In Joel chapter 2, the Northern Army is said to have done “great things”—things that are gigantic in the wrong direction, the direction of evil. Then the Lord is said to do “great things,” but they are gigantic in the right direction, in the protection and restoration of His holy Land (Israel) and His holy People (the Jews):
Do not fear, O land, rejoice and be glad, for the LORD has done great things.
The Lord has done the “great things” necessary to rescue Judah and Jerusalem from the enemy that threatened to utterly destroy them. Now He will restore the fire-ravaged, army-trodden land to fruitfulness. The Jews of Jerusalem have just been rescued from certain destruction at the hands of the Northern Army. The surrounding land has been devastated by fire and by drought. Now it is time for restoration.
The Land of Israel and the beasts of the field are instructed not to fear while the sons of Zion—that is, the Jewish people, especially those living in Jerusalem—are told to rejoice and to be glad. Why? Because the Lord has given them rain, rain, rain—a heavy downpour which has vindicated them and protected them from their foes. Now that same rain will bring forth crops for them, abundant grain for eating and grapes for making wine. Grain offerings will be possible once more, and the people will have the food and drink they need to survive.
So rejoice, O sons of Zion,
And be glad in the LORD your God;
For He has given you the early rain for your vindication.
And He has poured down for you the rain,
The early and latter rain as before. (Joel 2:23)
How can rain be given “for vindication”? This has stumbled many scholars. If you do not see it as being the cause of the rout of the attacking army, then you will be scratching your head about it. This is an unusual construction in the original Hebrew, which has caused many to search for alternatives, resulting in an intriguing interpretation: the phrase “the early rain for your vindication” can be replaced with “the Teacher for righteousness.”
This “Teacher for Righteousness” is widely interpreted as being the Lord Jesus. In the book I am writing about the Great Winepress, I place the return of Jesus to protect and defend His People at the same point as the torrential downpour that drives off their attackers (here in Joel 2). This is based on a number of parallel passages in holy writ. For now, suffice it to say that “the rain for vindication” and “the Teacher for Righteousness” may both be in view in Joel 2:23.
How are the sons of Zion to be regarded as being “vindicated”? In part, this refers to the difference between the Northern Army and the Jews. The army had attacked Jerusalem at God’s command but were arrogant, violent unbelievers. The Jews were driven to cry out to God for rescue, after long neglecting Him, and discovered He was there for them. Their faith in God was vindicated, and their position as God’s People became evident to all.
This deluge of rain has also been given for the “vindication” (or “righteousness”) of the Jerusalemites because this is the point at which they put on the righteous of God. This is when they look on Jesus and realize they must accept Him as their spiritual savior, their Messiah. He has just saved them from physical destruction; now He saves their souls.
The passage from Joel ends with further notes about the blessings that will now befall those in Jerusalem and Judah:
The threshing floors will be full of grain,
And the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil. (Joel 2:24)
The drought is over, the enemy is driven off, and now there will be days of delightful abundance. The Land, the animals, and the sons of Zion should, therefore, rejoice. The attackers are gone, driven off by a ferocious storm. The Israelites have humbled themselves, sought God’s help. Now they enjoy his blessings and delight in their fruitful land, a land that once again flows with milk and honey, a land uniquely chosen and blessed by the Almighty.
The Lord brought about the attack of the Northern Army on Israel, and then He rescued His people. Now He promises to restore their Land to its pre-attack state, making it fruitful.
“Then I will make up to you for the years
That the swarming locust has eaten,
The creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, …
You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied
And praise the name of the LORD your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
Then My people will never be put to shame.” (Joel 2:25-26)
The restoration the Lord grants to His people when they repent includes the restoration of fruitfulness to the Land of Israel. The crops will flourish. The people will feast. More importantly, the people will honor God for who He is and for what He has done.
Have you had years that slipped by without much progress, without much accomplished for the Kingdom of God? Take heart, dear one, for the God we serve can—and often will—restore to you “the years that the locust has eaten.” Ask Him to supply what you lack, and trust Him for the answer.
Scripture taken, unless otherwise noted, from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, Updated Edition (NASU), © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995. Used by permission. All rights reserved.