Obadiah was likely the first prophet to use the term "the day of the Lord" (1:15). It has an intended foreboding sound to it because it speaks of an ultimate accountability before a God to whom justice is attributed as part of His being. The expression is used in Scripture to refer to a day in which judgment is both pronounced and executed. The reference is to men and nations appearing before God's court.
Obadiah's specific message was calling the nation of Edom (Idumea) to their sentencing before God for their mistreatment of Judah. In that context, the prophet also refers several times to Judah's trial as "the day." Judah itself had been called before God's court. In Judah's day of judgment, the Edomites (descendants of Esau) took advantage of the Hebrews, a related people. Judah had its day of judgment, as had Israel, and the Edomites now were assured theirs was coming, but one with no mercy and future restoration.
After Obadiah wrote, other prophets used the term. The day of the Lord came at different times for Israel, Judah, and Edom, as it does for every person, nation, and institution, yet there is also a final day of the Lord referred to in Scripture; hence it is called the Last Judgment. Because the prophets were specifically speaking to nations facing violent foreign invasions and captivity, the Old Testament references are quite harsh. The nature of the day is one of destruction and land laid desolate. Their descriptions speak of humbling, goods and lands spoiled or stolen, heathen swords, and repeated references to darkness. Such imagery is also in the New Testament, where the earth and its works are burned up in that final day of the Lord.
The Necessity of Judgment
There can be no justice without judgment on both injustice and the unjust. Judgment on sin is the consequence of violating God's moral order. In human courts we say people are "brought to justice," they are held accountable for their crimes. We do not say justice is suddenly imposed on them. Obadiah tells the Edomites their judgment is directly related to their sin: "[A]s thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head" (v. 15b).
When Hosea prophesies about the coming defeat and enslavement of the nation of Israel, their judgment is also referenced as a direct consequence of sin, "For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:7a). Their judgment was a necessary and direct result of their sin. Judgment is not a subjective decision by God but a necessary part of His righteousness. Judgment is God saying, "You made your bed, now lie in it."
Likewise, the curses of God are described to us as following and inevitably overtaking disobedient man (Deut. 28:2, 15). Like the laws of physics God built into His universe that we recognize with scientific certitude, the moral law of God is an unavoidable part of reality that man ignores at his own peril.
In The Biblical Philosophy of History, my father notes something profound when discussing that history is linear, not cyclical. Not only does history move forward, he says, but in a very real sense it moves backward from future to present, because the future promise of God and His predestined plan make that future certain. The present moves toward that eternal purpose. Nothing can exist or operate except in the eternal certainty of God's future. This is why postmillennialism does not stem from man's optimism but from a faith in the person and Word of God and the exalted place of His Messiah. One of the persistent problems of the contemporary church is that it gives Satan a position of preeminence by assuming he controls the world and its future.
Who Controls the Future?
The writer of Psalm 46 assumes God controls the future when he writes, "Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth" (v. 10). That writer speaks of "natural" disasters, plus foreign threats and the devastation of war, yet still can exalt God as his "refuge and strength."
Our faith in God must be a faith in His rule over all things, not just our salvation. A world whose attention is focused on one of the most devastating natural disasters in modern history should remember the faith the psalmist professes:
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. (vv. 2-3)
There is no hint of Satan's control over anything in Psalm 46. As Christians we need to examine our faith. Do we believe God or Satan controls life, history, and the future? How you answer that question controls much of your life and thought.
No Safety in Sin
There is evil in this world; there is no doubt that is the context of all Scripture. We are ourselves sinners, and we live in a fallen world. Sin has its consequences, so the life of sinners in a fallen world has problems. Sin produces both temporal consequences and moral judgment, yet righteousness also produces temporal consequences and blessing. Sin and righteousness, both being moral in nature, have moral rewards before the court of a just God; but God is not just as we choose to define justice, or we make God into a puppet of our humanism. We understand the nature and definition of justice as we understand God's revelation of Himself and His law-word.
