By Gordon Franz
Earthquakes are awesome natural phenomena that intrigue geologists who study them and terrorize victims who experience them. People caught in an earthquake often refer to it as one of the most terrifying experiences of their lifetimes. An earthquake, with its epicenter at Northridge in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles, California, jolted people awake in the early morning hours of January 17, 1994. The quake rumbled for 30 seconds.
This earthquake was the second-costliest natural disaster in America behind Hurricane Andrew. The quake measured 6.8 on the Richter scale, with 62 deaths and over 9,000 injuries. Twenty thousand people were left homeless, 10,000 homes were destroyed and another 46,000 were damaged. Experiencing this earthquake and the aftermath was traumatic. A friend of mine, Jessica, experienced the earthquake and relates this account.
“I’m a native of Los Angeles, which translates into one fact: I’ve been through many earthquakes. As a little girl, the 1971 Sylmar shaker, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, toppled a small statue in my parents’ house and knocked my doll collection to the floor. Several years ago the Whittier earthquake got my blood pumping enough to finally put together an earthquake survival kit: a can of tuna fish, a can of pineapple chunks, some Band-Aids and a sewing kit. Well, even if I remembered where my simple earthquake kit was hidden, it certainly would not have done me any good on January 17, 1994. After the 6.8 shaker, which left me feeling dizzy for days as the ground continued to rock and sway like a drunken sailor, I was in no mood to eat or sew!
“The truth is, nothing prepared me for that morning. I was fast asleep. Suddenly, I felt the shaking and heard a loud noise and woke up. One would have thought I would have jumped out of bed immediately, but I was an old earthquake pro. Thoughts of riding out the quake under the warmth of my blankets crossed my mind. But the shaking got stronger and the noise more intense. My adrenaline kicked in. Leaping out of bed I discovered that the house was rocking so hard I could not move. The cacophony of sounds was frightening. Car alarms blasting, dishes crashing to the floor, buildings cracking, windows blowing out. Through it all, the sound of the earth, belching with a mighty jolt from its bowels, struck terror to my heart. It was a horrible sound. One which no one could ignore. A noise which woke up each and every one of us.
“There was no question in my mind that this was an earthquake. If, what I was feeling in Sherman Oaks was so strong that I could not even walk because the floor was moving so violently, I wondered what it must have been like at the epicenter. My fear was that hundreds of people must have died there. When the shaking finally stopped, I simply stood there, trapped by a mountain of books. Quietly I gave thanks to the Lord because I had survived. I would like to say that my faith prevented fear, but to be honest, I was petrified. My mouth was so dry I could barely speak. My limbs felt like rubber. My thoughts turned to my family, scattered in various parts of L. A. Were they hurt? Or the unmentionable, were they dead?
“The earthquake of January 17th made every previous quake I had been through seem like a gentle tap. Minutes, hours and days passed. Neighbors screamed, cried and evacuated. Homes were condemned as unsafe and uninhabitable by the city. It turned out that my neighborhood, only a few miles from the epicenter, was one of the worst streets in the earthquake. It was later named one of the 14 ghost towns, an eerie souvenir of January 17th. Almost every building on my street was “red tagged”. This meant that people had to pack up and leave their homes behind. Yet there was one townhouse building, comprised of forty units, which had the overall structure and foundation left intact and deemed safe. That was my home. I knew that the Lord had not only saved my life, but also spared my home. I got on my knees and thanked Him with a grateful heart, ‘Thank you Lord, for Your hand of protection upon me.'”
EARTHQUAKES AND BIBLE PROPHECY
Earthquakes play a role in Bible prophecy. They are mentioned in the Book of Revelation (6:12-17; 8:5; 11:13,19; 16:16-21) as well as the books of Isaiah (2:19,21; 5:25; 24:19), Ezekiel (38:19,20), Joel (2:10; 3:16) and Zechariah (14:4,5). A number of prophecy teachers point to what they assume to be an increase in the number of earthquakes and associate these quakes with the words of Jesus to show we are in, or near, the last days (cf. Matt. 24:7). As one writer puts it, “One of the major birthpangs Jesus predicted would increase in frequency and intensity shortly before His return is earthquakes” (Lindsey 1994: 83). Two questions should be raised: First, has there actually been an increase in earthquake activities? And second, does Jesus really say there will be an increase in earthquakes before He returns?
