By  David Noakes



There is today a famine of the truth of the word of God in many parts of the church, and it is a famine which is increasing in severity.  It is of the greatest importance that in the difficult days that lie ahead, God’s people should not find themselves either deceived by false teaching or taken unawares by events that their teachers had not told them to expect.  It is a matter of urgency that we try to grasp clearly and accurately the whole of what Scripture predicts for the closing days of this age - but stripped of the speculation and sensationalism which so often surrounds it.



To establish truth, we need the illumination of the Holy Spirit; and we need to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, allowing the word of God to be its own commentary upon itself, and letting the weight of the whole of the prophetic writings taken together build up a clear picture of the events which are being predicted.  It could be likened to a jigsaw puzzle, scattered through the pages of the books of the prophets, which only the Holy Spirit can assemble correctly.



The topic of the Day of the Lord is a thread that is interwoven into the Scriptures from the time of the earliest writing prophet, Obadiah, right through to the book of Revelation.  Almost every prophet makes reference to it, either directly or indirectly.  Sometimes, as with Isaiah in chapters 9-12, their prophetic vision leaps back and forth, from the time of the immediate future of which they are speaking, to the time of the end of this age.  Sometimes, as with Joel and Zephaniah, the Day of the Lord is completely central to their writings, and the prophetic revelation arises either out of considering historical events that have already taken place - in Joel’s case a judgement on the Land of Israel by means of an invasion of locusts which had already happened in his own day (Joel 1: 1 - 2: 11) - or as with Zephaniah, out of a prophetic awareness of the imminence of the invasion and destruction of Judah by the Babylonians, which took place some 45 years later in 586 BCE (Zeph 1: 4 - 2: 3; 3: 1-13).



A major theme of biblical prophecy



The Day of the Lord is a theme to which the prophets were drawn like moths to a candle flame.  What is this great event that so occupied their thoughts and which keeps breaking into their writings as if they had suddenly taken off their reading glasses and instead had picked up a telescope to gaze with astonishing clarity of vision into the distant future?



It is a major theme of biblical prophecy, running like an unbroken thread through the writings of the Hebrew prophets, in which the phrase the Day of the Lord, with its unique significance, occurs 21 times between Isaiah 2: 12 and the very last verse of the Old Testament, Malachi 4: 5.  Parallel to that phrase is another that has similar theological significance when used by the prophets: ‘in that day’, which is found 107 times in their writings and out of which 80 references are directly relative to the future Day of the Lord.



The Day of the Lord is thus mentioned by the prophets more than 100 times.  It is continuously into the book of Isaiah, appearing in no fewer than 17 of the first 35 chapters.  Of the 17 books of the Old Testament prophets, only five fail to mention it directly by name; and of those five, Daniel in chapters 7-12 deals with the subject extensively, while both Nahum and Habakkuk also contain relevant prophecy relating to the closing days of this age.  This prophetic theme continues through the New Testament, emerging, for example, in the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24: 15-31; Mk. 13: 14-27; Lk. 21: 20-36), in 1 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 2 Peter, Jude and of course almost the whole of the book of Revelation.



How should we understand this term the Day of the Lord and its counterpart In that day?  What do they signify?  There is no special significance in the actual Hebrew or Greek words used in the two phrases.  In the  Hebrew Old Testament the ordinary Hebrew word for day, yom, is used; while in the Septuagint and the New Testament the usual Greek word, hemera, is found.  Yom is translated variously in the Scriptures as ‘day’, ‘time’ or ‘year’.  It can express either a particular point in time, or a period of time that may extend during months or even years.  When included in the phrases the Day of the Lord or in that day, it is used prophetically to indicate a particular future period of time when God’s personal and direct intervention in human history will occur in order to fulfil His purposes.



God’s purposes



What are these purposes?  The evidence from Amos 5: 18 indicates that the popular understanding among the people at the time of his ministry in the northern kingdom of Israel (c.760 BCE) was that it would be a day when God would intervene in such a way as to exalt Israel to be chief among the nations, irrespective of Israel’s unfaithfulness towards Him.  This was the view being taken by the people at a time of relative peace and prosperity, which had led to great complacency (Amos 6: 1-7).  Amos, however, hastens to disabuse them of such an idea.  The Day of the Lord will certainly be an occasion when God intervenes, but first to punish sin, which has reached a climax: Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord!  Why do you long for the day of the Lord?  That day will be darkness, not light ... will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light - pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?’ (Amos 5: 18, 20).



All the prophetic writings confirm Amos’s understanding of the Day of the Lord as a day of terror, involving the invasion of Israel and an experience of unparalleled destruction.  Zephaniah, prophesying to Judah in about 630 BCE, says:



The great day of the Lord is near - near and coming quickly.  Listen!  The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there.  That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. (Zeph 1: 14-16)



Both these and other passages in the prophetic writings underscore the fact that the Day of the Lord is to be a day when the terror of divine Judgement is to be poured out on the unbelieving nation of Israel (see, e.g., Isaiah 2: 6-21; Jeremiah 30: 4-17; Joel 1: 15 - 2: 11; Malachi 4: 1).  Yet this by no means represents the whole of God’s purposes at that time.  The unbelieving nations of the world will also be brought into judgement; and in addition a surviving remnant of the nation of Israel will enter into a national conversion, forgiveness of sins, cleansing, and restoration to possession of the entirety of the Land that God Promised to Abraham (see, e.g., Isaiah 4: 2-6; Jeremiah 30: 18-31:40; Micah 4: 1-8; Zechariah 12: 10 - 13: 2).



The tribulation period



The Day of the Lord is always found in the context of a prophetic prediction of a future disaster, involving certain signs that will portend its arrival, notably convulsions of nature and periods of darkness in the sky.  The Day itself involves the direct intervention of God in the affairs of men, bringing judgement and great destruction upon Israel through military invasion by the Gentile nations, which in turn results in destruction by God of those armies at the return of the Lord Jesus and deliverance for the repentant remnant of Israel.  This leads directly into the fullness of restoration of both the nation and the Land of Israel, God’s judgement upon the Gentile nations, and the establishment of the millennial kingdom of the Messiah upon the earth.



What we are describing is thus that period of prophetic prediction in human history known in the New Testament as the Tribulation or the Great Tribulation.  It may be helpful to tabulate some of the other terms used in the Old Testament to represent this period of time.  It is variously referred to as:



The Time of Jacob’s Trouble .   Jeremiah 30: 7


Israel’s Day of Disaster.   Deuteronomy 32: 35


His wrath.   Isaiah 26: 20


The Overwhelming Scourge .   Isaiah 28: 15, 18


God’s Strange Work.   Isaiah 28: 21


God’s Alien Task.   Isaiah 28: 21


Day of Vengeance.   Isaiah 34: 8; 35: 4; 61: 2


The Seventieth Week of Daniel .   Daniel 9: 27


The Time of Wrath.   Daniel 11: 36


The Time of Distress.   Daniel 12: 1


The Day of Pitch-darkness, without a ray of brightness.   Amos 5: 18


The Day of Darkness and Gloom.   Joel 2: 2; Zephaniah 1: 15


The Day of Clouds and Blackness.   Joel 2: 2; Zephaniah 1: 15


The Day of Judah’s Disaster.   Obadiah 13


The Day of Wrath.   Zephaniah 1: 15


The Day of Distress and Anguish.   Zephaniah 1: 15


The Day of Trouble and Ruin.   Zephaniah 1: 15


The Day of Trumpet and Battle-Cry.   Zephaniah 1: 15



These descriptions alone are sufficient to indicate that this period will be a time of unparalleled distress for the whole world, but pre-eminently for the house of Jacob, for whom it will be the final outworking of God’s judgement upon their national sin and apostasy.  This must come to pass before the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1: 6) can take place.  That it will be a time of unequalled distress in Judah is confirmed by Jesus in Matthew 24: 15-29 in the course of speaking to His disciples about the events leading to the end of the age.



The uniqueness of the nation of Israel



To understand rightly what the Scriptures reveal, it is of critical importance to bear in mind that what we are examining is the writings of Hebrew prophets, prophesying to Hebrews about what is primarily, in the purposes of God, an event which involves His final dealing in judgement with the nation of Israel before her national vindication and restoration.  His judgements on the nations, vital though they are, take second place to His dealings with His covenant people so far as the heart of God is concerned.



It is impossible to understand the events that will mark the closing days of this age without understanding the relationship between Hebrew Israel, the physical descendants of Jacob, and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  This relationship is special, unique and irreplaceable; and no third party, including the church, can ever be a substitute within it.



A key biblical distinction is between the place of Israel and the place of the church, and failure to observe and maintain that distinction leads to misunderstanding of much of what the Bible teaches.  As far as eschatology is concerned, the distinction is vital, for a right understanding of the covenant relationship between Israel and her God is crucial in comprehending the revelation of Scripture as to its outworking.  That relationship is pivotal, the hub at the centre of the wheel, around which all the other events of the last days revolve.  If it is not in proper position in our thinking, other matters of eschatology become as loose spokes of the wheel, with no central point of reference.



