Were You Shaken?

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Early on Wednesday morning, December 12, 2018, many in our area and beyond were surprisingly awakened by a magnitude 4.4 earthquake. I think I woke up right before the shaking started, but might have just dreamed that I was awake. The epicenter was about 7 miles northeast of Decatur, TN, or only about 40 miles southeast of Crossville, where I live. The tremor could be felt as far south as Atlanta and up to 250 miles west according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Three aftershocks followed the initial event, but they were less intense. No serious damage was reported, and experts said that this type of event is normal and not a precursor to a future event of greater intensity.

You might be surprised to discover the Bible mentions occurrences of earthquakes several times. In 1 Samuel 14:15, the Bible describes a victory of Jonathan, son of King Saul, over the Philistines by noting: And there was trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and the raiders also trembled; and the earth quaked, so that it was a very great trembling.” Later in the Old Testament, we read of an earthquake that was part of the manifestation of the power of God to Elijah, who was depressed and on the run from the wicked queen Jezebel. In an amazing display, Scripture records: Then He [God] said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12). Many remember when Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi how their midnight worship and praise was interrupted: “Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed” (Acts 16:26). This event helped open the eyes of the prison guard and provided the opportunity for him and his household to hear and obey the Gospel. Revelation 11:19 mentions an earthquake in connection with other simultaneous phenomena in figuratively describing the opening of the temple of God in Heaven.

When our Savior died on the cross, Matthew informs us: “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51). In the following chapter when the women come to the tomb of the Lord, they discover that it is empty and we read: “behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it” (Matthew 28:2).

It is likely that the earthquakes recorded in Scripture were supernaturally orchestrated for a specific purpose. When Noah and his family were safely in the ark, the cataclysmic breaking up of the fountains of the great deep probably included what could be classified as earthquakes (see Genesis 7:11). Unfortunately, many have misunderstood the context of Matthew 24 and parallel passages concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus warned: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:7). Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, and this verse cannot be used in an attempt to correlate modern events as a precursor to determine to the time of Christ’s Second Coming.

In Exodus 19, Mount Sinai quaked as the presence of God descended upon it. The people were fearful as they experienced this awesome display of power. It is this event that the Hebrew writer uses to encourage Christians by instructing us: “we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28). Read Hebrews 12:18-29 and Exodus 19 to see the whole picture. God’s people need not fear even if mountains shake and are carried into the midst of the sea because “The Lord of Hosts is with us, He is our refuge.” Read the eleven verses of Psalm 46 to be reminded of this glorious truth. Life can and does shake us up sometimes, but for those who trust in the Lord, they need not fear!