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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–8
Verses 1–8

We have often heard of the year of the redeemed, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion; now here we have a description of the transactions of that year, and a prophecy of what shall be done when it comes, whenever it comes, for it comes often, and at the end of time it will come once for all.

I. It shall be the year of the redeemed, for God will bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, Joel 3:1. Though the bondage of God’s people may be grievous and very long, yet it shall not be everlasting. That in Egypt ended at length in their deliverance into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Let my son go, the he may serve me. That in Babylon shall likewise end well. And the Lord Jesus will provide for the effectual redemption of poor enslaved souls from under the dominion of sin and Satan, and will proclaim that acceptable year, the year of jubilee, the release of debts and servants, and the opening of the prison to those that were bound. There is a day, there is a time, fixed for the bringing again of the captivity of God’s children, for the redeeming of them from the power of the grave; and it shall be the last day and the end of all time.

II. It shall be the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion. Though God may suffer the enemies of his people to prevail against them very far and for a long time, yet he will call them to an account for it, and will lead captivity captive (Ps. 68:18), will lead those captive that led his people captive, Rev. 13:10. Observe,

1. Who those are that shall be reckoned with—all nations, Joel 3:2. This intimates, (1.) That all the nations had made themselves liable to the judgment of God for wrong done to his people. Persecution is the reigning crying sin of the world; that lying in wickedness itself is set against godliness. The enmity that is in the old serpent, the god of this world, against the seed of the woman, appears more or less in the children of this world. Marvel not if the world hate you. (2.) That, whatsoever nation injured God’s nation, they should not go unpunished; for he that touches the Israel of God shall be made to know that he touches the apple of his eye. Jerusalem will be a burdensome stone to all people, Zech. 12:3. But the neighboring nations shall be particularly reckoned with—Tyre, and Sidon, and all the coasts of Palestine, or the Philistines, who have been troublesome neighbours to the Israel of God, Joel 3:4. When the more remote and potent nations that laid Israel wastes are reckoned with the impotent malice of those that lay near them, and helped forward the affliction, (Zech. 1:15), and made a hand of it (Ezek. 26:2), shall not be passed by. Note, Little persecutors shall be called to an account as well as great ones; and, though they could not do much mischief, shall be reckoned with according to the wickedness of their endeavors and the mischief they would have done.

2. The sitting of this court for judgment. They shall all be gathered (Joel 3:2), that those who have combined together against God’s people, with one consent (Ps. 83:5), may together receive their doom. They shall be brought down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, which lay near Jerusalem, and there God will plead with them, (1.) Because it is fit that criminals should be tried in the same country where they did the fact. (2.) For their greater confusion, when they shall see that Jerusalem which they have so long endeavored and hoped for the ruin of, in spite of all their rage, made a praise in the earth. (3.) For the greater comfort and honor of God’s Jerusalem, which shall see God pleading their cause. (4.) Then shall be re-acted what God did for Jehoshaphat when he gave him victory over those that invaded him, and furnished him and his people with matter of joy and praise, in the valley of Berachah. See 2 Chron. 20:26. (5.) It was in this valley of Jehoshaphat (as Dr. Lightfoot suggests) that Sennacherib’s army, or part of it, lay, when it was destroyed by an angel. They came together to ruin Jerusalem, but God brought them together for their own ruin, as sheaves into the floor, Mic. 4:12.

3. The plaintiff called, on whose behalf this prosecution is set on foot; it is for my people, and for my heritage Israel. It is their cause that God will now plead with jealousy. Note, God’s people are his heritage, his peculiar, his portion, his treasure, above all people, Exod. 19:5; Deut. 32:9. They are his demesne, and therefore he has a good action against those that trespass upon them.

4. The charge exhibited against them, which is very particular. Many affronts they had put upon God by their idolatries, but that for which God has a quarrel with them is the affront they have put upon his people and upon the vessels of his sanctuary.

