This work of poet and Christian theologian Jerome Blanco holds the tension of devastation in the world with the promise of God’s restoration from Joel 3.
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1 For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, 2 I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land. 3 And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink. 4 Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? will ye render me a recompence? and if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompence upon your own head; 5 Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things: 6 The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their border. 7 Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will return your recompence upon your own head: 8 And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off: for the LORD hath spoken it .
9 ¶ Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: 10 Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. 11 Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O LORD . 12 Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. 13 Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats 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 shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. 16 The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.
18 ¶ And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the LORD , and shall water the valley of Shittim. 19 Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence against the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. 20 But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. 21 For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the LORD dwelleth in Zion.
Prophetic passages on God’s eventual judgment and restoration of the world can feel very distant for me. As I wrestled with the third chapter of Joel, I couldn’t help but think these coming mysteries were lifetimes away, especially considering all the weight of what is happening in the world today. Despite God’s dual promises of vengeance and restoration, I wonder about what good those promises have for those suffering now. Are the promises of abundant milk and wine (3:18) satisfying enough? What about the promises of God’s vengeance on the wicked (3:21)? The prophecies of Joel certainly deliver a sense of hope, but that hope that comes from a promised future sits in tension with the painful realities of the present.
In this poem, I recall the refugees that I met during a brief time I spent in Europe. Many expressed a hope in God despite terrible circumstances, but who were of course also weighed down with unimaginable despair. God was often what kept them going, but they weren’t without fear. In the text, I specifically refer to a man I met from Homs, Syria, who spoke to me about both these things.
The poem’s form is modeled on this not-yet-ness of God’s restoration. Excluding the final line, the poem is written in six stanzas of six lines each. Six, here, exemplifies that longing for completion—seven being the satisfying number of wholeness in God’s creation. The final line acts as a promised seventh line to the final stanza, and as a promised seventh stanza to the poem as a whole. The prophecies in Joel are already in our hands. Christians can hold to the truth that God’s promises will be fulfilled. And yet we are forced to wait restlessly for them in the meantime, as we wait for the day of the Lord—the day of judgment and restoration that is yet to come.
Jerome Blanco is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and is an MFA candidate at New York University’s Writers Workshop in Paris, where he is studying fiction writing. He was born in Manila but currently calls Southern California home.