Californians prefer to ignore the ever-present threat of earthquakes in spite of periodic real life shake-ups and numerous dire warnings from the experts. The January '94 Richter Magnitude 6.8 Northridge quake occurring on a hitherto unknown thrust fault North of Los Angeles sent Bay Area geologists scrambling to revise their predictions. Probability of a major earthquake (magnitude >7.0) in the next 3 decades in the San Francisco area, they said a month later, was now raised from 67 to 90%.
No part of the world is totally immune from great earthquakes, as can be seen from a global map of earthquake occurrences. Most temblors are concentrated on the continental plate boundaries---the "ring of fire" around the Pacific Rim or the African Rift zone running from the heart of Africa through the Red Sea, Dead Sea and Jordan River Valley for example. At least a million earthquakes per year, large and small, release a total energy equivalent to nearly one billion tons of TNT. Although this may seem to be a large amount of energy, heat flow from radioactive decay in the earth's crust is 1000 times greater. Energy released by earthquakes per year is only 10% of all energy used by man; heat from the sun which reaches the earth amounts to 5 million times more energy than is released in earthquakes. (Ref.1)
There is no scientific evidence (as far as I know) that the number of earthquakes per year is increasing, contrary to the claims of some Bible prophecy teachers who seem to be misinterpreting passages in the Olivet Discourse of Jesus such as Matt. 24:7. There is more instrumentation to record earthquakes around the world in place today compared to former times, of course. Increases in world population mean that the impact of earthquakes on people has become greater. (See Addendum).
Earthquakes are confined to the earth's crust. Most occur within 40 miles of the surface though a few extend ten times deeper. Stress accumulates gradually as the continental plates move and mountains shift and this is relieved periodically through gradual creep---or sudden jolts. Although some wish it were otherwise, California is not likely to drop off into the sea from a major earthquakes---the main faults move mostly sideways or at shallow angles, rather than vertically.
Earthquake magnitudes are usually quote using the Richter Magnitude scale.* One unit on the Richter scale is a ten-fold amplitude increase in the earthquake vibrations, however this translates into a hundred-fold increase in energy released. A magnitude 4.5 quake releases typically the energy equivalent of 100 tons of TNT, a 5.5 quake, 10 kilotons, a 6.5 event, one megaton, and a 7.5 quake, of the order of 100 Mt. Of course the degree of damage from an earthquake depends to a large degree on geological conditions, building construction standards, traffic conditions, duration of the shaking, and distance to the epicenter.
The Promised Land, in the providence of God, lies immediately adjacent to the African Rift Zone, the deepest known break in the earth's crust. A number of important quakes are mentioned in the Bible and many Holy Land earthquakes are known from secular history. (Ref. 2)
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah at the Southeastern shores of the Dead Sea in the time of Abraham about 1900 BC is vividly described in Genesis 19. Archaeological research suggests that a great earthquake opened the rift zone releasing "brimstone" (sulfur?) and volatile petroleum gases which caused a terrible firestorm (Ref 3).
Archaeological evidence suggests that the earthquake "in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam son of Joash king of Israel" (Amos 1:1)---sometime between 749 to 760-may have had a magnitude greater than 7.0, possibly even 8.0 or higher. (Ref 2).
Elijah experienced an earthquake at Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:11) though he was not in Israel, but 300 miles South of Mt. Carmel in the Sinai wilderness at the time.
The fall of Jericho in 1400 BC was probably associated with a double earthquake. As the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River to enter the land under the leadership of Joshua, a earthquake-produced landslide at the town of Adam (15 miles to the North) probably dammed the Jordan. A short while later God conveniently seems to have arranged a second tremor, or an aftershock, at just the right time to topple Jericho's impregnable walls (Josh. 6). Historically known quakes have dammed the Jordan River repeatedly, sometimes for several days---in 1160 AD, 1267, 1534, 1834, 1906 and 1927.
Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found, bears unmistakable evidence of major earthquake destruction in 31 BC during the reign of Herod the Great. Josephus records the death of 10,000 persons in that earthquake. Bet Shean, one of the major Roman cities known in the time of Jesus as the Decapolis, suffered major damage in 363 and in 749 AD. Masada's buildings fell down not from warfare during the Jewish Uprising, but from an earthquake which came not long after the long Roman siege of 70-73 AD. That siege ended in the suicide deaths of 960 valiant Jewish zealots.
Jerusalem suffered a severe earthquake January 15, 1546: the Dome on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was completely destroyed as were many other buildings. The Dome of the Rock was seriously damaged. Another major quake affecting the Holy City occurred in 1927-photos of churches and hospitals damaged at the time are still extant. The epicenter was in Nablus 30 miles North.
The magnitude of a number of earthquakes in Israel is fairly well known:
YEAR Magnitude of Quake 1927 AD 6.4 1834 6.6 1759 6.5 1546 6.7 1293 6.4 1202 7.2 1068 6.2 1033 6.5 749 6.6 658 6.2 363 7.0 32 AD ? 31 BC 6.4 64 BC ?
These known earthquakes have produced a total displacement of the Arabian and African Plates of the order of only 3 to 4 meters (Ref 2). Based on plate movements observed elsewhere around the world, 2000 years of history should have produced a displacement of about 14 meters. This is equivalent to 64 quakes of magnitude 6.8, or 16 of magnitude 7.3, or 4 of 7.7 or 1 of magnitude 8.0. Therefore it would appear that one or more earthquakes prior to 64 BC was a very large event of magnitude 7 or 8. The large amount of unrelieved stress (~10 meters) along the African Rift zone today also implies a major earthquake is long overdue in the Holy Land as well as in California.
Scripture is clear that God fully controls nature, through the rule of certain angels (Heb. 2:5). There are no accidents in His universe. When Jesus died on the cross, the end of his life was punctuated by a severe earthquake on April 11, 32 AD, (Ref 4) following a strange three-hour darkness covering the land,
"...Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'" (Matt. 27:50-54)
A second great earthquake occurred on Easter morning according to Matt. 28:2 at the time of the resurrection. Evidently these two earthquakes have not yet been noted in any archaeological site damage thus far excavated.
Another "providential" earthquake recorded in the Bible was the Lord's means of releasing Paul and Silas from jail in Philippi. The terrified jailer and his family fled for refuge not out of the city, but into the kingdom of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, (Acts 16:11-40).
The giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai was accompanied by a frightening earthquake (Exodus 19:16-18). Earthquakes symbolize judgment not grace---so it is not surprising that great world-wide earthquakes will characterize the end of the age in which we live. This is indicated by the imagery of Rev. 4:5 (the rainbow is the corresponding symbol of grace, Rev. 4:3, Gen. 9:11-17). The writer of Hebrews quoting Haggai 2:6,7 tells us that the coming shaking of creation will affect not only the earth but also the heavenly places and the host of heaven, i.e., the angels,
"See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, 'Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.' This phrase, 'Yet once more,' indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire." (Heb. 12:25-29)
There can be no doubt (according to the Bible) that severe world-wide earthquakes will break out during the approaching great tribulation period. A major earthquake in the end-time is mentioned in Rev. 6:12, at the opening of the Sixth seal. Since "the sun will be darkened and the full moon become like blood," and the "stars will fall from heaven" it seems that this earthquake may be associated with some cataclysmic disturbance such as the near approach of some previously undetected object from space. Isaiah predicted this event,
"And men shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the glory of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. In that day men will cast forth their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, to the moles and to the bats, to enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the glory of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth." (Is. 2:19-21, cp. Rev. 6:15-17)
Bible scholars are divided as to the timing of the Northern invasion of Israel. Some see this as occurring prior to the rapture, others place this event in the first half of the tribulation period. Those scholars who prefer to view the coming invasion of Gog and Magog as part of the campaign of Armageddon (also Joel 2, Isaiah 24 and Daniel 11) call attention to the great earthquake described by Ezekiel,
