In the Valley of Decision
June 12th, 1983 @ 7:30 PM
IN THE VALLEY OF DECISION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-12-83 7:30 p.m.
And welcome the great throngs of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering a message entitled In the Valley of Decision. It is an appeal to give your heart, your life, your every day, your every dream, and vision, and prayer to our wonderful Lord. I wonder if we could read the passage together? It’s in Joel, in the Old Testament, after those major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel. Then you come to the minor prophets, Hosea, Joel. Right after Hosea, between Hosea and Amos: Hosea, Joel. Have you found it? Hosea, Joel, just before the Book of Obadiah. Got it? Hosea, Joel. Now chapter 3, [Joel] chapter 3, we read from verses 11-16. Joel 3, verses 11-16. Now let us all read it out loud together:
Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause Thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord.
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.
Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the vats overflow; for their wickedness is great.
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.
The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.
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.
That is a picture of the great judgment day of Almighty God, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision” [Joel 3:14].
We don’t know anything about Joel, just what’s written in his book. Joel means “Jehovah is God.” Jo is a shortened form of Yahweh, Jehovah, and el is the generic word for God: Joel. What we know in the book is he lived in a time of two tremendous, devastating visitations from heaven upon his people. One was a plague of locusts that destroyed the land [Joel 1:4, 2:25], and the other was an insufferable drought [Joel 2:22-23]. And he took those two providences of God and used them as a sign of the coming, great judgment day of the Almighty Lord. He doubtless lived around 825 BC; doubtless at the time when Joash, at seven years of age, was placed on the throne [2 Chronicles 24:1], and Jehoiada the high priest was the actual ruler and leader.
We know Joel mostly because of the wonderful prophecy, in the second chapter of his book, regarding the coming of Pentecost: the pouring out of the Holy Spirit of God upon the earth, upon all flesh [Joel 2:28-32]. And in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, when Simon Peter stands to deliver his message at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-21], his text is the second chapter of the Book of Joel [Joel 2:28-32]. Joel’s description of this great judgment day of Almighty God, which we’ve just read, is awesome indeed [Joel 3:11-16].
When I look at the word translated here, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision” [Joel 3:14], the word translated “multitudes” when you look at it in the Hebrew is such a different kind of a word. Hamah means “to murmur,” to be in commotion, to be turbulent. Now hamon, the adjectival form of the word, refers to the sound of a tumult, the sound of a great commotion. And so the word translated here, “multitudes,” hamonim, refers to the throngs in tumult in the way they sound; the sound of the great throng in commotion. It is a vivid, descriptive word as the prophet describes this great judgment day of Almighty God. He not only sees the vast throng gathered before the throne of God Almighty, but the sound of their commotion, of their turbulent response, is in his mind and heart, unforgettable.
You have it translated here “heathen.” “Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen”: goyim [Joel 3:11]. A goy is anyone who is not a Jew. Goyim is the word, plural, referring to all the peoples and nations of the world. And they are gathered there in the valley of decision [Joel 3:14]. And the word “decision” is an amazing, imaginative word. As I look at it, charats means “to cut,” it means “to sharpen” and thus, “to decide.” And the word here, charuts, means a strict, sharp decision. It’s a vivid picture: the Lord sitting [on] His throne and before Him all the peoples of the world, and we are in it.
You know a decision is sometimes an awesome assignment. Do you remember in the last chapter of 2 Samuel when David sinned against the Lord in numbering the people of Israel? [2 Samuel 24:1-9]. Going to war instead of depending upon God, he disobeyed the Lord, counting his forces as though he, and his arm, and the great army with him gains the victory when actually it is God that gives victory [2 Samuel 24:1-9]. Well, when he sinned against God [2 Samuel 24:10], [not] trusting in the Lord, the Lord sent the prophet Gad to him and said, “David, God gives you three choices: one, seven years drought; two, three months to flee before your enemies; three, three days of pestilence. Now you tell me the answer, the decision, so that I can return it to Him who sent me, the Lord” [2 Samuel 24:11-13].
Can you imagine a choice like that, a decision like that? It is awesome. You remember the story: David said to Gad, “Let me cast myself upon the mercy of God. I choose three days of pestilence.” And seventy thousand men in Israel died of that plague [2 Samuel 24:14-15], and the rest of the story is one of absolute dependence upon the mercy of God. When David saw the destroying angel standing over Jerusalem to destroy the city, he fell on his face and said, “O Lord, it is I that have sinned and not these sheep” [2 Samuel 24:16-17].