In order to understand the purpose of earthquakes in the End-times, one must examine God’s purpose for earthquakes in history. In the middle of the 8th century BC, the “Big One” hit the Middle East. Let us examine the Biblical record and the archaeological evidence for this earthquake.
THE EARTHQUAKE IN THE DAYS OF THE PROPHET
AMOS AND KING UZZIAH
My study of this earthquake began during the summer of 1987 when I was working on the excavation at Tel Lachish in the Shephelah of Judah. One day I got “Sennacherib’s revenge” (that is the Middle East version of “Montezuma’s revenge”) and was confined to bed, except for the occasional “turkey trot” to the outhouse in the eucalyptus grove some 50 meters from our camp. Trying to keep from getting bored, I began reading the excavation report from Tel Sheva and came across a reference to the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah.
There is considerable evidence to suggest that the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah dealt considerable damage to the Middle East. Dr. Yohanan Aharoni identifies Tel Sheva as Biblical Beer Sheva. Aharoni suggests that Stratum III (the third level of occupation) was partially destroyed by an earthquake during the days of King Uzziah, but quickly rebuilt by its inhabitants (1973: 107,108). The excavator at Tel Lachish concluded that the same earthquake destroyed Stratum IV. When I returned home at the end of the summer, I compiled a list of sites which where effected by this earthquake. The list raised the questions, “What does this mean? Can we tell anything about this earthquake? Where was the epicenter? How strong was it?” For answers, I turned to my friend Dr. Steve Austin, a geologist at the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego. I gave him the list of sites with copies of the excavation reports and asked the question, “What does this all mean?” His reply was intriguing and exciting.
The Archaeological Evidence
The most vivid archaeological evidence for this earthquake was unearthed at Hazor, in the northern part of Israel, during the 1956 season. The area supervisor, the late Prof. Y. Aharoni, described the destruction to the walls of the houses. Some were cracked and others tilted or fell in a southerly or easterly direction (Yadin 1960: 24). One house had an ivory cosmetic spoon with a woman’s head on the backside. Yigel Yadin, the excavator of the site suggested it depicted a fertility goddess (1975: 154,155), something that Isaiah condemned (Isa. 2:8, 18, 20).
This and other small finds gave indication of the material prosperity of the Northern Kingdom in the mid-8th century BC, something which the prophet Amos cried out against two years before this earthquake (Amos 1:1; 6:4). Renewed excavations by Hebrew University have uncovered further evidence of this earthquake (Dever 1992: 27*-35*).
Another city with archaeological evidence for this earthquake is the Jordanian site of Deir ‘Alla. This site is situated about two-thirds of the way down the Jordan Rift Valley between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. This site also had walls tilting to the south and east as well as evidence for a rainstorm just prior to and during the earthquake (Franken and Ibrahim 1977-78: 68).
None of the excavations, which have been conducted in Jerusalem thus far, have unearthed clear-cut evidence for the earthquake in the mid-8th century BC. However, the literary evidence does suggest some destruction. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, connected the earthquake with the time King Uzziah was struck with leprosy. He says at the time “… the Temple was raven, a brilliant shaft of sunlight gleaned through it and fell upon the kings face…” He goes on to say, “… while before [to the east of] the city at the place called Eroge [possibly Ein Rogel] half of the western hill [of the mount of Olives] was broken off and rolled four stades [730 meters] till it stopped at the eastern hill [the City of David] and obstructed the roads and royal gardens [in the Kidron Valley]” (Antiquities 9: 224,225; LCL 6: 119). The later reference probably refers to a landslide that resulted from this earthquake. The archaeological evidence from Deir ‘Alla suggests that there was a rain storm prior to the earthquake. This would make the soil more susceptible to landslides. Recent studies by Israeli geologists show the western slopes of the Mount of Olives is landslide prone and there is strong evidence that three ancient landslides existed (Wachs and Levitte 1983; 1984: 118-121). Josephus probably referred to the one just above the southern end of the Silwan Village. This landslide would have filled in part of the Kidron Valley and probably covered Ein Rogel (“the springs of Rogel”) with large amounts of dirt. It might have been Uzziah, or his son Jotham, who sank a deep well, known today by the Arabs as Bir ‘Ayyub (the “well of Job”) to reach the waters of the spring. The prophet Zechariah (14:4,5) refers to this landslide as well (Wachs and Levitte 1984: 119,120, editor note). The noise generated by this landslide, especially as the sound echoed off the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys, must have been great. No wonder the people fled. The noise would have been enough to put the fear of the Lord into anybody!
