The Valley of Decision: Blessing or Judgment?

by Will Witte

The Valley of Decision:

Growing up in a land the Civil War had been fought over, I often studied old grave stones in cemeteries, wondering which side the occupants fought for, how they died, etc. These questions could not be answered with certainty, but of one thing I was certain: they were all dead.

While studying the book of Joel recently, I came across two phrases that caught my attention: "valley of Jehoshaphat" and "valley of decision." Where was the "valley of Jehoshaphat" located? The consensus of the sources that I checked suggested it was between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. In fact, Unger's New Bible Dictionary states that in modern times that very area has been used as a burial ground. Unger's and other sources suggested that this was the same valley that is referred to in 2 Chronicles 20:26: "And on the fourth day they assembled themselves in the valley of Berachah; for there they blessed the Lord: therefore the name of the same place was called, The valley of Berachah, unto this day" (Berachah means "blessing").

It was in this valley that Jehoshaphat learned of the salvation of the Lord, when God fought for Judah while they stood still (2 Chron. 20:17). God judged Judah's enemies and He assured Jehoshaphat that the battle was not theirs but His. (Jehoshaphat's very name is a reminder of God's power and judgment; it means "Jehovah has judged"). In Jehoshaphat's case, this valley became the "valley of blessing," but for his enemies it became the "valley of battle"-battle against the Almighty, who always wins.

Having found out something about the "valley of Jehoshaphat," I wondered if there was a parallel between it and the "valley of decision." Growing up in eastern Tennessee, I often heard preaching about the "valley of decision" (from Joel 3:14), interpreting it to mean that today is the day of salvation and that now is the time to make that decision. Although the meat of their message was true, their choice of texts left something to be desired.

It is at times like this that an understanding of the original language proves to be very beneficial. The English translations leave the reader with the feeling that the nations (humankind, or, on a more personal level, the reader) are being brought to a fork in the road, or moment of crisis, when they must decide on whose side they will stand. Yet this is not what Joel was saying at all. The individual making the decision in Joel 3:14 is Jehovah, and this is a decision in the sense of God passing judgment-deciding the fate of those who stand opposed to His people. This is a decision of finality. The sun and moon grow dark and the stars cease to shine (nature's clock stops, THE END). The only question that seems left to answer is: "Where do you stand?"

When your clock stops, when the sun, moon, and stars no longer shine, when you are brought by God into the valley of Jehoshaphat (where He judges), will you be standing in the valley of Berachah (blessing), or will you receive the wrath and judgment of God in the valley of His judgment? Which will it be?

Will Witte is an associate missionary with the Church of God assigned to Japan.