DAY OF THE LORD:
AN EXEGETICAL, BIBLICAL-THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
ASSEMBLIES OF GOD THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
[Research paper submitted for partial fulfillment of BTH530; contact me for the complete bibliography and footnotes]
By John Caleb Alarid
The “Day of the Lord” (“the Day of Yahweh”) is a central feature of the prophets’ message in the Old Testament. This phrase and such closely related expressions as “the day of the anger of Yahweh,” or “Yahweh has a day,” occur over two dozen times in prophetic books. Similar terms, particularly “that day,” “the day of,” or “the day when” occur over two hundred times in the writing prophets and two times in the Psalms (Ps. 110:5; 137:5). DOL is an expression used by OT prophets, as early as the eighth-century prophet Amos (possibly earlier depending on the dating of Joel and Obadiah). The DOL expression is used to signify a time when Yahweh actively intervenes in history to punish sin that has come to a climax. The DOL is a theophany or visitation of Yahweh.
It’s earliest use in Amos 5:18-20 shows that the phrase was already a standard one in popular culture. To the people it meant the day when Yahweh would intervene in history on behalf of Israel to defeat her enemies, irrespective of Israel’s faithfulness to him. The Israelites believed their election by God guaranteed their future, and so they had no need to repent. Israel’s false confidence is seen too in the hope associated with the DOL. The people expect a day of victory and vindication, but Amos and Joel in particular warn the people that it will be, rather, a day of defeat and judgement (Joel 1:15; 2:1-2; Amos 5:18,20). Amos and other prophets declared that the DOL will be a time of judgement and punishment upon Israel for her offenses in breaking the covenant (Amos 1:1-3:2). God will deal with the sin of his people and the other nations.
This punishment/ judgement may come through an invasion (Am. 5-6; Is.13; Ezek. 13:5), or through some natural disaster, such as a locust invasion (Joel 1-2). All lesser interventions come to a head in the actual coming of the Lord himself. At this Day truly repentant believers are saved (Joel 2:28-32), while those who remain enemies of the Lord, whether Jew or Gentile, are destroyed. There will also be physical effects on the world of nature (Isaiah 2).
“As the Old Testament prophets looked ahead, by the Spirit of God, to the future interventions of God they usually did not distinguish between near term and long term events. They could not see the time gap in between the two and so would merge them, including the two comings of Christ, as Isaiah did in 61:1-2 (see Jesus’ quotation of it in Luke 4:17-21 where he stops before the last phrase because it refers to His second coming). Jesus left out the part about the vengeance of our God because that refers to his second coming and the DOL.The ultimate DOL will be the time when God finally cleanses the world of sin and removes all evil. This will be a dark day for the wicked but a day of blessing for the righteous.
The DOL and similar terms often occur in the NT contexts referring to the second coming of Christ. In reading the Greek OT (or LXX), Jews and early Christians very likely rendered the OT expression “Day of Yahweh” as the “Day of the Lord”. The NT builds on the OT understanding of the DOL which points to a time when the Lord Jesus will return as the Righteous Judge and Warrior King to destroy his enemies (the wicked). At the same time, He will vindicate, save, and reward the righteous. The New Testament warns that all persons will be judged at the last day (Romans. 2:1-6; Hebrews. 4:13; Jude 14-15). For this reason we should live holy lives in the fear of the Lord, looking forward to the return of the Lord.
Yom is by far the most frequently occurring expression for a unit of time.
The Hebrew word for day, ‘yom’, is used more than 1400 hundred times in Scripture.
“Day” can refer to more than one day; such as, to a period of time as in Gen. 2:4 and Psalm 118:24.
The term “day” is also used in a variety of extended meanings. The term day is used, for instance, to indicate a period of an action or state of being.
Therefore, it is not necessary to define day as a twenty-four hour period.
III. Day of the Lord in the Pentateuch
Although the phrase the DOL does not appear in the Pentateuch, there is an understanding of a “Day” or time when God will punish his people.
Exodus 32:34- “ Now go,lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin” (NIV).
