Mercy in Judgment

By Ed Little

A Reading from Joel 3:9-17

9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare war,
   stir up the warriors.
Let all the soldiers draw near,
   let them come up.
10 Beat your ploughshares into swords,
   and your pruning-hooks into spears;
   let the weakling say, “I am a warrior.”

11 Come quickly,
   all you nations all around,
   gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O Lord.
12 Let the nations rouse themselves,
   and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
   all the neighbouring nations.

13 Put in the sickle,
   for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
   for the wine press is full.
The vats overflow,
   for their wickedness is great.

14 Multitudes, multitudes,
   in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
   in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and the moon are darkened,
   and the stars withdraw their shining.

16 The Lord roars from Zion,
   and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
   and the heavens and the earth shake.
But the Lord is a refuge for his people,
   a stronghold for the people of Israel.

17 So you shall know that I, the Lord your God,
   dwell in Zion, my holy mountain.
And Jerusalem shall be holy,
   and strangers shall never again pass through it.


Joel began his prophecy in the midst of natural disaster, a devastating plague of locusts.  Now, as he closes, he returns to the theme of judgment; but this time he mingles judgment with hope.

Joel has relentlessly explored the consequences of Israel’s sin. Now, once more, he urges his readers to turn, to make a decision, to repent. The time, he is telling us, cannot be put off. The New Testament ponders this theme in different keys. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” says John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2); and so, in identical words, does Jesus (Matt. 3:17). Yet the New Testament also reminds us that the Lord “is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Just as the book of Joel speaks of judgment and hope, repentance and divine patience, so does the New Testament. The themes do not contradict; they interpenetrate.

Joel concludes with a word of hope. “The Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” Yes, Israel has reeled under the double trauma of natural disaster and divine rebuke. Joel is never far from these realities. But at the same time, Joel holds before us God’s unwavering love for his people. The God who used a plague of locusts to shake the complacency out of his people now extends a hand and welcomes those same people to his holy mountain (3:17). As St. Paul asked centuries later, “If God is for us, who is against us?” — and then, answering his own question: “He… did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us” (Rom. 8:31-32).

The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).

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Today we pray for:

Diocese of Sabah (South East Asia), the Rt. Rev. Melter Jiki Tais (Primate)
Diocese of Down & Dromore (Ireland)
Diocese of Massachusetts


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