And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD cometh. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered; for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those that escape, as the LORD hath said, and among the remnant those whom the LORD doth call (Joel 2:30-32).
A day was coming when momentous events would take place.
Joel looks forward to later days, after the restoration of all that the “locusts” destroyed (cf. Joel 2:25-26), and it is simultaneously a glorious and concerning picture: God will pour His Spirit out on all flesh, and the descendants of the Israelites will prophesy and have visions, even their servants as well (Joel 2:28-29). Signs and portents would be there for those who wished to see them, and then would come the “great and terrible day of the LORD” (Joel 2:30-31). Those who “call upon the name of the LORD” would be delivered; it would only be a remnant that would escape in Zion and Jerusalem (Joel 2:32).
These portents and signs were actually quite ominous. There was another time during which God showed “wonders” in heaven and on earth: the wonders of the plagues which God set against Pharaoh and Egypt, including the Nile being turned to blood, and fire with hail (Exodus 4:21, 7:7, 9:24, Deuteronomy 6:22). Blood, fire, and pillars of smoke are what you would expect to see in the wake of a marauding enemy devastating the land! The sun turning to darkness and the moon to blood evokes the plague of darkness over Egypt (cf. Exodus 10:21), and the prophets spoke of violent transitions in power in such terms in Isaiah 13:10, 34:4, Jeremiah 4:23, Ezekiel 32:1-8, and against Israel itself in Amos 8:9. This is not a description of a peaceful time: war, famine, pestilence, and all sorts of misery accompanied these changes.
So it makes sense how Joel speaks of only a remnant escaping, consistent with Obadiah 1:17, and that remnant escapes not on the basis of their own wisdom or ability but on account of “calling upon the name of the LORD” (Joel 2:32). We can imagine that all sorts of people in such a situation would cry out to YHWH, and clearly not everyone is being heard. Therefore, there is more involved to “calling on the name of the LORD” than just the voice: it involves putting one’s trust in YHWH and nowhere else. YHWH, not the king, satrap, or governor, can deliver.
The Scriptures do not leave us in doubt as to when this day came: in Acts 2:16-21, the Apostle Peter declares that the falling of the Holy Spirit upon the Twelve on the day of Pentecost in the year 30 CE is the fulfillment of what Joel has said. The gift of the Holy Spirit was now available for all who repented and were immersed in water for the remission of sin in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38-39). The Apostles and those upon whom they laid their hands would prophesy (cf. Acts 8:17, 19:1-9). Yet Peter does not quote everything Joel wrote: he concludes with, “and it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21; cf. Joel 2:32). Peter does not mention the section about the escaping remnant in Zion and Jerusalem (Joel 2:32). Perhaps we should infer that the whole is under discussion, and Peter stops where he does for emphasis. Perhaps it is a deliberate omission.
Nevertheless, this prophecy of Joel colors the Apostles’ understanding of what Jesus is accomplishing with His Kingdom. In Romans 10:12-13, Joel 2:32 is used to demonstrate that since “whoever” calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved, God is including people of any and every nation. Paul uses the language of Joel 2:32 in 1 Corinthians 1:2 as well. Yet Paul also speaks about the “remnant” of Israel as being saved in Romans 11:5, based primarily in the account of God and Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-18, but completely consistent with the remnant discussion in Joel 2:32 as well.
Therefore, the whole message of Joel 2:32 relates to God’s redemption available through Jesus, and the “great and terrible day” finds its beginning on the day of Pentecost with the establishment of Jesus’ Kingdom through the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, and most likely finds its climax in 70 CE, when the judgments and plagues of the day of the LORD came fully and powerfully upon Judea and Jerusalem. At that time a remnant did escape in Zion and Jerusalem: not the earthly Zion and Jerusalem, but through association as part of the heavenly Zion and Jerusalem, the people of God in Christ Jesus (cf. Galatians 4:21-31, Hebrews 12:18-24).
So what does it mean to call upon the name of the LORD in the new covenant? As Paul recounts his conversion to Christianity before his fellow Jews in Jerusalem, he tells of how Ananias had told him to be baptized, for in so doing he would wash away his sins, “calling upon His name” (Acts 22:16). His audience certainly understood his referent, and it reinforces what we have said: there is more to calling upon the name of the LORD than just vocalizing His name. Plenty of people did that in times of distress; for that matter, the Jewish War of 66-70 was entirely based in Jewish confidence in YHWH that He would help them overcome the Romans. Yet, while their mouths called upon the name of YHWH, they had in fact rejected Him when they rejected His Son (cf. Matthew 21:33-45). The only remnant that could escape would be those who trusted in Jesus as Lord and Christ; for all others, the terrors of the day of the LORD awaited (Joel 2:32, Matthew 24:1-36).
Joel’s prophecy remains quite instructive for us. He speaks of the climactic and quite apocalyptic events surrounding the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ and the impending destruction of Jerusalem. For those who call upon the name of the LORD, those who trust in Him, it was a grand day; for those who did not trust in the LORD, because they had rejected Him, it was terrible. So it has always been; so it will always be. Let us put our trust in the LORD God by subjecting ourselves to Jesus the Son, prepared for His return and the day of resurrection, and be part of the remnant of God!
Ethan R. Longhenry