Jerusalem Shall Be Holy

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.

18 “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.

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.
20 But Judah shall be inhabited forever,
    and Jerusalem to all generations.
21 I will avenge their blood,
    blood I have not avenged,
    for the Lord dwells in Zion.” Joel 3:17-21ESV

God cares about His chosen people. In spite of their open rebellion against Him and their rejection of Him as the one true God, He would remain faithful to them – literally, to the end – to the final moments of the great day of the Lord. And He assures the people of Judah that when He finishes with all that He has planned for them and the world, they will know that He is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Lord their God.

It is amazing to think back on all that God had already done of on behalf of the people of Judah and their northern neighbors, the nation of Israel. God had chosen them and had blessed them beyond belief. In choosing them, God had set them apart from all the nations of the earth.

You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. – Deueronomy14:2 ESV

What a privilege. But it was a privilege that came with great responsibility. They were to live as who they were: God’s chosen people. When He had freed them from their captivity in Egypt, He had told them:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 15:5-6 ESV

The position as His chosen possession was conditional. They were to obey His commands and to live as His representatives on this earth, modeling to the nations around them what it meant to have a relationship with God Almighty. God had made it perfectly clear that they were to live differently and distinctively from the pagan nations who surrounded them in the land of Canaan. And God had provided them with an extremely high standard: Himself.

“You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” – Leviticus 20:26 ESV

But as the history of Israel so painfully and clearly reveals, they never lived up to God’s holy standard. Yes, there were occasions when they obeyed His commands and lived in submission to His will, but those moments of corporate allegiance to God were rare and never lasted long. Yet, here in Joel 3, God assures His disobedient people that He has unbelievable plans in store for them. Despite their disobedience and unfaithfulness, God was going to faithfully fulfill each and every one of His covenant promises to them. And He would do for them what they had failed to do on their own: Live set apart, holy lives.

In fact, God promises, “Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it” (Joel 3:17 ESV). The city of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah and the home to the fantastic temple constructed by Solomon, would once again be set apart as God’s holy dwelling place. We know from history, that it would not be long before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and the Solomonic temple was destroyed. The city of Jerusalem would become occupied by foreign invaders and this dismal scene would continue for generations, even to the days of Jesus, when the Romans ruled the entire region of Palestine, including the of David, Jerusalem.

God had warned that this would happen. All the way back to the day when Solomon dedicated the temple he had constructed, God had warned him:

“But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the Lord has brought all this disaster on them.’” – 1 Kings 9:6-9 ESV

And it happened just as God predicted it would. The city was eventually invaded and the house of God was turned into a heap of ruins. The once holy city became a visual representation of Israel and Judah’s sin and God’s righteous judgment of them. But here in Joel 3, God assures the people of Judah that the day is coming when the city will be restored, not only to its earlier beauty, but to its place as the dwelling place of God. The apostle John was given a vision of this future scene and he recorded it his book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” – Revelation 21:1-3 ESV

The scene Joel presents is one and the same, and he adds details that describe the fruitfulness of that new city. It will be rich, abundant, and filled with the glory of God. He even mentions a fountain coming from the house of the Lord. Again, the apostle John echoes his words and adds some interesting details of his own.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:1-5 ESV

In contrast to the restoration of Jerusalem, Joel describes the devastation of Edom and Egypt, two long-time adversaries of Israel. These two nations act as stand-ins for the rest of the world’s countries that have placed themselves in opposition to Israel over the centuries. Because of their animosity toward the people of God and the city of God, they will experience the wrath of God.

But God promises to shower His chosen people with His unmerited grace and mercy.

But Judah shall be inhabited forever,
    and Jerusalem to all generations. – Joel 3:18 ESV

This entire chapter was intended to provide the people of Judah with words of encouragement. Even in the face of their coming destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, they could rest in the fact that God was not yet done with them. He had long-term plans for them that guaranteed their permanent place as His chosen possession. He wanted them to have an eternal perspective, not a temporal one.

And as Jesus told the apostle John at the close of the book of Revelation:

“These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” – Revelation 22:6 ESV

We can trust Him, because His words and trustworthy and true.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson