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The Great and the Terrible Day of the Lord
The Old Testament Prophets used metaphorical language on numerous occasions to describe divine judgement, also known as ‘The Day of the Lord’.
Jesus spoke with similar metaphorical language when He described His second coming in judgement, which was a spiritual not physical return. His audience was accustomed to this type of expression. Many understood the significance of His warning, while the majority rejected His call for repentance.
I have chosen a selection of prophecies where metaphorical language proclaimed God's judgement on specific nations and Old Covenant Israel. The Lord always kept His Word, but used various practical methods to accomplish it.
In fact, it is misleading to apply a literal interpretation to the metaphorical language used to describe these events.
The Second Coming of Christ
Most scholars today insist on a physical manifestation of the second coming of Christ, however, if we compare the metaphorical language of Matthew 24:29-30 to Old Testament prophecies we will see a striking similarity in phraseology.
The LORD Thundered From Heaven...2 Samuel 22:7-16
2Sa 22:7-11 KJV In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God: and he did hear my voice out of his temple, and my cry did enter into his ears. 8 Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven moved and shook, because he was wroth. 9 There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. 10 He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet. 11 And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: and he was seen upon the wings of the wind.
A Quote from Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible
2 Samuel 22:1 'This song, which is found with scarcely any material variation as Ps. 18, and with the words of this first verse for its title, belongs to the early part of David’s reign when he was recently established upon the throne of all Israel, and when his final triumph over the house of Saul, and over the pagan nations 2Sa_22:44-46, Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Ammonites, and Edomites, was still fresh 2 Sam. 21. For a commentary on the separate verses the reader is referred to the commentary on Ps. 18.'
David's Psalm was one of thanksgiving for God's powerful deliverance from all his enemies. This deliverance actually took place, but not in the way described, it is an excellent example of metaphorical language in Scripture.
Howl Ye; for the Day of the LORD is at Hand...Isaiah 13:6-13
Isa 13:10-13 KJV For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. 11 And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. 12 I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir. 13 Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.
Isaiah prophesied during 745-695 BC and described metaphorically the destruction of the Babylonian Empire, which existed from 606-536 BC.
Isa 13:17 KJV Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.
‘Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them’ Isaiah explained the method of judgement used by the Lord...Isaiah 13:17-19.
The Shaking of the Hand of the LORD of Hosts...Isaiah 19:1-16
Isa 19:1 KJV The burden of Egypt. Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it.
The prophet proclaimed ‘the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt’, once again prophetic metaphorical language.
Isa 19:2-4 KJV And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom. 3 And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof; and I will destroy the counsel thereof: and they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards. 4 And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts.
A Quote from John Wesley's Explanatory Notes
Isaiah 19:2 'I will set - Egypt was now one kingdom, but not many years after this time it was divided into twelve kingdoms, between whom there were many and cruel wars.'
The Children of Israel had placed their confidence in the Egyptians who were their allies against Assyria at the time. To break their dependency on Egypt, it was important they should be aware of the destruction about to come upon that nation at the hands of the 'fierce king' Psammetichus.
- Isaiah 19:16 KJV In that day shall Egypt be like unto women: and it shall be afraid and fear because of the shaking of the hand of the LORD of hosts, which he shaketh over it.'
A Quote from Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary
Isaiah 19:16 'like ... women — timid and helpless (Jer 51:30; Nah 3:13).
shaking of ... hand — His judgments by means of the invaders (Isa 10:5, Isa 10:32; Isa 11:15).'
The Indignation of the LORD...Isaiah 34:2-5
- Isa 34:3-5 KJV Their slain also shall be cast out and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. 4 And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. 5 For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
Although fulfilled, the judgement on Edom was not in the manner described in the prophecy.
Eze 25:14 KJV And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel: and they shall do in Edom according to mine anger and according to my fury; and they shall know my vengeance, saith the Lord GOD.
A Quote from Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary
Ezekiel 25:14 ‘by ... my people Israel — namely, by Judas Maccabeus. The Idumeans were finally, by compulsory circumcision, incorporated with the Jewish state by John Hyrcanus (see Isa_34:5; Isa_63:1, etc.; 1 Maccabees 5:3). So complete was the amalgamation in Christ’s time, that the Herods of Idumean origin, as Jews, ruled over the two races as one people. Thus the ancient prophecy was fulfilled (Gen_25:23), “The elder shall serve the younger.”
The Prophet Jeremiah
The Fierce Anger of the LORD...Jeremiah 4:8-15
Jer 4:13 KJV Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! for we are spoiled.
This metaphorical language described the sudden appearance of unexpected clouds, which often rise quickly and overspread the whole face of the heavens; similarly with great swiftness Nebuchadnezzar invaded ‘as a whirlwind’.
To be Trodden underfoot...Daniel 8:9-13
Dan 8:10-11 KJV And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. 11 Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down.
The Lord's instrument of judgement on this occasion was Antiochus Epiphanes who was a foretaste of ‘that man of sin’, Nero Caesar…2 Thessalonians 2:3.
Daniel 8:10 'The host of heaven - The Jewish hierarchy. The stars, the priests and Levites. The powers or host of heaven are probably intended by our Lord, Mat 24:29, to signify the whole Jewish hierarchy.’— Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible
The Prophet Joel
The Great and the Terrible Day of the LORD...Joel 2:28-31
- Joe 2:28-31 KJV And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: 29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. 30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.
- Act 2:20 KJV The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:
Peter preached the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy on the Day of Pentecost...Acts 2:17-21. Not only did Peter's generation witness the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they were given the opportunity to repent before the impending 'great and the terrible day of the LORD' at Christ's return in AD 70. The Lord's method of judgement was the Roman Army.
The Prophet Haggai
I Will Shake the Heavens and the Earth...Haggai 2:6-9
Hag 2:6-7 KJV For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; 7 And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.
Heb 12:26-28 KJV Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. 27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
The writer to the Hebrews quoted from Haggai 2:6-7, only one more shaking after the time of Haggai and it would be during their lifetime. Not only was it a material, but also a moral and spiritual event. It began with the advent of Christ and fulfilled at His return; among those things removed was the Old Covenant.
The Lord's instrument was the Roman Army.
The Second Coming of Christ and Metaphorical Language
- Luk 17:20-21 KJV And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
A Quote from the People's New Testament
Luke 17:20-21 'When the kingdom of God cometh. These Pharisees expected a visible, temporal kingdom. Cometh not with observation. As a visible, earthly monarchy, like that of David. Is within you. A kingdom that has its throne in the heart, on which Christ, the King, sits. It has to be formed by yielding our hearts to Christ.'
'The kingdom of God cometh not with observation' Most scholars today insist on a physical manifestation of the second coming of Christ. However, if we compare the metaphorical language of Matthew 24:29-30 to Old Testament prophecies we find a striking similarity in figurative phraseology.
Matthew 24:29 vs the Old Testament Prophets
- Mat 24:29 KJV Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
'For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine'
'And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down'
'even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them'
'The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood'
'I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land'
Matthew 24:30 vs the Old Testament Prophets
- Mat 24:30 KJV And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
'Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt:'
'Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles'
'And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: and he was seen upon the wings of the wind'
Has this Hub challenged you to search the Scriptures?
Dispensationalism insists on a literal interpretation of the Scriptures. This may appear commendable on the surface, nevertheless, to have a full comprehension of the Word of God, we must have the Holy Spirit's guidance to differentiate between literal and metaphorical language.
The Lord Jesus Christ described His return in judgement using the same figurative speech as the Old Testament prophets.
Joel's prophecy concerning 'the great and the terrible day of the Lord' was fulfilled during the lifetime of Christ's generation.
The second coming of Christ was neither the end of the world, nor the end of time. Instead, it was the end of the Old Covenant Age and the full establishment of the New Covenant Age.
What do you think?
Hyperbole, by Gary Amirault
- Bible Matters--Hyperbole
Examples of various places where hyperbole and exaggeration are used in the Bible...proof that the bible is not meant to be read literally all the time.
© 2011 Alexander Gibb