Although there are a variety of ways that Bible speaks of divine justice, the “day of the Lord” idiom is most prevalent. In his “day,” the Lord comes to judge His enemies and vindicate His people. The prophets regularly used this phrase (e.g. Isa 13:6; Amos 5:18), but from where did they get it? Or in other words, when was the first “day of the LORD”? Perhaps surprisingly, Matthew Aernie and Donald Hartley in The Righteous and Merciful Judge argue that Genesis 3 is “the quintessential text” (p. 31) for this idea.
The phrase “the day of the Lord” does not appear in the Torah, so some scholars have suggested that we cannot know the origin of the concept. However, the Lord’s several “advents” of judgment in the Torah likely inspired the prophets. The first of these “comings” is found in Genesis 3:8 after Adam and Eve eat from the tree.
Modern translations of Genesis 3:8 have clouded its relevance for the day of the Lord. Though Genesis 3:8 is regularly translated to refer to the Adam and Eve hearing the “voice” of the Lord “walking” in the garden “in the cool of the day,” this most likely paints the wrong picture. God was not simply “strolling through the garden looking for Adam and Eve” (p. 27). Adam and Eve experienced a theophanic coming of God in judgment.
- The Hebrew קוֹל (qôl) is often translated “sound” or “voice.” Context makes clear that this is not “referring to God calling out to Adam and Eve, but rather the term refers to the sound of his coming” (p. 27). In other places קֹל is used as a theophany of judgment (Ex 19:16-18; Deut 4:9-12; Isa 30:31-33).
- The Hebrew participle מתהלך (miṯhǎllēḵ) is regularly translated as “walking.” Since the Lord was coming in judgment, it’s likely that the sound of his “walking” was “not only thunderous … but understood by Adam and Eve as a theophany of divine judgment, which is why they flee in terror.” (p 28).
- The Hebrew phrase לרוּח היוֹם (lěrûaḥ hayyôm) appears only once in the OT, which makes it difficult to translate. English translations have followed the LXX (“evening”) and Latin Vulgate (“in the cool afternoon”). These translations take the phrase as referring to the time of God’s coming. However, what if it refers rather to the manner of His coming? Jeffrey Niehaus suggests the translation of the Lord coming “in the wind of the storm.” Meredith Kline understood it as “the Spirit of the Day.” Either alternative seems better in context.
These points indicate that “Genesis 3:8 describes the thunderous sound of Yahweh coming in a judgment theophany to render his divine retribution of the first couple for their disobedience” (p. 31).
“The day” that Adam and Eve ate of the tree (Gen 2:17) is the first “day of the Lord” coming in judgment. It should not surprise us that the first occurrence of sin is also the first occurence of the Lord coming to pronounce His righteous and merciful judgment.