In the Old Testament prophetic books, we find frequent references to a day of the LORD. You’ll notice that when this phrase is used, the term LORD is written in all caps, which means it’s a substitution for the Name Yahweh. So what is the day of Yahweh? Well, generally speaking you should think of the day of Yahweh as a day when things are all bad. It’s a negative term that is referring to a time when Yahweh dishes out some drastic and violent forms of Divine discipline.
Is there just one day of Yahweh referred to in the Bible? No, there are several. And the term day is not meant to be taken literally. It refers more to a period of time. Often the kinds of spankings Yahweh says He’ll be dishing out on these special days of His are things like military invasions and epic slaughtering—events which will take much longer than one 24 hour period to carry out.
So who is going to get it on the day of Yahweh? The targets vary, depending on the specific passage. Sometimes Yahweh is talking about small scale destruction, other times He talks about a global spanking. But here’s an important caution: most of the prophecy you find in the Bible is not meant to be taken literally. We humans exaggerate for emphasis, and when our Gods are talking to humans, They talk in a style that makes sense to us. They also adjust Their communication style to align with the current cultural idioms and expressions of the people who They are addressing. This is why we find Yahweh talking about the hair of the feet in Isaiah 7:20 when He really means genitals. The hair of the feet was a euphemism for one’s private parts in ancient Israel.
When Yahweh is talking to Jews, He talks like a Jew. When ancient Jews wanted to underscore the importance of something, they said the same thing three different ways. When Yahweh is talking to ancient Jews in the Old Testament, He does the same thing. When ancient Jews really want to emphasize something, they repeat the same word three times in a row. Today we English speakers don’t say, “I’m hungry, hungry, hungry.” We like more variation in our speech, so we say “I’m so very hungry,” or “I’m starving to death.” Well, God isn’t talking to modern day English speakers in the Old and New Testaments. He’s talking to Jews who were big on repetition in their speech. To use the same word three times in a row was like putting a bunch of exclamation points after it. When God is talking to Jews, He says He is “holy, holy, holy.” This sounds strangely redundant to modern day English speakers, but to the Jews God was talking to, He was making perfect sense.
The Bible is a totally Jewish book. All of the biblical documents were written by Jews, whenever God is prophesying, He’s almost always talking to a Jewish audience, and the subjects God discusses are ones that were of particular interest to Jews. The Bible isn’t written with the concerns of Chinese people in mind. The Bible doesn’t address the cultural issues that modern Americans face. In the Bible, God isn’t talking to British folks or Indian folks or Australians. The Bible is all about the Jews. It’s filled with Jewish prejudices, Jewish concerns, and Jewish perspectives. The historical events it records are written from the very narrow, very biased perspective of one ethnic group. Is this a bad thing? No, it’s a human thing. The fact that the Bible is so very Jewish isn’t going to be a problem for you until you start ignoring this fact. Unfortunately, this is what you’re taught to do by the Church.
The Church teaches you to view the Bible as your main guidebook in life. She tells you to view the Bible as the book in which God speaks to you. Well, no, God is not speaking to you at all in the Bible. He’s speaking to ancient Jews. Since you’re not an ancient Jew, and since the world you live in is quite different than the world that the ancient Jews lived in, you will discover that God says a lot of things in the Bible which sound confusing. You’ll find Him talking about nations which no longer exist and activities which you’ve never personally done. You’ll find Him using metaphors that you don’t understand and railing on about issues that you just don’t care about. This is what happens when you read a bunch of messages that were addressed to someone else. It’s like scanning through the emails on your friend’s phone. You can learn some things about what’s going on in your friend’s life, but the people who wrote those emails simply aren’t talking to you. If they were, they’d say very different things.
God isn’t talking to us in the Bible. He’s talking to people who lived thousands of years ago—people who were stressing out over very specific issues. When God prophesies in the Bible, He frequently addresses the concerns of His immediate audience in those prophecies. When He starts volunteering information about what’s coming in the future, He often uses the timing of such prophecies to accomplish multiple agendas. To get an appreciation for this, let’s do a quick overview of some major crises in Jewish history.
