Grace Theological Journal 6.2 (1985) 231-246.

[Copyright © 1985 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;

digitally prepared for use at Gordon and Grace Colleges and elsewhere]

 

 

THE PROPHET'S WATCHWORD:

DAY OF THE LORD

 

 

RICHARD L. MAYHUE

 

            The biblical phrase “Day of the Lord" is a key phrase in

understanding God's revelation about the future. The NT writers' use

of this phrase rested upon their understanding of the OT prophets. A

survey of the OT indicates that it was used by the prophets when

speaking of both near historical and future eschatological events. The

NT writers picked up on the eschatological use and applied the

phrase both to the judgment which will climax the Tribulation period

and the judgment which will usher in the new earth.

 

                                                *   *   *

 

                                       INTRODUCTION

 

THE phrase "Day of the Lord" (DOL) embodies one of the major

strands woven throughout the fabric of biblical prophecy. With-

a clear understanding of DOL, the pattern of God's plan for the

future is obscure.

            DOL appears in four uncontested NT passages (Acts 2:20,

I Thess 5:2, 2 Thess 2:2, and 2 Pet 3:10). However, OT prophets

actually wrote more about DOL. The OT provided the basis for

whatever Peter and Paul understood about DOL. Beecher argued that,

 

                  All doctrines in regard to the millennium, the second coming of

            Christ, and the final judgment depend greatly on the passages in the

            New Testament that use the formulas, "the day of the Lord," "the day

            of our Lord," "that day," and the like; such passages, for example, as

            2 Pet. iii:10, I Thess. v:2, I Cor. 1:8, v:5, 2 Cor. i:14, 2 Thess. i:10,

            2 Tim. i: 12, Matt. xxv:13, etc. The meaning of these passages is, in

            turn, greatly dependent on the relations that exist, both in ideas and in

            phraseology, between them and the texts in the Old Testament that

            speak of "the day of the Lord," that is, "the day of Jehovah."

            Necessarily, the study of these places in the Old Testament will be

            profitable, both in itself and for the light it throws on New Testament

            eschatology.1

 

            l W. J. Beecher, "The Day of Jehovah in Joel," The Homiletic Review 18 (1889)

355.



232                 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Accordingly, this study will first evaluate the OT data concerning

DOL. The pattern that emerges will then be used as an aid in the

interpretation of the NT uses of this phrase.

 

                                                CHALLENGES

            Many contrasts appear which at first seem to be contradictory.

In various DOL texts contemporary history is in view (Isa 13:6, Joel

1:15), but in other texts there are predictions that clearly relate to the

future (2 Thess 2:2, 2 Pet 3: 10). Most passages speak of God's

judgments, but some are tied closely to God's blessing (Zech 14:1-21).

Sometimes DOL is used of a time when the nations will be punished

(Obad 15), but at other times it is used of the punishment of Israel

(Joel 1:15); yet it seemingly leads to Israel's restoration with the

Messiah as her king (Zech 14:1-21). A survey of the literature written

on DOL reveals a plethora of opinions on how to reconcile these

diverse observations. These following examples illustrate some of the

tensions.

            Is the DOL fulfilled historically or eschatologically? Bess writes,

"It must be made clear that the expression 'the day of Jehovah' is

throughout Scripture an eschatological term. It may not be inter-

preted as predictive of a time in Israel's history future to the writer

but now having had its historical fulfillment.”2 However, Payne

argues that DOL is such a broad term that only context can determine

its precise meaning in a given passage.3

            Is DOL a twenty-four hour period or longer? Licht suggests that

God will act suddenly and decisively in a single day.4 But Saucy

concludes that, "The day of the Lord. . . represents the whole series

of events beginning with the outpouring of God's judgment during

the Great Tribulation and continuing until the final transformation

with the new heavens and new earth (2 Peter 3: 10).”5

            Does DOL involve judgment or blessing? Trotter demands that

DOL always refers to the execution of judgment upon the earth,6 while

Davidson affirms that the DOL is not primarily a day of judgment but

a day of joy, even though judgment always accompanies it.7 Yet

 

                2 S. H. Bess, "The Book of Zephaniah, A Premillennial Interpretation" (unpub-

lished Th. M. Thesis: Grace Theological Seminary, 1953) 37.

            3 J. B. Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Grapids: Zondervan,

1962) 465.

            4 J. Licht, "Day of the Lord," EncJud5. 1388.

            5 R. L. Saucy, "The Eschatology of the Bible," in The Expositor's Bible Commen-

tary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979) 1. 107.

            6 W. Trotter, Plain Papers on Prophetic and Other Subiects (London: Pickering &

Inglis, n.d.) 287.

            7 A. B. Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament (New York: Scribner's,

1907) 374-75.

 



                        MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD                233

 

Pentecost believes that the OT passages "reveal that the idea of

judgment is paramount.”8

Because of these and other questions, this work will examine the

biblical meaning of DOL in order to discern whether (1) DOL is always

used to refer to the same event or if it is used of several events and

whether (2) DOL has already occurred, or if it will occur in the future,

or if DOL is used of both past and future events. While this study of

the Dies Irae9 does not answer all the questions, it is hoped that it will

provide a stimulation for further research and thinking.

