The Day of the Lord as reconciliation between judgement and salvation in the Book of the Twelve
Thesis (MPhil (Old and New Testament))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.
The earliest written reference to the “Day of the Lord” is found in the book of Amos. Throughout the prophets, especially the Minor Prophets, the term becomes something of a Leitmotiv, either in those words or in abbreviations such as “that day”. The “Day of the Lord” was to be one of judgement on the enemies of Yahweh. Such judgement in Israelite thought applied to Israelite enemies. To be an enemy of Israel was to be an enemy of God since the Israelites were God’s chosen people. Shockingly, Amos included both Israel and Judah amongst his list of the nations God had declared he would punish. Judgement implied God’s wrath and punishment. This is variously depicted metaphorically as warfare, locust invasions, drought, fire and seismic events. Nations to be punished were those who warred against the Israelite kingdoms. Either they had been part of the Israelite mini-empire under David and Solomon and had broken political covenant, or, like Assyria and Babylon, they had practised cruelty against the people of God and against their other subject nations. The kingdoms of Judah and Israel were to be punished because they had broken the Sinai Covenant by becoming involved in worshipping images of the gods of the surrounding nations. Symbols of these gods were even set up in the Jerusalem Temple. They involved fertility cults which often practised temple prostitution. The Sinai laws were further disobeyed by the Israelites, who ignored ill-treatment of the poor, widows, orphans and aliens. While Amos was aware of the inevitability of judgement, others, like Hosea, were aware of God’s love. God longed for his people to repent and receive blessing. This created a tension in Israelite theology between the need for judgement, which God’s greatness and holiness required and God’s love, which desires to forgive and save. True repentance will bring forgiveness and salvation. Punishment may have to be endured, for example the Babylonian exile, but God will lead his people to salvation. An analysis of judgement and salvation being reconciled on the “Day of the Lord” is first made by looking at the Minor Prophets in a historical and literary context and then how redaction sought to form them into a nified “Book of the Twelve”. In doing so, various critical methods, especially Form Criticism and Canonical Criticism are discussed. In the “Book of the Twelve” the “Day of the Lord” proves to be the occasion when judgement and salvation occur. Judgement is necessary since it leads to acknowledgement of sin and repentance. Only the innocent and the repentant are saved. This involves a remnant of Israel and, later also applies to a gentile remnant which acknowledges YHWH. Eschatologically, the “Day of the Lord”, at first, seems imminent. Later it is seen as a future event under God’s control. At first it is believed the “Day” will usher in destruction of Israel’s enemies, the re-establishment of a united kingdom under a descendant of David and an everlasting time of peace and prosperity, free from control by enemy nations, from apostasy and social injustice. After the defeats of the Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century by Assyria and of Judah in the 6tth by the Babylonians, YHWH is understood as being the God of all nations who will use powerful (and sinful) nations to punish his people, while at the same time preparing their punishment at the hands of other nations. So Assyria is conquered by Babylon and Babylon by the Chaldeans. For many, after the return from Babylonian exile, salvation seems to have been accomplished. The failure of expectations after the return leads to the “Day of the Lord” being seen as an even more distant event. It begins to take on apocalyptic overtones and becomes a moment at the end of time when there is judgement with salvation for the faithful and repentant. God’s eternal reign is inaugurated. Belief in salvation is beginning to move from deliverance being part of earthly life to otherworldly existence with God . The seeming failure of the prophetic earthly ideal may have led to the end of prophecy as a recorded scriptural genre and to the redaction of that genre in post-prophetic times to bring the “Book of the Twelve” into line with contemporary deuteronomistic and priestly outlooks. The Israelite view of the “Day of the Lord” has become a belief that on that “Day” there will be judgement for those who have not repented and at the same time salvation for a remnant which has either remained faithful or has repented. It will usher in an eternal time of divine blessing for the saved who will be a new Israel. Sin leads to God’s earthly punishment. If there is no repentance, judgement becomes eternal.