When the Lord Roars from Zion
A number of you enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. One of the main characters is Aslan the Lion. In Lewis’ first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, several scenes reveal Aslan’s true might.
Among them are scenes when Aslan roars. Like the time when the White Witch questions his integrity—Aslan answers with a roar that sends the Witch running for her life. Then there’s the time when the stone table cracks. Aslan roars, and Lewis writes, “…they saw all the trees in front of him bend before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind.” There’s also the time when Aslan arrives for battle and “with a roar that shook all Narnia from the western lamp-post to the shores of the eastern sea, he flung himself on the White Witch.”
Earlier in the book, though, we learn something more about Aslan’s roar, something that strikes a chord with our own longings. Mr. Beaver points the children to an old rhyme: “Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight / At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more / When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death / And when he shakes his mane, we will have spring again.” We read that and find ourselves wishing, “If that could only be true! If there was someone like that who, with a roar, could make everything right again.” What if I said there is someone like that?
What if I said the Bible speaks of God roaring like that? That’s not to say that God is a lion. But the way he pounces on enemies, the way he strikes terror in the greatest warrior, the way he protects his own—a roaring lion is a fitting metaphor in the Bible. Joel 3 promises a day when the Lord himself will roar. When he does, all will be made right. Only, the Bible is no fairy tale. God’s word is real. Read with me, starting in 3:1…
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. 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, 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. 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. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. 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. 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. 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. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O LORD. 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. 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. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. 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. 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. 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. 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. But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. I will avenge their blood, blood I have not avenged, for the LORD dwells in Zion.
The Final Judgment on God’s Enemies
In this final chapter, two great things happen when God roars: final judgment on God’s enemies and final restoration for God’s people. Let’s look first at the final judgment on God’s enemies. The Lord says in verse 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.” In Joel’s day, men went to war in valleys. Joel is taking that image and using it to portray the final judgment. He even names the valley: “the Valley of Jehoshaphat.” Jehoshaphat means, “Yahweh judges.” But his focus isn’t geography. There’s not a specific valley known on the map as the Valley of Jehoshaphat. He even gives it another name in verse 14, “the Valley of Decision.” We’re looking at a symbol.
Some of that symbolism becomes clearer, when we remember a story from 2 Chronicles 20. Moabites and Ammonites and a few other nations—they’ve partnered with one another to fight against God’s people. Multitudes gather to declare war on Judah. The people are undone. There’s no way to win. The king ruling Judah at the time was named Jehoshaphat. He leads the people to cry out to the Lord. They assemble to seek the Lord’s help. God then answers their prayers. The armies gather in a valley for war; and while the people are singing, the Lord sets an ambush against the nations. He defeats them all and then leads his people into a time of rest and plenty.
In other words, we have a scene much like the one ending the prophecy of Joel. Nations who hate God’s people gather for war in a valley where God steps in to judge them decisively and leads his people into rest. That’s no accident. By calling it “the Valley of Jehoshaphat,” Joel wants Israel to remember the way God fought for them under King Jehoshaphat, the way God answered their cries and judged their enemies decisively. God plans to judge the nations this way again.
So, when you read “Valley of Jehoshaphat,” it’s not so important that you’re able to identify an earthly location. That’s not the point. The point is that God will have his day of judgment; and it’ll be like that time before when he wiped out his enemies.
Why, though, will God judge the nations? Because the nations are guilty. For starters, they mistreat the Lord’s people. Verse 2 says, “I will enter into judgment on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they’ve scattered them among the nations.” Verse 6 says, “[Tyre and Sidon] sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border.” But these people belong to God. He calls them “my people…my heritage.” He rescued them. He set his love on them. He intends to bless the world through them. But the nations humiliated them. God so identifies with his people that to mistreat them is to set yourself against God.
The nations also seek to destroy God’s kingdom. “They have divided up my land,” the Lord says. For a time in Israel’s history, the land of Canaan is where God chose to place his name. The land represented God’s kingdom on earth. By dividing it up, the nations do not build God’s kingdom. They only tear it down.
