What comes to mind when you hear or read the word forever?

Does a person, place or thing come to mind?

Or a combination?

Do you consider forever to be a serious promise with serious consequences if not upheld?

Or do you think forever is something we are incapable of comprehending?

Why and how does the Bible, and Joel 3:20 in particular, use the word forever?

ESV  Joel 3:20 But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations.

What has transpired in the book of Joel that led up to this verse?

The Lord sent word through His prophet Joel to the Judean community with instructions for this message to be shared with subsequent generations. (see Joel 1:1-3)

The Lord confirms He is aware of the circumstances the Judeans have been experiencing and has His prophet Joel call the entire community, including livestock and wildlife, to fast and cry out to the Lord with mourning. (see Joel 1:4-20)

Shockingly, the Lord’s message through His prophet Joel reveals that the Lord is the one who sent the circumstances upon the Judeans and that an even worse situation is pending with His heavenly army that cannot be stopped coming in judgement against them. Further, no specific sin or crime is mentioned for this terrible news. (see Joel 2:1-11)

But as the message continues the Lord declares that there is still hope if only the Judeans would follow the instructions from Him through Joel to fast, weep and mourn in a genuine fashion. (see Joel 2:12-17)

Although no specific crime is revealed the implication that can be drawn at this point is that the Judean community had neglected a sincere, heartfelt relationship with their Lord.

Then, the Lord reveals how He plans to respond with an abundance of blessings, not only physically but spiritually once the Judeans have returned wholeheartedly toward worshipping Him again. (see Joel 2:18-32)

We are also told that the Lord will punish those who took advantage of the Judeans while he was correcting them and mocked His authority over all creation in a future day of judgment. (see Joel 3:1-15)

Reassurance is repeated to the Judeans with the indication that the Lord will be their refuge and provider of great abundance. (see Joel 3:16-18)

Now read verse 19 and 20 together:

ESV  Joel 3:19 “Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the people of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. 20 But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations.

Now in verse 20, the Lord reveals that because of His protection and provision for the Judeans, their country and especially Jerusalem, will be inhabited forever to all generations unlike the people groups of Egypt and Edom who will become desolated because of their violence towards the Judeans. (see A Powerful Contrast for more discussion of Joel 3:19.)

A search for the word forever on yielded 401 hits for the ESV translation version.

The use of the word forever is found from Genesis to Revelation.

A brief glance at several of the 401 hits reveals that the word forever is frequently used about the Lord in some form or fashion.

Sometimes the usage refers to the fact that the Lord will reign forever.

Or the usage refers to instructions on how the Lord should be honored forever.

Take a moment to compare the following verses:

ESV  Genesis 2:9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

ESV  Genesis 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Which tree’s fruit was forbidden?

ESV  Genesis 3:22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever– “

What was the Lord concerned about after Adam and Eve disobeyed His command in Genesis 2:16?

ESV  Genesis 3:24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Why is the tree of life being guarded?

ESV  Revelation 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

Given our study in Joel today and Revelation 2:7 why is the Lord waiting to allow us access to the tree of life that will let us live forever?

Remember the Lord did not originally withhold the tree of life from Adam and Eve. The Lord’s desire all along has been that we would live forever with Him.

Yet, because Adam and Eve failed to obey the command given about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Lord issued a punishment to mankind and put a guard on the tree of life until His plan of redeeming His creation has been fulfilled.

What is the Lord waiting for before completing the redemption of His creation?

ESV  2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

  • Are you wholeheartedly following the Lord today in every area of your life?
  • Is there someone with whom you are close to who needs these words of encouragement or challenge?
  • What else do you see in this verse that encourages you?
  • How will you apply this study of Joel during the week to come?

Leave a comment on the blog to encourage group discussion or send me an email for a private discussion.


Barbara Lynn


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