“the valley of Jehoshaphat.” The word “Jehoshaphat” means “Yahweh judges” (or, “Yahweh will judge”). This valley is not identified in Scripture. It is called “the Valley of Jehoshaphat” here in Joel 3:12 and also in Joel 3:2 which are the only times the phrase is used in the Bible or in secular history. It is called “the valley of decision” in Joel 3:14. It has long been thought that the “Valley of Jehoshaphat” is the Kidron Valley east of Jerusalem, partly based on Zechariah 14:2. “Christian tradition made this identification at least as early as the 4th century AD, perhaps beginning with the Bordeaux Pilgrim’s account” (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, “Jehoshaphat, Valley of”). The Bordeaux Pilgrim account is from 333-334 AD. However, Eusebius (c. 260-339) identified it as the Valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem, but then Jerome (347-420 AD), who lived in Bethlehem, identified it as the Kidron Valley. Even though many scholars have followed Jerome, there are good reasons to understand that the location of the Valley of Jehoshaphat is outside of the Jerusalem area.
For one thing, it must be remembered that from quite early on in Christian history the actual way that the end times events will occur was lost. This was no doubt due in part to the persecution and killing of Christians that started officially in 64 AD with Nero and continued to 312 AD, and many knowledgeable Christian leaders were killed in that persecution. It was also due in part to the Greek concept of the “eternal soul” coming into Christianity both from the converted Greeks (such as Augustine) and Greek-speaking Jews who had been raised on the Septuagint and not the Hebrew text. In those early centuries the concept that believers who had died would “be in heaven forever” replaced the clear teaching of Scripture that Christ would come to earth, conquer it, and set up his kingdom on earth (note Jesus’ teaching, “the meek will inherit the earth” in Matt. 5:5).
Once the concept of Christ coming to earth and fighting the Battle of Armageddon and conquering the earth was lost, then the meaning of the Sheep and Goat Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46) was lost too. But the Sheep and Goat Judgment is an essential part of understanding what is going to happen in the future and Christ’s Millennial Kingdom on earth, because the Battle of Armageddon will not kill everyone on earth. Some people will survive the battle, and with over seven billion people on earth today, those survivors could number in the millions. But all those survivors will not be allowed into Christ’s kingdom because many of them are evil and God-rejectors. So when Christ comes back to earth as king, he will set up a judgment to decide who gets to enter his earthly kingdom and who does not, and that judgment is called the Sheep and Goat Judgment.
The Bible says that once Jesus conquers the earth he will set up his throne and the people who are alive on earth will be gathered before him and judged (Matt. 25:31-32). The exact location of that judgment is not known today, although it might have been known in biblical times. The location of the “Valley of Jehoshaphat” and “valley of decision” seems to be “in the wilderness,” as Ezekiel says, “I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face” (Ezek. 20:35). The place of judgment cannot be the Kidron Valley or the Valley of Hinnom because Ezekiel 20:38 says it will not be in Israel: “I will purge out from among you those who are rebelling and those who are transgressing against me. I will bring them forth out of the land where they live, but they will not enter into the land of Israel, and you will know that I am Yahweh.” The identification of the Valley of Jehoshaphat as the Kidron Valley has been supported by associating it with Zechariah 14:2, but Zechariah is speaking of the Battle of Armageddon and its effects, not the judgment after the Battle of Armageddon. Even if some of the survivors of Armageddon are in Israel, Ezekiel says they will be brought out from there to the place of judgment (Ezek. 20:38).
So the Sheep and Goat Judgment will be in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, but where is that? In taking a close look at the “Valley of Jehoshaphat,” there are some important things we should know. The name “Jehoshaphat” is significant because it can mean “Yahweh will judge,” and it could be the actual historic name of a valley or it could be a symbolic name that is applied to the valley in prophecy because that is where the Sheep and Goat judgment will take place. Also, the Hebrew word translated “valley” is in Hebrew is amaq (#06010 עֵמֶק), and it can refer to a valley with steep sides, but also it can mean a lowland, open country, or plain. The huge variation in what a “valley” can actually look like means we cannot just go to a topographical map, locate a suitable steep valley, and say that is likely the place of judgment. It might be on a plain, not in what we typically think of as a valley. Another important thing is that in the days of Jehoshaphat, God did indeed judge people in the “wilderness” as Chronicles states.
During the reign of Jehoshaphat the armies of Moab, Ammon, and the area of Edom, attacked Judah (2 Chron. 20:1,10). They came up from the south through the wilderness of Judah to En-gedi, then moved inward toward the hill country of Judah via the ascent of Ziz, a little way north of En-gedi (2 Chron. 20:16). Jehoshaphat’s forces traveled south from Jerusalem and stopped in the wilderness of Tekoa (2 Chron. 20:20), and began to sing and praise, and when they did, the armies of the enemy fought with each other until there was not a man left alive (2 Chron. 20:22-24). So in Jehoshaphat’s situation, his name, “Yahweh will judge” was prophetic because God judged the nations, and furthermore, He did so “in the wilderness,” just as Ezekiel says a coming judgment will be in the wilderness (Ezek. 20:35). It could be that the future judgment in the “Valley of Jehoshaphat” spoken of in Joel will be in the same “valley” (or plain) where the enemies of Judah killed each other as 2 Chronicles 20 records, and it became known as the Valley of Jehoshaphat because of the great victory that occurred there. However, it seems more likely that the place where Christ will set up his throne for the judgment will be in the wilderness and outside of the territory of Israel, as Ezekiel states. In that case, the reason the place is called “the Valley of Jehoshaphat” would be to remind people of God’s victory over His enemies and thus encourage people to obey God. In that sense, God’s judgment on His enemies in the wilderness at the time of Jehoshaphat is typological of the coming Sheep and Goat judgment, which will be in the wilderness and at which time God’s enemies will be destroyed while His followers will be blessed.
[For more on Christ’s Millennial Kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more on a person’s soul not being an “eternal soul,” see Appendix 7, “Usages of Soul.” For more on dead people being dead and awaiting a resurrection, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.” For more on the chronology of the End Times, see commentary on Matt. 25:32].