The Bible speaks of Israel as the Wife of the God of Jacob and of the Church as the Bride of Christ.  They are by no means the same in this age, although ultimately they will be united in the new Jerusalem.  Israel is revealed progressively in Scripture as a wife married to God, who becomes adulterous, is separated, then divorced, then punished, rejected and abandoned, but finally restored into the fullness of the marriage covenant (Is. 54: 1-8; Is. 62: 4-5; Hos. 2: 14-23).  The church, however, is represented as a betrothed virgin who is not yet joined by marriage to her husband; the wedding feast is yet to come.  Unlike Israel, the adulterous forgiven, cleansed and restored, the church is in the future to be presented to Christ as a pure virgin (1 Cor. 11: 2; Eph. 5: 25-27).  The two are presented in Scripture as being different and distinct from one another, and it is important to realise that God deals with them as such.



The consistent testimony of the many passages of Scripture that relate to God’s future dealings with the nation of Israel - which will include both the formerly divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah (see, e.g., Is. 11: 12-14; Jer. 31: 27, 31; Ez. 37: 15-23) - leaves no room for doubt that the faithfulness of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ will every promise and every prediction made concerning the Hebrew people, with whom He remains in a covenant relationship.  As He says in Malachi 3: 6: ‘I the Lord do not change.  So you, 0 descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.’



Judgement and salvation



Scriptures predict exactly what we see today in the nation-state of Israel: a nation being restored to her Land in a state of unbelief.  The prophetic word of God is being visibly fulfilled in our own day, which is a cause for rejoicing since it heralds the imminent return of Messiah.  It is nevertheless at the same time a cause of foreboding, for the Scriptures also make it plain that before Messiah comes, this restoration to the Land must be the inevitable prologue to a final terrible outpouring of satanic anti-Semitic hatred.  This will bring about the completion of God’s judgements upon His covenant nation in her own Land in the Day of the Lord, which Jeremiah 30: 7 describes as the time of Jacob’s trouble’: ‘Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it (KJV).



An examination of the passages of Scripture dealing with the topic of the Day of the Lord leads to the realisation that, as we have already said, the period of time being described in the Old Testament writings is the same as that which the New Testament identifies as the great tribulation (Rev 7: 14).  At every place in Scripture where the phrase the Day of the Lord is to be found, it is in a context which relates it to the tribulation period.



Although the period of the tribulation is first and foremost the time of Jacob’s trouble, it will include also God’s judgement on the Gentile nations and will result in the salvation and restoration of the surviving remnant of the nation of Israel.  In addition, as it runs its course, it will bring about a worldwide harvest of salvation among the Gentiles (Rev 7: 9-17).



To put some more flesh on these bones and to substantiate what has been said, we need to examine certain key passages of Scripture that make detailed reference to the Day of the Lord.  Since, however, the theme runs like a continuous thread through the prophetic writings, from Isaiah to Revelation, we cannot attempt to cover every place where it is mentioned.



Let us begin with the book of Joel, after Obadiah the first of the writing prophets to deal with the subject of the Day of the Lord.  He prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah, probably in the reign of King Joash, about 835 BCE.  Certainly he must predate Amos, who prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel in the following century during the reign of Jeroboam II (Amos 1: 1), because Amos quotes Joel twice: Joel 3: 16 is quoted in Amos 1: 2, and Joel 3: 18 in Amos 9: 13.



Military invasion of the Land of Israel



In chapter 1: 2-14, Joel describes an actual historical invasion of the Land by locusts in four successive waves (v. 4), bringing total destruction of the crops.  From an examination of Jeremiah 15: 3 and Ezekiel 14: 21, it is apparent that, prophetically, four stages of a disaster indicate its completeness.  It brings lamentation among the people and a call to the priests for national repentance (vv. 13-14).  From the springboard of this account of an actual invasion by locusts in Joel’s own day, he moves immediately into the prophetic future, using the analogy of the invasion by locusts to describe an invasion of the Land of Israel which will take place at the end of this age, in the Day of the Lord.  This will be similar to the plague of locusts in that it will bring a complete devastation to the Land.  The account begins in verse 15, where the theme of the Day of the Lord is introduced and is stated to involve destruction in the Land of Israel.  This continues to verse 11 of chapter 2.



Although there was at least some limited measure of fulfilment of this prophecy in both the Assyrian and the Babylonian invasions of 722 BCE and 586 BCE respectively, this passage has its real and ultimate fulfilment in an even more catastrophic event yet to come.  This invasion will be the worst in Israel’s entire history (2: 2b).  It will involve a vast army (2: 2, 11), which will bring destruction by fire upon the whole Land (1: 19-20; 2: 3).  The devastation will be complete (1: 16-20).  Although it will be a hostile army that will invade Israel and bring the disaster, this is nevertheless the hand of God at work in the final judgement to fall upon Israel.  It is destruction from the Almighty’ (1: 15) and the army is described as the Lord’s army in 2: 11.