This passage reaffirms the OT principle that the person who sins is accountable for his own sin (Dt. 24:16). “The time comes for me to punish” is literally “in the day of my visitation.” Perhaps this is the beginning of the Day-of-the-Lord warnings so prevalent in the latter prophets.
The flood story in Genesis 6-9 points to the eschatological day at the end of time when God will punish the wicked and reward the righteous. The similarities to the DOL are the fact that Yahweh intervenes to destroy the wicked and save the righteous.
Genesis 6:5-8- “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created…for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the eyes of the Lord (NIV).
But Noah found favor with God, being a “righteous man, blameless among the people of his time and he walked with God, (Gen. 6:9, NIV).”
IV. Day of the Lord in the Historical Books
The historical books do not contain the phrase DOL. However, there are many stories of God intervening to give Israel victory over their enemies in the conquest of Canaan, including the day the sun stood still in Joshua. The Canaanites lived in wicked rebellion against the will and purposes of God. The Lord had predicted that Abraham’s descendants would claim the land when “the sin of the Amorites” reached its “full measure” (Gen. 15:16b NIV). This “full measure” of sin was attained by the Canaanites in the generation leading to the Jewish conquest. The Lord punished the sins of the Canaanites by giving them over to the Israelites.
The people of Jericho were completely destroyed because Yahweh intervened by causing their walls to fall down. However, Yahweh also required a similar kind of wrathful judgement against his own people when they sinned. Following the battle of Jericho, a soldier named Achan took in plunder “a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels” (Joshua 7:21). He did so in direct disobedience to the divine command that “All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury” (6.19). For this sin, the Israeli army was defeated in the first battle of Ai. When Achan admitted his disobedience, he and his family were taken to the Valley of Achor where they were stoned to death and then burned (7:25). These passages shows that Yahweh intends to punish wickedness on the earth, even among his own people. Before the battle at Jericho, Joshua saw a man standing with a drawn sword. When Joshua asked, “Whose side are you on, ours or our enemies”. The angel (possible theophany) said, “Neither.” This points to the fact that God will punish sin among all people, including his own people.
V. Day of the Lord in the Writings
The phrase the DOL does not appear in the writings. However there are references to the coming King who will judge in righteousness. In Psalms 96:10-13, the Psalm moves to its climax. The cry, “The Lord reigns!” was a message to all Israel like the message of the lone runner in Isaiah 52:7, here a host of messengers spreads it to the world. The decisiveness of the Hebrew verb and the exultant response in 11-13 point to a new assertion of sovereignty. It announces God’s advent, the Day of the Lord. The coming of the Judge is here a cause for joy. The Lord comes to establish “righteousness” and “truth” on the earth. The judgement of God includes both vengeance on the ungodly and the deliverance for the godly.
Palm 96:10-13- “Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant,and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness” (NIV).”
B. Psalm 110:5 (NIV) points to a day of wrath; “The Lord is at your right hand[a]; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.”
C. Proverbs 11:4 (NIV) refers to a day of wrath; “Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”
Observe that righteousness not wealth will deliver one from the coming destruction.
VI. Day of the Lord in the Major Prophets
The DOL is a frequent prophetic theme emphasizing the certainty and decisiveness of the Lord’s historical judgement in the future. It can be conceived in local or universal terms. In this chapter it seems to move from one to the other. The first oracle (13-14) of Isaiah is against Babylon, which was not a world power during Isaiah’s lifetime. Isaiah saw judgement from the Lord upon Judah coming from Babylon, rather than Assyria or Egypt. Foreign foes were instruments of God’s judgement on His people for their sins.The terror of the coming judgement is emphasized. A banner is raised (Isaiah 13.2 NIV) to call various nations to fight against the Lord’s enemies. But these armies come from the “ends of the heavens” (13:5). This is not merely historical judgement but an eschatological one. The description of universal judgement and destruction from the Almighty points to the eschatological DOL.
6 Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.
7 Because of this, all hands will go limp, every heart will melt with fear.
8 Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them; they will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at each other, their faces aflame.