God said, “You go to the top of the mount”—where later the temple was built, where Abraham had sacrificed Isaac [Genesis 22:1-12]—“you go to the threshing floor of Araunah,” today you know it as the place of the Dome of the Rock, “and there you build an altar and make sacrifice and intercession for God to spare the people” [2 Samuel 24:18].
Decision is an awesome assignment, and it colors life, it changes destiny, it remakes the whole creation of God. And that’s the gathering of the people together in this valley of sharp decision. Now all of us are summoned to it, all of us. I am born into it. I cannot escape it. The fact that I live, that I breathe, that my heart beats, that my mind can think, throws me into a world of inevitable and inexorable choice. I am forced to live in a world of decision; and my life, your life is made up of those decisions that we make.
The valley of decision is before all of us constantly. And it is filled with roads, and crossroads, and crossings; there are ways that are narrow, and there are ways that are wide and broad. It is filled with lights, some of it red, some of green, some of it flashing. It is filled with every kind of allurement, and detention, and trial, and invitation. In that valley of decision where we are, God is; Jesus is; the Holy Spirit is; Satan is, and his legions. And we face those inevitable questions of life every day that we live. And however the judgment is of all of the nations and peoples of the earth, yet the responsibility of each decision is ours. It’s my own; it is my responsibility. How I am, the way I go, is due to my choice, my choice.
There is a profound weakness in human nature. It is this: all of us have the tendency to blame somebody else for what we are, for the choices that we make. That’s a part of our fallen nature, our first parents did that [Genesis 3:1-6]. When Adam sinned, he blamed his wife, “The woman that You gave me, she led me to eat of the forbidden fruit.” And the woman said, “It is the serpent, he deceived me!” [Genesis 3:12-13].
All of us are like that. When a youth gets into trouble, always somebody is blaming somebody else. Society blames the parents: “It’s their fault.” The parents blames the friends, and companions, and peers of youth: “It’s their fault.” And the peers of the lad will say, “It’s his fault.” And the boy will say, “It’s the policeman’s fault.” And the policeman will say, “It’s the judge.” And the judge will say, “It’s the legislature.” There is no end to our blaming someone else, when actually the responsibility for every decision we make is individually ours. We are responsible before God. Not they, not them, not mother, father, peers. It is our decision; we make it. And what we are is because of our responsible choice before God; we cannot escape it.
I held a revival meeting in a great city east of the Mississippi River. And visiting with the pastor of that wonderful church, he and his wife had just been through a heartache. And it was this: out of the gutter of the city, out of prostitution and harlotry, they had picked up a sixteen-year-old girl. She was diseased; she was ragged; she was a part of the refuse of humanity. And they took her, and in their kindness and ministry she was healed. And they washed her, and cleaned her, and dressed her up. They gave her a beautiful room in their beautiful home. She had clothes. And they took her to church, of course, in Sunday school and in the worship hour introduced her to every gracious thing that God could bestow upon a sixteen-year-old girl.
And in the midst of that ministration, and that loving care, and beautiful, beautiful appeal, at a midnight hour that girl climbed out of the window of her bedroom and fled the pastor and his wife and the home and the church and went back into that awesome, terrible life of prostitution and harlotry. To her it was a dumb, slow-moving life: Sunday school, church, godliness. She missed her paramours and her lovers, ah, that’s life!
No matter who you are, the choice is yours. And what you are is that selective responsibility God has given to you. It’s not somebody else. It’s you. And the choice is always before you. Dear me, dear Lord! How we need God’s graciousness, and God’s kindness, and God’s help, and God’s presence in the choices we make that determine our life and our destiny in the world that is to come.
Now this man, this prophet Joel, as he describes these awesome days of judgment, his book, his prophecy, is so much filled with appeal, entreaty, and I can understand why. Any man that is sent of God to present and to describe and to announce and to reveal the judgment day of Almighty God could not but give himself to entreaty with tears in his appeal. Listen to him as he says, “Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord God, and cry unto your Lord!” [Joel 1:14]. Entreaty: or look again:
Now saith the Lord, Turn ye to Me with all of your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:
And rend your heart, and not your garments, turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness…
Who knoweth if He will return…And leave a blessing behind Him…?
Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly:
Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and those that suck the breasts: Let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.
Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare Thy people, O God, give not Thine heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them: wherefore they should say, Where is your God?
Then will the Lord be jealous for His land, and pity His people.
That’s entreaty. That’s the great prophet moved by the Spirit of God. When we face the great judgment day of the Almighty Lord [Acts 17:31]; Lord, have mercy upon Your people!
