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7. Obadiah and Joel: The Day of the LORD

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Words to Anchor your Soul

“Yet even now,” the Lord says,
“return to me with all your heart –
with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Tear your hearts,
not just your garments!”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to anger and boundless in loyal love – often relenting from calamitous punishment.
Who knows?
Perhaps he will be compassionate and grant a reprieve,
and leave blessing in his wake –
a meal offering and a drink offering for you to offer to the Lord your God!

Joel 2:12-14

Both Obadiah and Joel focus on the Day of the Lord or Day of Yahweh. What is it?

Dr. Robert Chisholm explains, “. . . the expression itself is ultimately derived from the idea, prevalent in the ancient Near East, that a mighty warrior-king could consummate an entire military campaign in a single day. . . . So generally speaking, ‘the day of the LORD’ is an idiom used to emphasize the swift and decisive nature of the Lord’s victory over His enemies on any given occasion.”1

Victory implies a bad day for the losers and at the same time a good day for the winners. We will see both as we look at Joel.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary provides more detail to the ancient terminology mentioned by Chisholm:

Each year in Mesopotamia . . . there was an enthronement festival for the king of the gods. During the course of this akitu festival, the deity determined the destiny of his subjects and reestablished order, as he had done long ago when he defeated the forces of chaos. . . . Though the texts never refer to the akitu festival as the “Day of Marduk” there were some similarities. The Day of Yahweh2 refers to the occasion on which Yahweh will ascend to his throne with the purpose of binding chaos and bringing justice to the world order. The destinies of his subjects will be determined as the righteous are rewarded and the wicked suffer the consequences of their rebellion and sin. . . . Israel appears to have historicized that which elsewhere was in the realm of myth and ritual. The Day of the Lord also has elements of theophany, usually connected with the divine warrior who defeats the disruptive powers . . . . Such theophanies often are accompanied by cosmic effects. . . . . The cosmic effects often depict a world upside down . . . . All of this helps our understanding of the Day of Yahweh by showing us that Israelite thinking and the prophets’ communication intersected with a wide spectrum of ideas current in the culture. The originality in the Israelite literature is not that whole new matrices are being created but that known ideas are being combined and applied in unique ways.3

The Bible often uses cultural symbols in unique ways to speak to its audience.

My seminary eschatology professor helped me understand that the Day of the Lord isn’t only in the end times. Throughout the Bible earlier events referred to by that name are seed forms of the ultimate, final, and still future Day of the Lord. This helps our understanding as to how parts, or even all, of a prophecy were fulfilled in the time of the prophet while a future and greater fulfillment was yet to come in their future—or still lies ahead of us today.

Part One Study

The Jews’ final exile of three from Judah took place when the Chaldean King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Obadiah likely wrote his book early in the exile period. His contemporaries Ezekiel and Daniel were among the people exiled in Babylon. (See the chart in the Appendix section “Understanding the Prophets.”)

Obadiah’s message of a coming day of judgment (Day of the LORD, that day) is addressed to the people of Edom who were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. (The ancient city of Petra, which was built much later, is within the boundaries of ancient Edom (modern-day Jordan) so we are using an image of it as a symbol to remind us of this book. You will note that Obadiah refers to this nation as both Edom and Esau.

Obadiah is the shortest Old Testament book and one of only two prophetic books entirely devoted to a message to a nation other than Israel. (Nahum is the other.)

*** Use any commentaries or resources you have to read more about the background of Obadiah or information about the Day of the Lord.

Read Obadiah’s only chapter and journal your insights:

  • Why is God angry and ready to judge Edom?
  • The Day of the Lord is predicted for Edom. Considering this “Day” as a small snapshot of the coming Day of the Lord, still future in our day, what do you expect it to be like?
  • The book ends with hope, but it’s not for Edom. Describe that hope.
  • What is God saying to you from his Word?

