Wednesday 20 December 2017

Bible Book:

“The LORD is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel” (v.16)

Joel 3:9-16 Wednesday 20 December 2017

Psalm: Psalm 143:1-11


This passage gives vivid and noisy expression to a core theme in the Old Testament prophets: God’s judgement on the nations. The wickedness of the nations in God’s eyes is taken for granted. Now is the moment of reckoning.

Joel calls for the nations to assemble, armed and ready for war, in the valley of Jehoshaphat (which means ‘The LORD judges’), alternatively called the valley of decision (verse 14). To underscore the theme that the nations are hostile to God, the prophet writes an instruction for them (verse 10) which parodies and reverses what must already have been a familiar instruction to Israel, to be found in Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3.

Joel almost gleefully envisages God’s own military champions being sent into battle to defeat the mustered nations (verse 11)!

Verse 13 changes the metaphor. God’s judgement is indeed destructive: the nations are like the ripe corn at harvest which needs to be cut down with a scythe, or ripe grapes ready to be trodden in the winepress.

Verses 14-16 introduce a further cluster of images that were familiar from earlier prophetic writings, to express the unique and final character of God’s condemnation and punishment of the nations. It is the day of the LORD, a day of cosmic darkness (verses 14-15, as in Amos 5:18-20 and Isaiah 13:10); and the day when God’s voice roars like a lion (verse 16, as in Amos 1:2).

The gloom and destruction are relieved only by God’s different attitude to Israel. For them alone God is a refuge and stronghold (verse 16). Israel’s special place in God’s heart is itself a theme written deep in the memory and tradition of Israel (eg Exodus 19:4-6).

To Ponder

  • The Christian emphasis is on God as saviour, of the whole world. What groups or individuals are, in your experience, still demonised in modern society? How does your church show the depth of God’s love for them?
  • Christmas imagery, particularly on Christmas Eve, stands in marked contrast to so much in our Joel reading: God coming vulnerably into our world, a tiny light in a dark world, a silent gift for the benefit of all. How do you connect that to areas of intense conflict and brutal fighting in many parts of this world; and to millions of refugees? How does this disjunction shape your prayer?
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