(1.) They had been very abusive to the people of Israel, had scattered them among the nations and forced them to seek for shelter where they could find a place, or carried them captive into their respective countries and there industriously dispersed them, for fear of their incorporating for their common safety. They parted their land, and took every one his share of it as their own; nay, they have cast lots for my people, and sold them. When they had taken them prisoners, [1.] They made a jest of them, made a scorn of them as of no value. They would not release them and yet thought them not worth the keeping; they made nothing of playing them away at dice. Or they made a dividend of the prisoners by lot, as the soldiers did of Christ’s garments. [2.] They made a gain of them. When they had them they sold them, yet with so much contempt that they did not increase their wealth by their price, but sold them for their pleasure rather than their profit; they gave a boy taken in war for the hire of a harlot, and a girl for so many bottles of wine as would serve them for one sitting, a goodly price at which they valued them, and goodly preferment for a son and daughter of Israel to be a slave and a drudge in a tavern or a brothel. Observe, here, how that which is got by sin is commonly spent upon another. The spoil which these enemies of the Jews gathered by injustice and violence they scattered and threw away in drinking and whoring; such is frequently the character, and such the conversation, of the enemies and persecutors of the people of God. The Tyrians and Philistines, when they seized any of the children of Judah and Jerusalem, either took them prisoners in war or kidnapped them, they sold them to the Grecians (with whom the men of Tyre traded in the persons of men, Ezek. 27:13), that they might remove them far from their own border, Joel 3:6. It was a great reproach to Israel, God’s first-born, his free-born, to be thus bought and sold among the heathen.

(2.) They had unjustly seized God’s silver and gold (Joel 3:5), by which some understand the wealth of Israel. The silver and gold which God’s people had he calls his, because they had received it from him and devoted it to him; and whosoever robbed them God took it as if they had robbed him and would make reprisals accordingly. Those who take away the estates of good men for well-doing will be found guilty of sacrilege; they take God’s silver and gold. But it seems rather to be meant of the vessels and treasures of the temple, which God here calls his goodly pleasant things, precious and desirable to him and all that are his. These they carried into their temples as trophies of their victory over God’s Israel, thinking that therein they triumphed over Israel’s God, nay, and that their idols triumphed over him. Thus the ark was put in Dagon’s temple. Thus they did unjustly. “What have you to do with me (Joel 3:4), with my people; what wrong have they done you? What provocation have they given you? You had nothing to do with them, and yet you do all this against them. Devices are devised against the quiet in the land, and those offended and harmed that are harmless and inoffensive: Will you render me a recompence?” Can they pretend that either God or his people have done them any injury, for which they may justify themselves by the law of retaliation in doing them these mischiefs? No; they have no colour for it. Note, It is no new thing for those who have been very civil and obliging to their neighbours to find them very unkind and unneighbourly and for those who do no injuries to suffer many.

5. The sentence passed upon them. In general (Joel 3:4), “If you recompense me, if you pretend a quarrel with me, if you provoke me thus to jealousy, if you touch the apple of my eye, I will swiftly and speedily return your recompence upon your own head.” Those that contend with God will find themselves unable to make their part good with him. He will recompense them suddenly, when they little think of it, and have not time to prevent it; if he take them to task, he will soon effect their ruin. Particularly, it is threatened, (1.) That they should not gain their end in the mischief they designed against God’s people. They thought to remove them so far from their border that they should never return to it again, Joel 3:6. But (says God) “I will raise them out of the place whither you have sold them, and they shall not, as you intended, be buried alive there.” Men’s selling the people of God will not deprive him of his property in them. (2.) That they shall be paid in their own coin, as Adonibezek was (Joel 3:8): “I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hands of the children of Judah; you shall lie as much at their mercy as they have been at yours,” Isa. 60:14. Thus the Jews had rule over those that hated them, Est. 9:1. And then they shall justly be sold to the Sabeans, to a people far off. This (some think) had its accomplishment in the victories obtained by the Maccabees over the enemies of the Jews; others think it looks as far forward as the last day, when the upright shall have dominion (Ps. 49:14) and the saints shall judge the world. It is certain that none ever hardened his heart against God, or his church, and prospered long; no, not Pharaoh himself, for the Lord has spoken it, for the comfort of all his suffering servants, that vengeance is his and he will repay.