Part Two Study

Although Joel is not specifically dated, many scholars believe that it was written after the exile ended (post-exilic) for two reasons: (1) no king is mentioned and (2) Joel 2:2-3 refers to God’s gathering his people, which would have been after the Jews were dispersed among other nations through captivity. John Calvin, however, provides this caution about a date: ". . . as there is no certainty, it is better to leave the time in which [Joel] taught undecided. . . .”4

After approximately 70 years in Babylon and according to Jeremiah’s prediction, many of the next generation of Jews whose parents were exiled from Judah returned to the homeland which God gave Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. Their return began in 538 B.C. after King Cyrus of Persia ordered it by decree (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4) under the leadership of Zerubbabel (Ezra 1-6). A second group arrived with Ezra, the priest in 458 B.C. (Ezra 7-10), and then Nehemiah led the third return in 444 B.C. (Nehemiah). Although the Jews repopulated the land and rebuilt Jerusalem and its temple, their hearts weren’t loyal to God. Yet, God in his mercy continued to send prophets to warn them and other nations of the consequences of their sins.

Joel can be confusing. As a prophetic book, it contains some poetic imagery which symbolizes an actual event. Although there are differences of opinion about which passages in Joel are symbolic and which are literal, many conservative scholars understand the locust invasion of chapter one to be a literal past event that Joel uses to picture a future military invasion in that time period. Again, the future Day of the Lord will come at the end of days, and this Day of the Lord in Joel is a small taste of that future time.

It seems best to read all three chapters of Joel first to focus on its two themes separately. We begin with the Day of the Lord passages and end the week with a more positive outlook in the prophecies of Restoration.

This outline from Dr. Thomas Constable may be helpful as you read. The time perspective is from Joel’s writing:5

I. Introduction 1:1
II. A past day of the Lord: a locust invasion 1:2-20
III. A near future day of the Lord: a human invasion 2:1-27
VI. A far future day of the Lord: another human invasion and deliverance 2:28-3:21

Read Joel in light of this outline, focusing on the devastation Joel describes, journaling as you go and considering these questions:

  • What do you learn about God’s judgment for sin on the Day of the Lord? (Don’t focus on the positives of the future victory because we will look at that in Part Three.) As you read remember that there is more than one day of the Lord with common elements. Sometimes such a time is simply referred to as “the day” or “that day.”
  • How do the descriptions of devastation affect you emotionally and spiritually?
  • How is God applying this message to your heart today?

*** Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and compare it to Joel. Read also Revelation 20:11-15 to understand the wrath that Paul mentions in 1 Thessalonians. Add your insights to your journal.

Part Three Study

Review or reread the book of Joel, but this time focus on the promises of victory and the hope that Joel gives his people. Journal considering these questions:

  • What do you learn about God from these more positive sections of the book?
  • How does Hebrews 12:3-17 and what you wrote about God’s character in the previous question help explain why God judges his own people—the Jews and now the church?
  • As you consider Joel’s encouraging predictions, what in chapter 3 suggests a bigger and grander future Restoration yet to come?

You’ll have one more question below before the story, so don’t miss it.

One main idea stands out to me from Joel, but it’s not his emphasis on judgment or the Day of the Lord. It’s his call to his people to lament, to grieve over their sins and the judgment to come, and to turn their lives around and move toward God. (Note the repetition throughout Joel 1 and then in 2:1-2, 12-17.)

Reread the verses which begin this lesson. God asks his people to be sorrowful, not outwardly by tearing their garments as an expression of grief, but within their hearts. That’s why I chose a U-ie as our icon for Joel. When faced with our sins, we aren’t to defend them, explain them, or blame others for them. Instead, God wants us to see them, take responsibility for them by confessing them, and grieve them before him. Yes, Jesus has paid the penalty for those sins, but we need to sorrow over what we have done and how it has hurt God and others. Only when we see the depth of our sins can we truly embrace the forgiveness and unconditional love of God as a true gift. And we need to trust that he has forgiven it all whether we feel it or not. We prove our grief by acts of repentance, a change of mind that results in a U-ie in our actions. (Amos 5:21-24 says the same thing.)

In light of that, here’s your final question to journal:

  • What is God saying to you through the scriptures?

*** Write down your thoughts after you review other passages that we previously studied on the Day of the LORD: Amos 5:18-20; Zephaniah 1:7-2:3; 3:8-20; Obadiah 15-21.

