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July 2018

The Lion Has Roared, Who Will Not Fear?


This summer, Israel has had multiple minor tremors disturbing the Sea of Galilee region.  Many do not know that Israel is located along an active fault line, the Syrian-African rift, which runs from northern Syria down the Jordan Valley to southeast Africa’s Mozambique.  The volcanic, basalt rock of the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee, the surrounding hot springs, along with the lowest depression on the earth’s surface—the Dead Sea—attest to this land’s intimate history with tectonics.

Major earthquakes, on average, usually strike the Holy Land once every 80-100 years.  The last major one, the Jericho earthquake, a 6.2-magnitude tremor killed 500 people and injured another 700 in 1927.  Before that, in 1837, a magnitude-6.5 earthquake hit the Galilee, killing an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 people. 

File source:

One of the strongest quakes to hit the Middle East occurred on January 18, 749 with thousands of dead in Jerusalem, towns and villages swallowed by earth, and the region left with irreversible damage.  A popular ancient site in Israel today is Bet Shean (also called Scythopolis) where tourists can walk its impressive Roman streets and see some of the destruction of that 7-7.5 magnitude earthquake that toppled the city’s massive public buildings like dominoes.  That catastrophic earthquake marred Scythopolis’ magnificence as the city center moved to a southern hill.  A recent archaeological dig at ancient Tiberias has revealed, that during that quake, “a segment of earth measuring hundreds of kilometers - from Tiberias in the north to Jericho in the south - moved northward an average distance of 1.5 meters at once.”

Israel’s last serious quake was 90 years ago and its last calamitous quake was a 1000 years ago.  The modern state of Israel recently celebrated its 70th birthday.  This young nation, famously acquainted with war and security situations, ironically has no government precedent in preparing for earthquakes.  There are concerns that Israel is not prepared for the next, expected big quake.  Over a thousand schools and tens of thousands of apartments have not been made “earthquake-proof.”  “If, God forbid, we have an earthquake like this, it will leave thousands dead and hundreds of thousands of people will have to leave their homes. Houses will be destroyed, there will be massive economic damage that will set the country back dozens of years,” geologist Ariel Heimann told Hadashot news earlier this month.

Throughout history, we humans have sought to understand ourselves within the world that surrounds us.  Ancient religion was predicated on divining Providence’s purpose and path within Creation.[1]  The natural world was filled with magnificent wonders, awe-inspiring phenomena, and especially, terrible enigmatic events.  The more traumatic and fearful the occurrence, the deeper the furrow left in our collective religious memory.  

In the Bible, natural disasters like earthquakes, droughts, locusts, famine, and plagues were understood as divine signs.  Like astronomical events such as eclipses, these dreadful events were viewed as communications from the deity, very often interpreted as God-ordained punishments or judgments for sin and disobedience.[2]

“Many disasters and calamities will come on them, and in that day they will ask,
‘Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?’ 
And I will certainly hide my face in that day
because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.”                

Dt 31:17b-18

The Prophet Amos put it more bluntly,

When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?    Amos 3:6b

Amos embedded his prophetic legacy within another catastrophic event that rocked this region over 2700 years ago. 

The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa
—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake,
when Uzziah was king of Judah
and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.    
Amos 1:1                                                                                                     

This colossal, estimated 8 magnitude earthquake that Amos records, has been dated to the mid-eighth century BC by archaeologists, including Yigael Yadin, Israel Finkelstein, and David Ussishkin.  Its destruction has been found at six sites in the land—Hazor, Deir 'Alla, Gezer, Lachish, Tell Judeideh, and 'En Haseva.  Amos’ quake may be the largest seism ever recorded on the Dead Sea transform fault during the last four millennia.[3]  Centuries later, the Judean prophet, Zechariah, alluded to this unforgettable earthquake, when he described a final apocalyptic battle with an earth-shattering tremor that would split the Mount of Olives from east to west.[4]  

Amos opens his pre-earthquake prophecy with the evocative imagery of God roaring like a lion, as calamity strikes.

“The Lord roars from Zion
 and thunders from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds dry up,
 and the top of Carmel withers.”
            Amos 1:2                             

Later, Amos continues this divine lion motif by asking,

4 Does a lion roar in the thicket
when it has no prey?
Does it growl in its den
when it has caught nothing?

7 Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing
 without revealing his plan
 to his servants the prophets.

8 The lion has roared—
 who will not fear?
The Sovereign Lord has spoken—
 who can but prophesy?                      
Amos 3:4,7-8                                              

Amos describes the word of the Lord as a lion’s roar, a warning for anyone close that a wild, dangerous beast is approaching.  So too, because of the speed of sound, an earthquake arrives after its roar which is produced by the earth’s plates popping and cracking.  Who would not acknowledge a lion’s bellow?  Who could ever forget a tremblor’s wake?  The awesome, unpredictable nature of Creation instills a healthy humility within humanity for life’s unknowable and uncontrollable events.  The biblical prophets employed natural disasters, such as Amos’ earthquake, as signs of God’s communication.  These disasters were interpreted in the Bible as divine challenges for self-reflection through mourning and repentance. 

