After announcing grand promises of deliverance and restoration to his people, the Lord turns his attention to the nations who have been pictured in the previous metaphor by the swarms of locusts. If God is going to restore what the locusts destroyed (2:25) then he must deal with the locusts. 3:1-3 announces that the Lord will restore what has been lost by way of judging the nations responsible. The Lord reminds the people that despite his discipline of them they are in fact still his people, and he will be their advocate and their protection.
3:4-8 announces the reason for Yahweh’s anger, “You have taken my silver and my gold, and you have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border” (Joel 3:5-6, ESV). The nations have taken what the Lord held as precious and have stood against his promises, so he will vindicate his glory, his people, and all that they need to live and restore them to the land.
When we consider this act of justice on God’s part certain questions are raised regarding the very justice of God. How can he at one time send the nations to stand against his people in judgement for their sin and then turn around and judge those same nations for what they have done to his people? On the one hand, we must recognize the mystery of how God’s sovereignty relates to the responsibility of man. On this topic, I recommend Jerry Bridges’ book, Trusting God. Bridges reminds us, “The sovereignty of God is often questioned because man does not understand what God is doing. Because He does not act as we think He should, we conclude He cannot act as we think He would” (Trusting God, 27). This statement is a helpful reminder that we do not have the whole picture. On the other hand, we can easily recognize that the actions of the nations against Israel were actually sinful, and no sin will go unpunished by a just God. We don’t like it, but we cannot give ourselves the freedom to step beyond our place and sit in judgement on God. Paul teaches us, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this’” (Romans 9:19-20, ESV)?
The next eight verses, 9-16, are God challenging the nations to come with all the might they have that he may sit in judgement on them. The Lord is non-flinching before the powers of this earth as he carries out his just judgments. However, he is a refuge for his people (3:16). These verses are reminiscent of Psalm 2 wherein we are reminded of the sovereign authority of God over the nations and the gracious protection he offers his people.
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him (Psalm 2, ESV).