The day of the Lord
Interpretations of Ch 1,2 differ. Some think both chapters refer to the plague of the locusts. In this view, the locusts off Ch 1 are the invading army of Ch 2 (2:2,7). It seems unlikely that the same locust attack is in view in both chapters; in Ch 1 the plague of locusts has already happened while the invading army of Ch 2 is yet to come. However, the locusts, in Ch 1, seem to be employed as a template for the fearful army belonging to the looming day of divine visitation and judgement in Ch 2. Some see this to be a temporal army, the Assyrians. This may be, given dating the book is difficult, however, the context is profoundly eschatological. It seems to be an eschatological army viewed through the lens of the locusts still fresh on Israel’s mind; the ravenous swarm of the locusts is both a prelude to and a picture of the devouring ‘day of the Lord’.
I tend to think, therefore, that the approaching ‘day of the Lord’ and the associated army is eschatological; it is a ‘day’ at the end of history and not, as is sometimes the case, a time in the course of history that is in view . In Ch 2,3, Joel’s frame is thoroughly eschatological. He describes ultimate salvation and judgement that lie beyond temporal shadows. Contextually, therefore, it makes good sense for the marauding army to be eschatological. The fearful attacking army will never be matched again (2:2). Further, the description of an almost supernatural army (2:1-11), severe cosmic disturbances (1:10) and the ‘day of the Lord ‘described as ‘great and very awesome; who can endure it’ suggests Joel’s ‘day of the Lord’ is historically climactic. Even if the army is in the first instance Assyria, it is a type of the eschatological army that climaxes history.
The expression ‘the day of the Lord’ occurs five times in Joel. It is also used by a number of other OT prophets. Sometimes equivalent expressions are used such as ‘that day’ or ‘the day’. Sometimes it indicates an event in the near future while often its focus is the final eschatological day of the Lord. It is above all a day of evident divine visitation either in salvation or judgement or both. Possibly the concept originated in the holy wars in Israel’s early history (Deut 1:30, 3:22; Josh 5:13-15, 6 Cf. Josh 9:4,5). In those days Israel was the Lord’s army visiting destruction. Occasionally the Ark went into battle with Israel; God was showing he was with his people. The taking of Jericho the first city in Canaan was one such occasion. The outcome was doom for the Canaanites and victory for Israel.
Perhaps this inclined Israel to view ‘the day of the Lord’ as he came down to battle as inevitably a day of salvation for Israel and judgement for the nations. In this, they were mistaken as subsequent history shows (Josh 7: 2 Chron 32; 2 Kings 24,25). Only for a righteous nation is the day of the Lord sure to be a day of salvation and Israel was not righteous. Thus, to a sinful nation, already experiencing judgement, Joel urges repentance. Ultimately, the divide on the day of the Lord is not between Israel and the nations but between those who are righteous and those who are unrighteous or those with obedient faith and those without. We begin to see how vital the gospel gift of righteousness is for sinful people (Roms 3:21-26, 5:12-21)
Ch 2 therefore describes the eschatological ‘day of the Lord’. It is a day of ‘thick darkness’ of eschatological judgement (2:2). The divine consecrated army of vengeance is locust-like; an army about to devour Israel. The language intensifies from Ch 1. The army is like no other (2:2). It is the army of ‘a great and powerful people’ Like ‘blackness’ it rises over the mountains snuffing out the light (2:2). It is an army rivalled by no other (2:2). Fire goes before them and comes behind; this army is a consuming fire (2:3 2 Thess 1:8,9) It devours and destroys. It unravels and reverses creation; Eden becomes a waste (2:3; Isa 24:1-3).
The army is regimented and single-minded. It is an efficient and unstoppable force (2:7,8). It is swift (2:4). It is powerful and agile (2:5). It is disciplined (v8). Before it nations are in anguish (2:6). Locust-like, it penetrates and overpowers everything in its path (2:7-11). All its soldiers are warriors (2:7). It is an apocalyptic army, consecrated, vast and invincible (2:11; Isa. 13:3). All of creation shakes before it and light closes down (2:10).l
The real terror of the army is, that as with the Assyrians and Babylonians, it is the Lord’s army, driven by God’s commanding word (2:11). Its coming is accompanied by apocalyptic phenomena (2:11). Perhaps most terrible of all is at the head of the army is the Lord of hosts with his powerful irresistible word (2:11). This is the ultimate war machine. It rightly instils terror, yet while it is a terrifying army it is not evil, indeed it is evil it has come to overthrow.
If locusts provide the imagery describing the army, the apocalyptic language points to this being the Lord’s army in the truest sense. Revelation depicts the armies of heaven coming to wage war on an apostate world. with God in Christ leads the army into battle. He is the Word of God. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. He will strike down the nations with the sword that comes from his mouth. In righteousness he judges and makes war (Rev 19:11-21). The Lord is coming from heaven with ten thousand of his holy ones to execute judgement (Jude v14); 2 Thess 1:7-10; Ps 110). This is Joel’s apocalyptic army. The nations call upon the mountains to hide them from the wrath of the lamb.
The chapter begins with a trumpet (horn) blast announcing impending judgement; the army of heaven will soon arrive (2:1). In v15 a trumpet calls the nation (probably both north and south) to national repentance and consecration. There is urgency here. Everyone must come to call on God in his house. No age is exempt and no activity takes precedence. Nothing is more imperative than the repentance of the nation before God. Only in this self-abnegation does salvation lie. The priests, like Moses intercede on its behalf. Like Moses, the plea lies not in the nation’s righteousness, nor its special identity, nor even the presence of the temple; the plea is the glory of God. God’s own glory is the highest appeal that can be made. Israel is his people and their salvation is integral to God’s glory. it was a plea similar to that of Moses at Sinai when Israel sinned (Ex 32:11-14; Num 14:13-19). An appeal to God’s mercy is an appeal to God’s heart for his mercy is fundamental to who he is; his mercy is his greatest glory. (Roms 9-11). A repentant mourning Israel as the ‘day of the Lord’ arrives will make his coming one of salvation. The Lord, motivated by jealousy for his own name and pity for his people ‘relents over disaster’; at history’s eleventh hour Israel is converted. Only in heeding the call of the second trumpet can Israel escape the judgement of the first trumpet.
* Some see the invading army of Ch 2 as Assyria. However, Assyria was an enemy in the course of history not at the end of history and the day of the Lord in Joel is clearly eschatological. Others see the invading army as an end-time gentile nation. It is true that Scripture seems to support end-time gentile hostility towards Israel (Zech 12:1-5, 14:1-5) The reference to the northerner may support this; Israel’s enemies, like Assyria, often came from the north (2:20). However, these gentile nations attack Israel whereas, because of Israel’s repentance, the invading army does not attack, it does not invade. The removal of the northerner may express Christ’s overthrow of End-time opponents of Israel or it may be a general way of expressing the final kingdom security of God’s people. Given it appears in a section describing already realised kingdom blessings I’m inclined to the latter but these things are hard and I must be tentative.