Israel has never been an impressive nation when it comes to size. She’s always been a very small little thing—so small that it was quite possible to travel across her entire length on foot in a relatively short matter of time. In Bible times, Israel was surrounded by other small nations, and all of those nations constantly fought with each other. While modern Americans have never experienced their country’s borders being invaded by aggressive armies, for the ancient Jews, this was a common problem. War was a way of life in Bible times. Everyone was used to violence, ransacking, and people getting hauled away as slaves by invading armies.
For sheltered Americans, a war on their home turf would be a very frightening and traumatic event. But the ancient Jews were used to this sort of thing. To them, the ultimate trauma would be permanently losing some huge chunk of their nation. That was their idea of catastrophic, and we can easily understand this. No one today is comfortable with the idea of their homeland being taken over by someone else.
Now when we look over the Old and New Testament records, we find the Jews undergoing three epic calamities. The first happens in the lifetime of the prophet Isaiah when the whole northern kingdom of Israel gets permanently swallowed up by a massive empire. The northern kingdom officially fell 722 years before the birth of Christ. Then, 586 years before the birth of Christ, the southern kingdom of Judah was also destroyed. The fall of the south—which included the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon’s Temple—occurred during the lifetimes of the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. More centuries pass, the Jews do some rebuilding, but then a third epic calamity occurs when the Romans sack Jerusalem and burn the Temple down again. That event happened nearly 2,000 ago, and the Temple has never been rebuilt. In the mind of zealously patriotic Jews, these three events were downright horrifying. They were times when their nation was utterly brutalized, and Israel has never returned to the sweet life that she once knew under the reign of King David.
Now as the Ones who control the future, Yahweh and Jesus knew way in advance when each of these three epic calamities would occur. And it is because They understood how traumatizing these events would be to the Jews that we see Them going to extra trouble to help the Jews deal with each crisis. It’s very interesting to note that there are no clear, detailed prophecies about a coming Messiah given until the time of Isaiah—the time when the Jews are coming extremely close to experiencing that first epic trauma. It is right before He knows He’s going to crush Israel like never before that Yahweh starts suddenly talking about a King-Messiah who will suddenly rise up and turn Israel into a glorious world power. Yahweh’s exaggeratory and utterly deceptive promises about all of the political power and glory that His Messiah would bring to Israel were a strategic way of bolstering Jewish hopes through some very dark times. It was the eager anticipation of that Messiah that kept the Jews going through the first two epic traumas, as well as through a very dark period when there was no Israel at all—just territory that had been gobbled up by other empires.
So then, right before the first major crisis, Yahweh introduces the idea of a Messiah who will turn a shattered Israel into a world power. Then the northern kingdom falls and the Jews are traumatized. Jump ahead many decades and the second major crisis comes into view. Once again, we see Yahweh cranking up the prophetic words and visions, and this time He gives Ezekiel a vision of a brand new glorious Temple in Jerusalem. What’s the point of this vision? Well, once again we see Yahweh spiking the Jews up with grand hopes in order to help them deal with the current devastation. When the Temple and Jerusalem go down for the first time, Jews everywhere are horrified. But now that Yahweh has spoken of a new triumphant Messiah and given visions of a new glorious Temple, they have reasons to hope. Yahweh paints picture after picture of the Jews living a perfect life of glorious abundance on earth while the whole world fawns over them. It’s just the sort of ego boost these Jews need because now they’re totally without a home and they’re scattered throughout many nations living as society’s rejects.
Jump forward a few decades, and Yahweh brings a few stragglers back home to the rubble that was once Jerusalem. It’s a very depressing scene, but with Yahweh driving everyone into action with a mix of threats and encouragement, a smaller Jerusalem and a not so grand second Temple get built. At this point, Israel is still under the control of another empire and the Jews have no independence. This irks them to no end, and they’ll keep fighting for freedom for centuries only to end up hopelessly conquered by the Romans. But meanwhile, Yahweh knows that He is going to cause the unthinkable to happen: the Temple and Jerusalem will go down again. This is way more than the Jews can deal with, yet Yahweh starts preparing them anyway. The famous end time passages that get quoted from the book of Daniel are not predicting the end of the world, but rather the Roman strike against Jerusalem. Jump ahead to the New Testament and we find Jesus sitting His boys down on the Mount of Olives and giving a very long speech about the last days. What’s the horrible crisis that He’s preparing them for? The Romans sacking Jerusalem and burning the Temple to the ground. For Jews, this will feel like the end of the world, so Jesus talks about it in those terms (see Know Your Bible Lesson 63: The End is Near (The Olivet Discourse)).