More than three centuries later, following the return of the remnant of Judah from the Babylonian exile, the prophet Zechariah received a more detailed account of that same invasion, which even the post-exileic period was still revealed as a future event.  In Zechariah 12, the Lord states in verses 2 and 3: I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling.  Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem.  On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations.’  In Zechariah 14: 2 the word of God further states: I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped.  Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city.’  It is generally understood that this situation will be the culmination of the campaign of Armageddon (Rev 16: 12-16).



Turning to the book of Zephaniah, whose central theme is also that of the Day of the Lord (1: 14), we find that the whole of chapter 3 is speaking to the unrepentant city of Jerusalem concerning God’s future judgement, and beyond that to the subsequent restoration of a saved remnant of her people.  Again, we are told that God’s judgement will be executed at the hands of Gentile nations, who will in turn themselves be judged by the Lord.  Zephaniah 3: 7-8 reads:



I said to the city, “Surely you will fear me and accept correction!”  Then her dwelling would not be cut off, nor all my punishments come upon her.  But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.  Therefore, wait for me,’ declares the Lord, ‘for the day I will stand up to testify.  I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them - all my fierce anger.  The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.’



To digress briefly at this point, the translation here may be somewhat misleading.  The final sentence, translating the Hebrew word erets, which is translated only rarely as ‘world’, but more usually as either ‘earth’ or ‘land’, says that the whole world will be consumed, while the KJV renders it All the earth shall be devoured.’  Both translations appear to assume that God has here turned His attention to speaking solely of His judgement on the Gentile nations of the world.  However, God never states that He is jealous over the nations of the world, but states frequently that He is jealous over His people Israel and over the city of Jerusalem; and in the context of the whole passage, it may be that the final sentence of 3: 8 should read: The whole land will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.’  This statement can be understood either to be literal, or as a metaphorical expression of the overflowing of the Lord’s heated indignation against the corruption about which He has already protested with solemn warnings.



The likelihood of this possibility appears to be reinforced by an examination of the language used by Zephaniah in chapter 1.  In verses 2 and 3, which clearly refer to widespread destruction on the whole inhabited earth in the day of the Lord’s judgement, the word translated ‘earth’ is adamah; whereas in verse 18, in the context of a passage which begins in verse 4 and in which the prophet is specifically addressing Judah, the word erets is chosen.  This distinction in the choice of language in the original inspired texts is surely significant for our understanding and interpretation: adamah is used to describe the earth as a whole, erets when the Land of Judah is in view.



God speaks primarily to Israel, secondarily to the Gentiles



A factor of importance in our eschatological understanding of biblical prophecy concerning the closing days of this age is that although it is not at all unusual for the prophets to speak of specific Gentile nations as being the recipients of God’s judgement, when they do it is almost invariably made clear by the fact that those nations are mentioned by name.  Except where that is the case, we need to bear in mind that the usual task of the Hebrew prophets was to prophesy to their own people concerning the nation and the Land of Israel or Judah.  If the Gentile church were to gain a firm grasp on this principle, much confusion would be removed.  It is very common, for example, among Christians to find the belief that the campaign of Armageddon is bound to involve a worldwide military conflict, including a nuclear holocaust.  This may of course prove to be so, but the Scriptures do not necessarily seem to warrant this particular conclusion.  We must beware of falling into the trap of ‘going beyond what is written’ (1 Cor. 4: 6) in the revelation of the word of God.  What is clear is that the military action of the campaign of Armageddon will take place in the Land of Israel.



The rest of the world will, of course, experience the supernatural manifestations of the wrath of God as revealed in appalling detail in the Book of Revelation; and the clear implication of scriptures such as those found, for example, in Isaiah 24 and in the Olivet Discourse is that the entire world will experience the shakings and disasters that result from the overflowing of God’s judgement upon the sin of all the nations (cf. Hag. 2: 20-22 and Heb. 12: 26-27).  When the world’s cup of iniquity is full, His final judgements will fall in the Day of the Lord.



Worldwide warning signs



We have already quoted Amos 5: 18 and 20, stating that the Day of the Lord will be ‘darkness, not light - pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness’.  Returning to Joel 2: 2 we find similarly, that the day will be one of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, and in 2: 10 that the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine.  This is not just symbolic darkness; there will also be a literal aspect to it.  Jesus said in Luke 21: 25 that there will be signs in the sun, moon and stars.  Even as there was physical darkness when Jesus was enduring the judgement of God against sin at Calvary (Mt. 27: 45), so Scripture also speaks of more than one period of physical darkness in the time of the judgements that will take place in the Day of the Lord.