 

                                    OLD TESTAMENT DATA

The phrase "day of the Lord" appears nineteen times10 in the OT.

The Hebrew phrases hvhy Mvy and hvhyl Mvy are both translated DOL.

The LXX translates DOL as h[me<ra  kuri<ou. The expression occurs

only in six minor and two major prophets.11

 

Obadiah12

Obadiah relates the family feud between Israel (Jacob) and

Edom (Esau). Two important questions have been raised concerning

Obadiah's use of DOL. First, was Obadiah written early (ca. 845 B.C.)

or late (ca. 587 B.C.)? Second, does Obadiah deal only with the

foreign plunder of Palestine OT does the scope of the prophecy extend

to a future eschatological end?

 

8 J. D. Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958) 230.

19 This term was used in the liturgy of the medieval church to describe the DOL.

Thomas of Celano thus entitled his poem which depicts God's judgment. See

W. Griffin, ed., Endtime: The Doomsday Catalog (New York: Collier, 1979) 187.

10 Some erroneously conclude that there are twenty occurrences by adding Zech

14:7. A. J. Everson ("Days of Yahweh," JBL 93 [1974] 330) writes, "eighteen texts

properly form the basic evidence." He then elaborates in n6 the nineteen texts that this

writer has cataloged. H. W. Robinson (Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament

[Oxford: Clarendon, 1963] 135) proposes twenty-eight texts. In n 1 he adds Isa 34:8,

58:5, 61:2, Jer 46:10; Lam 2:22; Ezek 7: 19; Zeph 1:18; 2:2; and 2:3 to the nineteen basic

texts. These, for the most part (excepting Isa 58:5), seem to refer to DOL but do not use

that precise terminology. L. Cerny (The Day of Yahweh and Some Relevant Problems

[Prague: n.p., 1948] 17-21) has written the classic study of DOL in the OT from a

philological and historical vantage. He includes twenty-nine texts by adding Zeph 1:8

to Robinson's list.

11 The texts and writing dates are as follows: Obad 15 (ca. 845 B.C.), Joel 1:15; 2:1,

11, 31 (Heb 3:4); 3:14 (Heb 4:14) (ca. 835 B.C.), Amos 5:18 (2 times), 20 (ca. 755 B.C.),

Isa 2:12; 13:6, 9 (ca. 720 B.C.), Zeph 1:7, 14 (2 times) (ca. 630 B.C.), Ezek 13:5; 30:3 (ca.

580 B.C.), Zech 14:1 (ca. 520 B.C.), and Malachi 4:4 (Heb 3:23) (ca. 450 B.C.). The dates

follow the chronology of H. E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament

Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1968).

12 The writer will not treat the historical context and literary structure for each

book. Only where these areas are particularly helpful in understanding a DOL text will

they be mentioned.



234                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Scholarly opinion is divided on the date of Obadiah. It must be

insisted, however, that Obadiah was writing before the fact of judg-

ment, not after it occurred. I believe that Obadiah was written early

and contains the first mention of DOL in the OT.13 Later prophets

who used DOL looked to Obadiah as the initial prophecy concerning

DOL.14

            Was the scope of the judgment envisioned in Obad 15 near

future or far future? There are those who would posit that all of

Obadiah was fulfilled in the near future no later than the time of

Nebuchadnezzar. For example, Henderson suggests that Obadiah

refers to the Babylonian conqust of Idumea.15 However, others would

extend the fulfillment of v 15 beyond the 6th century B.C. Allen

makes the general assertion that its scope goes beyond 587 B.C.16

Feinberg is more specific and suggests that the time will be just before

the establishment of Messiah's kingdom.17

Obad 15 is the pivotal verse in this book whose theme is the DOL

experienccd first by Edom and second by the nations (15-16) who

walked in Edom's way. The fact that the language of vv 1-14 is

singularly applied to Edom warrants a near future fulfillment--in all

likelihood Nebuchadnezzar's plunder. However, the language of

vv 15-21 points to the far future and the establishment of God's

kingdom. There are at least five indications of this. First, the text of

vv 1-14 deals with Edom alone. There is an abrupt shift in vv 15-16 to

include all of the nations. Second, Edom (vv 1-14) becomes the

pattern for future nations (v 16). This is an expansion of the scope of

the prophecy from a national to an international matter. Third, the

destruction of the nations (v 16) is an eschatological event. Fourth,

Israel's restoration to vitality (vv 17-21) will occur in the fullest sense

before and during the millennium. Fifth, it is stated that the kingdom

will be the Lord's (v 21). In one sense the kingdom is always the

 

13 See also W. C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, 1978) 47; C. F. Keil, The Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.)

365; T. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia, 1956) 203; and C. von

Orelli, The Twelve Minor Prophets (Reprint; Minneapolis: Klock and Klock, 1977) 82,

162. Kaiser notes that the other three options are: (1) during Ahaz's reign, 743-715

B.C.; (2) when Edom invaded Judah (2 Chron 28:16-18); or (3) during the fall of

Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. (2 Kgs 25:1-21; 2 Chron 36:15-20).

