Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Study of the Prophets #34: Joel (Cont.)
Last week we were introduced to the “good news” related to the disastrous invasion of locusts in Joel’s time and the future invasion of Jerusalem by a consolidated military force. However, he good news, restoration and healing of the land and people is contingent upon repentance; a true, heartfelt, humble turning to G-d through Yahshua. This cause and effect principle is very easy to understand and requires no advance degree or worldly experience. Sadly, as we know from the past, and what Yahshua revealed t us about future events, there will be people who simply choose rebellion against G-d and His Torah, who will be eternally lost.
We begin with Chapter 3:3-5: “I will set wonders in the heavens and on earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke; the sun will turn to darkness and the moon to blood [red], before the coming of the great and awesome Day of HaShem. And it will be that anyone who calls in the Name of HaShem will escape, for on the mountain of Zion and in Jerusalem there will be refuge, as HaShem said, and among the survivors whom HaShem summons.”
If you look into other translations of Joel, you may easily become confused because the chapters are divided quite differently that in the “Complete Jewish Bible,” the “Chumash,” and the Milstein Edition of “The Prophets.” However, with careful reading of any translation, you will find the verses written at some point in the other translations, although not always accurately transliterated.
Joel now describes the sings that HaShem will place in heaven and earth to herald the destruction of Israel’s enemies. This will occur during the wars of Gog and Magog, a series of cataclysmic battles that will be fought prior to the final redemption (Ezekiel 38,39; Zechariah Ch.14). As Messiah’s manifestation is full of joy to believers, so it has an aspect of wrath to unbelievers, which is represented here. Thus when the Jews received Him not in His coming of grace, He came in judgment on Jerusalem. Physical prodigies, massacres, and conflagrations preceded its destruction [Josephus, Wars of the Jews]. To these the language here may allude; but the figures chiefly symbolize political revolutions and changes in the ruling powers of the world, prognosticated by previous disasters (Amos 8:9; Matt. 24:29; Luke 21:25-27), and convulsions such as preceded the overthrow of the Jewish polity. Such shall probably occur in a more appalling degree before the final destruction of the ungodly world (“the great and terrible day of the L-rd,” compare Mal. 4:5), of which Jerusalem’s overthrow is the type and earnest.
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the L-RD come. There are at least two opinions on how this verse should be understood: 1. That a sign of blood will appear on earth to symbolize the great bloodshed that will occur; and lightning from heaven will stroke the land causing fires, and, with them, pillars of smoke. These will portend the impending destruction of those nations who join with Gog and Magog in attacking Jerusalem (Radak). 2. Others interpret this verse to describe how G-d will provide a clear sign of His Presence through the wondrous manner in which He will destroy Israel’s enemies. The sword that smites them on earth will cause their blood to flow, while fire will descend upon them from heaven and consume them in a pillar of smoke (Abarbanel; Malbim).
With regard to the details, it seems probable that this is an instance of what we may call an inverted parallelism, that having mentioned generally that G-d would give “signs in (1) heaven and (2) earth,” Joel first instances the “signs in earth,” and then those “in heaven.” A very intellectual Jewish expositor has suggested this, and certainly it is frequent enough to be, in conciser forms, one of the idioms of the sacred Hebrew language. In such case, “the blood and fire and pillars of smoke, will be signs in earth; the turning of the sun into darkness and the moon into blood will be signs in heaven.” When foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, the Day of vengeance, which fell with such accumulated horror on her, and has for these 1800 years dispersed the people of Israel (the 10 Northern tribes) to the four winds, HaShem mentions first the signs on earth, then those in heaven. “Nation shall arise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. Luke 21:10-11. Before the Day of Judgment HaShem also speaks of both Luke 21:25-26;
(1) “there shall be signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars;
(2) and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; people’s hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.”
G-d warns the faithful through Joel of the terrible things would come, with the intent that they should not look for continual quietness in this world: and yet in all these troubles he would preserve them.
