By Charles A. Clough, Th.M., M.S.
Meteorologist, U.S. Army, Bel Air, Maryland
How are Biblical descriptions of God’ s judgments, such as “stars falling from Heaven,” “the moon turning red,” and “great earthquakes” to be understood? Do they refer to literal astronomical and geophysical events, or are they merely exaggerated forms of speech and mere metaphors?
The proper way to understand prophecies of catastrophes is to follow the apostle Peter’s approach and look at the true record of God’s past historical judgments: 2 Peter 3.5-7. The universe, including all astronomical and geophysical processes, runs under the control of the Word of God rather than being the product of hypothesized natural laws: Colossians 1.17 and Hebrews 1.3; 11.3. God has preserved in the Bible eyewitness observations which testify to sudden, precisely-designed catastrophes affecting the celestial heavens as well as planet earth.
The most catastrophic judgment ever to befall mankind was the Flood of Noah’s day, which radically altered the planet and which is used in Scripture to illustrate God’s future end-time judgments: Matthew 24.37-39 and Luke 17.26,27. The flood judgment had a specific pattern:
The judgment came suddenly, Genesis 7.11, but only after a period of grace, Genesis 6.1-8
It involved the total physical environment in the heavens and the earth in ways previously unobserved, Genesis 2.5,6 and 6.17.
It surgically and precisely separated the saved from the lost, Genesis 6.18-21 and 2 Peter 2.5-9.
It included specific geophysical phenomena which manifested God’s glory in supernatural fashion, Genesis 8.1 and 9.13-16; Psalm 29.3; Ezekiel 1.28 and Revelation 4.3.
God continued this pattern of judgment throughout the subsequent history of Israel:
The ten Exodus plague judgments consisted of suddenly occurring, intelligently directed phenomena which targeted specific objects.
The visible fiery pillar between Heaven and earth was the Angel of Yahweh, a Theophany: Exodus 13.21.
The crossing of the Red Sea featured unique meteorological and hydrodynamic phenomena: Exodus 14.21-29.
Joshua was aided with “stones from heaven” which hit only enemy soldiers, while solar and lunar motion ceased: Joshua 10.11-14.
Unusual celestial and atmospheric events occurred in the days of the Judges and Samuel: Judges 5.20-23 and 1 Samuel 7.10.
While David reigned, a precise 72-hour plague, which killed only Hebrews, occurred: 2 Samuel 24.10-25 and 1 Chronicles 21.9-27.
This judgment pattern is an inherent feature of God’s rule as explained in the Mosaic Covenant: Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. It is the Biblical answer to the problem of evil.
God’s determination to deal with the consequences of the fall extends not only to Israel, but also to all nations: Deuteronomy 30.7; 32.43 and Isaiah 34. The Old Testament prophets announced coming judgments within this pattern. Their prophecies of future judgments, therefore, use the vocabulary of these past judgments: Isaiah 10.26; 11.15; 28.21; 29.6 and Zechariah 14.4-8.
The New Testament continues the Old Testament view that God judges with awesome power. Jesus and the apostle John repeat the familiar prophetic language of unprecedented physical judgments accompanied by Theophanies: Matthew 24.29,30 and Revelation 16.18.
The same fire, smoke, hail, thunder, plague and earthquake of the Old Testament judgments once again appear in Revelation 6 – 18. These terms are not exaggerations nor metaphors. They point to a final culmination in God’s program of separating good from evil throughout all creation. God’s past judgments thus model His future judgments.