World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
The Lord utters his voice
at the head of his army;
how vast is his host!
Numberless are those who obey his command.
Truly the day of the Lord is great;
terrible indeed—who can endure it?
He at last adds, And Jehovah will utter his voice before his army. The Prophet seems in this verse to anticipate whatever objection men might adduce. “O! thou denounces on us great terrors, and as if the Assyrians were not to be counted as men, as if no other people were in the world, as if there was no other army, as if there were no other forces, as if none else had courage; but if the Assyrians are at this day formidable, they have yet neighbors who can gather a force sufficient easily to oppose them ” And Egypt was then a populous country, and well fortified; and who would not have said that the Egyptians were equal to the Assyrians? and the Jews also thought themselves safe through a treaty with them. And then there was Syria; and there were many kingdoms, with which the Jews might have boasted that they were surrounded, so that no access to them was open to the Assyrians; for however insufficient were the people of Moab or the people of Amman, yet they were all joined together, even Edom, and Ammon, and Moab: and then Tyrus and Sidon, and the many neighboring kingdoms, might certainly have been sufficient to resist the Assyrians. Now, that no one might object all this, the Prophet shortly anticipates it by saying, that God would be the leader of his army; as though he had said, “I have already declared this to be the hand of God: for the Assyrians will not come here of their own accord; that is, without being stirred up by God: but as this truth has not as yet sufficiently moved your feelings, know that God will be the leader of this army: God will send forth his voice before his army.” Here he distinctly calls the Assyrians the attendants of God; they shall not then come as soldiers hired by their own king, they shall not come as carrying on war for an earthly king, but the Lord himself shall guide them, and by his voice encourage them. By this expression the Prophet shows that the Jews would not have a contest with one nation only, but also with God himself and with all his celestial power.
He therefore says, God will utter his voice before his army; for very great will be his camp. He again repeats that the multitude which was to execute the biddings of God would be so great, that the Jews would seek forces in vain to resist it. Strong, he says, is he who executes his word. He expresses more clearly what I have stated already, that though cupidity impelled the Assyrians, that though they were intent on rapine and plunder, yet they would not come merely through an impulse of their own, but that the Lord would prepare them and use them as his instruments: “Powerful, then, is he who does the word of God; that is, who executes his command; not that the Assyrians designed to show regard to God or to offer to him their service, as the faithful do, who willingly devote themselves to Him; but that the Lord by his secret providence guided them and employed them to punish his own people.
He afterwards adds in the last place, For great will be the day of Jehovah and terrible, and who will endure it? In this clause he shows that the vengeance would be such as would reduce the Jews to nothing, and that it was now time to repent, and that if they still turned a deaf ear to what the Prophet denounces, God would punish their perverseness.
Now with regard to what he says, that strong is he who does the word of God, we have elsewhere reminded you that men serve God in two ways, — they either execute his commands willingly, or are led to do so by a blind impulse. The angels and the faithful perform God’s commands, because they are guided by the spirit of obedience; but the wicked also, and the devil who is their head, fulfill God’s biddings; this, however, is not to be imputed to them as obedience, for they are only led by their own wicked purposes, and seek to destroy, as far as they can, the whole government of God; but they are constrained, willing or unwilling, to obey God, not of their own accord or willingly, as I have said, but the Lord turns all their efforts to answer the end which he has decreed. Whatever, then, Satan and the wicked attempt to do, they at the same time serve God and obey his commands; and though they rage against God, he yet holds them in by his bridle, and also so guides their attempts and their purposes as to answer his own ends. In this sense, then, it is, that Joel says, that the Assyrians would do the word of God; not that it was their purpose to obey God, not that God had commanded them anything, but he puts the word of the Lord here for his secret purpose. As, then, the wicked perform no voluntary obedience to God, but constrained, when they execute God’s commands; so there is a twofold command or word of God: there is the command by which he teaches his own children and leads them to obey him; and there is another, a hidden command, when he deigns not to address men, and shows not what pleases him or what he means to do, but suffers them to be led by their own sinful desires; in the meantime, he has his own secret purpose, which by them he executes though without their intention.