14 Keil, The Minor Prophets, 365.

15 E. Henderson, The Books of the Twelve Minor Prophets (London: Hamilton,

Adams, and Co., 1845) 195. Kaiser (Towards an Old Testament Theology, 188) points

to the Maccabean period.

16 L. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1976) 160-61.

17 C. L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1976) 128.



MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD                            235

 

Lord's, so what does Obadiah mean? Evidently Obadiah refers to the

time when the King himself, Jesus Christ, sits upon the throne of

David in Jerusalem and rules internationally with a rod of righteous-

ness and wrath. Kaiser notes,

As for the fulfillment of this prophecy, Obadiah combined in one

picture what history split into different times and events. . . . Hence the

day of the Lord ran throughout the history of the kingdom of God so

that it occurred in each particular judgment as evidence of its complete

fulfillment which was near and approaching. . . having near and distant

events, or multiple fulfillments, all being part of the single truth-

intention of the author with its more immediate victory over Edom and

the distant total victory of the kingdom of God.18

 

To summarize, Obadiah makes several contributions to the

biblical pattern. It combines the near view (with particular reference

to Edom, vv 1-14) with the far view (involving all the nations,

vv 15-21). It predicts judgment and destruction of all the godless

(vv 15-16, 18). The restoration of Israel is involved in the far view

(vv 17-21) but is not evident in the near. The near is a preview, taste,

and guarantee of what the far will involve in a lesser to a greater

logical flow. Finally, the establishment of God's kingdom is its end

(v 21).

 

Joel

General Observations

DOL is mentioned five times in Joel (1:15, 2:1, 2:11, 2:31, and

3: 14). The details in each passage are similar, but enough differences

occur to suggest that Joel begins with a very narrow historical sample

(a locust plague) and expands it to include a universal, eschatological

application. Unless the interpreter understands this logic and the

generic nature of this prophecy, Joel is unintelligible. In 1898 Terry

noted that,

The exposition of Joel has been confused and rendered unintelligible

by some because of their dogmatic prepossession of the idea that "the

day of Jehovah" can only mean one definite and formal act of

judgment at the end of all human history. But a true prophet of Israel

would see a great and terrible day of Jehovah both in a plague of

locusts and a destructive invasion of hostile armies that spread the

terror of conquest over land and cities.19

 

18 Kaiser, Towards an Old Testament Theology, 188-89.

19 M. S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1898) 173.



236                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

More recently George Eldon Ladd felt the same tension. He explained

that, "It is practically impossible to determine where the description

of the natural disaster ends and that of the eschatological enemies

begins.”20

There are three basic interpretations of the scope of Joel's

prophecy. In the first, which might be called the allegorical/eschato-

logical, the locusts of Joel 1 and 2 are interpreted to be Israel's future

enemies in general. Some particularize the four kinds of locusts.21

Second, in what might be called the historical/eschatological view,

Joel 1:1-2:17 refers to locusts while 2:18-3:21 refers to future human

invaders.22 The third view is more complex and could be described as

the historical/near eschatological/far view. According to this ap-

proach, the locusts in Joel 1 are real. A near future invasion under

the figure of locusts is the subject of Joel 2:1-17. Joel 2:18-27 serves

as a transition from the near to the far. Joel 2:28-3:21 looks to an

eschatological end.23 I believe this third view is correct.

Themes used by Joel in his description of DOL are picked up by

later prophets. The following may be noted:

Joel 1:15                    Destruction                            cf. Isa 13:6

Joel 2:2                      Day of Darkness                    cf. Zeph 1:15

Joel 2:2                      Day of Clouds                        cf. Zeph 1:15, Ezek 30:3

Joel 2:2                      Thick Darkness                      cf. Zeph 1: 15

Joel 2:11, 3:4            Great                                       cf. Zeph 1:14, Mal 4:5

Joel 2:31, 3:3-:4       Cosmic Disturbances            cf. Isa 13:10

Joel 3:4                      Terrible                                  cf. Mal 4:5

 

Specific Passages

The locusts of Joel are real locusts or grasshoppers which had

recently played havoc with Judah's countryside. The fields were

ravaged and the harvest ruined.24 This vivid evidence of destruction is

the basis for Joel to warn the nation that repentance is needed lest the

DOL soon come with even greater destruction (1:15). The message of

Joel 1 is that natural disasters like locust plagues are mere harbingers

of imminent divine destruction.

 

20 G. E. Ladd, The Presence of the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 68.

21 E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets (reprint; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970) 146; and

Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 248.

22 W. K. Price, The Prophet Joel and the Day of the Lord (Chicago: Moody, 1976)

38; and Otto Schmoller, The Book of Joel, in Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed.

J. P. Lange (reprint; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971) 7. 14.

23 H. Hosch ("The Concept of Prophetic Time in the Book of Joel," JETS 15

[1912] 32-33, 38) presents this threefold model. This writer's own thinking was

confirmed by Hosch.

24 The similar havoc wrought on Egypt by locusts in Exod 10:14-15 should be

noted.



MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD                237

 

The warning of impending disaster and the past experience of the

locusts in Joel 1 are used in Joel 2 to describe the future destruction

caused by an invading human army. This could refer specifically

either to the Assyrians in 701 B.C. or the Babylonians in 605 B.C., or it

could refer generally to both. Joel 2 supplies further details involving

the uniqueness (2:2), destruction (2:3), and military emphasis (2:4-11)

of DOL. These impending disasters were used by Joel as the basis of

an appeal for repentance (2:12-17).

As Joel's prophecy proceeds it grows in its intensity and scope.

Joel 2:18-27 functions as a transition from the near view to the far

view. The events that Joel predicts in 2:28-32 will be spectacular.

There will be an outpouring of God's Spirit upon all mankind

(2:28-29). Cosmic disturbances will flash God's greatness from the

skies (2:30-31). Repentance will be available to everyone (2:33, cf.

Obad 17).

Most significant in 2:31 is the statement that the great cosmic

signs will be a prelude to DOL ("before the great and awesome day of

the LORD comes"). This seems to limit DOL in time to the very end

of the eschatological tribulation period if Joel 3:15, Matt 24:29

and Rev 6:12 refer to the same event. The DOL experience at the

end of the eschatological tribulation will contain unmistakable mani-

festations of God's greatness. There will be both physical disturbances

(cf. 2 Pet 3:10) and spiritual revival. Judgment and repentance are the

main themes which are stressed. It should additionally be mentioned

that Peter referred to this prophecy in his great Pentecost sermon

(Acts 2:16-21). Also Paul cites Joel 2:32 in Rom 10:13 as he

emphasizes the way of salvation.

Joel 3:14-16 climaxes Joel's DOL prophecy as it describes an

international judgment in the presence of God (3:2, 3:14). It seems to

anticipate a number of NT passages, including Matt 13:41-43, 49-50;

24:37-41; 25:31-46; 2 Thess 1:9; and Rev 14:17-20. All that the

locusts of Joel 1:1-14 previewed will come to its final, climactic end

in the valley of Jehoshaphat (3: 12), the valley of decision (3:14). Joel

3:18-20 outlines the results of DOL.

 

Summary

Like Obadiah, Joel is a locus classicus for the study of the DOL.

Joel combines a near, narrow perspective relating to Judah (1:15; 2:1;

2:11) with a far, wider perspective relating to the nations (2:31; 3:14).

According to Joel, DOL involves judgment and destruction of the

godless (3: 13). The restoration of Israel is anticipated in the far view

(3:18-20) but is not evident in the near. The near (1:15) is a preview,

taste, or guarantee of what the far will involve (3:2, 14). Finally, Joel

views the establishment of God's kingdom as the goal of DOL

(3:18-20).



238                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Amos

The DOL prophecy of Amos 5:18, 20 needs to be understood in

its historical setting. The prophet wrote to the northern ten tribes

(7:10) and to King Jeroboam, predicting their future exile to Assyria

(5:27; 6:14; 7:9; 7:17).

Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, accused Amos of conspiracy (7:10)

and attempted to send Amos back to Judah. Amos's message of

judgment conflicted with Amaziah's message of peace and prosperity.

It was to Amaziah and those like him that Amos addressed his words

in 5:18, 20. The people were doing evil (5:12) but nevertheless

believed that the Lord was with them (5:14). God was not accepting

their hypocritical sacrifices and worship (5:22). God demanded

righteousness and condemned this hypocrisy (5:21-24).

These self-righteous Israelites longed mistakenly for the day of

Yahweh's return which in their view would bring them blessing and

prosperity. Amos's description of DOL was diametrically opposed to

this view (5:18-20). According to Amos, DOL is not a day of delight

but of darkness--a day of gloom not gladness. On this point Ladd

observed,

The prophets often anticipate a divine visitation in the immediate

future; therefore, they speak of the Day of the Lord. Amos's contem-

poraries entertained bright hopes of political security and economic

prosperity, which they called the Day of the Lord. Amos shattered this

shallow nonreligious hope with the announcement that the future holds

disaster rather than security. Judgment will fall upon Damascus and

the neighboring peoples; but it will also fall upon Judah and Israel for

their sins. Fire will destroy Jerusalem (Amos 2:5), and Assyria and

Egypt will raze Israel (3:9-11). This will be a divine visitation (4:12).

"The Lord roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem" (1:2).

It is therefore the Day of the Lord (5:18-20). God has indeed visited

Israel in Egypt; and for this very reason he must bring a corrective

judgment upon them (3:2).25

 

The day that Amos envisioned was the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.

(2 Kings 17). Amos stresses the inevitability of this destruction

(5:19-20). In Amos, DOL is not used to portray the eschatological

expression of God's judgment. However, Amos does anticipate God's

intervention on behalf of Israel to reestablish his kingdom (9:11-15).

Amos emphasizes only the near expectation of DOL. Ezekiel seems to

follow the same pattern, as will be noted later.

 

25 Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 66.



MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD                239

 

Isaiah

Isa 2:12 is the first mention of DOL in Isaiah's prophecy. This

chapter emphasizes the future establishment of God's kingdom

(2:2-4), the present sinful state of Israel (2:5-9); and the future day of

reckoning (2:10-22). The prophet appears to look beyond the near to

the far future in the judgment emphasis of 2:10-22, just as he had

looked to the eschatological kingdom in 2:1-4. There are several

indicators of millennial conditions in 2:1-4 (cf. Rev. 20:1-6). Mt.

Zion will be the world capital and all the nations will come to it

(2:1-2) in order to seek God's word (2:3). God will judge between the

nations and war will be no more (2:4-5). This eschatological emphasis

in 2:2-4 makes it reasonable to conclude that eschatological judgment

is in view in 2:10-22, rather than to God's chastisement of Judah by

Assyria and Babylon.26

DOL is described by Isaiah as a time of universal humiliation for

all who are proud (2:11, 12, 17). In contrast, the splendor of God's

majesty (2:10, 19, 21) will be displayed and the Lord alone will be

exalted in that day (2:11, 17). Isaiah's portrayals of DOL here should

be interpreted as referring to that time immediately preceding the

establishment of Christ's kingdom on earth. It is a day when God's

majesty will be outwardly manifested (2:10, 19, 21), and the popula-

tion will be driven in terror to caves for protection (2:21, cf. Rev

6:16-17).

The timing and terminology of Isa 2:21 are strikingly similar to

the description of the sixth seal in Rev 6:16-17. If these passages are

correlated, it can be concluded that the sixth seal is a part of DOL and

occurs at the end of the Tribulation. The correlation also confirms

that Isa 2:12 refers to the far future. As will be noted later, Zech 14:1

and Mal 4:5 also emphasize only the far eschatological implications

of DOL.

Isaiah 13 is the next chapter to be considered. It is an oracle

concerning Babylon. Isa 13:1-8 deals with God's use of Babylon as

his instrument of indignation for the destruction of Israel (13:5-6).

This reminds one of Habakkuk's dismay that God would do such a

thing (Hab 1:2-4). The DOL was near in the mind of Isaiah (13:6),

although it would not come for over one hundred years. It would be a

day of destruction, terror, and pain (13:8). There is little doubt that

this refers to the near eschatological event fulfilled by Babylon from

605-586 B.C.

However, there is good reason to believe that Isa 13:9-16 speaks

of DOL implications for the far future. The near emphasis returns in

 

26 E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972) 1. 123, n 45

suggests that Isa 2:12 is eschatological.



240                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

13:17-22 where the end of Babylon is described. That the far future is

described in 13:9-16 is shown by the cosmic disturbances (13:10, 13;

cf. Matt 24:29; Rev 6:12-13; Joel 2:31) and the universal judgment of

mankind (13:11; cf. 2:11-12). Ladd accurately describes the interplay

of the near and far views:

These two visitations, the near and the far, or, as we may for con-

venience call them, the historical and the eschatological, are not

differentiated in time. In fact, sometimes the two blend together as

though they were one day. Isaiah 13 calls the day of the visitation of

Babylon the Day of the Lord. The Lord is mustering a host for battle

(13:4-6), he will stir up the Medes against Babylon (13:17). Therefore,

men are to "wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from

the Almighty it will come!" (13:6). This historical Day of the Lord is

painted against the backdrop of the eschatological Day of the Lord.

The Day of the Lord will bring disaster to the earth and a disruption of

the heavenly order (13:9-13). Judgment will fall both upon the world

of nature and upon men (13:7) when God punishes the world for its

evil and the wicked for their iniquity (13: 11). Here is a picture of

universal judgment. The Day of the Lord is the eschatological judgment

of mankind; but the two are seen as though they were one day, one

visitation of God.27

Isa 13:6, 9 is therefore similar to other passages previously noted

which portray the DOL in one context as both a near historical and a

far eschatological happening.

 

Zephaniah

This seventh century B.C. prophet predicted God's judgment

upon Judah (1:4). This DOL prophecy pictures Judah as the sacrifice

(1:7) that is offered to God by the priest Babylon. Zephaniah begins

with a broad, universal perspective (1:1-3), and then narrows his

focus to the immediate situation of Judah (1:4-13). Finally he returns

to the universal in 1:14-18. That 1:4-13 is limited to the near future

judgment upon Judah is shown by the emphasis upon Jerusalem and

Judah (1:4, 10-12) and by the lack of any broad, universalistic

terminology. Yet 1:1-3 and 1:14-18 speak of a far, eschatological

destruction of the whole earth (especially 1:2-3, 18). Thus it is clear

that like Obadiah, Joel, and Isaiah who preceded him, Zephaniah

also includes both the near and far eschatological views in one

context.

In vivid terms, Zephaniah 1:14 portrays DOL as a day of wrath.

He further describes it as characterized by trouble and distress,

 

27 Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 67.



MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD                            241

 

destruction and desolation, darkness and gloom, clouds and thick

darkness, and trumpet and battle cry. The five pairs effectively specify

what is involved in DOL wrath. The sin of Judah is clearly shown to

be the reason for this judgment (1:4-6, 9,18).

