Although mention is made quite frequently of the “Day” or the “Day of the LORD” in OT prophetic literature many of us would be at a loss to explain what it was. For anybody interested in understanding the latter prophets, and really, having a well-rounded picture of God, it’s an important concept to get a handle on. Thankfully, while studying for my young adult group, I ran across a helpful digression on the subject (pp. 66-67) in Elizabeth Achtemeier’s commentary on Zephaniah in the Interpretation series.
Achtemeier tells us that the theology of “Day” of the LORD originated within the context of Israel’s holy wars of conquest, in which the LORD was pictured as a Divine Warrior, leading the hosts of Israel against her enemies. His weapons were “thunder (1 Sam. 7:10), falling stones (Josh. 10:11), darkness (Exod. 14:20; Josh 24:7),” and especially the terror of the LORD with which he cast Israel’s enemies into confusion (Exod. 15:14-15; 23:27; Josh 2:9, 24; 5:1; 7:5). Israel was reassured that she was safe because the LORD was a mighty warrior on her behalf. When we hear the word “Day” we think about a specific amount of time, but Achtemeier says, it’s more of a specific moment, or event in time, which is left somewhat unspecified, but is known to the Lord. In much of Israel’s theology then, the Day was an event of salvation and rescue from her enemies to be looked to eagerly.
Later on though, the prophets ended up flipping the “Day” on it’s head. When Israel grew sinful, idolatrous, and complacent in her rebellion against God, Amos and others proclaimed a “Day” of the Lord that would include God’s warfare and divine judgment, not only on Israel’s enemies, but on Israel herself for violating the covenant with him (Deuteronomy 29). As Achtemeier points out, the picture is developed explicitly in places like Amos 5:18-20, Zephaniah 1, Isaiah 2:6-22, Ezekiel 7:5-27, and host of other texts.
What specifically does this new “Day” of judgment look like then? From Achtemeier:
- It is near (Zeph. 1:7. 14; Amos 6:3; Ezek. 7:7; Joel 1:15; 2:1; cf. Isa. 13:6; Ezek. 30:3; Obad. 15; Joel 3:14)
- It is a day of God’s wrath and anger against the wicked (Zeph. 1:5; 18; 2:2, 3; Jer. 4:8; 12:13; Ezek. 7:3, 8, 12f, 14, 19; Lam. 2:1, 21-22; cf. Isa. 13:9, 13)
- It is a day of darkness and gloom (Zeph. 1:15; Amos 5:18; 8:9; Joel 2:2) or of clouds and thick darkness (Zeph. 1:15; Ezek. 34:12; Joel 2:2; cf. Ezek. 30:3)
- The heavenly bodies are darkened (Amos 8:9; Joel 2:10; cf. 2:31; 3:15; Isa. 13:10)
- God is picture as a warrior (Zeph. 1:14…3:17; Jer. 20:11; Isa. 59:15-18; 63:1-6; 66:15-16; Zech. 14:3; Joel 2:11)
- It is a day of battle, of trumpet blast and battle cry (Zeph. 1:16; cf. Ezek. 7:14; Jer. 4:5, 19, 21; 6:1; Isa. 13:2-22; 22:5-8; Ezek. 30:4-5; Obad. 8-9; Zech 14:2-3). Of sword (Zeph. 2:12; cf. Zek. 7:15; Jer. 4:10; 12″12; 46:10; Isa. 13:15)
- The enemies are dismayed and rendered impotent (Ezek. 7:17, 27; cf. Jer. 4:9; 6:24; Isa. 13:7-8; Ezek. 30:9; Zech. 14:13)/
- God searches out his enemies to destroy them (Zeph. 1:12; Amos 9:2-4; cf. Isa. 13:14-15)
- The wealth of the enemies cannot save them and becomes useless (Zeph. 1:18; Isa. 2:20; Ezek. 7:11; 19, cf. Isa. 13:17)
- Human pride is destroyed (Zeph. 3:11-12; Isa. 2:11-17; cf. Ezek. 7:10, 24; Isa. 13:11: Obad. 3-4)
- It may be that some are hidden in the Day of saved as a remnant (Zeph. 2:3, 7, 9; Amos 5:14-15; cff. Joel 2:18-32; Jer. 4:14; Obad. 17)
-Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum–Malachi, Intepretation, pp. 66-67
The Day of the Lord stands as a reminder that the God of the prophets–Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and so forth–is a Warrior. He is the mighty King, the Lord of Hosts who executes judgments on wickedness and cannot be reduced to some postmodern, ethereal, all-spirit of affirmation and cupcakes. Lest we be tempted to think he is a mere tribal god whose judgments can be directed at our enemies, these texts show us a judgment coming on all people, even, and especially, his own covenant people.
Of course Paul dashes our Marcionite hopes that this is merely some Old Testament ickiness we can be quit of now that we’re in the New Testament by linking it with the coming of Christ. Indeed, the phrase is often transformed into the “day of the Lord Jesus Christ”, the “day of Jesus Christ”, “the Day of Christ”, or simply as “The Day.” (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:4) Paul adopts the terminology with all of its apocalyptic background and range of meaning and identifies the promised “Day of the Lord” with the coming of the Lord Jesus. It will be the day of judgment and salvation spoken of by the prophet, only we now see that the agent of its administration is the Christ himself.
Real difference exists for the NT believer, though–in Christ they have assurance that they have found that hiding place from the “wrath that is to come” (1 Thes. 1:10), not because of their own righteousness, but by the same grace offered freely to all.
Soli Deo Gloria