According to Calvin’s commentary, those who do not carefully read the entire book of Joel might think he is contradicting himself. This is not the case. After telling them of the blessings HaShem will pour out on the faithful and those who repent, he seems again to threaten them with G-d’s wrath and to strike miserable men with fear; who had not as yet a breathing time; for at the time Joel spoke, the Jews, we know, were in the greatest sorrow. What then is his purpose in adding a new cause of grief, as though they had not sorrow and lamentation enough? But it is rather an admonition than a threatening. The Prophet warns them of what would be, lest the faithful should promise themselves some happy condition in this world, and an exemption from all cares and troubles; for we know how prone men are to self-indulgence. When G-d promises anything, they flatter themselves and harbor vain thoughts, as though they were beyond the reach of harm, and free from every grief and every evil. Such indulgence the flesh contrives for itself. Hence the Prophet reminds us, that though G-d would bountifully feed his people, supply them with food, and testify by external tokens his paternal love, and though also he would pour out his Spirit, (a token far more remarkable,) yet the faithful would continue to be distressed with many troubles; for G-d designs not to deal too delicately with his faithful and future Bride (Spiritual Israel) on earth; but when he gives tokens of his kindness he at the same time mingles some exercises for patience, lest the faithful should become self-indulgent or sleep on earthly blessings, but that they may ever seek higher things.
We now then understand the Prophet’s design: he intends not to threaten the faithful, but rather to warn them, lest they should deceive themselves with empty dreams, or expect what is never to be, that is, to enjoy a happy rest in this world. Besides, the Prophet regards also another thing: we know indeed that men are hardly led to seek the grace of G-d, except when they are, as it were, forcibly drawn; hence spiritual life is neglected, and whatever belongs to the celestial kingdom, when we have all kinds of supplies on earth. The Prophet then commends here the spiritual grace of which he speaks, for this reason, — that the condition of men would be miserable, were not the L-rd to exhilarate their minds and refresh them with the comfort which we have already noticed. — How so? There will be prodigies in heaven and on earth, the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, and all things shall be in disorder and in horrible darkness. What then would become of men, were not G-d to shine on them by the grace of His Spirit, to support them under such a confusion in heaven and on earth, and to show himself to be their Father?
We then see that this was added for the fuller commendation of G-d’s grace and mercy, that men might know, that they would be much more miserable if G-d called them not to Himself by the shining light of his Spirit. And that this was the Prophet’s design, we may learn from the discourse of Yahshua, which He made to his disciples a short time before his death. They asked what would be the sign of his coming, when he reminded them of the destruction of the temple, (Matthew 24:3). They thought that he would immediately accomplish that triumph of which they had heard, that they would be made participators of that eternal beatitude of which Yahshua had so often spoken to them. Yahshua then warned them not to be deluded with so gross a notion. He spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem, and then declared that all these things would be only the presages of evils — “These,” he says, “shall be only the preludes; for tumults will arise, wars shall be, and all places will be full of calamities; in a word, there will be an immense mass of all evils.” As Yahshua then corrected the mistake, with which the minds of the disciples were imbued, so Joel here checks vain imaginations, lest the faithful should think that Yahshua’s kingdom would always be on earth, and fix their minds on corn and wine, on pleasures and quietness, on the conveniences of the present life: I will give you, he says, prodigies in heaven and on earth blood, fire, and dark clouds; the sun all be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before it shall come —the day of Jehovah, great and terrible Day of the L-rd. I often consider that people who consider themselves true believers in our contemporary society may mistakenly have such a mindset. Perhaps that HaShem will keep us comfortable in our homes with the types of food and other pleasures we enjoy while He exacts punishments on those who are against Him and His people. We must take care to try and keep such thoughts at bay. Providing and protecting us through trials and tribulations does not necessarily mean that we won’t suffer in one or more areas of our lives. Recall that the Israelites whined about not having meat, leaks or other foods they had while slaves in Egypt; all the while G-d provided water and manna for them. I am sure the desert was no Trade Wind resort. However, the people never suffered from varicose veins, swollen feet, or other diseases which abound in our world today. We can and should learn from all that is provided for us in G-d’s Torah lest we fall into the same narrow mindsets of many who lived during the time it was written.