AMOS PREDICTS THE FIRST CRISIS
Now once you understand the major crisis points in Jewish history, you can start to get a better feel for how very specific Yahweh is being when He starts warning everyone that a terrible day of Yahweh is on the horizon. The prophet Amos lived at the same time as the prophet Isaiah, and both of these guys live shortly before the first great calamity, which is the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. Once you understand this, you suddenly realize that when Yahweh starts going off about a day of Yahweh in Amos 5, He’s talking about the sacking of the northern kingdom, not the end of the planet.
Listen, you people of Israel! Listen to this funeral song I am singing:
“The virgin Israel has fallen, never to rise again!
She lies abandoned on the ground, with no one to help her up.” (Amos 5:1-2)
What sorrow awaits you who say, “If only the day of Yahweh was here!” You have no idea what you are wishing for. That day will bring darkness, not light.
In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion only to meet a bear. Escaping from the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house and he’s bitten by a snake.
Yes, the day of Yahweh will be dark and hopeless, without a ray of joy or hope. (Amos 5:18-20)
There’s no mystery about this day of Yahweh. This is a reference to the kingdom of Israel getting royally spanked by a God who is fed up with her unceasing defiance.
ISAIAH PREDICTS THE SECOND CRISIS
While the book of Amos is very short, the book of Isaiah is much longer, and in it we find prophecies that describe events that are far in the future. In Amos 5, the day of Yahweh being described is about the first major crisis: the fall of the north. But 136 years after the fall of the north, the southern kingdom of Judah will also get crushed, and it is that second great crisis which Yahweh is describing in Isaiah 2-3.
For Yahweh of Heaven’s Armies will have a day of reckoning. He will punish the proud and mighty and bring down everything that is exalted. (Isa. 2:12)
Human pride will be humbled, and human arrogance will be brought down. Only Yahweh will be exalted on that day of judgment.
When Yahweh rises to shake the earth, His enemies will crawl into holes in the ground. They will hide in caves in the rocks from the terror of Yahweh and the glory of His majesty.
On that day of judgment they will abandon the gold and silver idols they made for themselves to worship. They will leave their gods to the rodents and bats, while they crawl away into caverns and hide among the jagged rocks in the cliffs. They will try to escape the terror of Yahweh and the glory of His majesty as He rises to shake the earth. (Isa. 2:17-21)
Yahweh, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, will take away from Jerusalem and Judah everything they depend on: every bit of bread and every drop of water, all their heroes and soldiers, judges and prophets, fortune-tellers and elders, army officers and high officials, advisers, skilled sorcerers, and astrologers. (Isa. 3:1-3)
For Jerusalem will stumble, and Judah will fall, because they speak out against Yahweh and refuse to obey Him. They provoke Him to His face. The very look on their faces gives them away. They display their sin like the people of Sodom and don’t even try to hide it. They are doomed! They have brought destruction upon themselves. (Isa. 3:8-9)
Yahweh says, “Beautiful Zion is haughty: craning her elegant neck, flirting with her eyes, walking with dainty steps, tinkling her ankle bracelets. So Yahweh will send scabs on her head; Yahweh will make beautiful Zion bald.” On that day of judgment Yahweh will strip away everything that makes her beautiful. (Isa. 3:16-18)
Instead of smelling of sweet perfume, she will stink. She will wear a rope for a sash, and her elegant hair will fall out. She will wear rough burlap instead of rich robes. Shame will replace her beauty. The men of the city will be killed with the sword, and her warriors will die in battle.
The gates of Zion will weep and mourn. The city will be like a ravaged woman, huddled on the ground. (Isa. 3:24-26)
These are excerpts from a single long speech that Yahweh makes against the southern kingdom. Notice how He makes it very clear that He’s speaking about crushing the specific nation of Judah, yet He sometimes uses global language as a way of adding dramatic emphasis. When Yahweh crushes the south, the Jews living there will feel like it is truly the end of the world. It will certainly be the end of the world that they are used to living in, and their personal lives will be radically changed.