Lachish, located about 28 miles southwest of Jerusalem in the Shephelah, has no visual evidence of this earthquake. However, certain considerations lead the excavator, David Ussishkin, to conclude that this earthquake destroyed Level IV (1977: 14-27).
Tel ‘Erany, located a few miles to the west of Lachish, had uprooted walls and split paved floors in the Level VI city as evidence of this destruction as well (Yeivin 1979: 168).
During the 1990 season at Tel Gezer, evidence for this earthquake was unearthed in the area of the “Outer Wall”. Here, large blocks were cracked from top to bottom. In another place, the upper two courses were displaced upwards and outwards, as though they had violently “jumped” off their foundation (Dever 1992: 30; Younker 1991: 28). Randy Younker, the associate director of the excavation, eventually convinced Dr. Dever, the director, that this was evidence for an earthquake based on his first hand experience with earthquakes in California (Dever 1992: 30).
A final site with archaeological evidence of this earthquake is ‘En Hazeva, identified as Biblical Tamar, in the Aravah. In the gate area there are walls bowed outward with cracked stones on multiple courses. The excavators concluded, “based on the destruction debris and its configuration, we believe that the quake mentioned in Amos and Zechariah was responsible for the destruction of the Stratum 5 fortress gate complex…” (Cohen and Yisrael 1995: 231).
These are some of the sites that have clear evidence of an earthquake in the mid-8th century BC. While we are dealing with a limited amount of evidence, a clear picture is emerging, i.e. a very violent earthquake in the middle of the 8th century BC with the tremor originating north of the land of Judah and Israel.
The Geological Evidence
Much research has been done on earthquakes in antiquities (Amiran 1951: 223-246; 1952:48-65; Amiran, Arieh and Turcotte 1994: 260-305; Amiran 1996: 120-130). Unfortunately there were no seismometers in the 8th century BC to measure earthquakes. If there were, we could determine where the epicenter was as well as the magnitude on the Richter scale. We do, however, have the observations of the destruction at archaeological sites that may help determine the intensity of the earthquake.
I gave this information to Dr. Steve Austin at the Institute for Creation Research. Using a modified Mercalli scale, he was able to suggest that the epicenter was probably located to the northeast of Hazor in Lebanon (Austin, Franz and Frost 2000:666,667). Austin based his suggestion on the direction of the collapsed and leaning walls and isoseismals. He also proposed that the magnitude of this earthquake was about 8.2 on the Richter scale! (Austin, Franz and Frost 2000: 667.669). This earthquake was the largest in the last 4,000 years on the Dead Sea-Jordan Rift.
The Biblical Evidence
Assigning a date would help to put this earthquake into perspective. Unfortunately the chronology of the 8th century is a thorny issue and scholars cannot agree on some dates. For the sake of convenience, this discussion assumes the standard chronology of Edwin Thiele who places it in the year 750 BC. Josephus and the Rabbinic sources state that the earthquake took place the same time King Uzziah was struck with leprosy. Josephus also seems to hint that the earthquake took place on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Antiquities 9: 222-227; LCL 6: 117-121). This would also fit the evidence for a rainstorm found at Dier ‘Alla. Yom Kippur is at the beginning of the early rains.
The prophet Amos brings his message of impending judgment to the high place at Bethel “two years before the earthquake” (1:1). In this sermon he predicts there will be a strong earthquake (Amos 4:11; 6:11; 9:1) and other calamities in the near future if the people do not turn back to the Lord, His Word and His Temple in Jerusalem and away from oppressing the poor and needy. The ultimate judgment would be captivity by the Assyrians. Amos appears to use this earthquake as a “proof” that his words about the captivity would be fulfilled. If the epicenter were in the Mediterranean Sea, one would expect a tsunami phenomenon (tidal waves). Interestingly enough, some of the rabbinic sources seem to refer to such a phenomenon. Amos 5:8 and 9:6 state, “Who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the face of the earth” (Luria 1987: 259-262). Because Amos was able to predict this earthquake two years before it happened, something modern geologists cannot do, Dr. Austin has begun to call this earthquake “Amos’ earthquake”!
The prophet Isaiah ministered in Jerusalem to the Kingdom of Judah and was a contemporary of Amos, also mentions this earthquake. Isaiah 2-6 gives a vivid picture of the moral conditions of the Kingdom of Judah during the reign of King Uzziah (II Chron. 26). The king began his reign following the Lord, but because of his strength, his heart was lifted up with pride (26:16, cf. Prov. 16:18). The people of Judah saw this arrogant attitude and followed the example of their leader. [Who said character does not matter?!] In the second chapter of his book, Isaiah addresses the deep seeded problem in Jerusalem and Judah, the sin of pride. He demonstrated the proper use of prophecy by describing the “latter days” (2:1) and encouraged the people to walk in light of what it shall be like some day in the future (2:2-5). There is a day coming when Jerusalem will be exalted (2:2), yet the people were exalting themselves (2:11, 17). There would be a day coming when the people would learn the Word of God (2:4), yet the people were neglecting to apply the word of God to their lives (2:6-9). There would be a day when there would be no more military activity because the people would beat their swords into plowshares (2:4), yet the expansionist policies of King Uzziah dictated he build up his military forces (II Chron. 26:6-15). In light of what it shall be like some day in the future, the proper response of the people should have been to live in light of the Word of God today. The Apostle John sets forth this same principle for the Church today (I John 3:1-3). Isaiah predicted that a strong earthquake would be used as an instrument of God’s judgment, if the people did not humble themselves and turn back to the Lord (2:19,21, “…when He arises to shake the earth mightily”).
When Dr. Austin sent me his conclusions on the geology of this earthquake, he included a map with a proposal that the epicenter was a point north of Hazor with the isoseismal lines emanating from it. My mind immediately went to Isaiah 2:13-16 and wondered if Isaiah knew of the direction of the shock waves. These verses reflect the north-south progression of the shock waves emanating from this earthquake. “Upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up [the territory of Lebanon], and upon all the oaks of Bashan [the Golan Heights], upon all the high mountains [Upper Galilee], and upon all the ships of Tarshish [those ships anchored at Ashdod, now controlled by Uzziah (II Chron. 26:6), and destroyed by the seismic sea-wave (tsunami)]. I cannot be dogmatic on this point, but it is a possibility.
Isaiah, the (Biblical) political activist, composed a song expressing God’s displeasure with His people after all He had done for them. They had neglected the two pillars of social concern, justice and righteousness. Instead, there was oppression and weeping (5:7). In his explanation of the song he pronounced “woes” against the people of Judah (5:8-25). He singles out the pleasure seekers (party animals), among others, for their excessive drunkenness because “… they do not regard the work of the Lord, not consider the operation of His Hand” (5:12).
My only experience in an earthquake was on April 23, 1979 while studying at the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem. It registered a 5.1 magnitude on the Richter scale (Amiran, Arieh and Turcotte 1994: 284). As I recall, I was sitting in my room listening to the afternoon news broadcast. It was an eerie feeling as the quake hit and I watched the walls swayed as if elastic. When I realized what was going on, I got out of the building as quickly as possible. The “party animals” (5:11,12) probably saw the walls of their houses swaying the morning of Yom Kippur, after a night of feasting and drinking, instead of fasting, as they should, and thought nothing of the swaying. They reasoned, “The walls always appear to sway when I am drunk!” Not recognizing the hand of the Lord, they stayed in their houses as the roofs collapsed and killed them. Sheol, the place of the departed dead, is pictured as enlarging itself (5:14, 15), indicating that a considerable number of people were killed as a result of this earthquake. During the reign of Jotham and Jeroboam II, a census was taken (I Chron. 4:17), probably to determine how many people survived this devastating tragedy.
Some time after the earthquake, possibly around 735 BC, Isaiah reminded the people in the Northern Kingdom of their pride and arrogance by describing the aftermath of the earthquake. “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with hewn stones; the sycamores were cut down, but we will replace them with cedars” (9:8-11; Hayes and Irvine 1987: 184-186).
The Psalms of the sons of Korah, in my opinion, were composed in the 8th century BC, probably during the reign of King Hezekiah. The psalmist may be referring back to this earthquake in the beginning of Psalm 46. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with swelling. Selah.” This could be a description of the shock waves as well as landslides around the Sea of Galilee. There appears to be evidence for ancient landslides on the eastern and western shores of the Sea of Galilee.
The prophet Zechariah, more than 250 years after the earthquake states: “You shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah” (14:5). Recent studies of the Mount of Olives by Israeli geologists may be able to shed light on this passage (Wachs and Levitte 1984: 118-121). They think a landslide might be connected with the “splitting” of the Mount of Olives. In an extensive note by the editors, it was observed, “Regarding this passage there exists two conflicting interpretations. The more common reading of the text following the mention of splitting of the Mount of Olives is ‘And ye shall flee to the valley of my mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azel…’ as in the Masoretic text … The Revised Standard Version (King James) Old Testament gives instead, ‘And the valley of my mountains shall be stopped up for the valley of the mountains shall touch the side of it…’ The source of this discrepancy lies in the confused reading of the Hebrew word for ‘shall be stopped up’…, and for ‘ye shall flee’… The vowels in both words are identical, but when the diacritical points were added to the Hebrew Bible at a later period to facilitate reading, the text was apparently misunderstood and the meaning changed in this case. … The present authors, relying on their geological knowledge as elaborated in this article, have adopted the ‘shall be stopped up’ reading as more plausible in relation to the natural phenomena described” (Wachs and Levitte 1984: 119,120 editor note). This is something to consider.
The earthquake in the mid-eighth century BC served as a warning of a greater judgment to come, captivity by the Assyrians. It confirmed the messages of the prophets Amos and Isaiah. Yet the people did not respond in a positive manner to the message of God.
EARTHQUAKES IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION
The Book of Revelation, written about A.D. 95, mentions at least five earthquakes (6:12-17; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:16-21). The final earthquake, mentioned in the seventh bowl of wrath, is described as “a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath” (Rev. 16: 18, 19).
The First century readers of the Book of Revelation would be “shaken” (no pun intended) by the statement “a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.” Some of the elderly people of the cities of Asia Minor would have remembered the earthquake of AD 17. Pliny described this earthquake in his Natural History. “The greatest earthquake in human memory occurred when Tiberius Caesar was emperor, twelve Asiatic cities being overthrown in one night” (2:86:200; LCL 1: 331). Tacitus, in his Annals, described this earthquake as well. “In the same year, twelve important cities of Asia collapsed in an earthquake, the time being night, so that the havoc was the less foreseen and the more devastating. Even the usual resource in these catastrophes, a rush to open ground, was unavailing, as the fugitives were swallowed up in yawning chasms. Accounts are given of huge mountains sinking, of former plains seen heaved aloft, of fires flashing out amid the ruin. As the disaster fell heaviest on the Sardians, it brought them the largest measure of sympathy, the Caesar promising ten million sesterces, and remitting for five years their payments to the national and imperial exchequers” (2:47; LCL 3: 459). The elderly people of Asia Minor would have remembered the devastation of the AD 17 earthquake and thought to themselves, “If that was the worst recorded earthquake in human history and Revelation 16 predicts one even worst, I would not want to be around when that one hits!”
IS THERE AN INCREASE IN EARTHQUAKES?
After each major earthquake around the world, the pop-prophecy literature seems to contain articles regarding earthquakes and Bible prophecy. Invariably these articles point to the increase in earthquakes as proof that Jesus is coming soon. One writer states, “In the first century, Jesus Christ predicted an increase in earthquakes as a sign of His Second Coming” (Church 1994: 12). He then proof-text his point by quoting Matthew 24:7: “For nations will rise against nations, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” Note the passage only says there will be “earthquakes in various places”. It does not day there will be an increase. It is amazing how some prophecy teachers read into the passage something that is not there.
