Ask Steve: Minor Prophets and the Day of the Lord

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I am currently reading through the last twelve books of the Old Testament. Can you explain to me how these twelve books relate the Day of the Lord and Israel’s restoration? 

Answer: The last arranged twelve books of the Old Testament were written by authors commonly known as the Minor Prophets. These books are, for the most part, short but purposeful documents that address the plight of Israel, as well God’s future plans for Israel and all the Gentile nations. In essence, these books are filled with heavy prophetic information. Though each book was written at different times focusing on different historical circumstances, they have a couple of common themes that run throughout all twelve books, which are both eschatological in nature. These themes are God’s future judgment of Israel and the Gentiles (the Day of the Lord) and God’s restoration of national Israel. The repetition and focus of these themes in the writings of the Minor Prophets show how important these issues are to the Old Testament and how God will surely make His plans come to pass in His timing. This essay will show how the twelve books relate the Day of the Lord judgment and Israel’s restoration as a people.

The phrase “Day of the Lord” is mentioned 19 times by 8 different OT authors, many of which include the Minor Prophets. The phrase does not have reference to a chronological time period, but to a general period of wrath and judgment uniquely belonging to the Lord. The Day unveils God’s holy character, which is expressed in His wrath against sin. The Day of the Lord speaks of both an eschatological reality as well as a near fulfillment process. In this latter sense, the OT prophets spoke, and both Israel and the Gentile nations were judged for its sins briefly afterwards. As common in prophecy, the near fulfillment is a historic event upon which to comprehend the more distant, eschatological fulfillment, which is to say essentially that the Day of the Lord has both a present and a future implication to it.

A good example of defining the Day of the Lord is in the book of Joel. The Day of the Lord is a major theme that permeates the book of Joel, making it the most sustained treatment in the entire OT. In Chapter 2:1, Joel commanded a trumpet to be blown in Zion, warning the inhabitants that the day of the Lord is coming, that is surely near. Verse 2 goes on to describe this event as a “day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness…” The Day of the Lord is also associated with seismic disturbances (2:1-11) and cosmic upheaval (2:3, 30). 2:1-17 explains how a great army would be coming to invade Judah, one unprecedented in scope and might. The Day of the Lord means God’s judgment of destruction. In this case, it is being applied to Israel because of its idolatry, apostasy, and other sins. The Day of the Lord was fulfilled in the near sense with the pestilence, plague, and famine that came to the land, but ultimately with Israel and Judah’s invasion, which led to exile.

The imagery of 2:31 reveals that the Day of the Lord has a future fulfillment aspect as well, most specifically toward the end times. Verse 31 reads, “The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” This imagery was also spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24:29 when Jesus spoke about the signs before His Second Coming. Therefore, this is a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled, since it is a phenomenon that has not yet occurred, even in the prophet Joel’s time. This is basically the second coming of the Day of the Lord.

The Day of the Lord also involves the divine judgment of Gentile nations. God’s judgment of Gentile nations has both a near fulfillment aspect as well a future fulfillment, as with the case of Israel. God’s immediate judgment on Gentile nations appears as a theme in the book of Amos. Amos 1 speaks of God’s judgment plan for Gentile nations. For Syria, God judged the city and the nations for threshing Gilead (Northern Israel).Tyre was destroyed for its breaking the covenant of brotherhood with Israel. Judgment also came to Edom and Ammon for their hostility toward Israel. The Day of the Lord judgment came on Gentile nations for its sins against Israel, as well as its overall sin and rejection of God. Because of this, eschatological judgment awaits the nations that have rejected God and have cursed Israel. 

Joel 3:1-17 is an example of the future Day of the Lord, in which God executes His eschatological judgment on the unrepentant Gentile nations. The book describes how God will gather all the nations to the valley of Jehosphaphat and enters into judgment with them there, which most likely implies judgment of eternal destiny and whether or not one is fit to enter into the messianic kingdom. Verse 2 describes this judgment event occurring after the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem are restored, which means after national Israel comes to repentance, enters into the New Covenant, and Jesus the Messiah returns to earth. Verse 15 and 16 describe the sun and moon growing dark and the stars losing their brightness, which is signs that point once again to the eschatological nature of this Day of the Lord prophecy, which will find its fulfillment during the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:29).

Although both Israel and Gentile nations fall under the fury of God’s wrath in the comprehensive execution of the Day of the Lord, the Minor Prophets are dutiful to point out that the Day of the Lord will not mark the end of God’s relationship with Israel. In keeping with the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12:1-3, God plans to preserve Israeland ultimately bring it to salvation, which is why the Day of the Lord will ultimately be a time of final restoration for Israel. The book of Joel, Amos, Zephaniah, and Zechariah explore the relationship between the eschatological Day of the Lord judgment and Israel’s subsequent restoration to faith in Yahweh.

An example of Israel’s restoration is found in Joel 2:18-29. Immediately after describing the terrible visitation of the Lord’s judgment on Israel, the author Joel reveals the stunning reality of Israel’s deliverance. God plans to deliver Israel in three ways. The first and most important is Israel’s deliverance from sin and eternal separation. Joel 2:2 reads, “It will come about after this that I will pour our My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughter will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour our My Spirit in those days.” This passage speaks of the Holy Spirit coming upon repentant Israelites in the last days, which can only happen when Israel partakes of the New Covenant.

The second way God plans to deliver Israelis by removing Israel’s enemies. 2:20 reads, “But I will remove the northern army far from you, and I will drive it into a parched and desolate land, and its vanguard into the eastern sea, and its rear guard into the western sea.” Those who have oppressed and been enemies of Israel will come to an end. This is a previously explored aspect of the Day of the Lord in which God executes judgment on Gentile nations because of its sin against God and hatred of Israel. This deliverance of Israel from the enemies is also prophesied in other Minor Prophet books such as Zechariah. Zechariah 9:11-17, 12:9, and 14:1-8 speak of God delivering Israel from the onslaught of neighboring nations.

The final way God plans to deliver Israelis by restoring the land to prosperity, no longer subject to famine and fruitlessness. Joel describes the blessed state of agriculture and economy in 2:24, which reads, “The threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil…You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied…” The land will also be restored to a state of pristine morality, in which the Messiah God will be king over the land of Israel(Zechariah 14). True worship will characterize the land, which indicates that the land will be healthy and prosperous. This was a major theme of the Old Covenant and will surely be reflective of those who partake of the New Covenant. 

In conclusion, the Day of the Lord is an event that affects the entire world. It had immediate application in the Minor Prophets time, yet the prophetic events were also types that point to a greater fulfillment in the future, when God will judge Israel for its sins, along with the Gentile nations. The blessed hope in the midst of the Day of the Lord tragedies is that God will show His faithfulness to preserve and restore Israel, which is the major benefit that will come out of that day.