EARTHQUAKES IN THESE LAST DAYS
by Steven A. Austin, Ph.D.*
Earthquakes are among the most awesome, and sometimes most
terrifying, natural events a person can experience. That was
brought to the world's attention again by the great California
earthquake of October 17, 1989. Already, that earthquake is
recognized to be the most costly natural disaster in the history
of the United States. Christians, also, have been asking what
God's purposes have been for earthquakes.
SPECIAL PURPOSES FOR ANCIENT EARTHQUAKES A review of the
twelve historic earthquakes of the Bible shows that they were used
at various times for special purposes.
1. Day Three of Creation Week, On the third day of creation the
earth's waters were collected into the oceanic basins as
continents appeared (Genesis 1:9,10). Continents were
uplifted and the ocean floor was depressed during a great
faulting process which ,established" the foundations of the
earth. We are told that angels saw and praised the
omnipotent God as this earth-shaking process occurred (Job
38:4-7; Psalm 148:1-6; possibly Psalm 104:5, 6).
2. Noahs Flood on the Earth. One of the primary physical causes
of God's great judgment in Noah's Flood was the splitting
open of all the fountains of the great deep (Genesis 7:11).
Enormous earth upheavals on the sea floor occurred as sea
floor springs were faulted open, unleashing a universal flood
on our planet. God's purpose was to begin the human race
again from the family of Noah.
3. Crossing the Red Sea. Although the historical record of
Israel's crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14) has no reference to
earthquakes, the poetically heightened account in Psalm 77:18
speaks of God's voice expressed as earthquakes accompanying
this extraordinary deliverance.
4. Moses on Sinai. Before God spoke to Moses and gave the Ten
Commandments, there was a great shaking of the mountain
(Exodus 19:18). No doubt the earthquake prepared both Moses
and Israel for the important truths the Lord was going to
5. Korah's Rebellion in the Wilderness. Korah and all his men
were killed, and all of their possessions taken, as the land
on which they were camped split apart and closed back upon
them (Numbers 6:31-33). The 250 men were destroyed by God
because they were in rebellion against Him.
6. The Fall of Jericho. Bible readers, especially those who are
familiar with the archaeological excavations at Jericho, have
supposed that an earthquake toppled the walls of the city.
However, the account of Israel's conquering the city of
Jericho (Joshua 6) contains no reference to earthquakes.
There is no doubt that the fall to earth of the city's great
wall would have caused the earth to shake. God delivered the
city, by whatever means, into Israel's hand.
7- Philistine Camp near Geba. Israel conquered the Philistines
near Geba after an earthquake occurred in their camp (I
Samuel 14:15). Jonathan and his armor bearer were separated
from their army and would otherwise have been killed by the
8. Elijah on Mount Horeb. God spoke to Elijah at Mount Sinai
(Horeb) as He did before to Moses after the occurrence of an
earthquake (I Kings 19:11). Elijah, who had been hiding in a
cave, realized that the Lord does not need to use a mighty
earthquake to speak, but can, in His meekness, reveal Himself
simply in a still, small voice.
9. Uzziah's Earthquake at Jerusalem. Uzziah, the
longest-reigning King of Judah, became proud of his great
buildings and the strength of his army (II Chronicles 26).
The Lord afflicted Uzziah's kingdom and buildings with a
great earthquake (Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5) as well as Uzziah
personally, with incurable leprosy. A recent technical
report gives evidence that this earthquake was the largest in
the last 4,000 years of Palestine.'
10. The Crucifixion in Jerusalem. When our Lord Jesus Christ
died on the cross, a great earthquake tore the curtain of the
sanctuary of the temple, and many dead saints were
resurrected from their tombs (Matthew 27:51-54). The
earthquake was used by the Lord to show the great salvation
that had been accomplished that day on the cross. Because of
the earthquake, the centurion and those with him at the cross
recognized that Jesus was indeed the Son of God.
11. The Resurrection in Jerusalem. No human agency rolled away
the stone blocking the opening of our Lord's tomb (Matthew
12. The Prison at Philippi. An earthquake not only released Paul
and Silas from the prison (Acts 16:26), but it authenticated
their testimony. The jailer who witnessed the event
recognized the Lord's hand and believed in the Lord Jesus
"BIRTH PANGS" AND RECENT EARTHQUAKES Recent earthquakes
should receive a different interpretation in the Christian's
thinking. Jesus Christ spoke of them as "signs" of His coming
again to earth. He said, "There will be earthquakes in divers
places" (Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8), a fact now verified by the
global distribution of earthquakes recorded on seismographs.
