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Joel and the day of the Lord

The “day of the Lord” is one of those recurring phrases in Bible that anyone wishing to be conversant in the language and thoughts of the Scripture will want to understand. Here are some observations about this term.

1) “The day of the Lord” doesn’t refer to a single event (i.e., the return of Jesus). To be sure, some of the times it’s used this way (1 Thessalonians 5:2ff; 2 Thessalonians 2:2ff), but it’s a real mistake to generalize and try to make this phrase always mean that. When Joel speaks of the day of the Lord being near (1:15), it’s obvious he’s does not have in mind the return of Jesus.

2) “The day of the Lord” must always be determined by the context in which it occurs. The “day of the Lord” Joel is speaking of in 1:15 (and again in 2:1 and 11), is a day of judgment that will come upon the nation of Judah if they don’t repent (1:13-14, 2:12-14). Read 2:1ff and note that the day is “near.” It’s also clear from the language of these verses that the impending disaster (v. 13) relates to some kind of invasion (v. 7-9). Some takes this to refer to the Assyrians while others understand it to be more locust swarms. Either way, this judgment never happens because the Judah repents and God relents (2:18ff)!

3) “The day of the Lord” is a day in which God acts to bless the righteous or punish the impenitent (or both). In 2:31 we have another “day of the Lord.” We are told this will happen “afterward” (v. 28) and “in those days” (v. 31), so we’re on solid ground to understand this as speaking of something different than previously mentioned “day of the Lord.” Peter’s quote of this passage in Acts 2 tells us that it what Joel is speaking of began to be fulfilled at Pentecost with the outpouring of the Spirit and signs of the Jewish world being dismantled (note the “before” of v. 20). The “day of the Lord” in v. 21 then refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. Notice how the “afterward” of Joel 2:28 becomes the “last days” of Acts 2:17. It is not the last days of mankind but rather the final days of the Jewish nation that Joel is speaking of.

In conclusion, all days belong to Yahweh but “the day of the Lord” is an important term that writers of Scripture employ to call our attention to God manifesting Himself in some unique and powerful way. If we’ll keep the context in which it is used in mind, it will enrich our understanding and appreciation of God’s message.

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