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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 18–21
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Verses 18–21

These promises with which this prophecy concludes have their accomplishments in part in the kingdom of grace, and the comforts and graces of all the faithful subjects of that kingdom, but will have their full accomplishment in the kingdom of glory; for, as to the Jewish church, we know not of any event concerning that which answers to the extent of these promises, and what instances of peace and prosperity they were blessed with, which they may be supposed to be a hyperbolical description of, they were but figures of better things reserved for us, that they in their best estate without us might not be made perfect.

I. It is promised that the enemies of the church shall be vanquished and brought down, Joel 3:19. Egypt, that old enemy of Israel, and Edom, which had an inveterate enmity to Israel, derived from Esau, these shall be a desolation, a desolate wilderness, no more to be inhabited; they have become the people of God’s curse; so the Idumeans were, Isa. 34:5. No strength nor wealth of a nation is a defence against the judgment of God. But what is the quarrel God has with these potent kingdoms? It is for their violence against the children of Judah, and the injuries they had done them; see Ezek. 25:3, 8; 12; 15; 26:2. They had shed the innocent blood of the Jews that fled to them for shelter or were making their escape through their country. Note, The innocent blood of God’s people is very precious to him, and not a drop of it shall be shed but it shall be reckoned for. In the last day this earth, which has been filled with violence against the people of God, shall be made a desolation, when it and all the works that are therein shall be burnt up. And, sooner or later, the oppressors and persecutors of God’s Israel shall be brought down and laid in the dust, nay, they will at length be brought down and laid in the flames.

II. It is promised that the church shall be very happy; and truly happy it is in spiritual privileges, even during its militant state, but much more when it comes to be triumphant. Three things are here promised it:—

1. Purity. This is put last here, as a reason for the rest (Joel 3:21); but we may consider it first, as the ground and foundation of the rest: I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed, that is, their bloody heinous sins, especially shedding innocent blood; that filth and guilt they had contracted by sin, which rendered them unfit for communion with God, and made them odious to his holiness and obnoxious to his justice; this they shall be washed from in the fountain opened, Zech. 13:1. That shall be cleansed by the blood of Christ which could not be cleansed by the sacrifices and purifications of the ceremonial law. Or, if we apply it to the happiness of a future state, it intimates the cleansing of the saints from all these corruptions from which they were not cleansed either by ordinances or providences in the world; there shall not be the least remains of sin in them there. Here, though they are washing daily, there is still something that is not cleansed; but in heaven, even that also shall be done away. And the reason is because the Lord dwells in Zion, dwells with his church, and much more gloriously with that in heaven, and holiness becomes his house for ever, for which reason, where he dwells there must be, there shall be, a perfection of holiness. Note, Though the refining and reforming of the church is work that goes on slowly, and still there is something we complain of that is not cleansed, yet there is a day coming when every thing that is amiss shall be amended, and the church shall be all fair, and no spot, no stain in her; and we must wait for that day.

2. Plenty, Joel 3:18. This is put first, because it is the reverse of the judgment threatened in the foregoing chapters. (1.) The streams of this plenty overflow the land and enrich it: The mountains shall drop new wine and the hills shall flow with milk, such great abundance shall they have of suitable provision, both for babes and for strong men. It intimates the abundance of vineyards, and all fruitful; and the abundance of cattle in the pastures that fill them with milk. And, to make the corn-land fruitful, the rivers of Judah shall flow with water, so that the country shall be like the garden of Eden, well-watered every where and greatly enriched, Ps. 65:9. But this seems to be meant spiritually; the graces and comforts of the new covenant are compared to wine and milk (Isa. 55:1), and the Spirit to rivers of living water, John 7:38. And these gifts abound much more under the New Testament than they did under the Old; when believers receive grace for grace from Christ’s fulness, when they are enriched with everlasting consolations, and filled with joy and peace in believing, then the mountains drop new wine, and the hills flow with milk. Drink you, drink abundantly, O beloved! When there is plentiful effusion of the Spirit of grace, then the rivers of Judah flow with water, and make glad, not only the city of our God (Ps. 46:4), but the whole land. (2.) The fountain of this plenty is in the house of God, whence the streams take their rise, as those waters of the sanctuary (Ezek. 47:1) from under the threshold of the house, and the river of life out of the throne of God and the Lamb, Rev. 22:1. The psalmist, speaking of Zion, says, All my springs are in thee, Ps. 87:7. Those that take temporal blessings to be meant in the former part of the verse, yet by this fountain out of the house of the Lord understand the grace of God, which, if we abound in temporal blessings, we have so much more need of, that we may not abuse them. Christ himself is the fountain; his merit and grace cleanse us, refresh us, and make us fruitful. This is said to water the valley of Shittim, which lay a great way off from the temple at Jerusalem, on the other side of Jordan, and was a dry and barren valley, which intimates that gospel-grace, flowing from Christ, shall reach far, even to the Gentile world, to the most remote regions of it, and shall make those to abound in the fruits of righteousness who had long lain as the barren wilderness. This grace is a fountain overflowing, ever-flowing, from which we may be continually drawing, and yet need not fear its being drawn dry. This fountain comes out of the house of the Lord above, from his temple in heaven, flows all that good which here we are daily tasting the streams of, but hope to be shortly, hope to be eternally, drinking at the fountain-head of.

3. Perpetuity. This crowns all the rest (Joel 3:20): Judah shall dwell for ever (when Egypt and Edom are made a desolation), and Jerusalem shall continue from generation to generation. This is a promise, and a precious promise it is, (1.) That the church of Christ shall continue in the world to the end of time. As one generation of professing Christians passes away, another shall come, in whom the throne of Christ shall endure for ever, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (2.) That all the living members of that church (Judah and Jerusalem are put for the inhabitants of that city and country, Matt. 3:5) shall be established in their happiness to the utmost ages of eternity. This new Jerusalem shall be from generation to generation, for it is a city that has foundations, not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens.