Faithlife Sermons

The Glory of God (Earthquakes)

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Exodus 19:18 KJV 1900
18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
Appearances of God are often accompanied by earthquakes. Mountains tremble. The rocks split. People quiver in fear, building foundations rattle, and the land rumbles. When the earth is visited by its King, it shakes. Why?
Exodus 19:17–19 KJV 1900
17 And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. 18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. 19 And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
The earth quaked but so did the Israelites.
Exodus 19:16 KJV 1900
16 And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
They were so frightened that despite having just been promised that they were God’s treasured possession and were destined to be kings and priests on earth, they stood far away in terror, refused to approach God, and insisted that Moses speak to him instead.
Exodus 20:18–19 KJV 1900
18 And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. 19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
The writer wants us to see the connection, so he uses the same word (charad) for the quaking of the earth and the quivering of the people. As the psalmist would write many centuries later, the glory of the Lord makes the people tremble and the earth quake (Ps. 99:1).
Psalm 99:1 KJV 1900
1 The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble: He sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved.
Earthquakes are associated with the fear of God.
The exodus generation, however, is notoriously forgetful. A while later, a group of the people who were at Sinai that day decide that Moses is too big for his boots and challenge his leadership. “Why . . . do you exalt [yourself] above the assembly of the LORD?” (Num. 16:3). Moses responds with a simple test: if you guys all die a natural death, then that will prove that I haven’t been sent by God, but if the earth suddenly splits open and swallows you up, then it will show that you have despised the Lord (vv. 28–30). We know this is not going to end well. Sure enough, “as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up” (vv. 31–32). This is not just an Old Testament thing; there is a very similar sequence in the last book of Scripture, where a massive earthquake splits the world, and the rulers of the earth ask the mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev. 6:12–17).
Earthquakes are associated with the judgment of God.
In several passages, they also represent divine speech.
Ezekiel 3:12 KJV 1900
12 Then the spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place.
Psalm 29, perhaps the richest meditation on the voice of God in the entire Bible, describes it as thunderous, powerful, majestic, and glorious and then compares it to an earthquake:
Psalm 29:8 KJV 1900
8 The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; The Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.
If we were describing it today, we might compare God’s voice to the noise of an airplane breaking the sound barrier, or a rocket launch: a thunderous, booming, awe-inspiring roar which drowns out all other noise with its voluminous authority.
When God speaks in Scripture, he sounds like thunder, like an earthquake, like a rushing wind or a mighty waterfall, which is why it is so surprising when Elijah hears God speak not in a hurricane or an earthquake or a fire but in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11–13).
Earthquakes are associated with the voice of God.
So far, so obvious. You can see why the shaking of the earth would make people scared and make them think of divine judgment, and why it would be used to illustrate the power of God’s word.
But earthquakes represent something deeper than that, something which stands behind the fear, the judgment, and the mighty voice.
Earthquakes are associated with the glory of God.
You can see the link in a number of texts.
Isaiah 6:3–5 KJV 1900
3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: The whole earth is full of his glory. 4 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
Haggai 2:7 KJV 1900
7 And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: And I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.
Psalm 97:4–6 KJV 1900
4 His lightnings enlightened the world: The earth saw, and trembled. 5 The hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. 6 The heavens declare his righteousness, And all the people see his glory.
Again, it is worth asking: why?
To answer, we need to know what the Hebrews meant by “glory.”
If you hear the word glory in English, the chances are that you think of triumph, beauty, and splendor, which is what the Romans meant by gloria. But the Hebrew word for glory, chabod, was slightly different. It derived from the word for heavy or weighty.
2 Corinthians 4:17 KJV 1900
17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
To speak of God’s glory, in biblical terms, is not just to speak of his splendor and beauty (though it is that too) but also to speak of how weighty, heavy, and substantial he is.
Now consider: what happens when something glorious, heavy, and weighty descends upon something lighter, flimsier, and less substantial?
The heavy thing shoves the lighter thing to one side, and the lighter thing has to move—or quake or even tremble—to make space for the heavy thing, whether it wants to or not.
If I jump into a pool, I cause a small waterquake. If I drop a giant rock onto a frozen pond, I cause an icequake.
The weighty substance displaces the flimsy one, and the flimsy one shakes, gives way, and is forced to reorient itself around the weight of glory.
So what happens when the glory of God, the divine chabod, descends upon Mount Sinai or the Jerusalem temple or anywhere on earth? An earthquake.
God displaces that which is trivial and fleeting, and forces the earth to reorient itself around him.
The earth trembles and quivers in response to the arrival of a far more glorious and substantial reality.
The Lord reigns! Let the peoples tremble! Let the earth quake!
The same thing happens when God descends upon people. It is not just that Mount Sinai trembles, as we have seen; the people of Israel do as well. It is not just the temple that shakes in Isaiah’s vision; Isaiah himself is undone
That’s one way you can tell if you’ve met Israel’s God or simply a figment of your imagination.
A made-up God will leave your world undisturbed, conveniently aligning with your priorities without displacing anything, because ultimately you are more glorious than it is.
The real God, however, will land in the middle of your life crashing through the ceiling, displacing your sin, changing all your priorities, and forcing you to reorient yourself around the weight of glory.
Yet earthquakes are also associated with the gospel of God.
The two most important and hope-filled events in the history of the world, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, were both accompanied by earthquakes.
When the King of the earth died, the earth shook and the rocks split (Matt. 27:51).
Matthew 27:51 KJV 1900
51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
When he rose on the morning of the third day, the same thing happened again (28:2)
Matthew 28:2 KJV 1900
2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
Both earthquakes prompted fear in those who were there, and in different ways manifested the judgment, the voice, and the glory of God. But they showed more than that.
They showed that the Lord was not just greater and weightier and more glorious than the earth, or than the self, but more substantial than the two mightiest and fiercest enemies we have: sin and death.
The heavy depths of the unshakable Savior crashed into the lightweight shallows of the enemy and displaced him forever, along with all of his minions.
When the King of the earth descends, everything on earth—the people, the mountains, the temple, the principalities and powers, even death itself—is shaken.
Hebrews 12:28 KJV 1900
28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
How has the glory of God impacted your walk? Has there been a disturbance in your life where you have reoriented your life around the ways of God?
Take the time to ponder and consider the significance of the Lord in your life right now and think about how you might rearrange your life to grow in greater intimacy with Him and to demonstrate the weight of His glory in your own life.
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