Notice how graphic Yahweh is here: He likens Jerusalem (aka Zion) to a woman with bad body odor. He describes her as bald, and He uses the image of a freshly raped woman cowering on the ground as a metaphor of how devastated Jerusalem will be. Talk about sordid imagery. And here the Church tells you that God doesn’t use crude language or graphic imagery. He most certainly does. Yahweh is intentionally assaulting the great pride of these Jews by comparing their glorious capital city to an ugly, scabbed, bald, smelly woman who just got raped. This is classic Yahweh style, and we’ll find Jesus getting just as crude in the New Testament. When our Gods are expressing Their anger towards snarky humans, They feel no need to be polite.
ISAIAH PREDICTS THE FALL OF BABYLON
We’ve identified three major crisis points in ancient Jewish history: times when the Jews were brutally assaulted by a superior power in their region. Well, God uses a different power to attack the Jews each time. For the fall of the north, He uses the Assyrians. For the fall of the south, He uses the Babylonians. For the second fall of Jerusalem, He uses the Romans.
Now because all nations in Bible times had national gods who they associated themselves with, all wars were considered god wars. This resulted in all kinds of theological assumptions being made after military events. If you lost a battle, then you assumed it was because your god wasn’t strong enough to hold back the gods of the attacking army. If you won, then you got all cocky and assumed that your gods were superior to all others.
Now you don’t form an empire without doing a whole lot of conquering. For the ancient peoples, multiple victories were interpreted as evidence that their gods were undefeatable. Israel was never the first nation to be conquered by a growing empire. She was always assimilated by empires who had already grown to impressive sizes. This meant that the leaders of those nations were already getting pretty puffed up on pride by the time they got around to spanking Israel. That pride inevitably led to gloating over what a weenie Yahweh was, and once Yahweh was being directly mocked by pagan rulers, Yahweh retaliated with some major violence. The Assyrian, Babylonian and Roman empires were all destroyed by God once He was done using them to spank everyone else. In Isaiah 13, we find Yahweh once again describing a coming day of judgment, only this time He’s looking way ahead to when He’s going to crush the Babylonian empire many decades after it crushes the southern kingdom of Judah. The prophet Daniel lives through the fall of the Babylonian empire, and here’s how Yahweh describes that time:
Scream in terror, for the day of Yahweh has arrived— the time for the Almighty to destroy!
Every arm is paralyzed with fear. Every heart melts, and people are terrified. Pangs of anguish grip them, like those of a woman in labor. They look helplessly at one another, their faces aflame with fear. For see, the day of Yahweh is coming— the terrible day of His fury and fierce anger.
The land will be made desolate, and all the sinners destroyed with it. The heavens will be black above them; the stars will give no light. The sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will provide no light.
“I, Yahweh, will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sin. I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty. I will make people scarcer than gold—more rare than the fine gold of Ophir. For I will shake the heavens. The earth will move from its place when Yahweh of Heaven’s Armies displays His wrath in the day of His fierce anger.”
Everyone in Babylon will run about like a hunted gazelle, like sheep without a shepherd. They will try to find their own people and flee to their own land. Anyone who is captured will be cut down—run through with a sword. Their little children will be dashed to death before their eyes. Their homes will be sacked, and their wives will be raped.
“Look, I will stir up the Medes against Babylon. They cannot be tempted by silver or bribed with gold. The attacking armies will shoot down the young men with arrows. They will have no mercy on helpless babies and will show no compassion for children.”
Babylon, the most glorious of kingdoms, the flower of Chaldean pride, will be devastated like Sodom and Gomorrah when God destroyed them. Babylon will never be inhabited again. It will remain empty for generation after generation. (Isa. 13:6-20)
Once again we’ve got some graphic images being used, and notice how totally exaggeratory Yahweh gets. He speaks of moving the earth from its place. He talks of shaking the heavens and of punishing the whole world. Is this language supposed to be taken literally? Not at all. Yahweh is being dramatic on purpose because He’s talking to super dramatic people who were big on exaggeration.