Two of the most popular prophecy teachers make similar statements. One says, “Earthquakes continue to increase in frequency and intensity, just as the Bible predicts for the last days before the return of Christ. History shows that the number of killer quakes remained fairly constant until the 1950s – averaging between two to four per decade. In the 1950s, there were nine. In the 1960s, there were 13. In the 1970s, there were 51. In the 1980s, there were 86. From 1990 through 1996, there have been more than 150” (Lindsey 1997: 296). His source is the United States Geological Survey (USGS), yet he gives no documentation for these statements. Another prophecy teacher, also citing the USGS says, “However, since A.D. 1900, the growth in major earthquakes has been relentless. From 1900 to 1949 it averaged three major quakes per decade. From 1949 the increase became awesome with 9 killer quakes in the 1950s; 13 in the 1960s; 56 in the 1970s and an amazing 74 major quakes in the 1980s. Finally, in the 1990s, at the present rate, we will experience 125 major killer quakes in this decade” (Jeffrey 1996: 194).
The geologist, who developed the Richter scale, apparently had some contact with prophecy teachers. In 1969 he wrote, “One notices with some amusement that certain religious groups have picked this rather unfortunate time to insist that the number of earthquakes is increasing. In part they are mislead by the increasing number of small earthquakes that are being cataloged and listed by newer, more sensitive stations throughout the world. It is worth remarking that the number of great earthquakes from 1896 to 1906 (about twenty-five) was greater than in any ten-year interval since” (Richter 1969: 44).
Two prophecy researchers wrote to a number of reputable seismologists around the world and asked three questions of them. “(1) Do you feel that there has been a tremendous increase in major earthquakes during this century compared with earlier centuries? (2) Do you feel that the earthquake activity in this century is in any way unique? (3) Do you know of any other seismologist who holds that our time has seen an unusually large number of earthquakes?” In an appendix a selected number of letters were reprinted. All the responses were unanimous that there has NOT been a dramatic increase in earthquakes, as prophecy teachers would like to have us think (Jonsson and Herbst 1987: 46-87, 237-248).
More recently, a notice appeared on the US Geological Survey website entitled “Are Earthquakes Really on the Increase?” They state, “Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant throughout this century and, according to our records, have actually seemed to decrease in recent years.” They go on to explain why. “In the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year. This is because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications. In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more than 4,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by telex, computer and satellite. This increase in the number of stations and the more timely receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers to locate many more small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years, and we are able to locate earthquakes more rapidly.” [http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov/neis/
Dr. Steve Austin has demonstrated that the lists of the number of earthquakes given by the popular prophecy teachers are incomplete and poorly documented. If their analysis is correct, two assumptions should be true. “(1) a comparative infrequency of big earthquakes occurred in the first half of the century, and (2) an obvious increase in the frequency of big earthquakes occurred since 1950″ (Austin and Strauss 1999: 34). Dr. Austin demonstrates in his article that both assumptions are false and concludes the exact opposite. “(1) a comparative excess of big earthquakes occurred in the first half of the century, and (2) an obvious decrease in the frequency of big earthquakes occurred since 1950″ (Austin and Strauss 1999: 34). It behooves the prophecy teacher to be meticulous and complete in ones research and properly and completely document ones findings.
What do prophecy teachers do when confronted with the evidence that earthquakes are not on the increase? One prophecy teacher dismisses the evidence as unreliable because the geologists were “schooled with the uniformitarian secular viewpoint” (Church 1997:337)! This teacher is asking his readers to ignore the geological evidence and to blindly accept his interpretation of the text. It should be pointed out that Dr. Austin is a “young earth creationist”!
Are earthquakes on the increase? It might be hard to convince my friends in Southern California and some prophecy teachers, but the answer is “No!” Yet the prophetic Scripture does not state there will be an increase, it just states there will be earthquakes in “different places”. Let us not read into the verse more than is there.
It would have been interesting to take a survey of all the churches in Los Angeles on the Sunday after the earthquake (January 23, 1994) and see how many preachers spoke on the “increase in earthquakes” as a sign of Jesus’ soon return. One would hope that many preachers spoke in the vein of Isaiah and Amos, warning the people in the area to return to the Lord and His Word.
