The classic praise and worship song “Give Thanks” contains the line “And now let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’” There are several passages of Scripture that encourage us to see ourselves as strong in the Lord, including 2 Corinthians 12:9, but the precise quotation, from Joel 3:10, has a very different context.
The Old Testament book of Joel is a book of prophecy, mainly discussing the coming Day of the Lord. Joel chapter 3 talks about God’s future judgment of the nations. It is in that context that we see the command let the weak say, I am strong (KJV). The ESV puts it this way: “Let the weak say, ‘I am a warrior.’” The NLT gives, “Train even your weaklings to be warriors.”
Joel 3:9–13 has the context:
“Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare for war!
Rouse the warriors!
Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.
Beat your plowshares into swords
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
‘I am strong!’
Come quickly, all you nations from every side,
and assemble there.
“Bring down your warriors, LORD!
“Let the nations be roused;
let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat,
for there I will sit
to judge all the nations on every side.
Swing the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Come, trample the grapes,
for the winepress is full
and the vats overflow—
so great is their wickedness!”
The weak who say, “I am strong,” are untrained warriors called into battle, using their farming equipment as weapons. This prophecy is of a time when the nations rouse themselves to come against God and His armies (cf. Revelation 16:14–16; 20:7–10). God is actually calling them to judgment, and they will be soundly defeated. In Joel’s prophecy, God is challenging the wicked nations. The people who come against God in the end will need every available resource and person if they are to have any hope of fighting—even the weak among them will need to become warriors. No one, even those normally unfit for war, will escape this conflict; there will be no exceptions or deferments; it is the time of the God’s judgment on the whole earth.
When the Day of the Lord comes, God will finally judge the world. Joel’s prophecy reveals the nature of the world at that time. Clearly, only a deluded people would think they can battle against God Almighty. Sinful, weak humanity imagine they are above God and will consider themselves strong enough to fight Him. We see similar themes in passages like Psalm 2 and 2 Timothy 4:3–5.
Joel 3 speaks of a terrible time when godless nations turn their farming equipment into weapons for a final, futile battle. After the judgment, however, God’s people, Israel, are restored to a place of blessing:
“Then you will know that I, the Lord your God,
dwell in Zion, my holy hill.
Jerusalem will be holy;
never again will foreigners invade her.
“In that day the mountains will drip new wine,
and the hills will flow with milk;
all the ravines of Judah will run with water.
A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house
and will water the valley of acacias” (Joel 3:17–18).
At that time of blessing, God says that, rather than turning their farm implements into weapons, people will do the opposite:
“In the last days
“the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
“Many peoples will come and say,
“‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.’
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
“Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD” (Isaiah 2:2–5; see also Micah 4:1–5).
God is ultimately the victor. He will avenge His people (Joel 3:21), save them from their enemies, and restore them to a blessed state. In Joel 3:10, God issues a challenge to the enemies of His people: “Let the weak say I am strong.” The Lord is prepared for battle, and it’s time for His foes to put up or shut up. The Message Bible brings out the taunting nature of God’s challenge:
“Let the weak one throw out his chest
and say, ‘I’m tough, I’m a fighter.’
Hurry up, pagans! Wherever you are, get a move on!
Get your act together.
Prepare to be
shattered by God!”