9 See, the day of the Lord is coming —a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger— to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it.
VII. Day of the Lord in the Minor Prophets
A. Summary of the Day of the Lord in the book of Joel
The actual phrase the DOL (yom yahweh) appears sixteen times in the major and minor prophets. Thirteen of those are in the minor prophets (Joel 1:15;2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18 [twice], 20; Obadiah 15; Zephaniah 1:7,14 [twice]; Malachi 4:5). There are similar phrases throughout the Old Testament as noted in the introduction. There is no need to interpret every instance of the DOL in the Old Testament as referring to the time of Christ’s return. In reality, the expression is not as specific in the OT as it is in the NT, and it applies to multiple days of the Lord. The DOL in the OT did point toward the ultimate DOL. In the NT the concepts of the DOL in the Old Testament are pulled together into an ultimate DOL. The “Day of Yahweh” is used five times in the book of Joel.
The overriding theme in the book is “the Day of Yahweh”. Joel speaks of the DOL in relation to the events of his time (locust plague) in one place and the distant future in another and even points to the eschatological DOL. The expression is applied to different situations: a natural disaster in Joel’s day in the form of a locust plague and drought, judgement on Israel’s enemies in the context of the pouring out of the Spirit and judgement on nations that have oppressed Israel. The first one is not eschatological, while the latter two are. The book has three main messages, which are from different times in the prophets life.
The first (1:2-2:27) speaks of a locust plague that devastates the land. Joel makes it clear that the plague is punishment from God upon his people. He calls the people to repentance and implores them to turn to God, so that their circumstances will change. Joel declares that it is possible for Yahweh to change his mind and bring restoration if the people would heed the warning and turn back to God.
The second message (2:28-32) says that God’s spirit would be poured out on all people, irrespective of social class or gender, so that they would engage in prophetic activities and experiences. Once again, the DOL imagery is used in 2:1 and 2:11 pointing toward the distant future. It would be a time of wrath against the enemies of God. However, all who call upon the name of the Lord would be saved, implying that those who did not call on the Lord would be destroyed. This passage is quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21). Peter declared this passage from Joel was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out. However, it is the beginning to be fulfilled and its ultimate fulfillment will take place at Christ’s second coming.
In the third message (3:1-21), Joel describes a time of wrath against the enemies of God’s people. The Israelites had been sold into slavery to the Greeks by their enemies. The Lord would repay those nations for their evil deeds. The DOL is once again invoked speaking of a day of wrath against the enemies of Israel. Toward the end of the passage it shifts to a future time of peace, holiness, and God’s presence.
B. Joel 2:
The DOL is mentioned three times in Joel 2.
1. Joel 2.1-“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand.”
2. Joel 2:11- “The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number,and mighty is the army that obeys his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?”
3. Joel 2:31 – “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”
The description of the plague continues in chapter two with a twist. The locust plague is now compared to an invading army. This attack is so awful that is must be connected to the DOL (1,11), which was already announced in the first chapter (1:15).The locusts are real and not merely symbolic. However the reality itself is so great as to carry overtones of an even larger reality. It is the harbinger of the ultimate DOL when God will exercise universal judgement.
In Joel 2:1, we see that a trumpet (ram’s horn) was blown. This would have been the standard signal of approaching danger or general summons in Israel. The connection between the trumpet blast and the DOL is reminiscent of the trumpet that sounded when God came down on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:16). Furthermore, several places in the New Testament speak of a trumpet blast at the second coming of Christ (Mathew 24:31; 1 Th. 4:16-17; I Cor. 15:52). Also, verse 2 has a reference to “darkness and gloom”. These terms signify the divine presence within the midst of his people (Genesis 15:12; Psalms 18:11). The darkness and gloom wording is also used to portray coming judgement and destruction (Isaiah 13:10). In verse ten we see the earthquakes and darkness which are signs of theophany (Ezekiel 32:7-8), which the Day of Yahweh brings. Nearness and certainty of its coming (imminence) are also emphasized in verse 1.