Kristen’s Story

I was feeling pretty good about myself. Proud, even. My self-awareness and empathy had reached new heights. I had been “woke” enough to lead a small group of Christian women through a book on racism this summer. I was well on my way to becoming a social justice champion.

But then I met Robin DiAngelo. And while I didn’t meet her in person, the forcefulness and impact of her words as they streamed across the podcast to my ears felt as if she was sitting next to me in my office. Krys Boyd had asked her why she believes that white progressives (a group I like to identify with) pose such a great threat. Here’s DiAngelo:

I define a white progressive as any white person who thinks they’re not racist or less racist…or who’s listening right now thinking of all the other white people they wish were listening…whose number one question is, ‘How do I tell so-and-so about their racism?’ I think [white progressives] are the most challenging for a couple reasons. We are more likely to be in the lives of people of color and our certitude that all our learning is finished, that we’re not in any way a part of the problem, sets us up to be rather arrogant, not open, and not [able] to listen. So if the topic of racism comes up and I see myself as absolutely having no issues at all, generally what I’m going to put my energy [into] is making sure you know that I’m good to go…This is the most complex, nuanced, layered, sensitive, charged social dilemma since the beginning of this country and my learning will never be finished. I will never be free of my conditioning because every moment that I push against these relentless messages of white superiority that are coming at me from every possible place… they’re coming back at me.6

I was crushed. In my faith tradition, we do not often use or hear the words, “God have mercy.” (That’s reserved for “high church” denominations.) And, yet, these became the words that were reverberating through my heart and mind. “God have mercy.” Have mercy on me, an arrogant person who thinks that she should be proud of herself for (finally) engaging the topic of racism. Have mercy on me, a sinner who thinks she’s learned enough and grown enough to be free of the sin that still entangles “others.” Have mercy on me, a person whose first reaction to DiAngelo’s words literally were “___________________ should be listening to this.” Have mercy on me, a person who will never be free (on this side of heaven) of my conditioning to think that whiteness is superior.

This fall our women’s Bible study will plunge head-first into the book of Ecclesiastes. One of the reasons I love this Old Testament wisdom book is because it reminds me that emotional sobriety is of paramount importance in self-assessment. On my own I will vacillate between pride and despair, victory and defeat. I will gloat in my “wokeness” one day and then follow that with a day of self-flagellation.

Ecclesiastes forces the issue. The author does not let us sit too long in our own glory without reminding us that “all is vanity” (a phrase used 38 times). Yet he offers glimpses of hope as well, urging his readers to “eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart [while you] enjoy life…” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9). In this sin-soaked world “under the sun,” one of the greatest gifts you and I can take hold of is emotional sobriety, a state in which we assess ourselves in a balanced, levelheaded, controlled way. When we think soberly of ourselves, our world, and our systems of thought, we are able to start the journey toward change.

When I apply this to the topic of racism, I challenge myself to stop pendulum swinging. The world does not need another white person who is proud of herself for being so enlightened. But the world also does not need another white person who sorrows in her own defensiveness and wrongness. God is calling me to live the life of a reader of Ecclesiastes – emotionally sober. He is calling me to a humble and serious assessment of myself, my world, and my impact in it. He is calling me to follow him in engaging the “evil days” while also finding joy in “[my] Creator” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). The question is if I will have the humility to embrace this calling.


1 Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., “Joel,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty Old Testament (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985) 1412.

2 Yahweh is the Hebrew name for God which is generally translated into English as LORD in all caps. So the Day of Yahweh = the Day of the LORD.

3 IVP Commentary: Old Testament, 761. FYI: You need not understand all of the references in this commentary to realize his parallel about the Day of the LORD. Leaders do not attempt to explain the references but stress the point of the comments if they come up. Someone interested can do further research on her own.

4 John Calvin, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, 2:xv quoted in Constable, Thomas L., Notes on Joel: 2017 Edition “Date.” Accessed at http://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/ot/joel/joel.htm.

5 Constable, Notes on Joel: 2017 Edition “Outline.”

6 http://think.kera.org/2018/07/23/why-being-white-makes-you-racist/

Related Topics: Prophets, Women's Articles

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