The terrible invasion described in Joel 2 brings forth God’s call to Israel to repentance in order to avert the disaster before the destruction is total (2: 12-17).  They are to call upon the name of the Lord, reminding Him that they are His covenant people and that the Land is His inheritance (v. 17; cf. Ps. 79: 10).



Salvation of a remnant



Following this repentance, God responds to the surviving remnant and delivers those who have called upon Him for salvation (2: 32; see also Mal. 3: 16 - 4: 3).  The second part of Joel’s prophecy moves from the invasion and destruction of Israel to the salvation and restoration of Israel.  The invading army (2: 20) will be destroyed by God in the desert of the Negev, and it will be so large as to be pushed at either end into the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean respectively.  The Land will be restored (vv. 19, 21-27).  Following this deliverance there will be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all the survivors of the nation of Israel (vv. 28-29).



Thus far, we see the Day of the Lord as being a time of terrible judgement on the Land and nation of Israel. Joel 2: 30-31 tells us that there will be dramatic and awful warnings of the impending arrival of that Day by means of:



(a) upheavals in nature;



(b) a period of unnatural darkness.



These are warnings to all those who have ears to hear and especially to Israel, together with an assurance (v. 32) that there will be deliverance on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem for those who call upon the Lord for salvation - but they will only be the surviving elect remnant of Israel.  Zechariah 13: 8-9 speaks of this remnant and says:



In the whole land,’ declares the Lord, ‘two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it.  This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, “They are my people,” and they will say, “‘The Lord is our God.’”



Romans 9: 26-29, Paul quotes from Hosea 1: 10, Isaiah 10: 22-23 and Isaiah 1: 9 to establish the fact that a remnant of Israel will be saved; and on examination of the scripture that he quoted from Isaiah 10, we find that it is at the time of the Day of Lord, the complete quotation beginning in verse 20 with the theologically significant phrase in that day.  The whole passage, Isaiah 10: 20-23, reads:



In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the Lord, the One of Israel.  A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God.  Though your people, O Israel, be like the sand by the sea, only a remnant will return.  Destruction has been decreed, overwhelming and righteous.  The Lord, the Lord Almighty, will carry out the destruction decreed upon the whole land.



Jesus also confirmed that there would be a surviving remnant.  In Matthew 24: 15, He turns His attention to the time of the great tribulation and gives prophetic warnings relating to it.  It is to be, in Judea particularly (v. 16), a time of unparalleled distress (v. 21) from which there would be no survivors except for divine intervention (v. 22), but God will intervene and bring an end to the tribulation in Judea ‘for the sake of the elect - that is, the remnant of Israel that is to be saved out of it.



The ‘Little Apocalypse’ of Isaiah 24-27



Another key passage of Scripture that is prophetic of the Day of the Lord is the ‘Little Apocalypse’ of Isaiah 24-27.  Many commentators appear to think that the whole of chapter 24 is speaking about God’s judgement solely on a worldwide basis, but this assumption does not seem to equate with the usual prophetic methods of expression.



We noted previously that when the Hebrew prophets are speaking about nations other than Israel and Judah, they specifically name those nations.  Between chapters 13 and 23, Isaiah has prophesied judgement concerning Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Damascus, Ethiopia, Egypt, Edom, Arabia and Tyre; in chapter 24, however, no individual nation is named.  This may be, of course, because the prophet intends to include every nation without distinction, and it has been assumed by many that because in translation this chapter speaks over and over again of ‘the earth’, the prophecy is therefore entirely to do with events that are to occur on a worldwide basis.  However, as with the book of Zephaniah, on 15 occasions out of 17 the word translated ‘the earth’ is again the Hebrew ‘erets’, which can equally well be translated as the land.  It is interesting to note that Dr David Stern’s translation of Isaiah 24 in The Complete Jewish Bible relates verses 1-12 to the Land of Israel, but renders verses 13-23 as having global application.



It appears significant when considering the language of Isaiah 24 that when the prophet wishes to make reference to the earth in a worldwide sense, he uses a different Hebrew word.  In this context he does not use erets but adamah, which means the ground or the soil of the dry land.  Adamah is used in Isaiah 23: 17, where Tyre is said to ply her trade with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth.  It is also the case that in verse 21 of chapter 24, which reads in that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below, Isaiah, having used the word erets throughout the chapter until that point, suddenly switches and uses the word adamah in speaking of the kings on the earth on what is obviously intended as a worldwide basis.  This deliberate choice of the different words under the influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be without reason.



Of the two occasions when the word translated as ‘the earth’ or ‘the world’ is not the usual erets, Isaiah employs the word adamah, once in verse 21; while on the other occasion in verse 4, he uses the less common word for the habitable earth, tebel, sandwiched between two uses of erets in the very same verse.  Why should there be these variations of usage on only two out of seventeen occasions when ‘the earth’ is in view?



It is easy to see in verses 21-23 that the prophetic revelation shifts its emphasis into a clear global perspective of judgement upon world rulers, both human and spiritual; hence the change of emphasis signified by the sudden use of the different word adamah.  In verse 4, however, the sudden single use of tebel may be to enable the prophet to speak in the same sentence of the simultaneous total impoverishment of both the Land of Israel and the whole of the rest of the planet.  The cause in both cases is he outpouring of God’s judgement - the cup of iniquity - on both His own covenant people and also the global community of the Gentile nations, to bring to an end the rebellion of both against His sovereign rulership.  The result of this global judgement will be the repentance and total restoration of Israel as the redeemed messianic covenant nation, taking her appointed place as chief among the nations of the world (Jer. 31: 7), and the judgement of the returned Messiah upon the Gentile nations on the basis of their acceptance or rejection of His covenant people in the hour of their great distress.



It seems very probable, from the actual content of this chapter also, that the prophecy does relate primarily to the Land of Israel and only secondarily to the earth as a whole.  The prophecies of laying waste, devastation and plundering that it contains are entirely at one with the prophetic predictions elsewhere in the Scriptures concerning the invasion of Israel and the siege of Jerusalem.  Verse 5 is extremely thought-provoking; the charge is that the Land is defiled by its people who have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant thereby bringing upon themselves a curse (v. 6).  The only nation mentioned in Scripture as having received laws and statutes, the breaking of which brings a curse, is Israel.  Neither have the Gentile nations of the world ever been party to any everlasting covenant which they have broken, although the Noahic covenant is also expressed to be everlasting in Genesis 9: 16.  That covenant, however, is unilateral on the part of God; and taken in its context, the only tenable argument for its infraction by the earth’s inhabitants would seem to lie in the sin of shedding innocent blood (vv. 4-5).  In view of the increasing global violence and bloodshed in our day, as in the days of Noah, and particularly the widespread sin among the nations of the mass murder of unborn children through legalised abortion, there is perhaps at first sight something in favour of that possible argument.



However, in the context in which Isaiah is writing in chapter 24, it seems much more likely that the broken covenant which is in the prophet’s view is God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, expressed in 1 Chronicles 16: 15-18 and Psalm 105: 8-11 to be an everlasting covenant concerning Israel’s inheritance of the Land of Canaan, ultimately to be possessed by the restored nation in its entirety from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Euphrates (Deut 11: 24).  What, one must ask, would amount to an infraction of this covenant by God’s chosen people?  Could it be that in the sight of God the willingness to surrender His Land (Joel 3: 2) in return for a spurious peace amounts to such a denial of that covenant He has made with His people?



In verses 10 and 12 we find reference to a ruined, desolate city, which would fit with the condition of Jerusalem according to the prediction of Zechariah 14: 2.  In verse 13 comes a reference to an olive tree being beaten; the translation of this verse in the KJV is: When thus it shall be in the midst of the land among the people, there shall be as the shaking of an olive tree, and as the gleaning grapes when the vintage is done.’  There is a similar reference to Jacob as an olive tree in Isaiah 17: 6 (and see also Jeremiah 11: 16 and Hosea 14: 6).  In Romans 11: 24 the whole nation of Israel is, of course, referred to as an olive tree.  No other nation is so described in Scripture.