It may be concluded that Zephaniah skillfully weaves two strands

of prophecy--the near future and far eschatological. At times the

strands appear as one, but careful study shows that they are dis-

tinguishable. Once again Ladd's summary may be noted:

 

Zephaniah describes the Day of the Lord (1:7, 14) as a historical

disaster at the hands of some unnamed foe (1:10-12, 16-17; 2:5-15);

but he also describes it in terms of a worldwide catastrophe in which all

creatures are swept off the face of the earth (1:2-3) so that nothing

remains (1:18). Yet out of universal conflagration emerges a redeemed

remnant (2:3, 7, 9), and beyond judgment is salvation both for Israel

(3:11-20) and for the Gentiles (3:9-10).28

 

Ezekiel

Ezekiel wrote in the midst of the near DOL judgment (13:5). He

was taken captive to Babylon in 597 B.C. when Jehoiachin was exiled

(1:2). Ezekiel 13 was written in 592 B.C., six years after the second

phase of a three phase deportation which was finalized in 586 B.C.

Here Ezekiel prophesied against false prophets (1-16) and proph-

etesses (17-23). They had prophesied from their own hearts (13:2)

and preached an imaginary 'peace' when in fact there was no peace

(13:10). Ezekiel indicts them for being like foxes among ruins (13:4).

Instead of fortifying the wall, they tunneled underneath it.29 They

plastered the wall with whitewash in order to give the wall the

appearance of strength (13:10-15). Yet God's judgment (described as

rain, hail, and wind) would tear down the wall (13:10-15). Ezekiel

was the only prophet who wrote during his experience of the near DOL.

Later Jeremiah looked back on Jerusalem after the near DOL and

cried out in terms reminiscent of DOL prophecies (Lam 2:22). It seems

best to understand DOL in Ezekiel 13 as a reference to the time from

the beginning of Judah's deportation in 605 B.C. to Jerusalem's razing

in 586 B.C. Ezekiel 13, like Amos, speaks only about the near (in this

case, present) DOL.

Writing later on in 570 B.C. (29:17), Ezekiel noted a DOL with

respect to Egypt's demise (29: 19-20). It is strikingly similar to Oba-

diah's prophecy against Edom. The fall of Jerusalem served as the

historical verification for the Egyptians that what Ezekiel wrote

would come to pass. God's instrument was to be Nebuchadnezzar,

 

28 Ibid.. 67.

29 Keil. Minor Prophets. 165.



242                 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

king of Babylon (30:10, cf. Zeph 1:7-13) in 568 B.C. Not only Egypt,

but also all of the nations aligned with her were to be toppled

(30:4-6).

The far eschatological application to all nations is never explicitly

made in Ezekiel as in Obad 15-21. Yet Feinberg suggests that such an

application may be assumed. The day of God's judgment on Egypt

may be identified in principle with that day when he will call all

nations to account.30 Jer 46:1-26 deals similarly, yet in greater detail,

with the fall of Egypt.

 

Zechariah

Zechariah is the first post-exilic prophet to speak explicitly of

DOL. Because the Assyrian and Babylonian judgments were history,

Zechariah's entire prophecy deals with the far eschatological expecta-

tion. His subject in chap. 14 is DOL and its subsequent results. The

chapter states that things will get worse (14:2, 5) before they get better

(14:1, 14). God will then intervene against the nations and fight on

Israel's behalf (14:3-5, 12-13). This pictures Christ's return at

Armageddon (cf. Joel 3, Matthew 24, Revelation 19) to establish his

millennial kingdom and to claim his rightful place on the throne of

David. Zechariah 14 should be read in the light of Obad 15-21; Joel

2:28-3:21; Isa 2:12; 13:9; and Zeph 1:14.

Some have mistakenly interpreted Zechariah 14 in a non-eschato-

logical manner. Leupold views it in a figurative continuous historical

sense describing NT times.31 Laetsch believes that the passage is

fulfilled in the Roman papacy.32 However, it must be insisted that

nothing in history has yet come remotely close to fulfilling the cata-

clysmic and conclusive events which Zechariah predicts (14:6-11).

It is taught by some that DOL is a time of both judgment and

blessing. The phrase 'that day' in Zechariah 14 is cited as evidence of

this. The phrase appears seven times in Zechariah 14. In vv 4, 6, 13,

and 21 it describes God's judgment, while in vv 8, 9, and 20 it does

not really describe the blessings of DOL but rather events subsequent

to DOL. In DOL contexts Joel 2:18-30 and 3:18-21 also speak of

restoration and blessing for Israel. But such blessing is subsequent to

DOL--not a part of it. Several observations support this view. First,

every OT  DOL passage speaks in a context of God's judgment upon

sinful Israel. Second, the fulfillment of DOL in the near future sense

never involved blessing. Third, not all of the passages that deal with

 

30 Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, 173.

31 H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Zechariah (reprint; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1971)

259.

