As one considers the Prophetic Books of the Old Testament, a recurring motif is the preponderance of references to the coming “Day of the Lord.” However, despite the expression’s prevalence, there is not much agreement on its essential meaning. This is due to the fact that there are more tangential allusions to a “day” of Yahweh’s demonstrable intervention in the affairs of mankind than merely the direct citations of the phrase, “Day of the Lord.” (Is 13:6, 9; Eze 13:5; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Am 5:18, 20; Ob 1:15; Zep 1:7, 14; Mal 3:23) Understood in the broad sense of the term, the prophetic employment of the “Day of the Lord” can be recognized “to offer both warning and hope, announcing both disaster and salvation.”1 This binary prophetic proclamation takes on even more signification when one examines the direct and indirect references throughout the Prophetic Books. Additionally, several meaningful insights come to the fore as one juxtaposes the usages of the “Day of Lord” in the Major Prophets as compared with the Minor Prophets.
In the oracles of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, for example, the “Day of the Lord” figures predominantly as a prophetic broadside, replete with martial descriptions of Yahweh intervening into human affairs by “mobilizing an army for war.” (Is 13:4–6) Throughout, there is a brooding horror as the moment for this “Day” draws near. Yahweh is referred to as “the God of Armies” and is seen brandishing a sword as he combats those who are idolizing other gods. (Jer 46:10; Eze 7:15; cf. Is 2:12–18) This “Day” is one of terror and judgment as humanity’s pride and self-assurance is laid to waste as God’s pent-up wrath is unleashed in devastating fashion, even upon those within his covenant community. (Eze 13:1–23; 30:1–8) The depths of Yahweh’s sovereignty are on full display in this “day of tumult, trampling, and confusion” (Is 22:5), as the Lord of all things seeks to exhibit his unlimited supremacy over all nations and kingdoms and powers — that in their devastation they might know that he alone is Lord. (Eze 13:23; 30:8; cf. Ex 7:5)
A significant shift occurs, however, as one proceeds to examine the Minor Prophets and their employment of the “Day of the Lord.” Rather than centralizing the prophetic focus on the dreadful and macabre consequences of this “Day,” the oracles in the Book of the Twelve typically reverse the imagery of the “Day of the Lord” by alluding to the possibility of escape that also accompanies this day. (Joel 3:14–16; Ob 1:17; Zep 2:2–3) The sense of finality so prevalent in the oracles of the Major Prophets is altered by the proclamations of the Minor Prophets, who are insistent that within the heart of Yahweh is a capacity for both devastation and deliverance, for retribution and restoration. (Zeph 3:11–13) Yahweh is still a warrior. He is still the “Lord of Armies” (Am 5:16–18; Mal 4:1) He is still the One who sovereignly intervenes to establish his purposes in demonstrable ways. (Joel 2:1–2, 11) However, he is also seen as a “warrior who saves.” (Zep 3:17) As One who intervenes to defend and deliver his people. (Zec 14:3) As “Zion’s guardian.”2 Even as Yahweh marches against Jerusalem, there is an indication that his divine supremacy will be exercised for the good of those who call upon his name. (Mal 4:4) “The coming of the day,” Barker writes, “promises salvation for those who obey Yahweh and devastation for those who do not.”3 This “great and terrible day” (Joel 2:31) is, indeed, great and terrible and grievous and awful as man’s idols and tightly-held aggrandizations melt before “sun of righteousness.” (Mal 4:2) But as is the case throughout the entire corpus of Scripture, God has a penchant for revealing his heart’s deepest inclination. Namely, redemption and restoration and resurrection — realities which occur in the midst of ruin.
J. D. Barker, “Day of the Lord,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 132.