Furthermore, He said this sign is the "beginning of sorrows" (Matthew
24:8; Mark 13:8).
The word translated "sorrows" in many English Bibles is the Greek
work for "birth pangs." Just as we know that a woman is going to
give birth to a child because of birth pangs, Jesus says we know
that the intolerable anguish of God's judgment and the return of
His Son is at hand.
The birth pang theme is also alluded to by the apostles Paul
and John. Paul speaks in cosmic dimensions of all creation
"groaning in travail" (Romans 8:22), awaiting the new birth of the
world; John speaks of the sign of the pregnant woman (Revelation
12:2) and later describes the greatest earthquake since men have
been upon the earth, when mountains and islands will be displaced
(Revelation 16:18-20). This great future earthquake will be
associated with the return of Christ to Jerusalem (Acts 1:9-12;
Zechariah 14:1-11), and is described as inflicting severe topo-
graphic and geologic changes on a global scale.2
Editors Note: Not able to show graph
Figure 1. Global summary of ninety years of seismograph records
showing the frequency and energy of large shallow earthquakes.3
A. Number of great earthquakes vath measured surface
wave magnitudes greater than or equal to 8.0
reported each year since 1897.
B. Number of shallow earthquakes with surface wave
magnitudes greater than or equal to 7.0 reported
each year since 1897.
C . Global energy of large earthquakes assembled from
seismograph records beginning with the year 1900.
Curve shows five-year running average (in ergs per
year) displayed on the logarithmic energy scale.
Some people have supposed that earthquake frequency and
intensity have been increasing significantly in recent times, and
that this is fulfilling prophecy. This is an illusion caused
lately by more frequent detection of earthquakes (more
seismographs with greater sensitivity). The illusion is also
promoted by the fact that earthquakes inflict greater damage on
today's larger, urbanized populations, and, therefore, make the
news morp-,often. Since good seismographs went into operation
late in the 1890's, no steady trend suggesting increased frequency
or intensity has been demonstrated.
The birth-pang notion of earthquakes is verified by
seismographic data, which shows their erratic occurrence. Figure
I summarizes global data on large earthquakes during the last
ninety years. For the decades of the 1950's and 60's, twelve
great earthquakes with magnitudes greater than or equal to 8.0
occurred (Figure IA), but for the decades of the 1970's and 80's,
only three have occurred. SimilarIv, shallow earthquakes, with
magnitudes greater than or equal to 7.0 for the period 1899-1970,
averaged ten events per year, but during the decades of the 1970's
and 80's, they have averaged just seven events per year (Figure
1B). Perhaps the best illustration of the erratic trend in
earthquake frequency and intensity is seen in the total energy of
large earthquakes (Figure IC). A pronounced peak in global
earthquake energy release occurred from 1952 to 1965. For the
year 1989, the global energy release may be one-tenth the yearly
release of the early 60's. Global seismic activity is very
non-uniform in time; it is like waiting for birth pangs. When
will there be another global upturn in seismic activity?
Earthquakes have been used of God at special times, with special
people, for special purposes. Like other miracles, Biblical
earthquakes were employed infrequently when no other human or
physical agency could inflict judgment on the wicked, redeem His
righteous people from difficult situations, or gain man's
attention so God's Word could be considered. In fact, these three
purposes-judgment, deliverance, and communication -should form our
basis for understanding earthquakes. In our fast-paced,
man-centered, technology-based society of the late 20th century,
God would have us pause and consider His sovereign nature and His
coming program for the world.
1. S.A. Austin, "The Extraordinary Middle East Earthquake of 750
B.C.," ICR unpublished technical report, August 1989, 18 pp.
2. H. M. Morris, The Revelation Record, (Wheaton: Tyndale House
Publishers, 1983), p. 321.
3. Figures IA and IB after K. Abe and S. Noguchi, "Revision of
magnitudes of large shallow edrthquakes, 1897-1912," Physics
of Earth and Planetary Interiors, 33 (1983): pp. 1-1 1.
Figure IC after H. Kanamori, "Importance of Historical
Seismograms for Geophysical Research," W. Lee, H. Meyers, and
K. Shimazaki, eds., Historical Seismograms and Earthquakes of
the World (New York: Academic Press, 1988), pp. 16 33. These
figures were brought Current from the year 1980tothe year
1988byacomputerse4rctiof theglobalearthquake data base of
National Geophysicii Data Center, Boulder, Colorado.
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