32 Laetsch, The Minor Prophets, 465.



MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD                243

 

DOL in the far eschatological realm mention blessing (cf. Isa 2:12;

Isa 13:9; Zeph 14:1). Finally, DOL is always described as a day of

God's anger and wrath, not a day of God's blessing. Thus it may be

concluded that DOL is the time when God intervenes as the righteous

judge to impose and execute his decreed punishment. After the

eschatological DOL fulfills God's judgments, God will reign on earth

and bless his people. The blessings which are an attendant feature of

DOL are chronologically consequent to it, not inherent within it.

 

Malachi

The great and terrible day of Mal 4:5 (cf. Joel 2:11, 31; Zeph

1:14) is described in 4:1-3. It is clearly a day of judgment, as the

references to furnaces, fire, chaff and ash clearly show. It points to

the end of the eschatological tribulation period when the wrath of the

Lamb and Almighty God will poured out (cf. Rev 6:16-17, 16:14).

 

CONCLUSION

Summary

God's servants the prophets spoke of DOL as both near historical

and far eschatological events. In many passages there is a movement

from the near to the far DOL. This relationship between near and far

can be seen in Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah and Zephaniah. Beecher com-

mented, "the prophets thought of the day of Yahweh as generic, not

occasions which would occur once for all, but one which might be

repeated as circumstances called for it.”33 Kaiser, who has been influ-

enced by Beecher, similarly explains that, "that final time would be

climactic and the sum of all the rest. Though the events of their own

times fitted the pattern of God's future judgment, that final day was

nevertheless immeasurably larger and more permanent in its salvific

and judgmental effects.”34

DOL prophecies were fulfilled in various ways. These included

(1) the Assyrian deportment of Israel ca. 722 B.C. (Amos 5: 18, 20),

(2) the Assyrian invasion of Judah ca. 701 B.C. (Joel 1:15; 2:1; 2:11),

(3) the Babylonian exile of Judah ca. 605-586 B.C. (Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11;

13:6; Zeph 1:7; Ezek 13:5), (4) the Babylonian defeat of Egypt ca.

568 B.C. (Ezek 30:3), (5) the demise of Edom (Obad 1-14), and

(6) the eschatological judgments of the tribulation period (Obad 15;

Joel 2:31; 3:14; Isa 2:12; 13:9; Zech 14:1; Mal 4:5).

Specific fulfillments of DOL prophecies are detailed in Scripture.

But the question arises whether there are DOL events which are not

 

33 Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise, 311.

34 Kaiser, Towards an Old Testament Theology, 191.



244                 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

specifically named as such in Scripture. This is a difficult question

because God has certainly intervened in human affairs on more

occasions than the prophets specifically outline. The Genesis flood

and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah would seem to be cases

in point. On the other hand, some seem to view every disaster in

history as a DOL event. The solution to the question is to understand

that the prophets were calling for present repentance in light of both

a near historical judgment and an ultimate eschatological judgment.

Feinberg provides a biblically balanced approach to this problem:

"Some have interpreted the significant phrase [DOL] to mean any time

in which God's judgments are experienced on earth. Although such

an interpretation will allow for all the references to be included under

it, nevertheless it empties the words of their well-known eschatologi-

cal force.”35

The prominent theme of every DOL prophecy is God's judgment

of sin. The blessings of God's reign are subsequent to and a result of

the DOL, but they are not a part of it.

Imminency often characterizes DOL. In Joel 1:15; 2:1; Isa 13:6;

Zeph 1:7; and Ezek 30:3, near historical fulfillments are prominent.

The far event is described as "near" in Obad 15; Joel 3:14; and Zeph

1:14. In the prophets' minds, the event was certainly coming and

would one day occur in the indeterminate future. DOL judgments are

poured out on individual nations, such as Edom, Egypt and its allies,

and Israel. Yet such judgments will one day be inflicted upon all of

the nations according to Obad 15 and Zech 14:1. Tasker has written

this lucid summary:

The expression "the day of the Lord" at the time of the rise of the great

prophets of Israel denoted an event to which the Israelites were looking

forward as the day of Jehovah's final vindication of the righteousness

of His people against their enemies. One of the tasks of the prophets

was to insist that in fact "the day of the Lord" would be a day on

which God would vindicate "His own righteousness" not only against

the enemies of Israel, but also against Israel itself. This "day of the

Lord" throughout Old Testament prophecy remains a future reality,

though there were events within the history covered by the Old

Testament story which were indeed days of judgment both upon Israel

and upon the surrounding nations which had oppressed her.36

 

Ladd has eloquently stated the historical-eschatological tension

which pressed and pulled at the prophet. His comments are worth

noting:

 

35 Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, 172.

36 R. V. G. Tasker, The Biblical Doctrine of the Wrath of God (London: Tyndale,

1951) 45.