They’re also guilty of using the Lord’s possessions to serve their own gods. Look at verse 5: “…you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples.” Under the old covenant, God set apart treasures in the land for his worship. The nations don’t care. They cover their walls to impress others with their glory, robbing God of the glory he is due.
Then, topping off their guilt, the nations disregard the vulnerable to satisfy their cravings. Verse 3, “[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.” Complete disregard for the sanctity of human life. The children—the most vulnerable in society. They bear God’s image. They are persons to be valued and protected. But these nations sacrifice them on the altar of their pleasures. As one writer put it, “The true measure of any society is the way it treats those who cannot protect themselves.”[i]
The nations are guilty. God sees their evil. Divine retribution will come. At times, divine retribution comes in the present. For instance, verse 4 says, “I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily…[verse 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.” The enslavers become the enslaved. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. They talk big. But God says, “What are you to me?” and then wipes them off the map. Those judgments fell on Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia in history. But they’re only an example of how all nations will fall under God’s judgment at the end of history.
That’s where Joel heads next—God’s final day of judgment. Through a series of images, we learn what that day is like. It’ll be like a summons to war. Verse 9 says, “Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, ‘I am a warrior.’ Hasten and come…” The nations have no choice; they must come. But within God’s summons is a deep irony. Beating your plowshares into swords, turning pruning hooks into spears—it’s another way of saying, “When you come, you better bring all you got.” The irony then continues in verse 12.
That day will also be like a great trial—“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.” That’s an interesting way to fight. We’re expecting a battle. But the Lord sits. This is Joel’s way of saying the nations have no chance. They can’t challenge his authority. He gathered them only to preside over their trial, to announce their fate.
Verse 13 then compares that day to a great harvest. “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.” If we interpret this in light of Revelation 14, it seems that God works through his angelic hosts to accomplish this judgment. Regardless, though, the imagery is awful. God’s enemies are compared to grapes filling a wine vat. He tramples them down under foot until their blood flows. Isaiah 63:3 even speaks of their “lifeblood spattering his garments, staining his apparel. For the day of vengeance was in God’s heart.” Again, this isn’t arbitrary. The judgment is deserved: their evil is great.
Verses 14-16 then finish the picture: it is a day of final verdict. “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem and the heavens and the earth quake.” When God the Warrior shows up, the entire cosmos shakes. But notice also, he thunders his verdict from Jerusalem. “The valley of decision” isn’t what the nations decide about God; it’s what God decides about them. When the day of the Lord comes, it’ll be too late for anyone to make decisions about the Lord. All will be over. The Lord’s gavel will fall. His judgment will be final. Again, we’re reminded of the question posed in 2:11, “For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?”
Final Restoration for God’s People
But that’s not the only thing that happens when the Lord roars from Zion.
The Lord will roar against his enemies. But in doing so, final restoration will also come for God’s people. To be clear, it’s not that God’s people are less sinful than the rest of the nations. You only have to read chapters 1 and 2 to figure that out. God set himself against Judah as well. It’s not their own righteousness that makes them God’s people. What makes them God’s people is God’s choice to show them mercy.
Once they deserved his wrath, but these are the ones who called on the name of the Lord in 2:32. These are the ones who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy and cry for mercy. These are the ones God calls to himself. These are the ones who receive from the Lord’s outpoured Spirit. These are the ones who’ve entered Zion by blood of Jesus Christ. For those united to Jesus, the Lord’s judgment is over. He has poured out his wrath on Jesus in their place. If you call on the name of the Lord, your judgment will be taken away as well. For those trusting in Jesus, this judgment doesn’t await you; your final restoration awaits you. And what does that include?
One, God will be your forever refuge. End of verse 16, “But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.” You might be thinking, “Wait, but I’m no Israelite. I’m a Gentile. I belong to those nations of verses 1-16.” You’re thinking rightly. But the New Testament adds that Jesus represents the true Israel. If you belong to Jesus, you are the true Israel. If you belong to Jesus, these promises are yours. The Lord is your forever refuge. He is your hiding place, your support in times of trouble. He is the one who will shelter you beneath the shadow of his wings forever.
God will also make all things holy. Verse 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.” Often, we reduce holiness to this idea of moral perfection. But that gets tricky when you discover that a shovel or a pot in the temple could also be holy. The Bible doesn’t mean the shovel is morally perfect. The point is that it’s set apart exclusively for God. For Jerusalem to be holy, is for the whole city and all its citizens to be set apart exclusively for God. Everything will be holy.
He advances that further by saying there won’t even be “a stranger” passing through. In this context, “stranger” stands for enemies who defile the city, enemies who do unholy things. In the new Jerusalem, nobody will threaten its holiness.
Something else final restoration includes: God will give you an abundant kingdom. Listen to this imagery: “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…” Note the contrast—mountains, hills, streambeds. From the highest parts of the land, to the lowest, all will be plentiful. He’s using old covenant language to describe future realities. To have wine, milk, and water flowing was a sign that God had lifted the curse totally.
In fact, he also adds that “a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the Valley of Shittim.” A fountain from the house of the Lord, from the temple? What’s he talking about? Follow me for just a minute. The Garden of Eden was comparable to a sanctuary, because of the Lord’s presence within it. And within this Garden-sanctuary, we find a river that goes out in four directions to water the land (Gen 2:10-14). Of course, after Adam and Eve get kicked out, they don’t experience the plush land. Instead, the ground is cursed with thorns and thistles—all because of sin.
Then in step the prophets, especially Ezekiel 47. By grace, the Lord would make a new sanctuary where he would dwell with his people once more, just like he dwelled with them in the Garden. And coming from the Lord’s presence in the new sanctuary, Ezekiel sees a great river. Wherever this river would flow from God’s presence, it brought new life again. In other words, the river of life spoke of the reversal of God’s curse on the world. Joel builds on that same imagery here.
The valley of Shittim is another symbol pointing to a greater reality. Shittim means “acacias” as in acacia trees; and several places in Scripture associate these more desolate areas where the acacias grow with the land of Moab. In other words, the waters may come from the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, but they now give life to the world.
Then, one more blessing here: God will avenge his people’s blood. Verse 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. But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. I will avenge their blood, blood I have not avenged, for the LORD dwells in Zion.”
It’s not that the Lord is picking on Egypt and Edom alone. Egypt and Edom are types. They were well known enemies of God’s people in the Old Testament, but they represent enemies of all kinds. Enemies may think they’re getting away with their mistreatment of the Lord’s people. But God sees their evil deeds. When the Lord roars from Zion, true justice will be upheld, and God will right all wrongs.
How should this impact our present?
What a day that will be when the Lord roars from Zion. To play off Lewis’ words, Wrong will be right, when the Lord comes in sight / At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more. What, then, does that mean for us? We’ve talked a lot about the future; and where God is taking the world. But how should that move us in the present?
First, call upon the Lord for salvation. I said that last week, too. But notice how the whole chapter begins with the little word “for.” It points backwards to verse 32: “…everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape…” Then again in verse 1, “For behold, in those days…” Chapter 3 sets before you two ways to live. Live like the nations in their evil and receive judgment; or call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. Rage against God in the valley of judgment; or find refuge in God atop mount Zion. Those who call on the name of the Lord will escape judgment and join God’s people in the forever kingdom.
Second, stand amazed at God’s mercy. We belonged to the evil nations. We were like the Gentiles, Ephesians 2 tells us—“separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now [Church] in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Because of our evil, every one of us deserves to be in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Every one of us deserves to be cut off from the map and removed far from God’s kingdom. But through the blood of Christ, God has made us part of his people. By grace we have been saved; and it’s the greatest gift in the world. So, when you read of these nations here, I hope it reminds you of where you once stood without hope. Then, give thanks to the Lord for his mercy.
Third, do not follow the nations in their evil. The nations mistreat the Lord’s people. We must remember that to mistreat God’s people is to set ourselves against God himself. This is why the apostles speak so sternly to the churches when members start mistreating one another. “Is Christ divided,” Paul can ask in the face of the divisions within the body. Or later in the same letter, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.” We are called to love one another, to build up the body of Christ.
That also goes hand in hand with building up God’s kingdom, instead of tearing it down like the nations try to tear it down. Our words, our deeds, our time, our resources, our gifts—all should be used to build God’s church. The church is God’s kingdom on earth. We should also be careful that we’re not using the Lord’s possessions to serve other gods, to serve other kingdoms, to serve our own passions. He gives us what we have to draw others to his praise, to help others in their distress, to lead others into worshiping his glory. If we’re using his possessions for purposes other than building his kingdom, then we need to check ourselves here.
Also, we must not follow the nations in disregarding the vulnerable to satisfy our cravings. We must stand against abortion. We must speak up for the children. We must visit the orphan in their need and seek to do them good by adopting them. And if we can’t adopt them, find ways we can help others who can adopt them. For those who already have children, let us be careful not to neglect them for our own cravings. When they come with questions and needs, let us not push them away as if they’re only a distraction to our entertainment. In contrast to the nations, the church should be a refuge for children, a place where children find nurture and care and acceptance.
Fourth, take heart, God will judge our enemies. By enemies, I don’t mean those who merely disagree with you, or who oppose you for just any reason. By enemies, I mean those who hate you because they hate Christ; and they hate the way you live for Christ. By enemies, I mean those persecuting the church. By enemies, I mean wolves who sneak in to abuse the sheep and destroy the church. By enemies, I mean those who crush the helpless and spread lawlessness in the streets. It can feel like the Lord doesn’t see their evil at times. We pray with Psalm 10, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
You may even be angered by sins committed against you. You may be discouraged because you see evil prospering. You may be brokenhearted by the moral rebellion of our culture and its leaders, who slaughter the innocent and who trample God’s good designs for humanity underfoot. Take heart, beloved, the Lord sees. He will roar from Zion. He will right all wrongs. He will judge our enemies.
This gives us hope for the future. It also means we don’t have to avenge ourselves in the present. We can live peaceably with all, knowing that God will judge. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 1 Peter 2:23 also sets before us the example of Jesus to imitate: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Knowing that God will judge our enemies frees us to lay down our lives for them in the path of love. God will see to it that they are brought to justice.
Lastly, rest in Jesus who brings the final restoration. Joel paints for us a picture of mountains dripping with wine in the new kingdom. Question: in John’s Gospel, chapter 2, why do you think Jesus changes the water into wine at the wedding of Cana? And why the best of wine? Because he is the Lord bringing us the new age of plenty.
Joel also paints a picture of a river that flows from God’s presence and gives life to the world. Question: in John’s Gospel, chapter 4, why does Jesus offer Samaritan woman, living water? Why does Jesus say in 7:38 that anyone who believes in him, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water?” Because he is the Lord bringing the life of the new age. Only, we don’t have to wait till the end to begin experiencing that life. He offers it to us now through the Holy Spirit.
That means that when your broken body fails you and doesn’t do what you’d like it to do anymore, you can rest in that Jesus is in the process of bringing an age when you get a new body. When finances are bare and you feel no lasting security here, you can rest in Jesus who keeps his people secure on Zion. This world might eat up your earthly riches, but it cannot take away your heavenly riches. When you see civil unrest, instead of growing anxious and worried, we can turn to Christ and remember that he’s preparing a day when no enemy will destroy his city.
Something I enjoy is woodworking. After long, hard weeks, it’s very restful to just get out in the shop and tinker or build something for someone else. But sometimes plans don’t go your way—the wood splits and you didn’t buy extra; you start the project and the saw breaks. It’s hard when even the things we turn to for rest in this life are broken. In those moments, our Father is teaching us to make sure our rest is in the right place. Nothing on this earth can give us the rest we truly long for. But in the person and work of Jesus, we will find it. He gives the rest we truly need. He brings the kingdom where all things will be finally restored in the presence of God. Let’s sing about that day now before taking the Supper together.
[i] Gowan, “Wealth and Poverty,” 351-53.