conversation.” That is the amazing gift of justification!
One day you are going to stand before him with your eternity at stake. What if God were to say to you now, today: “I’ve decided in your favor. You can be at peace with me. Relax and live a life of service to me with joy because I have already decided the outcome!”
Stop pushing him away. Run to him for refuge! Embracing Christ as savior is the greatest gift you will ever receive. Serving him as Lord will be the greatest privilege of your life, however costly that may be. Christ holds this gift of justification in his hand, and he is ready to say to you today: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
 David Prior, The Message of Joel, Micah & Habakkuk, p. 101, IVP Academic, 1999
 Ibid., p. 88
© Colin S. Smith
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