A shaking or trembling of the earth due to volcanic activity or, more often, the shifting of the earth's crust. Severe earthquakes produce such side effects as loud rumblings (Ezekiel 3:12-13), openings in the earth's crust (Numbers 16:32) and fires (Revelation 8:5). Palestine has two to three major quakes a century and two to six minor shocks a year. The major quake centers in Palestine are Upper Galilee—near the biblical town of Shechem (Nablus)—and near Lydda on the western edge of the Judean mountains. Secondary quake centers are located in the Jordan Valley at Jericho and Tiberias.
Seven major quakes have been reported in Palestine since the time of Christ. A particularly strong quake occurred in about 1365 B.C. which covered the whole region and created extensive damage. Josephus records a severe shock during the reign of Herod, sings of which can still be seen in the ruins of Qumran.
The Bible mentions an earthquake during the reign of Uzziah (Amos 1:1;
Zechariah 14:5). The oracles of Amos are dated two years before this earthquake. The precise year of this quake has not been settled to everyone's satisfaction. Most would view the period between 767 and 742 B.C. as the likely dates for the earthquake.
Amos 1:1 draws attention to the fact that Amos spoke his oracles two years before the earthquake of Uzziah's time. Two passages in Amos are sometimes interpreted to be referring to God's judgment coming in the form of an earthquake (Amos 2:13-16;
Amos 9:1-4). If Amos did have an earthquake in mind in these two passages, then the dating of Amos' ministry two years before the earthquake would emphasize for the reader the fact that Amos was a true prophet. In fact, it may have even been the earthquake two years after Amos' preaching that caused his words to be remembered and written down.
Earthquakes are used symbolically in the Bible. Many times God's judgment or visitation is described using the imagery of an earthquake (Psalms 18:7;
Revelation 16:18) and is often seen as a sign of the end of time (Matthew 24:7,Matthew 24:29). Many times an earthquake is a sign of God's presence or of God's revelation of Himself (1 Kings 19:11-12;
Revelation 11:19). At times the whole universe is described as being shaken by God (Isaiah 13:13;
Even though earthquakes were usually seen in the Bible as things to escape (Isaiah 2:19,Isaiah 2:21; possibly
Amos 9:1-4), they could be used by God for good purposes (Acts 16:26). The earth quaked in revulsion at the death of Jesus (Matthew 27:51-54) and the earth quaked to move the stone from Jesus' tomb (Matthew 28:2). Those who love God and are faithful to Him have no need to fear the trembling of the earth (Psalms 46:2-3).