The salvation of God represents more than our eternal reward; it must be seen as our status as new creatures in Christ in this fallen world of time and history. Our purpose as the redeemed of God is our recall to the exercise of dominion in terms of our faith that God is who Scripture says He is and that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is now Lord and Savior. The end certainty on which we fix our eyes is the historical certainty of Revelation 11:15: "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever." This is not a short-term goal for which we strategize but a faith in which we operate in sometimes very frustrating labors.
There is no safety in a sinful world, and no easy way for sinners, even those redeemed by grace. Life in a sinful world has been problematic since the fall. This does not mean sin or Satan controls either this world or the course of history.
The Slave Mentality
Egypt was used by God and the prophets as a symbol of oppression and slavery. Even as a place of slavery, Egypt was, however, also a place of security; the Hebrews were not responsible for anything but their work details. This was one reason the Hebrews resisted Moses. Slaves could not think like free men; they did not have the courage to exercise the responsibilities liberty demanded. One result was only remembering the food Egypt provided and their complaining to Moses about the fine mess he had gotten them into. That generation had such a slave mentality that God forbade them to go into the land and they died in the wilderness.
We, too, derive many benefits from the humanistic, statist culture in which we live. We cannot be quick to assume the standard of living in the wilderness was better than that of Egypt. God did not give them instant prosperity, nor did the "promised land" offer a land of ease, but a land of opportunity under God's law. Should God's judgment fall in our lifetime, we, too, may find ourselves in a wilderness for a time, stripped of the comforts and conveniences of our Egypt. The question for us will then be, "Do we move on to the building of a better nation under better laws, or do we cry out for the lost pleasures of the past?"
Too often materialism has been denounced in either Marxist or dualistic terms (i.e., as either unjust or unspiritual). The real problem with materialism is that men tend to esteem its comforts more than God. Israel was wholly and Judah partially given over to Baalism, the worship of "lords" or "powers." These various Baals had the common denominator of being aspects of fertility cults. The powers worshipped had to do with rain, crop cycles, harvests, and productivity. We still have fertility cults, though not by that name. We now have prosperity and blessing cults, where God is treated like a Baal whose appeasement assures that His worshippers are given the good life.
When the Hebrews were called out of Egyptian slavery, their apostasy took the form of a mental return to the love of prosperity. Even Jehovah became no more than a minor Baal in their pantheon of lords. They became slaves to prosperity. Today we have also become slaves to prosperity. We most often do this by means of the slavery of debt and fiat money. The consequences of this sin are coming home; we have sown the wind, and we are soon to reap the whirlwind.
Darkness ... and Light
During World War I, when man's humanistic optimism was shattered, Edward Grey, a British statesman, remarked privately, "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time." The expression is the most famous quote of that era and is still used to refer to a pessimistic outlook on current events.
In contrast to such a negative perspective, consider Zechariah 14:7, which says of the day of the Lord, "[A]t evening time it shall be light." This is not referring to a time of day, but to the approach of a time of darkness, a time when pessimism seems appropriate, when the lights seem to be going out. It means when the darkness of events falls, God can give light, a new day, a new hope. God can do more than regenerate men's hearts; He can change the course of history.
There is a myth that postmillennialism is a belief in man's ushering in of the Kingdom of God by his proactive efforts. Rather, postmillennialism is about a faith that God will confound man's sin in His direction of the course of human history so that men, nations, events, and institutions will fulfill His purpose and glorify Jesus Christ. It's about the action of God in history, not of men.
"Rejoicing ... in the Day of the Lord"
The judgment of the day of the Lord is a frightening thing, even to the redeemed, because we know, even though we are spared damnation, we have failed our God in many ways. Nevertheless, Paul speaks of rejoicing in the day of the Lord (2 Cor. 1:14). We cannot follow the prosperity cults of our time and believe in only those aspects of God that appeal to us. We must accept God as He defines Himself. In accepting that God is righteous, just, and powerful, we must then accept His righteousness, His justice, and the exercise of His power, and we must rejoice therein. The justice of God is certain; we either welcome it and rejoice in it, or we resist it, which puts us in peril at its coming.