Selections From the Prophets Week 4
Seattle Pacific University Professor of Christian Ministry, Theology, and Culture
Read this week’s Scripture: Joel 2:28-32
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls (Joel 2:28–32).
The “News That Should Be” but Is Yet to Come
On a summer’s day in 2009, Manhattan urbanites in New York City were going about their usual hustle and bustle of starting their day. Rushing to the subway stations, hailing cabs, grabbing espresso drinks, and picking up copies of The New York Times to catch the latest headlines and scan the news items for the day. It’s a routine practiced with a blur of frenetic intensity in downtown Manhattan every day as millions of people move through this cosmopolitan city with little time to stop and consider what is right in front of their eyes.
For months, a group of artists had put together an exact replica of The New York Times, but with stories they had written that they thought people might be interested in and hoped would someday come true [Author’s Note 1]. They had printed out hundreds of copies of the paper and distributed it to unsuspecting New Yorkers. In a video shot to catch people’s reactions, you see the awareness begin to dawn across their faces as something that is so common, so predictable, suddenly turns their world upside down. People drop their coffee cups, stop in the middle of busy Manhattan streets as cars honk, or just stare in wonder.
For a moment, each of them registers a look that would have reflected the thought of many of those who had heard the prophet’s call.
Is this really true?
What does this news mean?
What is the world becoming?
As we continue our look at selections from the prophets, we now turn our attention to a phrase used by many of the prophets throughout the Old Testament – “the day of the Lord.”
The Day of the Lord — yôm yhwh — Is Not Like Any Other Day
The extreme nature of the coming day of the Lord as it is presented in Scripture evokes images of many end-of-the-world scenes stirred up in movies and other mass media:
Wail, for the day [yôm] of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty! … See, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation. (Isaiah 13:6, 9)
See, the day [yôm]! See, it comes! Your doom has gone out. The rod has blossomed, pride has budded. (Ezekiel 7:10)
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day [yôm] of the Lord is coming, it is near —
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from old,
nor will be again after them
in ages to come. (Joel 2:1, 2)
There are days we celebrate births, military victories, anniversaries, and graduations. We often set such days aside by putting them on our calendars, planning events, and gathering with others for whom such days will be meaningful.
Similarly, the use of “day” — yôm — throughout these passages, as well as others pointing to the day of the Lord, is not only to denote a specific chronological 24-hour period of time, but to speak of a period of time and space that is full of meaning — “a space of time defined by an associative term” — due to the subject that inhabits and orchestrates its height, depth and breadth, who in this case is the Lord God [Author’s Note 2]. There is a totality of attention to who God is and the absolute nature of God’s call to the people that is characteristic to this phrase by the prophets. On this day, nothing will stand in the way of our seeing, hearing, and experiencing God.
The Day of the Lord Is Personal
While there are numerous accounts [Author’s Note 3].throughout the prophetic literature that directly mention the day of the Lord, it remains shrouded in mystery surrounding the specifics. What will it specifically look like? How will we know that the day has indeed arrived? These details can only be speculated. Yet what is certain, seen through all the references to the day of the Lord, is that when it does come into fullness, God will be involved personally. As Gerhard von Rad puts it,
There is, in fact, something peculiar about the expectation of the Day of Yahweh, for wherever it occurs in prophesy, the statements culminate in an allusion to Yahweh’s coming in person. It has been often asked how this concept originated, and rightly so; for, could we find the answer, we would come much nearer to an understanding of the thing itself [Author’s Note 4].
In a Day Filled With the Lord, There Is No Room for Sin (ḥaṭāʾāh)
If there is a central theme to be drawn from all the references to the day of the Lord, it is that the entirety of the day will be inhabited by that which is core to God, and, therefore, no room is left for sin. In the canonical formation of the Old Testament, biblical scholar Brevard Childs sees this emphasis on the eradication of sin as so fundamental that it cannot be underscored enough:
When one attempts to reflect on the prophetic message as a whole, one is struck by the enormous variety in the vocabulary of sin …. To suggest, for example, that the etymology of the root to sin (ḥṭ’) simply denotes missing the mark does not register adequately how the word actually functions in Scripture …. [S]in is a wilful affront to God which opens the floodgates of universal rebellion and initiates a cosmological chain of disasters which far exceeds any human intent [Author’s Note 5].
While Israel is the focus of the message for the prophets and the call to repentance is paramount, it is a statement as much to Israel as it is to be proclaimed through Israel. Other neighbors will be affected on this day (Amos 1:13–15; Zephaniah 2:4–15; and Joel 3:11–12, for example) — for the far-reaching dawn of the day of the Lord will be total. One of the etymological references for the Hebrew word yôm is that it is a time of heat. Akin to sunlight focused through a magnifying glass at high noon on a summer’s day, the day of Lord will dawn bright in both light and heat, destroying all that stands in the way of God’s glory. This is affirmed with laser focus and intensity throughout the prophetic literature, as we shall see in the coming weeks. Yet this day of the Lord is not merely pure destruction, nor is it salvation without cost. Rather, the day of the Lord is a day of redemption through judgment that will purify all that needs sanctification. In this the prophets are lenses through which this message of light and heat condenses and focuses to laser precision for the sake of God’s chosen people.
When Yôm Takes on Flesh and Dwells Among Us — the Day of the Lord in Acts 2
As we noted earlier, what makes the day of the Lord of particular interest for Christians is that this very day — the day of the Lord — is not merely a day, but a person. This is what is proclaimed by Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the day of the Lord is now coming into being not merely with light and heat, but with the falling of tongues of fire upon the heads of those gathered. Peter repeats the prophesy of Joel and underscores that “the Lord’s great and glorious day” is now present in our midst:
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days, I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17–18)
Like Manhattan commuters rushing to work as they had done day after day, this announcement of a new day — a day of the Lord no less — would surely have provoked a call to attention. Yet, where false news can be laughed about, crumpled up, shaken off, and thrown aside, this was something else altogether. As Peter tells them, the day of the Lord is not false news easily dismissed. Nor is it merely old news from the prophets of old that we have heard oh-so-many times and can brush aside as nostalgia. No, this is ‘good news’ — Greek: εὐαγγέλιον, euangelion — that is not merely an event, but a person, and that person is Emmanuel, God with us. Directly following his recitation of Joel’s prophesy, Peter goes on to say,
You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know, … this Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses (2:22,32).
The New Testament further testifies that this day of the Lord is now “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 1:14) and “the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6) [Author’s Note 6]. While this day has yet to be fully realized, it is certainly dawning, and the light that has come into the world is burning bright with promise. There is news on the streets, as Peter reminds us. And it is all the news that is fit to print, and then some.
Questions for Further Reflection
- The Lectio writer refers to an art “installation” that involved a mock New York Times filled with news that was almost too good to be true. What would be ‘good news’ that would be almost impossible to believe if you read it in the paper? In world events? In local events? In your faith community? In your family?
- The “day of the Lord” is a theme that frequently emerges throughout the prophets. What did you learn from this Lectio reading about the meaning of the “day of the Lord”? How does this reality speak to the everyday outworking of your faith?
- This notion of the “day of the Lord” is literally a space in which God lives, moves, and has his being with us. What would such a space look and feel like for you? Do you think such a space would seem the same for others you know? Why or why not?
- One of the things Joel prophesies is that we will “dream dreams” and “have visions.” What are your dreams and visions for the world — dreams that are so big that they require trust in God in order to see them become reality?
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