John Collins on the Day of the Lord

Today’s reading is from Joel 1 and 2.  The theme of “the day of the Lord” plays prominently in the passage as well as in many other prophetic texts.  I remembered reading quite a long time ago a helpful passage in Collins’ Introduction to the Hebrew Bible.  It explains why all of the talk of “the day of the Lord” as a day of judgment may have been surprising.  These comments are in the section on Amos; however, they are pertinent to today’s passage in Joel:

The original concerns of Amos, however, emerge most clearly in 5:18-28. This famous passage pronounces woe on those “who desire the day of the Lord” (5:18).  There has been much debate about as to what is meant by “the day of the Lord.”  In this context, however, it clearly refers to a cultic celebration, perhaps the Festival of Tabernacles or Sukkoth, which was known as “the feast of YHWH” in later times.  Tabernacles was celebrated at the end of the grape harvest.  It was a joyful festival, marked by drinking wine.  It was a day of light, in the sense of being a joyful occasion.  For Amos, however, the day of the Lord was darkness and not light, gloom with no brightness…

According to Collins, it is as though the prophets have co-opted a term that was meant to speak of a day of joy and feasting and turned it on its head.  Now, the day of the Lord has become a day of judgment.  It might be something akin to someone today saying “Woe to those who long for Christmas!”

I highly recommend Collins’ introductions to the Hebrew Bible, both the long and short versions: