Every day of life is a special day because the Lord made it (Psalm 118:24). However, some days are more special than others. For example, holidays and holy days are worth the special attention we give them, as are birthdays. In the Jones family, we have a special red dinner plate we use to celebrate birthdays. It reads, “You Are Special Today!”
In America, we celebrate New Year’s Day, President’s Day, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Independence Day. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are also important to us, as is Graduation Day. Some families celebrate Gotcha Day, which is the day a child was adopted into the family.
Sunday is the first day of the week. Wednesday is Hump Day because it lands in the middle of the five-day workweek. In Genesis, the creation story reads with rhythmic prose around the word yom, the Hebrew word for one twenty-four-hour day.
One other day is worth mentioning and should grab our attention. The Bible calls it “the day of the Lord.” What is the day of the Lord? I am glad you asked. Dr. John Walvoord, past president of Dallas Theological Seminary and Bible prophecy expert, describes the day of the Lord this way:
The Day of the Lord is a period of time in which God will deal with wicked men directly and dramatically in fearful judgment. Today a man may be a blasphemer of God, an atheist, can denounce God, and teach bad doctrine. Seemingly, God does nothing about it. But the day designated in Scripture as “the day of the Lord” is coming when God will punish sin, and He will deal in wrath and in judgment with a Christ-rejecting world. One thing we are sure of, that God in His own way will bring every soul into judgment.[i]
What a sobering reality! Most of us would rather sing “O Happy Day!” than think about the awesome day of the Lord. But that would mean skipping over the book of Joel, which is not an option on the ultimate road trip through the Bible. Route 66 takes us through all sixty-six books of the Bible because all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16).
The book of Joel is among the Minor Prophets because it contains only three short chapters. But Joel delivers a major message to the Southern Kingdom about the awesome day of the Lord. Every other reference in the Bible to the day of the Lord relates to the prophecy Joel delivered to Israel around 835 B.C., making Joel one of the earliest prophets. The phrase “the day of the Lord” appears five times in Joel and, from Joel’s perspective, refers to the present, future, and ultimate day of the Lord. In that way, the day of the Lord is both historical and eschatological.[ii]
The Present Day of the Lord
Joel begins with an alarming message designed to awaken the elders of Israel. Something dramatic happened in Joel’s time, and he believed every generation should hear about it. In other words, tell your children and your children’s children (1:3). The prophet recalls a recent locust invasion that completely devastated the land.
What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten. 1:4
Like the surges of a military invasion, locusts swept through the land and destroyed everything in their path. It was one of those generational natural disasters. Think about people in our lifetime still who talk about how Hurricane Katrina devastated the Louisiana coast. The locust invasion was burned into the memory of ancient Israel. Joel used this calamitous event to urge the leaders to return to God. Specifically, listen up (1:2-4), sober up (1:5-7), lament (1:8-12), and repent (1:13-14). In 1:15, Joel writes for the first time about the day of the Lord, “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.”[iii]
This was not the first time the Lord used locusts to get the attention of proud, stubborn, and recalcitrant people. A similar locust invasion was among the ten plagues the Almighty used to try and soften Pharoah’s heart. It did not work. Unsuccessfully, the Lord also used bloody water, frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence, boils, a hailstorm, and three days of darkness to get Pharoah’s attention. Famously, none of the disasters made Pharoah relent until the tenth and final plague, which was the death of every firstborn child in Egypt, including Pharoah’s son. Only then did Pharoah free the Hebrew slaves (Exodus 7-12). Joel used the locust invasion in his time to warn the people of impending judgment unless they humbly returned to God.
I am writing this chapter a few days before the twentieth anniversary of an unprecedented terrorist attack on America. “Where were you on September 11, 2001?” is a common question Americans ask each other. We often talk about our lives before and after 9-11. Shortly after that awful day, people went to church to pray, encourage one another, and find hope. But sadly, our sudden religious fervor died down. God has a way of using natural disasters and other cataclysmic events on planet earth to awaken our dead or sleepy souls. Joel had hoped that the locust invasion in Israel would be enough to jolt the elders back to God.
The Future Day of the Lord
Chapter 2 begins with the sound of a trumpet. “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near” (2:1). God uses trumpets throughout His word to alert, announce, or warn that something foreboding is about to take place. The trumpet judgments in the book of Revelation are a good example of this (Revelation 8-9). In Joel’s time, the day of the Lord was near—"a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!” (2:2).
It seems best to understand that Joel was anticipating the future invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, a fierce army that would sweep through the nation like a plague of locusts, devastating everything in its path. Joel 2:1-11 describes this future day of the Lord with somber imagery. Verse 11 marks the third time Joel uses the phrase “the day of the Lord.” This time he calls it “great and very awesome” and asks, “Who can endure it?”
Before we get to the ultimate day of the Lord, this is a good time to ask whether you have enough room in your theology for the day of the Lord that delivers dramatic and fearful divine judgment. I fear that most people today have a lopsided view of God that emphasizes His love and grace while minimizing His righteousness and just judgment. The same was true during the Dark Ages prior to the Protestant Reformation. They, too, had a lopsided view of God. With fire and brimstone messages, church leaders emphasized God’s righteousness and just judgment but said little about His love and grace. And so, I ask you again, is your view of God biblically thorough enough to include the awesome day of the Lord?
Fortunately, Joel is not all doom and gloom. The day of the Lord is not without hope. As quickly as the trumpet blows a warning about impending judgment, it blows again to call people to repentance and receive God’s mercy (2:12-15).
God is always more willing to bless His people than deliver disaster. He is slow to anger and never unhinged when wrathful. The Babylonians would not come, even rise to power, for another two hundred years after Joel’s ministry. The Lord gave Israel more time to repent than they deserved. The prophet Joel reminds us that God abounds in loyal love. Remember, it was the prophet Hosea, Joel’s contemporary, who showed us in real life what God’s loyal love looks like in relationships and romance. I love it when God shows and tells His eternal truth through His prophets.
The most powerful expression of God’s willingness to relent over disaster comes a few verses later when He makes a hope-filled promise to Israel: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you” (2:25). Let that sink deeply into your soul. God’s restoration would be as sweeping as the devastation was complete. Eventually, the seventy years of Babylonian captivity ended, and the Lord’s people returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their lives and land. The Lord is still willing and able to restore what the locust has eaten in our lives.
The Ultimate Day of the Lord
The ultimate day of the Lord happens at the end of the age. Beginning in 2:28 and through the end of Joel, imagine as far into the future of Bible prophecy as you can. Joel starts by talking about a day when the Lord will “pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (2:28).
The apostle Peter quoted Joel on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit gave birth to the church Jesus promised He would build.[iv] Two thousand years ago, when people in Jerusalem started speaking in tongues, some said they were drunk with alcohol, but Peter corrected them.[v] “For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:15-16).
Joel’s prophecy mentions the day of the Lord for the fourth time, this time calling it “great and awesome” (2:31). On that day, the prophet also said the sun will darken, and the moon will turn to blood. There is no record of this happening on the day of Pentecost or since then. Therefore, aspects of Joel’s prophecy must still be in the future. In fact, the ultimate day of the Lord happens at the end of the age before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 3 begins with a description of a great battle happening in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (3:1-16). The Lord will gather the nations of the world into the plain in Israel that Napoleon once called the greatest battlefield in the world. Warriors will beat their ploughshares into swords and their pruning hooks into spears. This war in Bible prophecy is known as the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16, 19:11-21). For the fifth and final time, Joel mentions the day of the Lord in 3:14, “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.”
Evangelist Billy Graham named his radio program “The Hour of Decision.” Perhaps he had this prophetic scene in mind as he urged his listeners to place their faith in Jesus Christ. And, when they did, it became a special day to remember as their spiritual birthday. Do you have a spiritual birthday when you were born again into God’s family by faith in Jesus Christ? (John 3).
The good news about the awesome day of the Lord is this: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (2:32, Romans 10:9-10). In other words, you can escape the judgment of the Lord Almighty by placing your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, it is the only way to escape the coming night. And, if you do, you will become His child by faith (John 1:12), enter His glorious kingdom, and enjoy His eternal blessings (3:15-21).
This blog submission is from Route 66: The Ultimate Road Trip Through the Bible, an eBook written by Dr. Ron Jones. Download the complete eBook based on Road Trip 5, the Minor Prophets (Hosea through Malachi) in our Store.
[i] John Walvoord, “The Day of the Lord,” accessed on August 30, 2021, https://bible.org/seriespage/5-day-lord
[ii] Bible prophecy must first be understood contextually. What did in mean to the people living at the time the prophet lived? Then, how does the prophecy point to the future? Bible experts refers to this as the “now but not yet” aspects of prophecy.
[iii] The word translated “alas” is a word of warning.
[iv] Compare Joel 2:28-32 with Acts 2:17-21 and Matthew 16:13-20.
[v] On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the early believers in Jesus began speaking in tongues, meaning they were able to communicate in the native language of the foreigners who were in Jerusalem, even when they had no training in that language. It was a sign miracle that announced the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church, fulfilling Joel’s prophecy.