MAYHUE: DAY OF THE LORD                            245

 

In all of these prophecies, history and eschatology are so blended

together as to be practically indistinguishable. Sometimes, however, the

eschatological Day stands in the background on the distant horizon.37

 

The prophets viewed the immediate historical future against the back-

ground of the final eschatological consummation, for the same God

who was acting in history would finally establish his Kingdom. There-

fore, the Day of the Lord was near because God was about to act; and

the historical event was in a real sense an anticipation of the final

eschatological deed, for it was the working of the same God for the

same redemptive purpose. The historical imminence of the Day of the

Lord did not include all that the Day of the Lord meant; history and

eschatology were held in a dynamic tension, for both were the Day of

the Lord. This bond was broken in the apocalypses. Eschatology stood

in the future, unrelated to present historical events. The God of

eschatology was no longer the God of history.38

 

Proposed Pattern

The DOL is a biblical phrase used by God's prophets to describe

either the immediate future or the ultimate eschatological consumma-

tion.39 It is not a technical term in the sense that it always refers only

to one event in God's plan.

It may designate a divinely-sent locust plague (Joel 1: 15) or the

providential fall of Babylon (Isa 13:6) or of Jerusalem (Zeph 1:14-15,

18; 2:1); and in one given context it may describe first a judgment and

then a corresponding deliverance (compare with the above prophecies

Joel 3:14, 18 and Zeph 3:8, 11, 16; cf. also Obad 15, 17; Zech 14:1,

9-11).40

DOL is used to describe several events and is limited only by its

mention in biblical revelation. Each appearance of DOL must be

interpreted in its context to determine whether the prophet expected

the immediate historical act of God or Yahweh's ultimate eschato-

logical visitation.41 DOL is not bound to a definite time duration. It

could last only for hours or it could continue for days. Only context

can determine DOL longevity, and even then only general approxima-

tion can be made.

 

37 Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 68.

38 Ibid., 320.

39 Beecher (The Prophets and the Promise, 130) defines a generic prophecy as one

which "regards an event as occurring in a series of parts, separated by intervals and

expresses itself in language that may apply indifferently to the nearest part, or to the

remoter part, or to the whole-in other words, a prediction which, in applying to the

whole of a complex event, also applies to some of its parts."

40 Payne, The Imminent Appearing of Christ, 60.

41 Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 74.



246                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Contribution to NT Studies

Theology is a descriptive term applied to a systematization of

biblical data. Therefore, it should be continually subject to change

and sharpening where Scripture warrants. DOL is one aspect of

theology which needs meaningful review and rethinking. A refined

understanding of the OT DOL data bears fruit for NT studies.

As a result of this study of DOL in OT, I suggest that there are

two periods of DOL yet to be fulfilled on earth: (1) the judgment

which climaxes the tribulation period (2 Thess 2:2; Rev 16-18), and

(2) the consummating judgment of this earth which ushers in the new

earth (2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev 20:7-21:1). I would also suggest that DOL

will occur only at the end of the tribulation period, not throughout its

duration, and that DOL will occur only at the end of the millennium,

not throughout its duration.

This study concludes where an attendant study should begin.      

That study would examine DOL in the NT in the light of what has

been learned from the OT. In my view, the traditional dispensational

definition of DOL beginning at the pretribulational rapture and ex-

tending throughout the millennium42 or beginning with Christ's second

coming and extending through the millennium43 needs to be modified.

The insight gained from the OT use of DOL provides a basis for a

more accurate interpretation of Acts 2:20, 1 Thess 5:2, 2 Thess 2:2

and 2 Pet 3:10 and a stronger defense of both premillennialism and

pretribulationalism.44

 

42 D. E. Hiebert (The Thessalonian Epistles [Chicago: Moody, 1971] 211) states

that "the day of the Lord is inaugurated with the rapture of the church as described in

4:13-18, covers the time of the great tribulation, and involves His return to earth and

the establishment of His messianic reign." Also E. Schuyler English, ed. (The New

Scofield Reference Bible, 1372) has a note which says "It will begin with the translation

of the church and will terminate with the cleaning of the heavens and the earth

preparatory to the bringing into being of the new heavens and the new earth."

43 C. I. Scofield  (ed., The Scofield Reference Bible [Oxford: Oxford University

Press, 1909] 1349) believed that "The day of Jehovah (called, also, "that day" and "the

great day") is that lengthened period of time beginning with the return of the Lord in

glory, and ending with the purgation of the heavens and the earth by fire preparatory

to the new heavens and the new earth (lsa 65:17-19; 66:22; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1)." See

also L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary, 1948) 4. 398 and

V. R. Edmond, "The Coming Day of the Lord," in Hastening the Day of God, ed, by

John Bradbury (Wheaton: Van Kampen, 1953) 233. For other notable examples see

G. N.. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom (Reprint; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1957) 410

and H. C. Thiessen. Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1952) 507.

44 I concur with the words of C. E. Mason, Jr. (Prophetic Problems and Alternate

Solutions, [Chicago: Moody, 1973] 325): "The writer is a great believer in free

discussion among those of the premillennial, dispensational viewpoint and is of the

conviction that much of our thrust has been blunted by arbitrary and stylized

distinctions which are not a valid part of the view. In addition, there seems to be a

hesitancy to debate such matters lest one be thought suspect in the house of his friends

if the result of his study should lead to the sacrifice of a sacred cow."

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Grace Theological Seminary

            200 Seminary Dr.

            Winona Lake,  IN   46590

www.grace.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu