Joel 2

Pouring Out the Spirit

I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.--Joel 2:28

 David Rice

The prophet Joel is cited by Peter in Acts chapter 2, but is not otherwise mentioned or referenced in Scripture. What we know of Joel is only what is contained in his brief prophecy of three chapters.

 Evidently Joel was a prophet in Judah, for chapter two opens with an alarm "in Zion, and ... in my holy mountain." Both expressions refer to Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom of Judah. In chapter one Joel says, "a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion" (verse 6). Daniel chapter seven uses a lion to represent Babylon, but Babylon does not fit the circumstances of this prophecy because the invader described in chapter two is thwarted from taking Jerusalem (verse 20), whereas Babylon did take Jerusalem, repeatedly, and burned the temple on the third time.

 Joel’s great lion evidently refers to Assyria. Assyria and Babylon were of similar culture, and extant artifacts from ancient times show that both used the lion to represent their strength, agility, and power. Jeremiah applies this animal to both Assyria and Babylon: "Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away: first the king of Assyria hath devoured him; and last this Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones" (Jeremiah 50:17). In the case of Joel, the threat at hand was Assyria.

Impending Destruction

Joel chapter two opens with a scene of foreboding and impending destruction. The day of "darkness and of gloominess ... of clouds and of thick darkness ... a great people and a strong" (verse 2) speaks of the Assyrian invasion, evidently when Sennacherib massed his forces against Judah and ultimately against Jerusalem itself. Twenty-two years earlier Assyria had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and its capital city Samaria had fallen. That was under the reign of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser (2 Kings 17:3). His five-year reign closed only a year after the fall of Samaria, and Sargon next ruled the empire. He transported Jews out of the land and planted in their place Gentiles from various lands; these subsequently adopted the Jewish religion and became the people later referred to as "Samaritans."

Sargon is mentioned by name in Isaiah 20:1. For some time before the mid-1800s critics charged this was an error in holy writ, but this has long since been dismissed. Since the unearthing of the prolific Assyrian state archives, all the Assyrian kings mentioned in the Bible have been thoroughly documented. Sargon reigned for seventeen years, and was followed by Sennacherib, one of the most oppressive conquerors. In his fourth year, 701 B.C., he advanced against Judea and threatened to overwhelm Jerusalem. The episode is from the account in Isaiah chapters 36, 37, and 38, and its parallel narratives in Kings and Chronicles.

Isaiah had prophesied that "the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory" would "come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: and ... pass through Judah ... and ... reach even to the neck [Jerusalem]; and the stretching out of his wings [armies] shall fill the breadth of thy land" (Isaiah 8:7, 8). That time had come, and Joel sounded the alarm.

Jerusalem Delivered

King Hezekiah, and all Israel, prayed for deliverance and God miraculously delivered them: "The angel of Jehovah went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians 185,000: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses" (Isaiah 37:36; see also Micah 5:5).

Joel recounts much the same in Joel 2:13-20, and then promises a great blessing from God would follow. Then Joel prophesies of the outpouring of the holy Spirit, which would come later: "It shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call" (Joel 2:28-32).

Two Fulfillments 

This blessing did come as promised. It came through the death of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit beginning at Pentecost. Peter’s quotation of this passage on that occasion is recorded in Acts 2:17-21. But the redemption of Jerusalem by God recurs at the introduction of the Millennial kingdom also, an event mentioned beginning in Zechariah 14:3. During the Millennium the Spirit of God will be poured out even more broadly upon all flesh, and all will enjoy the blessings of that age.

Let us look first at how Peter applied Joel’s prophecy on the day of Pentecost.

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” On the day of Pentecost there were visitors from surrounding lands who had come to Jerusalem to observe the feast. This means they were either Jews living elsewhere, or proselytes like the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts chapter eight. The presence of such visitors is why the speaking in tongues by the apostles was so useful a gift. "We do hear them [the apostles] speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:11).

And what wonderful things they had to speak! They had just received the witness of the Spirit that Jesus told them would come, and now they could be his witnesses. Tongues of fire had miraculously appeared over their heads, as though to say they were anointed to spread a vibrant and powerful message to all the hearing ears. Pentecost is commemorated by the Jewish people as a remembrance of the giving of the Law at Sinai; now the Spirit of that Law was opening up to all who would embrace it. No doubt the apostles were energized with great exuberance in speaking of the resurrection of their master, that he was indeed the Messiah as testified by his resurrection, and the gifts they had now received at his hand.

Following Peter's public and impromptu address to the crowds, three thousand were enlivened with the Spirit, the same number as were slain when the letter of the law was delivered through Moses (compare Acts 2:41 with Exodus 32:28). Indeed it could be said, "The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life" (2 Corinthians 3:6).

But Pentecost was only the beginning of Joel's promised blessing. Later, at the conversion of Cornelius, the gift of tongues came upon Gentiles as well. Thus "all flesh" expanded to mean not just the Jews at Jerusalem and those from abroad, but non-proselytized Gentiles as well. There was no longer a division between the two: "He ... hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us ... for to make in himself of twain [Jews and Gentiles] one new man" (Ephesians 2:14,15).

“And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” Youths, even including daughters, would be eligible for this blessing. The deacon Philip "had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy" (Acts 21:9).

“Your old men shall dream dreams.” The Greek word for old is not archaios (“original, ancient”), or palaios (“old in years”), but presbyteros (“older, elder” − definitions from Vine’s Expository Dictionary). The word need not mean only men with white hair, but can apply to mature men of “rank or positions of responsibility” as well. Examples of this promise of dreams may be Peter’s dream about accepting the Gentiles (Acts 10:9-16), and Paul’s dream of the man from Macedonia (Acts 16:9)/

“Your young men shall see visions.” The apostle Paul, while still a young Christian, was caught up by vision into the “third heavens” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

“Upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.” There are no barriers to the poor or lowly. "Whether we be bond or free .... [we are] all made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13).

“I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.” There was no lack of wonders when Jesus was crucified. Even the centurion exclaimed, "Truly this was the Son of God" (Matthew 27:54). The blood of Jesus was displayed openly on the cross, and in tongues of fire over the heads of the apostles. Or possibly, these symbols refer to the judgments visited on Judea within the next forty years when "pillars of smoke" could refer to the burning of Jerusalem.

“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.” At midday when our Lord was on the cross, there was a remarkable darkening which lasted about three hours (Matthew 27:45). That evening as the moon rose, it was eclipsed in a manner that cast a reddish-orange hue over it, turning "the moon into blood" as the ancients described it. This occurred on Friday evening, April 3, 33 A.D. on the Julian calendar. This incident was described in the article "Dating the Crucifixion" which appeared in the December, 1983, scientific journal Nature. This sign is not recorded in the Gospel accounts, but it is a fulfillment of the Joel prophecy. Occurring as it did in the year 33 A.D., it preceded the end of the Roman Wars against Judea by forty years; A.D. 73 was the date of the fall of the Jewish fortress Masada.

:It shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.” So it has been ever since. The blessed call of salvation is open to every hearing ear and humble heart. It emanated from Jerusalem, and spread worldwide.

 During the Kingdom

When the Millennial Kingdom breaks upon the world, the blessed call of salvation will also begin at Jerusalem, and spread worldwide from there. Then the holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30) will reach every person on the globe. The dead of past ages will be resurrected and receive it also. Those who accept that call will receive everlasting earthly life, though not the Spiritual glory being offered to faithful Christians in the present age. But it will be a grand call nonetheless. It will be all encompassing. Every creature on earth will receive the message and the urging of the Spirit.

To accept this offer of life will be each person’s choice. Then, as now, it will require repentance and also effort to repair the fallen characters and dispositions that are inherent in each of us. But for a thousand years, God will make everything conducive to progress. Surely the vast majority of restored mankind will appreciate this offer and receive the gift of everlasting, earthly life.