Also, by HaShem turning the moon blood-red and the sun dark will humiliate all those who worship these celestial bodies instead of the One who created them. According to Alshich, blood is the sign of Edom, the nation that lives by the sword. Fire symbolizes the Babylonians, who decreed upon those who served HaShem that they be thrown into a furnace of fire. The Persians and the Greeks, who oppressed the Jew to a lesser degree than did the first two- as they did not destroy the Temple nor send the Jewish people into exile- re symbolized as one unit. Their retribution has already begun- the Greeks in the time of the Maccabees, and the Persians in the times of Mordechai and Esther. However, their final destruction, as depicted by a pillar of smoke, will take place in the End of Days.
Beyond all these nations, the ultimate nemesis of true believers is Amalek. Their destruction is symbolized by the wonders in heaven. Yaakov, as represented by the sun, will cover Amalek wit darkness; Rachel, as depicted by the moon, will spill their blood- as the Sages state that Amalek will fall into the hands of the descendants of Rachel (Pesikta Rabbasi Ch. 13).
Moving on we read: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the L-RD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the L-RD hath said, and in the remnant whom the L-RD shall call.
- call on … name of … L-rd—Hebrew, YHVH. Applied to Yahshua in Rom. 10:13 (compare Acts 9:14; 1Cor. 1:2). Therefore, Yahshua is YHVH; and the phrase means, “Call on Messiah in His divine attributes.” Calling on the Name of the L-rd does not mean simply saying His Name. The word “calling” means “to follow, to worship; to submit to.” It is an action verb as is the entire Hebrew language.
shall be delivered—as the true believers were, just before Jerusalem’s destruction, by retiring to Petra, warned by the Yahshua (Matt. 24:16); a type of the spiritual deliverance of all believers, and of the last deliverance of the elect “remnant” of Israel from the final assault of Antimessiah. “In Zion and Jerusalem” the Messiah first appeared; and there again shall He appear as the Deliverer (Zech. 14:1-5).
as the L-rd hath said—Joel herein refers, not to the other prophets, but to his own words preceding.
call—metaphor from an invitation to a feast, which is an act of gratuitous kindness (Luke 14:16). So the remnant called and saved is according to the election of grace, not for man’s merits, power, or efforts (Rom. 11:5). (See my previous comments on the verb “to call”).
For on the mountain of Zion and in Jerusalem there will be refuge, as HaShem said, and among the survivors whom HaShem summons— According to Abarbanel, the salvation of true believers will only occur if they return to the Holy Land and to Jerusalem, for there alone will refuge be granted. Even then, those people will be subject to further purification. I do not agree with this interpretation because we know that HaShem can save people wherever they are located. This perspective is supported by Alshich and Malbim. One source of validation for this opinion is that those who are called by G-d and listen to His voice will flee to Petra during this time and Petra is in Jordan. On the mountain of Zion and in Jerusalem will be where the Presence of HaShem will be located. As such, Zion and Jerusalem will be a place of refuge once HaShem destroys Israel’s enemies and establishes His Kingdom. However, not everyone who goes to Jerusalem will be spared; only those of whom the Ruach as called and who respond. This is the meaning of the final phrase “and among the survivors whom HaShem summons.”
…21The sight was so terrifying that even Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” 22Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living G-d, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to myriads of angels 23in joyful assembly, to the congregation of the firstborn, enrolled in heaven. You have come to God the judge of all men, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, …
Isaiah 24:23 Then the moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed, For the L-RD of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, And His glory will be before His elders. Isaiah 27:13 It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the L-RD in the holy mountain at Jerusalem. Isaiah 60:14 “The sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, And all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet; And they will call you the city of the L-RD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Jeremiah 17:25 then there will come in through the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and this city will be inhabited forever. Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living G-d.” Galatians 4:26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.
Next week we will begin with Chapter 4, the last chapter in the book of Joel.
Rabbi Tamah Davis