This post, Earthquakes in the Bible, grew out of my study of Amos. I took a look at the faults and volcanoes in the area and will mention several of the “major” quakes in the Bible. If you want to do your own study and are using a Bible app search tool, adding these terms will increase your hits. I used the NIV-earthquake, quake, earth open, shook, shake, melt, trembled, split, and mountain moving.
A little science first. (Names have been an interesting problem and are different depending on what map you look at.) The main crack in the crust is called the Levant Fault and seems to follow the Jordan River. There are many smaller faults on the east and west sides of the Levant. This fault line is a border between the Arabian Plate (east) and the plate under the Mediterranean Sea (west). This is a transform fault (it moves laterally). The Arabian Plate also has a divergent line (spreads apart) in the Red Sea, and a convergent zone (comes together or is pushing into or under another plate) that runs through the Arabian or Persian Gulf. The divergent zone is associated with the fault that runs through the eastern side of Africa. Earthquakes in this region are numerous and would not have been anything new to the people of the Bible. There are also several volcanoes in the area, though none seem to have erupted in the last four thousand years.
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
Numbers 16: 30 is the story of a rebellion against God and Moses. God stops it by removing the conspirators. For the location, this was on the east side of the Jordan and Dead Sea. “The earth opening up and swallowing” is something that can happen during a quake. Korah was a Levite and Dathan, and Abiram is from Ruben. In the layout of the camp around the Tabernacle, these two families/groups would have been next to each other in the heart of the camp on the south side. This just adds an extra level to the story, for me; God opened that hole in the middle of a busy “city” and did not harm anyone else. This power and judgment were talked about for a long time, it made a “second-level” telling in Psalm 106:17.
Elijah also records a specific earthquake in 1 Kings 19:12. The man of God, was about to meet his Lord in a one-on-one encounter. I have heard it preached many ways, but I do not think God was pleased with Elijah being in that cave. This meeting has some parallels with Moses on the mountain when God came to him. God’s entrance also has wind and fire. When you study other mentions of quakes; severe weather, storms, landslides, and violent waves are talked about several times.
Amos 1:1 tells of a quake that occurred during the reign of Uzziah. Zechariah uses that earthquake to tell a future quake that will happen when the Messiah returns and touches the Mount of Olives. Isaiah has many references to earthquakes (I counted 6x), the references in Isaiah 5:25 and 29:6 could be speaking of the one mentioned by Amos. The one in Isaiah 29 has thunder, great noise, windstorms, and fire, it may also talk of the one I mentioned in Zachariah and/or the quake in Revelations 16.
Matthew tells of a quake and its aftershock in chapters 27 and 28 that occurred during the Passover when Jesus was sacrificed and reborn. The first quake occurred when Jesus breathed His last breath (verses 50-54). The thick curtain in the Temple was torn revealing the empty Holy of Holies and tombs around Jerusalem were opened. The timing convinced the centurion and soldiers that Jesus was the Son of God. The aftershock was provided by an angel who rolled the sealing stone out of the way, so the women could not find the body.
There is a movie/documentary called the Crucifixion Quake. I saw three strands in this movie. The main strand was a geologist trying to find evidence of the earthquake talked about by Matthew, he did. He used fieldwork, lab work, and some impressive studying of ancient text to confirm that the quake actually happened. Strand two was a priest and several scientists that supported the Bible and the Christian beliefs of this quake and other events of that day. Strand three had a New Age pundit and several “New Testament experts” that did not believe Matthew’s account or spun the story to neutralize Jesus and that day. Okay, I did a lot of fast-forwarding because strand three was giving me a headache. I may try watching it again and doing a better review, but.
In my study I used this link for the word seismos. σεισμός | billmounce.com
Luke records a specific earthquake that set Paul and Silas free from chains and helped to get the jailor and his family saved. Philippi is far removed from the Levant but is no stranger to fault lines, earthquakes, and volcanoes.
Metaphors, Prophecy, and Quakes
Many writers talk about earthquakes in the Bible. Jerusalem and the Land are the epicenter of these really and predicted quakes. There are several references to the hills and mountains melting like wax. Of course our modern minds go to lava. But active volcanoes near the Holy Land are few, so may I suggest that a landslide or rockslide could be described like that.
- Debroah-Judges 5: 4+5
- Micah 1:4
- Nahum 1:5
- Jesus – Matthew 24:7, Mark 13, and Luke 21
- David – Psalm 68:8 this echoes Deborah, Psalm 18:7, 2 Samuel 22:8
- Moses – Psalm 97: 5 (I think he wrote this psalm)
- Asaph and the sons of Korah – Psalm 77:18, 75: 3, 46: 3
- Isaiah14:16 (a reference to Satan); 29:6; 5:25; 24:18,19; 42:15; 45:8
- Zechariah 14:4,5
- Ezekiel 38:19
- John – Revelations 16:18,19; chapters 6, 8, and 11 also reference earthquakes
Seismos is a Greek word that references more than earthquakes. What other events does it talk about?
Many of the earthquakes mentioned by the prophets talk about a great earthquake that will happen on the “Day” of His return. This may not be all of the references to earthquakes in the Bible, but it should get you started in your studies.