The Day of the Lord
Read the book of Joel.
The day of the LORD is an awesome, terrible thing.
Who can possibly survive? Joel 2:11[i]
The sun will become dark,
and the moon will turn blood red
before that great and terrible day of the LORD arrives. Joel 2:31
Dread and fear seize the heart at the mention of the great and terrible day of the Lord.
The Day of the Lord is the theme of the prophet Joel. Joel is one of the Minor Prophets. His book takes up only three short chapters. Consisting of fewer than 2,000 words, Joel is about the length of a 30-minute sermon. However, the brevity of the book does not lessen its importance. Peter quotes it in the New Testament in explaining what happened on the Day of Pentecost, when believers received the Holy Spirit.
We all understand and expect that Peter spoke of a partial fulfillment. There is a “yet to be fulfilled” part of this prophecy. Frequently, in prophecy, an immediate fulfillment is a sign guaranteeing a future fulfillment. For example, the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 saying, “The virgin will conceive a child,” had an immediate fulfillment in Isaiah’s wife, but this prefigured or pointed to the literal virgin, Mary, who gave birth to the Messiah.
Joel uses a local locust plague to prefigure or point to God’s future judgment of the whole earth. Dating of these events requires conjecture and a bit of guesswork. The best we can say is that since Isaiah and Amos both reference locust plagues, perhaps Joel prophesied shortly before these men prophesied.
Joel 1:2 says, “Hear this, you leaders of the people. Listen, all who live in the land. In all your history, has anything like this happened before?”
The point here is the unprecedented nature of the calamity.
Nothing like this had ever happened before.
Here, where it says, “you leaders of the people,” it is actually referring to the old ones among the people. The word being translated is “old.” This is where we get the idea of elders and elder leadership, and this is why some translators have translated it, “leaders.” However, the root meaning of the word is “old.” Joel is asking the elderly if they have any memories of anything like this plague. Joel’s point is that in all their history, as far back as anyone could remember, nothing like this had ever happened before.
This was a devastating plague. Every plant, living and dead, was consumed until there was nothing left. The fruit, leaves and even the bark was stripped from every tree in the land.
Joel calls on people to mourn because there will be no food or wine. He calls for fasting, mourning and weeping and says:
The day of the LORD is near, the day when destruction comes from the Almighty. How terrible that day will be! (Joel 1:15)
Since Joel’s time, other prophets, and even our Lord, have given us more information about the coming “Day of the Lord.”
Jesus says, “There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.” (Luke 21:11) He also says, “People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:26) The book of Revelation tells of judgments that wipe out large portions of the earth.
We have seen terrible things. Nazi Germany killed millions of its own citizens and made war on the rest of the world. Communist Russia killed millions of its own citizens and exported its reign of terror to many other nations. Communist China killed millions of its own citizens, and continues to oppress its own people. Islam continues to spread terror, hate and war wherever it goes. Coupled with this, we have seen earthquakes, tsunamis and natural disasters that have destroyed on never-seen-before scales. However, the end has not yet come. Joel’s warning of unprecedented calamity shouts to us, “You have not seen anything yet.”
In World War II, over 60 million people died; that was about 3% of the world’s population.[ii] Revelation 9:18 tells us that in just three of the Day of the Lord judgments:
One-third of all the people on earth were killed by these three plagues—by the fire and smoke and burning sulfur that came from the mouths of the horses.
If we calculate by today’s population, that would mean 2.5 billion people will die.[iii] This is roughly 42 times as many as died in World War II.
Truly, we have not seen anything yet.
What is the purpose of the “Day of the Lord?”
Listen to what the Lord says:
12That is why the LORD says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 13Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. 14Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this curse. (Joel 2:12-14)
God is eager to relent and not punish. Jonah observed the same thing about God when he said, “You are eager to turn back from destroying people.” (Jonah 4:2)
God has given the world an abundance of warnings. However, people do not repent and change their ways. Even in the midst of plagues, people will not turn from their evil and seek God. Revelation 9:20-21 says:
20But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! 21And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
I hear complaints about God being too harsh, but murders, thefts and evil continue. This nation, that I love, cannot continue, without consequence, to murder babies at the rate of over 3,500 a day.[iv] The world cannot continue, without consequence, to murder babies at the rate of 125,000 per day.[v] Moreover, this is just one evil and injustice in our world. Do you know even one person who has not suffered injustice at the hands of another human being? Does even one day pass without news of horrible injustice, thefts and murders?
Humanity mocks God and says, “Where is the promise of His coming?”
God answers this. He tells us in 2 Peter 3:9:
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
Once again, God says plainly that He does not want to destroy anyone. However, He has made it clear that He will not let injustice, murder and evil go unpunished.
There are enough godly people in this nation that our prayers may bring about revival, repentance and a turning to God. The answer is not in the political arena. The answer is in what God calls us to do in the book of Joel.
“Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” (Joel 2:12-13)
Repentance is an individual thing. We can repent in large groups, but it is the individuals in the group that must recognize his or her own offense against God. This is why 2 Corinthians 5:20 says:
So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
The world for the most part will not repent.
This is why God says:
Say to the nations far and wide: “Get ready for war! Call out your best warriors. Let all your fighting men advance for the attack. (Joel 3:9)
In Joel chapter three, God asks the nations, “What do you have against me?” He invites them to come and fight against Him. Psalm 2 tells of this consistent attitude of the nations against God. It says:
1Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans? 2The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one. 3“Let us break their chains,” they cry, “and free ourselves from slavery to God.” (Psalm 2:1-3)
Language and talk of judgment is viewed as hateful and angry. It is not acceptable. It never has been. Even in ancient times, Zechariah said of the ancient Israelites, “Your ancestors refused to listen to this message. They stubbornly turned away and put their fingers in their ears to keep from hearing.” (Zechariah 7:11)
God will meet with the nations in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat means “God judges.” Those who choose not to repent will have their chance to face off against God. Joel likens the battlefield to a winepress. Here is what Psalm 2 says:
4But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them. 5Then in anger he rebukes them, terrifying them with his fierce fury. 6For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain. (Psalm 2:4-6)
God gives every chance for us to repent and do right. He pleads with us. He warns us. He gives small demonstrations of His might, His power and His judgments. And yet, three quarters of the world’s population has yet to acknowledge Him.
What about you?
Have you acknowledged Him?
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.