A Study of “The Day of the LORD”

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Richard E. Averbeck’s Hebrew Exegesis course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

The theme Day of YHWH (יהוה יוֹם) is significant to the message of the entire Bible, as it shapes the message of the OT prophets and anticipates the work of Christ. In particular, the concept of the Day of YHWH pervades and in many senses encapsulates the entire message of Joel’s prophecy. Five out of fifteen Biblical occurrences of יהוה יוֹם appear in Joel (1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:4; 4:14) and involve each of Joel’s four main sections by way of their disbursement. As Stuart says, “This concept is so prominent in Joel that it may be likened to an engine driving the prophecy” (230).

Although the theme Day of YHWH is not limited to the exact phrase יהוה יוֹם, this phrase becomes somewhat of a technical expression signifying the concept. While יוֹם frequently refers to daylight hours or a 24-hour day (Holladay, 130), in יהוה יוֹם and like phrases it carries an eschatological sense (HALOT, 400); instead of denoting a specific set of time, יוֹם refers to a future, general time anticipated in history. As Verhoef notes, when used with a genitive (as it is here), יוֹם denotes a time of an event (e.g., judgment, battle, etc.; 420). Unlike אֱלֹהִים, a general term for god(s) used even by pagan nations, יהוה is God’s self-revelatory name (Ex 3:14-15), the name by which he relates to His covenant people (Ex 6:2-8; Stone, 16-17). And as will be seen, the genitive relationship between יהוה יוֹם expresses something like, “The Day in which YHWH will act/intervene,” or maybe even, “The Day in which YHWH will decisively demonstrate His YHWH-ness.”

Scholars theorize as to the precise origin of the concept (see a well-written summary of views in J. D. Barker’s article “Day of the LORD” in DOTP); but at the very least, the reference to those who long for יהוה יוֹם in Amos 5:18 (one of the earliest dated references to יהוה יוֹם) reveals that an understanding of the concept already developed by this point in Israel’s history. Whatever its background, its origin allowed for the Day of YHWH to become a somewhat inclusive/expansive concept, which the prophets employed with rhetorical flexibility as they addressed various situations: The prophets refer to יהוה יוֹם as the “day of wrath” at which point God will bring recompense to the nations (Isa 2:10, 19, 21; 13:6, 9; 34:2-10; 61:2; Ezek 7:19; 30:3; Jer 46:10; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; Am 5:18; Ob 1:15; Zeph 1:14, 18; 2:2-3; Mal 4:5). Unless Israel repents, neither will she find herself exempt from YHWH’s judgment (Zeph 2:1-3). YHWH will destroy idolatry (Isa 2:6-22). He is the warrior whose army cannot be challenged (Ezek 13:5; Joel 2:11; Zeph 1:14-16). Even creation itself reacts and responds to His retributive intervention (Ezek 30:3; Joel 2:31). But despite this primary theme of wrath, יהוה יוֹם serves as the object of hope for deliverance—the salvation of God’s people through the judgment God’s enemies (Isa 34:8). Consequently, the prophets compel their audiences to repent (Joel 1:13-14; 2:12-17); all who call upon YHWH will be delivered (Joel 2:32; cf. Acts 2:21). It is in these “last days,” accompanying the Day of YHWH, that the New Covenant hope of the Spirit will be realized (Joel 2:28-29).

The prophets understood the past, historical demonstrations of יהוה יוֹם as typologically anticipating the ultimate eschatological יהוה יוֹם (Jer 46:2, 10; Lam 1:12; Joel 1:15). Consequently, יהוה יוֹם is seen as having occurred, and yet also as imminent (Isa 13:6, 9; Ezek 30:3; Joel 1:5; 2:1; 3:14; Ob 1:15; Zeph 1:7, 14). Ultimately, the יוֹם יהוה finds its realization in Christ as the Day of the יהוה (LORD) is revealed as the Day of our κύριος(Lord) Jesus Christ (Lk 4:18-19; Acts 2:17-21; 1 Cor 5:5; 1 The 4:13-18; 2 Pet 3:8-13).

In sum, amidst the diversity in regards to situations, motifs, and YHWH’s activity, the common denominator of the יהוה יוֹם theme is the confident expectation, based on God’s character, that he will intervene in history. יהוה יוֹם refers to that eschatological time, with various historical harbingers and installments, in which YHWH will decisively act on behalf of his people and his glory—salvation through judgment. Again, this theme is of particular importance for Joel as it serves as the basis for his call to repentance and hope of God’s rescue.