John Chrysostom, a priest in Antioch (in present day Turkey), took advantage of a similar situation after an earthquake devastated that city in AD 388 or 389. In his sixth sermon on Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16), given a few days after the earthquake, he warned the people of Antioch of a greater judgment to come (Roth 1984: 15, 16, 97-124).
My friend Jessica sent me an insightful handout prepared by her pastor, Jack Hayford of “The Church on the Way” in Van Nuys after the earthquake (Hayford 1994). He pointed out the every believer has three assignments in this life. They are: “(1) to show forth good works (Matt. 5:16); (2) to shine forth a clear witness (I Pet. 3:15); and (3) to sustain a life of effective, spiritually impacting prayer (Rom. 8:26-28)”. Churches acted as relief distribution centers for supplies that came into the area from various Christian organizations (Kellner 1994: 56, 57). What an opportunity for believers in the Lord Jesus to show forth “good works” (Tit. 3:8; Gal. 6:10). This testimony afforded the opportunity to share the Scriptures to those who were asking “Where is God in the middle of all this?” The rest of Hayford’s handout provides the answer to this question from the Bible. All natural disasters are the result of the Fall (sin), but there is hope for those who would put there trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. The third issue he focused on was prayer. As Pastor Hayford commented, “We need to pray. We need to pray in confidence that it IS true – things would have been worse without what prayer there has been offered, AND, things will be worse if we don’t continue to intercede”. These comments on prayer are in the vein of Amos (7:1-6). He prayed, God heard, and judgment was stayed.
Are earthquakes on the increase? No. Are they a warning of greater judgment to come? Yes. Just as Amos and Isaiah warned the Northern and Southern Kingdoms respectively, of a violent earthquake to come and their words were confirmed by that earthquake a few years later. History has bore out the fact that the Northern Kingdom did not heed the words of Amos after the earthquake and they continued in their sinful ways. Since they did not take this warning to heart, Amos’ other prediction, captivity by the Assyrians, was fulfilled more than 25 years later. Today, earthquakes should be understood as signposts pointing to a greater judgment, separation from God for all eternity in Hell if an individual does not come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.
The 1994 Northridge earthquake hit the pornography industry very hard. This industry, centered in and around Northridge, had every major studio and distribution center hit during the quake. One pornography film director said, “Can you imagine how the fundamentalist are going to leap on this when the smoke clears? They will say it’s God’s retribution” (Ferraiulo 1994: 57). Retribution? Probably not. God still loves them, yet hates their sin. In love, He has given them a warning and longs for them to trust Him as their Savior so they will not be separated from Him for all eternity. Pastor Hayford observed, “It seems as though the earthquake forced these people to get honest. It has stirred many to the deepest points of introspection, and if just one of them is turned away from the filth they’re involved in, it is a major victory” (Ferraiulo 1994: 57). More realistic is the comment by a Los Angeles Police Department detective, “I don’t think there’s anything that will drive these people out of the area, it’s a billion dollar business” (Anonymous 1994: A11). The industry, and Los Angeles, will probably continue along their merry, sinful ways just like the Northern Kingdom did in the years after the earthquake, yet later suffered destruction and captivity. Will they, or anyone else, continue to turn their hearts from the warning God has given? Or will they examine their own lives, admit they are sinners and can not save themselves and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who paid the penalty for their sin?
The believer in the Lord Jesus should see earthquakes as the “whole creation groans and labor with birth pangs … even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:22,23). The believer can look forward to a perfect creation wherein righteousness and the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ dwells.
1973 Beer-Sheba I, Excavations at Tel Beer-Sheba, 1969-1971 Seasons. Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University.
1951 A Revised Earthquake Catalogue of Palestine – I. Israel Exploration Journal 1: 223-246.
1952 A Revised Earthquake Catalogue of Palestine – II. Israel Exploration Journal 2: 48-65.
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This paper was read at the plenary session of the ETS Eastern Regional Meeting, “Biblical Prophecy for a New Millennium”, held at Evangelical School of Theology, Myerstown, PA, on March 26, 1999.