Earthquakes of Scripture - Part 1
Jeff Brown, Heath, Cardiff, Wales. [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Possibly everyone reading this article will be familiar with what an earthquake is, yet very few will have experienced one! Modern seismic equipment locates between 18,000 - 20,000 earthquakes worldwide every year – equating to about fifty every day. Most of them are located beneath the sea, and many are of such low intensity as to be of little consequence to us. Earthquakes normally, but not exclusively, occur at the Earth’s crustal plate boundaries, in specific seismic zones, which move in relation to each other, causing friction and vibrations. However, they can occur anywhere, even in the United Kingdom!
Earthquakes normally only last for a very short time, ranging from just a few seconds up to about two minutes, or somewhat longer in exceptional circumstances, yet their effects are far-reaching. Their energy is phenomenal! One of the largest scientifically recorded modern earthquakes occurred on December 26, 2004. This magnitude 9.2 earthquake was the cause of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster – its energy was equivalent to 23,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs, a number calculated according to pressure required to displace the billions of tons of water. The resulting tsunami’s wave was over thirty metres high in places causing more than 300,000 deaths, one million people displaced, and about five million people deprived of basic services. Vast coastal areas of Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and S.E. India were affected – there were even deaths and damage along the east coast of Africa, 5,000 miles from the epicentre of the earthquake! Even the smallest earthquakes generate energy five hundred times the power of an atomic bomb, and earthquakes are second only to floods as the cause of the highest death rates from ‘natural’ disasters.
Millions of people in 21st-century, western culture do not believe that God exists, or, if He does, they do not care. They point to evolutionary theories, and insights gained by ‘scientific’ research, to show that the universe exists on its own as a self-regulating and self-determining natural system, and that all processes have remained almost constant in character and rate over great periods of geological time. Thus, events we see around us today are just the natural outcome of millions of years of change. In complete contrast, the Bible clearly indicates an omnipotent and omniscient God who not only designed but continually maintains this universe according to His divine purpose. It also recognizes slow, natural processes, but with the occurrence and very significant effects of sudden catastrophic events of divine intervention, such as the Flood.
The attitude of the majority today to ‘nature’ is so different from the outlook of the Bible. When considering the stars, people think of light-years and ultimately inter-planetary travel – yet biblical writers considered the night sky as a breathtaking display of the wisdom, glory, and power of God.1 The movements and courses of the stars, the wind circulatory systems, and the hydrological cycle were all ascribed to the activity of God.2 In our generation, we often just think of the cycles of days and seasons in regard to work and holidays, yet God’s people of old saw in them a sign of the covenant faithfulness of God. Many people today question why ‘natural’ disasters, like earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc., cause great suffering and loss of life, both to believers and unbelievers alike. In this respect, we should always remember the effects of the Fall, Gen. 3; the whole of creation was affected by sin, i.e., human, animate, and inanimate creation, Rom. 8. 19-23; so sin is the ultimate cause of death, disease, sickness, suffering, and ‘natural’ disasters! The Flood was to have further far-reaching consequences (see later in this article). Yet we should remember that God is just, Gen. 18. 25. He never permits anything without a purpose, even if we don’t understand it, Rom. 9. 20.
There are nineteen direct, and at least as many indirect, references, e.g., ‘shake’; ‘shaking’, to earthquakes in scripture. Some of the references refer to the same earthquake, but I believe there are fourteen specific earthquakes mentioned, with many others alluded to. Although every earthquake is significant, the purpose of these articles is to consider those of most scriptural significance.. All are demonstrations of divine power and sovereignty, while some specifically relate to judgement, deliverance, and the immediate presence of God.
Earthquakes of Major Scriptural Significance
We propose to look at five groups of earthquakes that have been, and will be, associated with biblical events of major importance:
- at the Flood in the time of Noah, Gen. 7. 11;
- at the giving of the Law, Mount Sinai, Exod. 19. 18;
- earthquakes associated with the crucifixion, Matt. 27. 51-54, and the resurrection, Matt. 28. 2;
- those associated with events prior to the return of Christ to Earth as Sovereign, i.e., during, and at the end of, the seven-year tribulation period;3
- the greatest earthquake ever to be experienced on Earth, and very closely connected with the previous section, concerning the actual, literal coming of Christ to earth in power and glory, Zech. 14. 4-5; Rev. 16. 18.
There are other earthquakes referred to and alluded to in scripture – no less real for those who experienced them, and not without significance, but not within the remit of these articles. Some that come to mind are:
- Jonathan smiting the Philistines’ garrison, 1 Sam. 14. 15;
- Elijah on the mount before the Lord, 1 Kgs. 19. 11;
- the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah, Amos 1. 1, and referred to in Zech. 14. 5;
- the prayer meeting of the early church, Acts 4. 29-31;
- Paul and Silas in jail at Philippi, Acts 16. 26.
Local or Global?
The earthquakes, and other associated phenomena involved in the Flood, were the catalyst for far-reaching global effects on the Earth – for the Flood was certainly global in extent! The earthquake at Sinai was more localized, for God was communicating specifically with the nation of Israel. The earthquakes at Calvary, and at the resurrection, were geographically localized to that area, yet what they were associated with would be truly global. The earthquakes involved in the tribulation period, and at its close, will be both local and global in effect.
Earthquakes associated with the Flood, Gen. 7. 11
The Flood was Earth’s greatest physical upheaval since creation. Both Old Testament and New Testament writers spoke of it as a literal event.4 The Lord Jesus Christ Himself spoke of Noah, the Ark, and the Flood as real, literal events.5
The geological and geographical implications of this great event were far-reaching. Genesis chapter 7 verse 11 records the subterranean, and then the atmospheric effects on the first day of the Flood. The subterranean effects are mentioned first – this may be significant! In this verse the Hebrew word for ‘broken up’ is baqa which literally means to split or to cleave.6 The Earth’s crustal break-up caused gigantic earthquakes, and widespread volcanic activity, as well as releasing vast quantities of subterranean water. Immense quantities of volcanic dust would be blown upward, together with expanding and cooling gases. This gas, and other particles, served as nuclei for condensation, and triggered a reaction in the upper canopy, with its waters rapidly condensing and coalescing to produce incessant torrential downpours, ‘the windows of heaven were opened’. This activity continued unabated until after the 150 days.7 In total Noah and his family were in the Ark for 371 days, based on a 30-day month.8 Obviously, all this activity was under the control of an omnipotent God!
The Effects of the Flood
With the ‘windows of heaven’ now being opened, Gen. 7. 11, this great canopy of water vapour was dissipated, creating temperature differentials, global air circulation, and creating, amongst other things, the hydrological cycle of rainfall, which was a new experience for the Earth! Climatic extremes now came in, extreme heat, cold, aridity, etc., limiting man’s habitation possibilities. Oceans were now more extensive because of the extra water. Harmful ultra-violet radiations were not now being intercepted as before because of the loss of the water canopy, as a result, men’s ages dramatically decreased after the Flood. Before the Flood the average age of man was 912 years, Gen. 5, yet after the Flood, Gen. 11. 10-26, 32, the average age had reduced to 388 years! In succeeding generations the average continued to fall, until you come to Psalm 90 verse 10, where we read of average life-spans of 70-80 years – not too dissimilar to today!
Spiritual Lessons to be learned
What can we learn from the Flood for our spiritual benefit? I believe that there are many important lessons to consider – we shall look at some of them briefly.
- We see the holy and righteous character of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God who cannot tolerate sin. Sin must be judged, and so it was at the Flood; yet in it all we see a longsuffering God, giving more than adequate opportunity for men to be saved, 2 Pet. 3. 9.
- Human depravity in all its depths is also seen – continual wickedness, evil, corruption, and violence marked the entire Earth, Gen. 6. 5-6; 11-13. Men seemed oblivious to God, yet God was still looking on the Earth, Heb. 4. 13. Men may leave God out of their lives, but, ultimately, God will not stay out of their lives.
- So many parallels can be drawn with today’s society – but does mankind ever learn lessons from the past? Sadly, the obvious answer is no.
- There is a bright light of spiritual encouragement for us. Despite the character of the days in which he lived and the immense pressures he was under, there was a man, Noah, who stood out, and lived for God in contrast to all that was around him. He was righteous, just, and upright in character, Gen. 6. 9. He was obedient, v. 22, and knew the intimacy of God’s presence, v. 9. Noah was also regarded as one of the great examples of men of faith, Heb. 11. 7. What a commendation!
Are all these features, or indeed are any of these features, marking out our lives in the world in which we live?
References – for further reading
Brown, Jeff, Creation – The Facts, article in Present Truth magazine, issues 185-194;
Brown, Jeff, The Flood, article in Present Truth magazine, issues 197-203.
1. Job 38. 31-33; Ps. 19. 1-4; Isa. 40. 25-26.
2. Job 38. 24; Ps. 104. 10; Jer. 10. 13.
3. Matt. 24. 7; Mark 13. 8; Rev. 6. 12; 8. 5; 11. 13; 16. 18). See also Joel 2. 10; Nahum 1. 5, amongst many other references.
4. Isa. 54. 9; 1 Pet. 3. 20; 2 Pet. 2. 5.
5. Matt. 24. 37-39; Luke 17. 26.
6. See also for similar use of the word: Num. 16. 21; Ps. 78. 15; Isa. 48. 21; Mic. 1. 4; Zech. 14. 4.
7. Compare: Gen. 7. 24; 8. 1-2.
8. Compare: Gen. 7. 11; 8. 13-14.