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Day of the Lord


DAY OF THE LORD , a definite, though undetermined, point of time in the future, when God is expected to punish the wicked and justice will triumph. The term "Day of the Lord" serves as a key word in nine prophetic passages (Isa. 13:6–13; Joel 1:15; 2:1; 3:4; 4:14; Amos 5:18–20; Obad. 15; Zeph. 1:17–18; Mal. 3:23); in others it appears in some slightly varied form (see e.g., Isa. 2:12; Ezek. 30:3; Zech. 14:1–9). The prominent feature of these passages is a dramatic sense of doom, underlined by a few characteristic motifs, such as darkness and wailing. The usual message of these prophecies asserts that the Day of the Lord is near. From the polemic of Amos (5:18–20) against those who desire the Day of the Lord it is evident that the concept was well established by the time at which the so-called "writing" prophets started to function, and that an optimistic version was somewhat popular (presumably with patriotic overtones). Scholars have tried to utilize the term for their general theories on biblical *eschatology, or to find some hypothetical, non-prophetic origin of the concept. Thus according to Mowinckel and others, the Day of the Lord was originally a New Year festival; L. Černý suggests that it was a fateful, disastrous day; and von Rad presumes that in the early sacred wars of Israel, God was considered to reveal His will in battle, and therefore any battle was called a Day of the Lord. The last suggestion can find some support in Ezekiel 13:5, where a metaphorical battle, visualized as having taken place in the past, is referred to by the term Day of the Lord.

The main, though largely undiscussed, difficulty concerning the Day of the Lord is that of its significance. The passages do not convey a concept amenable to logical analysis, nor an eschatological doctrine. The warning is given that the Day of the Lord is near, but the more abstract idea involving history's drawing to a close is not indicated. The wicked will be punished, justice established, mankind confounded, and its destiny somehow definitely changed. However, none of this seems essential to the notion itself. Nor is the concept related to expectations of theophany. The prophets simply confront their listeners with the awful certainty of future Divine action. Thus in the expression "Day of the Lord" there is a rather vague but stark and powerful concept: God will indeed act – suddenly, decisively, and directly, in a single day, with vehemence and terror.


D.H. Mueller, Komposition und Strophenbau (1907), 36–40; G. Hoelscher, Die Urspruenge der juedischen Eschatologie, 1 (1925), 13; H. Gressmann, Der Messias (1929), 75, 83, 84; Pedersen, Israel, 3–4 (1940), 546; J. Morgenstern, Amos Studies, 1 (1941), 408–13; A.S. Kapelrud, Joel Studies (1948), 54–57; W. Eichrodt, Theologie des Alten Testaments (1948), 233; L. Černý, The Day of Yahweh and Some Relevant Problems (1948); O. Procksch, Theologie des Alten Testaments (1950), 578; H.H. Rowley (ed.), Old Testament and Modern Studies (1951), 305; idem, The Faith of Israel (1956), 177–80; H.W. Robinson, Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament (1950), 135–47; S. Mowinckel, He that Cometh (1956), index; G. von Rad, in: JSS, 4 (1959), 97–108; Kaufmann, Y., Toledot, 2 (1960), 291–3, 516–7; 3 (1960), 157–9; M. Weiss, in: huca, 37 (1966), 29ff.

[Jacob Licht]

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