By the time Babylon goes down, she’ll be a world power—that is, if you define “the world” as being just a small region of land east of the Mediterranean Sea. But this is how the ancient people used the term world. They didn’t think in terms of the entire planet—they only cared about the part of the world that felt relevant to them. When Yahweh is speaking to Jews, He adjusts His language to make sense in Jewish minds. Notice how He refers to His destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—an event which is recorded in the book of Genesis, which is part of the Jewish Torah. If Yahweh was speaking to ancient Chinese people who had never heard of Sodom and Gomorrah, He would have used different metaphors and historical references that were meaningful to an ancient Chinese audience.
This is what is so fabulous about our Gods: They personalize Their care of us. But then the Church comes along and tells you to take Yahweh literally when He speaks of destroying the whole globe. The Church tells you that this prediction of the fall of Babylon is filled with double meanings and that Babylon is really a modern day nation like China, America or Russia and that this whole thing is a sly reference to that nation being nuked off the map. Well, no, this is utterly absurd. When Yahweh speaks of Babylon in the Old Testament, He’s talking about the real Babylon. He’s not putting out a two level message here in Isaiah 13. This is a straightforward—albeit very dramatic—prophecy about the coming fall of Babylon. Yahweh even identifies exactly who will take Babylon down: the Medes. Once you realize that the Babylonians and the Medes weren’t even world powers at this time, you get properly impressed by how Yahweh is flaunting His God knowledge here. Babylon will fall to the Medes in 539 BC. Right now Isaiah’s preaching around 700 BC—over a century and a half before the Medes will make their move.
THE VALUE OF BIBLICAL PROPHECY
So if Old Testament prophecies are discussing ancient events and not giving us a glimpse into our personal futures what’s the value in studying them? The great value is in learning about our Gods: what pleases Them, what angers Them, and how They interact with human beings. The modern Church does you a great disservice when she tries to hype you up on end time predictions in the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible are you going to find help for what the real end times are going to be like because God simply didn’t feel the need to address that topic so far in advance to people who already had enough problems to worry about. God doesn’t just cast out future knowledge to entertain us, He does it for specific purposes.
Consider what a repulsive game we’ve made out of end time prophecy today. Christians are getting plagued with fear and financially bilked as blowhard after blowhard pumps out some false prediction about what’s coming in our future based on biblical passages that were specifically addressing historical events that happened thousands of years ago. And while we’re busy stocking up on dry goods and fearing the power of demons and evil humans, are we focusing on pleasing our Gods? Are we thinking about maturity and the cultivation of God-honoring soul attitudes? No, we’re selling books, making movies, and getting rich off of the perpetual fear fest. It’s revolting and leaders who are encouraging you to freak out over the end times are only getting themselves into big trouble with God. You’re also getting into hot soup when you listen to these blaspheming morons without even bothering to ask God for His wisdom on the subject.
The real end times are at the door, and because God is so gracious, He’s been suddenly giving us all a plethora of useful insights that will help us keep our priorities right and our brains in check when it all hits the fan. On our site, we have a lot of end time preparation material available and if you read through it, you’ll discover that it is vastly different than what the mainstream Church is pumping out. When God speaks, He doesn’t jack us up on fear and then tell us to hide in some hole in the ground while we pray that Satan won’t find us. Yes, the end times are going to be a very dramatic and shocking period. But when God prepares us to deal with scary things, He does so in a way that encourages us to keep our focus on Him. Will the real end times be filled with shocking violence, epic destruction, and frightening displays of God’s destructive power? Yes. But does that mean you have to melt into some puddle of fear and spend the whole time in some faithless paralysis? Not at all. When we listen to God, He can prepare us to thrive no matter what.
Biblical references to the day of Yahweh have nothing to do with the real end times. As we’ve demonstrated, biblical predictions of Divine discipline being unleashed are focused on specific targets which are no longer around in the world today. Even the infamous book of Revelation is addressing an ancient crisis: the persecution of the early Church by the Romans. There is no Roman Empire today, and Revelation is not filled with clever references to modern day nations. People who try to force Revelation to apply to modern day nations are just trying to manipulate you for their own selfish gain. Listening to these idiot prophets in the Church will get you nowhere. If you really want to thrive in the end times, you need to seriously seek God’s wisdom on the subject and ask Him to make you all that He wants you to be.