In verses 18b-20 of Isaiah 24 the Scripture makes reference to a great earthquake.  Is this to be a worldwide earthquake?  In Zechariah 14: 4-5 it is predicted that in the Day of the Lord there will be a great earthquake in the Land of Israel which splits the Mount of Olives in two immediately prior to the Lord’s Second Coming. Revelation 11, which speaks of events in Jerusalem during the tribulation, tells us in verse 13 that there will be a severe earthquake which causes a tenth of the city of Jerusalem to collapse.  However, the earthquake mentioned in Zechariah 14 is probably that which is predicted in Revelation 16: 17-21.  It appears that this earthquake certainly could be of worldwide proportions, since it is stated to be the greatest earthquake that has ever occurred since man has been on earth (v. 18); it causes Jerusalem (the great city - see Revelation 11: 8) to be split into three parts, and also we are told that the cities of the nations collapsed’ (v. 19).  All of this, taken together, appears as compelling evidence that Isaiah 24 is speaking of the Day of the Lord in a way that is entirely consistent with other prophetic writings, first concerning the final judgement on Judah and Jerusalem prior to the return of her Messiah in deliverance, and secondly of the outpouring of God’s wrath on the Gentile world whose rebellion has filled its cup of iniquity to the full.  The three following chapters, 25-27, also fit with the predictions of the other prophets, speaking not to the Gentile nations, but principally of the Lord’s renewed favour to the restored and converted nation of Israel, after the period of tribulation has been ended by the return of her Messiah.  Terrible though it is to contemplate, the last and most awful expression of satanically inspired anti-Semitism has yet to occur.  However, this will constitute the very action which brings that cup of iniquity to the full, resulting in God’s judgement on the Gentile world system and the deliverance of His covenant people through the return of Messiah Yeshua.



God’s subsequent judgement of the nations



Returning to the book of Joel, the prophet’s attention turns in chapter 3 towards the judgement of the Gentile nations of the world.  This also forms part of the events of the Day of the Lord, and will happen (v. 1) the time of God’s restoration of the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem.  It will take place in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the Kidron Valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives.



Judgement on their armies



Verses 9-11 underline that the nations have come to Israel for war.  The Hebrew of verse 9 means literally ‘sanctify a war’.  The armies of the nations, summoned by the Antichrist to a ‘holy war’ against Israel the aim of wiping her out totally, and lured by the influence of demonic powers released in the sixth bowl judgement of Revelation 16: 12-16, will have assembled in the valley of Megiddo in northern Israel.  They will move south against Jerusalem and take the city after which God will intervene personally through the return of Messiah (Zech. 14: 3-15; Rev. 19: 11-21) to overthrow the armies and to deliver Judah and Jerusalem.  He will halt those armies by sending upon them madness, panic, plague and blindness (Zech. 12: 1-9; 14: 1-3, 12-15).



Judgement on the individual Gentile survivors on that Day



Following this deliverance, and the repentance and restoration of the surviving remnant and of the Land, which we have already mentioned and which is also described in Zechariah 12: 10-13: 1 and 14: 6-11, the returned Messiah will bring the survivors of all the nations before Him for judgement in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3: 1-8, 12-17).  They will be there in huge numbers (v. 14).



The judgement of God upon the Gentiles will be on the basis of either their anti-Semitism or their pro-Semitism (v. 2).  His charges against them will be those of scattering the people of Israel, dividing up the Land and enslaving the people (vv. 2-3).  They will be judged on the basis of their attitudes and behaviour towards the Hebrew people, and this is re-affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 25: 31-46, where He speaks of dividing the people of the nations into the categories of sheep or goats according to whether they treated His brethren well or badly.  Joel 3:13 speaks of the salvation of some in the figure of getting in the harvest, and of the condemnation of others in the figure of the crushing of the grapes in the winepress (see also Isaiah 63: 1-6).



Judgement of particular nations



Space will not permit the lengthy examination of God’s dealings with specific individual nations, but Scripture has much to say on the subject.  For example:



Babylon and Edom (the descendants of Esau) will both become permanent desolate wastelands, dwelling-places only for demons (Jer. 50: 35-40; 51: 37-43 [Babylon]; Jer. 49: 13, 15-18; Obad. 15-18; Is. 34: 5-16 [Edom]).



The descendants of Lot (the nations of Moab and Ammon) will be restored after judgement (Jer 48: 47; 49: 6).



After judgement, both Egypt and Assyria will enter into the blessing of the Lord and a close relationship with Israel (Is. 19: 23-25).



Philistia will be taken over by Israel (Obad. 19; Is. 11: 14), and so will Lebanon (Obad. 20).  The judgement of both is mentioned in Joel 3: 4-7.



The establishment of the millennial kingdom



The final outcome of the Day of the Lord is the establishment of the millennial kingdom.  The Lord will dwell in Zion (Joel 3: 17, 21).  In verse 18 the prophet tells us that the fruitfulness of the Land will be restored, there will be abundant water, ending the problem of drought.  The same verse refers to the millennial river, also described in Ezekiel 47: 1-12 and Zechariah 14: 8, which will flow from below the threshold of the millennial temple.  From Ezekiel 47: 13 - 48: 29, we learn also that time Israel will at last possess the entirety of the Land promised to Abraham’s descendants in Genesis 15: 18-19.  That covenant was conditional; the everlasting covenant of which we have already spoken, God will have proved His faithfulness to keep His covenant to the letter.  His word cannot fail, because He cannot be unfaithful to what He has unconditionally undertaken to do.