Joel 2:11 emphasizes the fact that this army belongs to Yahweh. The army is doing Yahweh’s bidding. The numbers and strength of Yahweh’s army are also emphasized. In verses ten and eleven we see a merging of the locust plague with the great DOL. The language reminds us of other OT descriptions of vengeful theophanies (Jeremiah 10:10). Yahweh’s voice thunders as in Psalms 18:13, adding another dimension of terror and dread. Verse eleven sums up the preceding verses in this chapter. So great and terrible is this Day and the God that orchestrated it that no-one will be able to endure it. Here endure means to cope with it successfully or victoriously.
Joel 2:12-27 speak of repentance which leads to restoration. Yahweh will relent from judgement if his people will repent and turn to him with all their hearts. The in verse twenty-eight the Spirit is poured out upon all flesh, which is fulfilled, at least in part, in Acts chapter two. On the Day of Pentecost only part is fulfilled— the outpouring of the Spirit and salvation to those who call on the name of the Lord. The celestial wonders of Joel 2:30 were not seen. These passages have an already/ not yet nature to them. The prophetic perspective blends the present with the distant future and the present merges with the eschatological at an unclear time. Hence, Joel’s day in 2:28-32 was all future, but from the Day of Pentecost on it acquired an it’s here and it’s coming quality. The prophetic perspective was much like looking at the mountain peaks from two distant mountains. From the viewers perspective there is no distance between the first and second mountain peaks. They appear to be one. However, there is a deep and long valley in between the mountains. In the same way the writing prophets many times merged the first and second advents of Christ. In verse thirty and thirty one we once again see the signs of a theophany—wonders in heaven, fire and smoke. These will all precede the great and dreadful DOL. There is an emphasis on the cosmic proportions of the DOL in the final DOL in chapter two of Joel. These yet unfulfilled cosmic signs point to the ultimate Day of Yahweh.
VIII. Conclusion/ Application for believers today
Paul stated that “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:19 NIV). But we fix our eyes not on what is seen for what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal. We look forward to the Great Day of the Lord, when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ. This will be the day of God’s ultimate triumph.
The Day of the Lord becomes clear in the New Testament. The DOL is the second coming of Christ. Paul and Peter proclaim the DOL as part of a hope that transforms believers toward holy living (I Thess 5:4-8; 2 Peter 3:11-15) In fact, the apostle Peter devoted an entire epistle, his second, to reminding believers of the imminent return of the Lord. He reminded believers how they should live in light of that coming. Peter encouraged his readers to “recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets”(2 Peter 3:2) concerning the Day of the Lord.
As leaders in the Body of Christ, we are responsible to declare the whole council of God. When pastors neglect eschatology it negatively impacts the sanctification of their flock because they also neglect our hope. Hope and holiness are intrinsically connected. Paul states that we can say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and live godly lives in the world “while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:13-14 NIV). John states that believers should live holy lives so that they are not ashamed at his appearing (1 John 2:28). He goes on to say in John 3:3, that “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” Knowledge of this hope gives us the right perspective and causes us to be obedient in our walk with Jesus.
The world may mock and challenge our hope and faith. Therefore Peter states, “you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.They will say, “‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’”(2 Peter 3:3-4). The delay of the Day of the Lord is the mercy of God, as he gives time for the wicked to repent for it is His will that none would perish. The world mocks because there is no indication that any change in the order of things is forthcoming. The very idea that God intervenes in any way in the world is considered foolish. The coming of Christ to judge the earth is reproachable in this era of relative truth. The absence of any hope in the return of Christ leaves one without any foundation for present morality and ethics. If Christ will not return, “let us drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”. Relative truth logically leads to anarchy where everyone does what is right in his/her own eyes.
However, one day we will all stand before the Judge of heaven and earth to give an account for our lives. It will be a day of judgement and recompense for unbelievers. But for us who believe it will be a day blessing and reward. In the last chapter of the Bible, Jesus says, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done (Revelation 22:12).”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.