The Coming Day of the Lord
The Coming Day of the Lord
“For the day of the Lord is coming; surely it is near.”
In Joel 2, we are introduced to a theme found throughout the prophetic writings of the Old Testament: the coming “day of the Lord.” This theme speaks of God’s immediate judgment upon Israel and the final and future judgment upon the world coming at the end of the age. Historically, we see God’s judgment upon specific nations at specific times for their sin. But this past and present judgment foreshadows a future judgment prophesied in the book of Revelation when God brings his final judgment upon sin and restores the universe to its pre-fall condition.
While the ‘day of the Lord’ foretells judgment, it is also a promise of salvation for those who call upon the name of the Lord. For those who embrace the salvation of Christ, it will usher in a day of blessing redemption. Like the promise of future judgment, there is also the promise of future salvation when the Spirit of God will be poured out on his people and the New Covenant will be inaugurated. This was fulfilled at Pentecost in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon God’s people.
This twofold theme of the Day of the Lord (judgment and salvation) is described in Joel 2. The chapter describes the terrible outpouring of God's wrath upon sin. So awful is the wrath of God upon sin; all the people cower in fear and trembling as the armies of the enemies of Israel descend upon them. But this was not just the military movements of nations; this is seen as a direct act of God as he judges Israel for their rejection of his law. So terrible is the devastation of God’s judgment that the whole earth quakes and the heavens tremble. While this army will be the Assyrians, Joel recognizes that God governs all the powers of nature and nations, and nothing happens apart from his will.
Yet, even as God pronounces the terrible threat of immanent judgment, he calls the people to turn back to him. Having warned of the coming judgment, the book makes a surprising turn as the focus shifts to God’s grace and forgiveness. While God will judge sin, that judgment can be averted through repentance and by returning to God “with all your heart” (vs. 12).
God is a God of justice, but he is also a God of forgiveness. After the terrible description of the judgment of God, we discover one of the most significant statements of God’s grace found in scripture. While he is holy and just, and his wrath is poured on sin, he is also “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil” (2:13). If we turn back to him, instead of experiencing his judgment we can experience his blessing (vs. 14). If the people turn back to him, instead of the terror of an invading army, there is the promise of deliverance (vs. 20). Instead of fear, there will be rejoicing and gladness (vs. 21).
In this chapter, we see the balance between God's justice and forgiveness, his anger toward sin, and his compassion toward those who repent and turn to him. This is a balance we need to maintain in our view of God. He is both the judge and the deliverer, the one who pours out his terrifying wrath and the one who demonstrates infinite love. This leads us to both the fear of God and confidence before God. It leads us to confront our sins and accept his grace. In our sin, we are confronted with a just and holy God, but we are faced with a loving and righteous God in our repentance and faith. As A.W. Tozer rightly stated, “To fear and not be afraid, that is the paradox of faith.”