What will be the signs to warn us of the

impending approach of the Day of the Lord?



1. Specific to the nation of Israel will be the re-establishment of the ministry of the prophet Elijah, which will have the particular emphasis of calling the nation to repentance in the area of its collapsing family relationships (Mal. 4: 5).



2. We have already seen in Joel 2: 31-32 the prophetic prediction that ‘before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord’, there will be certain signs:



(a) wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke’ (v. 30), corresponding to the effects of the first, second, fifth and sixth trumpet judgements found in Revelation 8: 7-9 and Revelation 9: 1-21;



(b) the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood’ (v. 32), corresponding to the judgement released at the Lamb’s opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6: 12-17.



The whole of the order of nature in the heavens and on the earth will be thrown into turmoil and upheaval as a result of the out-pouring of the judgements of God, before the culmination of the Day of the Lord in the Armageddon campaign and the Second Coming of Messiah.



Isaiah 13: 9-10, Amos 5: 20 and Zephaniah 1: 15 all speak similarly of periods of darkness coming over the earth at that time, and Jesus underlined these events during the Olivet Discourse.  He says in Luke 21 that:



(a) there will be wars and revolutions’ (v. 9);



(b) Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom’ (v. 10);



(c) we’ll see great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places’ (v. 11);



(d) there will be fearful events and great signs from heaven’ (v. 11);



(e) before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you’ (v. 12).  All these events of war, and upheavals of nature on earth and in the heavenly bodies, have been predicted by more than one of the writing prophets.  Daniel 9: 26, speaking of the times of the end when the Antichrist will rule, says: The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed (see also Psalm 46: 8).



3. To these predictions, however, Jesus adds one more: the severe persecution of the church, together with the apostasy this will bring about (Mt. 24: 9-13).



4. This apostasy is mentioned by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2: 3, which leads us on to one final and crucial indication that the Day of the Lord is drawing near.  This will be the emergence of the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist.  Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica in 2 Thessalonians 2: 1-4:



Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.  Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion [Greek apostasia] occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.  He will oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.



What will initiate the Day of the Lord,

the period of the tribulation?



The final sign, just mentioned, is that of the emergence into recognition of the man of sin, the Antichrist.  The same figure appears constantly as a king in Daniel chapters 7, 8, 9 and 11.  We read in 7: 25: ‘He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws’; in 8: 25: ‘He will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes.  Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power; and again in 11: 36: ‘The king will do as he pleases.  He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods.  He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place.’



This same figure is in focus in Daniel 9: 24-27, the well-known passage to the 70 weeks of years that Daniel prophesied.  There is still remaining one period of seven years to run in God’s prophetic time-clock for Israel. The event that will initiate this final seven-year period is that which is specified; the Antichrist will make a seven-year covenant with nation of Israel: He will confirm a covenant with many for one seven but the middle of that seven he will put an end to sacrifice and offering (v. 27).’  This latter event marks the starting point of the of three-and-a-half years of the great tribulation, the Day of the period of the Hebrew prophets. The passage concludes by telling us of the Antichrist: And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolution, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.’



The warning of Jesus is specific: So when you see standing in the holy place the abomination that causes desolation”, spoken of through the prophet Daniel ... then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equalled again’ (Mt. 24: 15-16, 21).



Speaking of the Antichrist, 2 Thessalonians 2: 4 says: He sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.’  This event, breaking His covenant made with Israel, will be the clear signal to the Jewish nation that their time of false security (for that is what it will have been) is over and that the final and intense period of Jacob’s trouble, their last great persecution at the hands of the Gentile nations, is about to begin.



What are the purposes of the Day of the Lord?



1. To bring a great harvest of salvation from all nations into the kingdom of God (Rev. 7: 9-17).



2. To break the stubbornness of the nation of Israel against God (Dan. 12: 5-7).  This will come about through the severity of the judgement upon her, followed by the national restoration of the surviving repentant remnant.



3. To deal with the sin of the Gentile nations, of which Babylon in Isaiah 13: 9-13 is a representative example (and see also Isaiah 2: 10-21).



4. To usher in the millennial kingdom, with Jesus on the throne in Jerusalem (Ps.  2; Obad. 21; Mic. 4: 1-5; 5: 3-5, 7-9; Zeph. 3: 14-17; Zech. 14: 9-11, 16-21; Rev. 11: 15-18; 20: 4-6).  Appropriately, the book of Obadiah closes his prophecy concerning the Day of the Lord with the simple statement: ‘And the kingdom will be the Lord’s.’