Day of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible by James Nogalski

What is the day of the Lord according to the Hebrew Bible?

The Hebrew Bible does not portray the day of the Lord as a single event at the end of time as popularized in some Christian theological traditions. Rather, the concept draws upon a rich tapestry of images to describe divine justice. It refers to an event of divine intervention in history (past or future). The concept appears primarily (but not exclusively) in the Latter Prophets. The concept may be evoked by a number of phrases, including “the day of the Lord,” “the day of (his) wrath,” the “day of calamity,” or “on that day.” The concept may also refer to the punishment of a particular nation, for example, “the day of Midian” (Isa 9:3) or “the day of Egypt” (Ezek 30:9).

What happens on the day of the Lord?

Scholarship in the first part of the twentieth century tended to focus on the origins of the term, usually speculating that the idea was linked to the concept of holy war or cultic ritual.  More recently, scholars have focused upon how the concept varies between texts, by analyzing how the action unfolds in terms of the target, the time, the weapons involved, and the purpose.

The target of the deity’s intervention can be foreign entities (singular or plural) or God’s people. Occasionally, the target may describe battles against cosmic entities and the battle’s implications for the current generation (e.g., “the sea” and “the river” in Hab 3:8). The intervention may also involve the Lord leading an army against the land (e.g., Joel 2:1-11) or in judgment against the nations (e.g., Joel 3:9-11).

The time can refer to divine activity in the past (e.g., the day of Midian in Isa 9:4 or the events of 587 in Lam 1-2). However, the day of the Lord usually refers to an event in either the imminent or distant future, as evidenced by formulations like “the day of the Lord is near” (Obad 1:15) or “it will happen on that day” (Joel 3:18).

The weapons used by the deity can include heavenly armies, earthly political powers, natural forces (e.g., storms, earthquakes, droughts), or a warrior’s implements (e.g., clubs, spears, swords, and arrows). The weapons underscore metaphors of the Lord as king, warrior, and judge.

The Lord’s intervention has a purpose, characterizing divine acts of violence as acts of judgment or deliverance. When the target is a foreign nation, the day of the Lord assumes judgment against that nation, but when the target is God’s own people, the purpose of the action may depict judgment, deliverance, or justice.

Why is the day of the Lord a recurring theme in the Book of the Twelve?

The day of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible is not a systematic portrayal of divine judgment at the end of time; rather, it describes or threatens divine intervention in distinct historical events. That being said, the majority of references to the day of the Lord appear in the Book of the Twelve. The frequency of the concept in the Twelve has led to the suggestion that it functions as a recurring theme to connect different events in history and shape them into a larger plan for God’s people.

The scroll of the Twelve Prophets has a chronological framework created by superscriptions that mention kings from the eighth century BCE to the Persian period (see Hos 1:1; Amos 1:1; Mic 1:1; Zeph 1:1; Hag 1:1, Hag 1:15; Hag 2:1, Hag 2:10, Hag 2:19, Hag 2:20; Zech 1:1, Zech 1:6; Zech 6:1). Some texts use the day of the Lord concept to anticipate the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 (e.g., Hab 3:16) so that the reader of the Twelve is reminded that the Lord will punish Jerusalem for failing to heed the prophets.

The day of the Lord is also announced as an imminent threat against the Lord’s people that requires the people to repent if they hope to survive (Joel 1:15-2:11). Only once, however, do these texts recount that the people do actually repent (e.g., Zech 1:6), and that occurs only weeks prior (see the date in Zech 1:1) to Haggai’s pronouncement that the Lord will restore Zerubbabel “on that day” that he overthrows the nations (Hag 2:23; see the date in Hag 2:20).

A number of texts anticipate that the day of the Lord will ultimately bring a positive reversal of that fortune for Judah and Jerusalem in the more distant future (e.g., Joel 3:1-5). Similarly, Zechariah’s final chapter (chapter 14) uses the phrase “on that day” seven times to collate several distinct images into one promise for Jerusalem when the Lord defeats all the nations. Malachi ends the Book of the Twelve with the hope that the “great and terrible day of the Lord” will restore parents and children to avoid a curse on the land (Mal 4:5-6).

Every passage should be analyzed to determine how the day of the Lord unfolds in a given context, but the prominence of the concept in the Twelve is noteworthy and distinctive.

James Nogalski, "Day of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible", n.p. [cited 2 Jul 2022]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/passages/related-articles/day-of-the-lord-in-the-hebrew-bible

Contributors

Nogalski-James

James Nogalski
Professor of Hebrew Bible and Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Religion , Baylor University

James D. Nogalski is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Since receiving his doctorate from the University of Zurich, he has written extensively on prophetic literature, especially on the Book of the Twelve.

related to a system of religious worship

Characteristic of a deity (a god or goddess).

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

Associated with a deity; exhibiting religious importance; set apart from ordinary (i.e. "profane") things.

The promise made by Yahweh to the ancestors in Genesis, including the promise of offspring, land, and blessing. Eventually the covenant becomes the essential part of this promise.

Collective ceremonies having a common focus on a god or gods.

Relating to thought about the nature and behavior of God.

Isa 9:3

3You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.

Ezek 30:9

9 On that day, messengers shall go out from me in ships to terrify the unsuspecting Ethiopians;[a] and anguish shall come upon them on the day of Egypt’s doom;[ ... View more

Hab 3:8

8Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
Or your anger against the rivers,
or your rage against the sea,
when you drove your horses,
your chariots to victory ... View more

Joel 2:1-11

1Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—2a da ... View more

Joel 3:9-11


9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare war,
    stir up the warriors.
Let all the soldiers draw near,
    let them come up.
10 Beat your plowshares into sw ... View more

Isa 9:4

4For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Lam 1-2

The Deserted City
1How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a ... View more

Obad 1:15

15For the day of the Lord is near against all the nations.
As you have done, it shall be done to you;
your deeds shall return on your own head.

Joel 3:18

18In that day
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
the hills shall flow with milk,
and all the stream beds of Judah
shall flow with water;
a fountain shall come ... View more

Hos 1:1

1The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri, in the days of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah, and in the days of King Jeroboam son of ... View more

Amos 1:1

1The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam so ... View more

Mic 1:1

1The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.

Zeph 1:1

1The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi son of Gedaliah son of Amariah son of Hezekiah, in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah.

Hag 1:1

The Command to Rebuild the Temple
1In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophe ... View more

Hag 1:15

15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month.

Hag 2:1

2 In the second year of King Darius, 1 in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying:

Hag 2:10

10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying:

Hag 2:19

19 Is there any seed left in the barn? Do the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree still yield nothing? From this day on I will bless you.

Hag 2:20

20 The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month:

Zech 1:1

Israel Urged to Repent
1In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo, sayi ... View more

Zech 1:6

6 But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your ancestors? So they repented and said, “The Lord of hosts ... View more

Zech 6:1

6 And again I looked up and saw four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze.

Hab 3:16

16 I hear, and I tremble within;
    my lips quiver at the sound.
Rottenness enters into my bones,
    and my steps tremble[a] beneath me.
I wait quietly for th ... View more

Joel 1:15-2:11



15 Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near,
    and as destruction from the Almighty[a] it comes.
16 Is not the food cut off
    before our eyes,
jo ... View more

Zech 1:6

6 But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your ancestors? So they repented and said, “The Lord of hosts ... View more

Zech 1:1

Israel Urged to Repent
1In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo, sayi ... View more

Hag 2:23

23On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the Lord, and make you like a signet ring; for I have ch ... View more

Hag 2:20

20 The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month:

Joel 3:1-5

3  For then, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, 2 I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the vall ... View more

Mal 4:5-6

5Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.6He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts ... View more

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