And our decision, O dear, great God, let it always be Christ-ward, heavenward, God-ward; may it glorify Him. Lord, deliver us from the decisions that drag us down into the dirt and into the dust of life. Help us Lord, ever, always, to make the decision that honors Thee. “I have decided for Christ and here I stand. I give Him my life, I give Him my heart, I give Him the strength of my days. I have chosen, and I have chosen God.” Lord, grant it to us. Grant it to us.
I was eating dinner one evening in the home of one of my deacons in these years past. And in the home they had a precious and beautiful teenage daughter. And while we were there breaking bread with them, why, her date came, and even though she was very young, she was with a group. There was a car full of them. The parents, the deacon and his wife, explained that they didn’t let their girl go out on a date by herself, just the two. But it was a group going, why, they allowed her to go out in the group, in the car.
So after dinner, we were there in the home visiting together, just loving each other in the Lord. And while we were there, in walked that girl. She never said a word, walked right through the living room where we were seated, never looked to the right or the left, then to her own bedroom. And I was seated on that side of that living room. And seated there, I could hear her sobbing inside of the bedroom, just sobbing, just crying. We made no evidence that we heard it, I certainly didn’t. But all through that evening, the rest of it, I could hear that girl crying inside the bedroom.
So a day or so after that, why, the mother said to me, “Pastor, I don’t know whether you heard her or not, but when she came into the room, didn’t speak, didn’t say anything, just went to her room, I don’t know whether you heard her or not, but she was in there crying, and I thought maybe you had heard. I wanted to explain to you why.” Then the mother said, “As the group in the car became more involved, they decided to go into orgies. And our girl said, ‘I belong to Christ, my father is a deacon, and I’ll not share in it.’ And they said to her, ‘If you don’t, we’ll put you out of the car, and you’ll have to walk home.’ They put her out of the car and she walked home.” And the mother said to me, “That’s why, on the inside of her bedroom, she was seated there crying.”
What do you think of that? How does that appeal to you? You can’t help but say a child that walks to Jesus, even in tears, is a child of heaven and a child of God. I haven’t time to follow that story. God blessed that girl. He always will. He always does. Anytime, anywhere, any day we make a decision for Christ, it is hallowed and sanctified of the Lord. You never make a mistake walking toward Jesus, opening your heart to Him, deciding for Christ.
And that is our appeal tonight, this night, this hour, this moment. “I have decided for Christ, and here I stand, so help me God. May the Lord bless and sanctify and hallow the decision that I make.” Some, “I am accepting the Lord Jesus as my Savior, and I am coming” [Romans 10:8-13]. Some, “I have accepted the Lord. I want to be baptized just as God has said and commanded in His Book” [Matthew 28:19]. Some, “I want to put my life in this wonderful church. I want to belong to the family of God.” Some, “I am answering a call from heaven. The Lord has spoken to my soul. I’ve heard His voice and I am answering, giving God my whole life.” As the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, answer tonight. “Here I am, Lord. Here I stand. Here I come.” May we stand for the prayer?
Our Lord in heaven, it is an awesome moment when we stand face to face with God. Oh, oh, what destiny determining decisions are made when the Lord calls and we answer yes or no. Our Lord we are praying that this night, this hour, this moment, this moment of decision, this hour of choice, Lord, Lord may it be one where the child, the boy, the girl, where the youth, where the father and mother, where the family, where the soul standing in the presence of Jesus says, “I do. God help me. I am on the way. I am coming to Thee, Lord. I am giving Thee my heart and my life and soul.”
While our people pray and wait, in a moment while we sing, a family you, “We are coming. My wife, my children, we all are coming.” A youth, a boy, a girl, “God has spoken to me and I am answering with my life. I’m coming.” May angels attend you in the way. May God bless you as you come.
And our Lord, may it rejoice heaven and bless us in this earth as we see the gracious harvest God gives us tonight. “I have decided for Jesus and here I am,” in Thy saving and keeping name, amen. While we sing our song, a thousand times welcome as you come, while we sing.
IN THE VALLEY OF DECISION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-12-83I. The prophet
A. Joel means “Jehovah is God”
B. All we know of Joel is what is written in his book
1. Lived in time of two devastating visitations
2. His most famous prophecy regarding pouring out of Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:1-21)II. The awesome vision
A. The vast throngs
B. The throne of God
C. The life and death decision
1. David and the prophet Gad (2 Samuel 24)III. That valley summons us
A. We cannot escape it
B. Full of roads and crossings, narrow and wide
C. Responsibility of each decision is ours
1. We tend to blame others (Genesis 3:12-13)IV. The entreaty of Joel
A. Much pleading (Joel 1:14, 2:12-18)