Earthquakes in the Bible

Throughout much of the ancient Near East earthquakes were at the same time familiar yet terrifying, and the great power demonstrated by them was often associated with God himself. While the most intense seismic activity of the region typically occurs far north of Israel around Pergamum, Ephesus, Melidu, and Tushpa, the land of Israel experiences earthquakes from time to time as well due to its position at the northern extreme of a major fault line running all the way down the Red Sea and into East Africa. The first mention of earthquakes in the Bible might be found in the story of the destruction of the cities of the plain, where it describes phenomena that could be explained as the result of an earthquake that caused subterranean hydrocarbons to explode (Genesis 19:24). Earthquakes also accompanied the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai and the subsequent wanderings of the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 19:18; Numbers 16:31-32; Judges 5:4; Psalm 68:8; Hebrews 12:26). Hundreds of years later the prophet Elijah journeyed to Mount Sinai and witnessed an earthquake as he waited for the Lord to pass by (1 Kings 19:11-12). During the reign of Uzziah of Judah in the eighth century B.C., an earthquake struck the land that was so severe that the prophet Amos dated his oracles by it (Amos 1:1), and over two hundred years later the prophet Zechariah foretold of a coming earthquake that would cause people to flee like they did when they fled from the earthquake in Uzziah’s time (Zechariah 14:5). In several other passages of the Old Testament earthquakes are a common response of the earth to the Lord (2 Samuel 22:8; Psalm 18:7; Isaiah 6:4; 13:13; Nahum 1:5; Habakkuk 3:3-6; Haggai 2:6), and Psalm 46:1-2 describes earthquakes leveling the mountains in order to portray complete insecurity in earthly things. Centuries later Jesus’ crucifixion was accompanied by earthquakes (Matthew 27:54; 28:2). The book of Acts also recounts how an earthquake struck Philippi while Paul and Silas were in jail there, and it was so violent that it broke open the doors and loosed the chains of the prisoners (Acts 16:25-28). Earthquakes are also frequently included in descriptions of things to come in the last days (Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11; Revelation 6:12; 11:13; 16:18).

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