"For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare, On that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep on the ground, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall quake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground. I will summon every kind of terror against Gog, says the Lord GOD; every man's sword will be against his brother. With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him; and I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples that are with him, torrential rains and hailstones, fire and brimstone. So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD." (Ezek. 38:19-23)
The third group of scholars, just referred to, place this earthquake as identical with one of the events described in Rev. 8:5, 11:19 (comp. Luke 21:25-27) or 16:18. The seven bowls of wrath seem to cascade out of the seventh trumpet, and the seven trumpets out of the seventh seal, therefore these three linked earthquakes of increasing intensity seem to be closely linked or could possibly be a single event (Ref 5). Revelation 16 adds further information about this greatest-of-all earthquakes which follows immediately after the martyrdom of God's two witnesses on the Temple Mount:
"The seventh angel poured his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, 'It is done!' And there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as had never been since men were on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered great Babylon, to make her drain the cup of the fury of his wrath. And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found; and great hailstones, heavy as a hundred-weight, dropped on men from heaven, till men cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague." (Rev. 16:17-21).
Not only is Jerusalem severely shaken at this time but the cities of the nations also. Evidently the topography of Eretz Israel will be drastically altered at this time as well. Islands "flee away" and mountains disappear , apparently around the globe.
Jesus was last seen departing this earth from atop the Mt. of Olives 40 days after the resurrection, promising through two angels to return "in like manner." A known East-West earthquake fault transects the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem. Tourists today often stand at the very spot overlooking the Temple Mount to the West and the Wilderness of Judea and the Dead Sea to the East. It is there that Jesus, the Lord, will stand in the not-too-distant future to trigger earth's last terrible earthquake and the dawning of the long-awaited golden age of peace on earth.
"...On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. And the valley of my mountains shall be stopped up, for the valley of the mountains shall touch the side of it; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD your God will come, and all the holy ones with him. On that day there shall be neither cold nor frost. And there shall be continuous day (it is known to the LORD), not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light. On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter (Ref 6). And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one. The whole land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem." (Zech. 14:2-10)
Haggai's words quoted in Hebrews 12 were written originally to encourage the remnant of the Jews who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon to build the Second Temple. Old timers who remembered the Temple of Solomon were discouraged at their modest capabilities to build a temple worthy of the Lord. In challenging them to continue, Haggai spoke prophetically of two distant, future events. First, the Second Temple (enlarged by Herod) would in fact be visited by the Messiah. Yeshua indeed brought the glory of God into God's house, a glory much greater than the gold and silver of Solomon. Haggai's word also looks ahead to a final temple during Messiah's rule from Jerusalem. The coming of Messiah will be ushered in by a great shaking of all creation:
"For thus says the LORD of hosts; 'Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, says the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace,' says the LORD of hosts."
* I will revise this paragraph shortly in view of the ambiguities in various methods of reporting earthquake magnitudes and the newer standards coming into use. See National Geographic, Vol. 187, No. 4, April 1995.
1. Frank Press and Raymond Siever, Earth, W.H. Freeman Co., San Francisco, 1974. Special thanks also to Geologist Steve Connelly for inputs and suggestions.
2. The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Earthquakes in the Holy Land, documentary video by Prof. Amos Nur, Stanford University. Available from ESI Productions, PO Box 2365, Stanford, CA 94309. For more on the great earthquake in the Days of Uzziah see Gordon Franz, Institute of Holy Land Studies, Jerusalem, and Steve Austin, Institute of Creation Research, San Diego, The "Big One" Hits the Mediterranean: An Archaeological Appraisal of the Earthquake in the Days on King Uzziah. Available from the authors.
