What is your “destiny?” What do you believe will be your ultimate fate?
These are questions with which every living person must wrestle. Every major religion has attempted to come up with some answer. I am a Buddhist, I place my hope in attaining enlightenment and to allow myself to dissolve into the oneness of the universe. If I am a Muslim, my hope is to pass my god’s strict judgment and attain a heavenly reward. In other words, every major religion seeks to escape from the present world. Christianity is very different. As we hear God’s voice through Joel, we learn more about what God intends for the fate of mankind.
JUDGMENT OF OTHER NATIONS
Having discussed Israel’s future (Joel 1-2), Joel now turns his attention to rival nations. They’d mistreated Israel in the past; now they face the burning fires of God’s righteous anger:
Joel 3:1-21 “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, 2 I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, 3 and 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.
4 “What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily. 5 For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. 6 You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. 7 Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head. 8 I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away, for the LORD has spoken.”
We’re getting a clearer picture of what the “Day of the Lord” might look like. Some of these events have clearly happened in the past. But our own news broadcasts remind us that some of God’s promises have yet to reach fulfillment. Though Israel achieved independence in the last century, she remains far from the restoration that God promises (3:1). Nor have all of Israel’s rivals been defeated. In the next section, we see that the judgments of the Day of the Lord are still in the future:
9 Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. 10 Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” 11 Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O LORD. 12 Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. 13 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. 14 Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. 15 The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. 16 The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. 17 “So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it.
This is a call to arms—and one that isn’t entirely welcome. It seems that there is a temporary state of peace that is interrupted by war. Before Jesus’ promised return, there will be a seven-year period known as the “tribulation.” In the first half of this period, the world will experience unrivaled peace. But in the second half, the world will experience unrivaled devastation. Why such violence? Because God’s fiery wrath will purify the nation, and allow them to truly reflect the purity of His character.
This should disturb us. How can a loving God condone—nay, commit—such acts of violence? Should we not pursue peace? Who would worship a God like that? This is a fair objection. But wait; if God allowed injustice to continue, if He allowed His people to be mistreated, could He truly be called a God of love? If God remained passive to injustice, we would call Him indifferent at best and callous at worst. A loving God pursues restoration—even when restoration carries the price of violence.
GOD’S NEW WORLD (Joel 3:18-22)
What we can ultimately cling to is the reminder that the Day of the Lord carries the promise of restoration that follows judgment. Joel concludes with a beautiful passage that describes what God’s new world will look like:
18 “And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the Valley of Shittim. 19 “Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the people of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. 20 But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. 21 I will avenge their blood, blood I have not avenged, for the LORD dwells in Zion.”
As we noted earlier, every major religion teaches that man’s greatest hope is to escape this earth. Christianity is very different. Sure, Christianity teaches us that heaven is real. But Christianity tells us that man’s final destiny is experienced when God creates a new world, and the heavenly city descends from heaven “as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). Christianity teaches a marriage of heaven and earth, where we rest in the joy of having God’s presence among us, and every day is as the first day of spring.
In the meantime, this teaches us that all earthly suffering is temporary. Death itself has been robbed of its victory and its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55). I doubt that you’ve experienced things like locust hordes and worldwide conflict. But could it be that there are things in your life that God is using to get your attention? These reminders—be they great or small—remind us of just how little control we possess. And sometimes they remind us of just how painful this world can be. “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus told His followers. “For they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) When we see God’s great story, as we have in Joel, our response should be one of shed tears and not clenched fists. And it should be with the hope that the world we see is not all there is. Suffering will not have the last word, and so we face the world with the soft tears of a crying confidence, and the hope that God can make all things new again.