Did you know that when we read the words “the day of the Lord” in the Bible, in the great majority of cases those words are found in the Old Testament? The specific words “the day of the LORD” can be found in at least nine books of the Old Testament, all part of the portion of the Bible commonly called “the books of the prophets.” Throughout the Old Testament, the reading in the ASV (American Standard Version) is “the day of Jehovah.”
“The day of the LORD” pointed to a day time of judgment — not “the day of judgment” on which Jesus will judge all people (2 Peter 3:7; Acts 17:31), but God’s judgment on a nation or city because of its evil. In the Old Testament, “the day of the LORD” commonly referred to a local judgment, not a world-wide one.
“The day of the LORD” was a day of destruction: “Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty” (Joel 1:15). That day also was known as a day of darkness, as we read in Amos 5:18: “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! For what good is that day of the LORD to you? It will be darkness, and not light.”
It is not uncommon to read of God’s anger or wrath being associated with the day of Jehovah. For instance, in Isaiah 13:9 it is written, “Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate, and He will destroy its sinners from it.” In that one statement about the day of Jehovah coming, mention is made of wrath, anger, desolation, and destruction. No one living in rebellion against the Lord God should have delighted in the prospect of His day coming upon them. It always has been a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God for those who fail to obey Him (Hebrews 10:31).
In several different settings in history, God’s prophets foretold of a coming day of the Lord. They did not refer to a single day at the world’s end, but to several different days of the Lord’s visitation. In order to find out upon whom the day of the Lord was to come, we must study carefully the context in which the term “the day of the LORD” appears.
The first Bible verse in which “the day of the LORD” is noted is Isaiah 2:12. The general context of that verse points to God’s judgment on Judah for its idolatry and other transgressions (Isaiah 1:1; 2:8:11).
In Isaiah 13:6, we read that the day of the Lord was at hand. It was going to be a cruel day of wrath and fierce anger (13:9). In the context, which nation is under consideration? Go back to verse one, where it is written, “The burden against Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.” So, those words in Isaiah 13:6,9 about the day of God’s wrath being at hand – it was not the end of the world, but the fall of Babylon. When God raised up the Medes and Persians to bring down Babylon, that was Babylon’s “day of the Lord.”
Another element connected with the day of the Lord is seen in Isaiah 13. As Isaiah described what would happen to Babylon, he said, “For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine” (13:10). All of that was symbolic language. The stars, sun, and moon would not literally cease shining. The wording simply indicated that in connection with the day of the Lord, things would not be “the same old, same old.” Extraordinary things would happen, so you better get ready for it! The language pointed to catastrophic events, events that would shake the earthly rulers and governments that were in power.
Move on to Jeremiah 46:10, where we read, “For this is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, that He may avenge Himself on His adversaries. The sword shall devour . . .” On which nation was the Creator going to unleash His might and anger? The context makes it clear: “Egypt . . . Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt . . .” (46:2). God was going to punish Egypt for her transgressions, and He called it “the day of the Lord God.”
What about in Ezekiel 30? “For the day is near, even the day of the LORD is near . . . The sword shall come upon Egypt, and great angish shall be in Ethiopia, when the slain fall in Egypt . . . Thus says the LORD: ‘Those who uphold Egypt shall fall . . .’” (Ezekiel 30:3,4,6). In this instance, “the day of the LORD” would be God’s judgment on ancient Egypt and her supporters, a judgment which He carried out via Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.
In Amos 5:18,20, the message is that the day of the Lord will be a time of darkness. On whom? The context points to the house of Israel, that is, the Northern Kingdom (5:1,4,5), which fell in B.C. 722.
Examine the message of Zephaniah 1 about the day of the Lord and you will see that in that context, the day of judgment pointed to God’s coming against Judah and Jerusalem (1:4,7,14,15,18). When did that happen? In B.C. 586. When Zephaniah spoke of that occasion being at hand, he clearly was not referring to the Lord’s final coming, which has not occurred yet.
When Sodom was destroyed, Lot was spared. In the same way, while “the day of the Lord” meant doom and destruction for the wicked, it was a day of deliverance for the righteous.
— Roger D. Campbell