With the death toll approaching 300 in Eastern Turkey, a headline from MSNBC says, “Turkish quake survivors plead for tents.” It is easy to locate photos of tent cities set up in the area of the earthquakes. Such is often true even for those whose houses were not destroyed. The fear of after shocks cause people to leave their houses.
One of the first questions we should ask in Bible study is “What did this text mean to the original readers?” Until we know the answer to that question we should not try making applications of our own. Sometimes we fail to understand a text because we do not understand the customs and conditions of the time in which the text was written.
The letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation are especially filled with local allusions to things common in that time and place. The saints at Philadelphia were told that the one who overcomes (conquers) would be made a pillar in the temple of God. Notice the next phrase: “Never shall he go out of it.”
The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. (Revelation 3:12 ESV)
Philadelphia was especially noted for volcanoes and earthquakes. We discussed this earlier here. Pillars crumble during earthquakes and people leave their houses to live in tents. The promise in this text is that the one who overcomes will become a pillar in the temple of God and “never shall he go out of it.” This was a wonderful promise to those saints who had suffered from earthquakes on several occasions.
The photo below illustrates the effect of an earthquake on the pillars of temples and other buildings. It was made at Bethshan (Beth-shean) where an earthquake hit the city in 749 A.D.
Columns broken by earthquake at Bethshan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Early Sunday morning we learned that a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit eastern Turkey around Lake Van. Today this region is occupied mostly by Kurds, but in biblical times it was known as the land of Urartia or Ararat. The region was the area where Noah’s ark is said to have rested after the flood.
and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. (Genesis 8:4 ESV)
After the sons of Assyrian king Sennacherib killed him at Nineveh, they escaped to the land of Ararat (2 Kings 19:37; Isaiah 37:38).
The kingdom of Ararat was called to participate in the overthrow of Babylon (Jeremiah 51:27).
Several times we have written about earthquakes in the Bible, and specifically earthquakes in the eastern portion of Turkey. See here and here. We wrote about the planning done by local people for earthquakes here.
Below is another photo made in June, 2007, on the road from Van to Batman. The wooden beams you see in the wall are placed there to help absorb the shock from earthquakes.
Preparing for earthquakes in Eastern Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2007.
The only photos of yesterday’s earthquake damage that I have seen has been from the cities where the buildings are made of concrete. I wonder how well these country folk have fared in this earthquake.
The earth seems to be shaking a lot in recent months. This morning we have reports of an earthquake which measured 6.0 on the Richter scale hit the mainly Kurdish region of eastern Turkey.
A powerful earthquake in eastern Turkey on Monday buried villagers as they slept in mud-brick houses, killing at least 57 and injuring dozens more, officials said.
The quake, which measured 6.0 on the Richter scale, struck at 4:32 am (0232 GMT) at a depth of five kilometres, with an epicentre near the Karakocan town in Elazig province, the Istanbul-based Kandilli observatory said.
Rescuers struggled to dig survivors from the rubble after the quake tore down mud-brick houses in several mountainous villages in the mainly Kurdish area, killing whole families in their sleep.
The report may be read in its entirety here.
In January I wrote about some preparations for earthquakes that I saw in eastern Turkey here.
Preparing for an earthquake in Eastern Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Several other blogs about earthquakes and the Bible World are here, and here, and here.
- Earthquakes common in the Bible World here.
- Earthquakes still a problem in the Middle East here.
- Philadelphia (Revelation 3) – Church with an open door here.
- Earthquake felt in Israel, Syria, and Lebanon here.
Earthquakes were so common in the Bible World that they are often used to provide imagery for the direct action of God. John uses this symbolism to describe what happened when the Lamb (Christ) broke the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12-17). A few words from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery will give us something to think about today.
Some references to earthquakes appear to be bald statements of historic fact and seem to have little, if any, symbolic value (Amos 1:1, cf. Zech 14:5; Acts 16:26). Most references, however, particularly in the poetic parts of the Bible, accord a high degree of symbolism to earthquakes. Earthquakes in Scripture are often seen as manifestations of the direct action of God’s power. The example that is probably alluded to most is the earthquake at the giving of the law at Sinai (Ex 19:18). In their poetic reviews of the Exodus, later writers seem to have emphasized this element (Ps 68:8; 77:18; 114:4–7) and broadened its scope to cover the whole exodus event. Matthew’s linkage of the earthquake at Jesus’ crucifixion with the rending of the temple veil (Mt 27:54) is thus far more than a statement of physical cause and effect: it is profoundly symbolic. (225)