3. Sodom and Gomorrah, by Dr. Bryant Wood, video documentary of recent archaeological research. Associates of Biblical Research, PO Box 125, Ephrata, PA 17522. Tar pits in the area are mentioned in Gen. 14:10.
4. See Chuck Missler, The Unexpected King, March 1992 Personal Update. Available from Koinonia House, PO Box D. Couer d'Alene, Idaho 83816-0347.
5. God's Final Word, Understanding Revelation, Ray C. Stedman, Discovery House, Grand Rapids, 1991, page 341.
6. See also Ezek. 47:1-12 and Joel 3:18.
The following information is supplied to the public by The United States Geological Survey, Branch of Earthquake and Geomagnetic Information, Denver Federal Center:
We continue to hear from many people throughout the world that earthquakes are on the increase. Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, quakes 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.
A partial explanation may lie in the fact that 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 small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years, and we are able to locate earthquakes more rapidly. The NEIC now locates about 12,000 to 14,000 earthquakes each year or approximately 35 per day. Also, because of the improvements in communications and the increased interest in natural disasters, the public now learns about more earthquakes.
According to long-term records (since about 1900), we expect about 18 major earthquakes (7.0-7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) in any given year. However, let's take a look at what has happened in the past 27 years from 1969 through 1995.
Our records show that 1992 is the first time that we have reached or exceeded the long-term average number of major earthquakes since 1971. In 1970 and in 1971 we had 20 and 19 major earthquakes, respectively and but in other years the total was in many cases well below the 18 per year which we may expect based on the long-term average. The following is a list of major earthquakes during this period:
1969 - 15 1976 - 15 1983 - 14 1990 - 13 1970 - 20 1977 - 11 1984 - 8 1991 - 11 1971 - 19 1978 - 16 1985 - 13 1992 - 23 1972 - 15 1979 - 13 1986 - 5 1993 - 13 1973 - 13 1980 - 13 1987 - 11 1994 - 12 1974 - 14 1981 - 13 1988 - 8 1995 - 2* 1975 - 14 1982 - 10 1989 - 6 Great earthquakes during this 27-year period were also below the level indicated by the long term average: 1969 - 1 1976 - 2 1983 - 0 1990 - 0 1970 - 0 1977 - 2 1984 - 0 1991 - 0 1971 - 1 1978 - 1 1985 - 1 1992 - 0 1972 - 0 1979 - 0 1986 - 1 1993 - 1 1973 - 0 1980 - 1 1987 - 0 1994 - 2 1974 - 0 1981 - 0 1988 - 0 1995 - 0* 1975 - 1 1982 - 1 1989 - 1 * Through February 1995
(received March 30, 1995)
Steven A. Austin, PhD, Chairman of the Geology Department of the Institute of Creation Research (PO Box 2667, El Cajon, CA 92021) recently sent me a floppy disk listing 17,1781 earthquakes of magnitude greater than 6.0 occurring in this century. Together with Bible scholar Mark Strauss, Dr. Austin has submitted an article "Earthquakes and the End Times: A Geologic and Biblical Response to an Urban Legend," to the Dallas Theological Seminary theological journal Bibliotheca Sacra. This study carefully documents the statistical evidence that earthquakes are not increasing in this century. Dr. Austin has also written letters to a number of Bible teachers who have been teaching otherwise based on faulty or inadequate data. I am making this earthquake data available in the form of Microsoft Word document supplied to me by Dr. Austin. Anyone wishing to research earthquake rates for himself should start with this data base. The file is found in the directory "qkata", and downloaded directly; the full URL is http://ldolphin.org/qdata/
Earthquakes: On the Increase? or Warning of Judgment to Come? by Gordon Franz
Chart of Recent World-Wide Earthquake Activity and Energy Released, by Steve Austin.
World-wide Seismic Monitor (USGS Data)
Signs of the End or Signs of the Times? by Lambert Dolphin,
Greatest Earthquakes in the Bible
List of Earthquakes in the Levant
Earthquakes in the Holy Land
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