Today, in our post-Enlightenment world, driven by empiricism and science, the God of earthquakes has been voted out, banished with the superstitions of ignorant, archaic civilization.  We no longer listen for divine communication through Nature’s events but seek more evolving scientific data to interpret the earth’s physics.  Yet, we would be wise to reconsider the triumphant march of our brave, new Information Age, since Amos’ warning could be even more pertinent for today. 

If we refuse to listen to the deafening roar of the lion or the earthquake, we are in danger of losing our sensitivity to hear the quiet divine voice.[5]  In the din of internet entertainment and social media interaction, Amos alerts us that our greatest peril, in the future, is not another earthquake or natural disaster but the silence of God.

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.

People will stagger from sea to sea
and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
but they will not find it.              
Amos 8:11-12                                                    

Though humanity confidently ascends its expanding tower of knowledge, we still seek supernatural signs…signs of affirmation and even, signs of correction, because both encourage us.  They reveal that someone cares for us and loves us.  We also want to know that our lives are not in vain, that there is a divine purpose in the mundane and, even, in the tragic.  What alleviated the harsh prophetic roar in the Bible were the benevolent assumptions about God’s character and heart.[6]  Like Job, we may never understand why pain and misery occur, but we find hope in acknowledging the presence of God in the midst of our suffering.  Without this humble trust in the existence of God, there are no signs, no revelation, no hearing the word of the Lord.  Without this faith, our ears grow numb, our wisdom self-made, and our love cold.  

 It’s better to feel pain than nothing at all, the opposite of love is indifference.”[7]

[1] Ps 8; Job 38; Rom 1:20

[2] Lev 26; Dt 28:15-68; 31:14-22; Mt 24:3-8/Mk 13:8/Lk 21:11; Rev 11:13; 16:18.

[3] Steven A. Austin, Gordon W. Franz, and Eric G. Frost, "Amos's Earthquake: An Extraordinary Middle East Seismic Event of 750 B.C." International Geology Review 42 (2000) 657-671.

[4] Zech 14:5

[5] “The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”1 Kgs 19:11-12

[6] “’Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.’ ‘Oo’ said Susan. ‘I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion’...’Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver ...’Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis.  1950.

[7] Stubborn Love”, song from The Lumineers’ 2012 album.  Songwriters: Wesley Schultz, Jeremy Fraites.

Charity Report: Your Gifts Helped these Ministries, Individuals, and Families from March till June 2018

JCF paid for flights for an Iraqi Christian Refugee couple immigrating to Canada ($2000).

Over the Passover holiday, Israeli Social Services gave food vouchers to 400 needy families in Jerusalem.  JCF contributed $1,190 towards those gifts.

Isabel is an Ethiopian mother with a baby who moved into a home for abused women. She has temporary status in Israel but does not receive any medical insurance or national insurance. Since she has no family or community help, JCF is helping her during this time of need ($582).

Rami is an Arab Israeli believer, formerly a drug addict who now runs a drug rehabilitation program in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa.  JCF has invested $500 into his new ministry.

JCF gave $484 to Edith, an Arab orphan living in Bethlehem, who is struggling with expenses.

Sylvia is an Israeli widow who struggles with depression and debts.  JCF is helping cover part of her debt ($575.50).

The Cohens are an Israeli family with three young children.  Due to past pregnancy complications which involved expensive medications, the family has gone into debt.  JCF is helping cover some of their debt ($575.50).

Sacha is a Christian Arab living in Jerusalem’s Old City.  JCF is helping cover her school tuition ($576.20).

Shai is an 18 year old Israeli orphan who is about to move out of the orphanage and into an apartment for orphan graduates.  A social worker will work alongside him as he transitions into his new life.  JCF is aiding his start-up costs ($576.20).

Herman is a Christian Arab orphan now married with two children living in Bethlehem . JCF is helping cover part of the tuition for his daughter to go to school ($566.50).

Mary is an Israeli mother with three young children, ages 3, 2 and 1. Two years ago her daughter was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized for a long time, including chemotherapy sessions. Since then Mary and her husband have lost their jobs and life stability. Her daughter has overcome the cancer but now has developmental issues. The family is working at returning to their former lives.  JCF is helping cover part of their family expenses ($566.50).

News in Israel and the Middle East

Over the recent months, Israel has been filled with celebrations and challenges. Israel celebrated its 70th birthday, Jerusalem welcomed the American Embassy, Gaza protests started a summer of fire, the Israeli-Iranian proxy-conflict has begun to boil, the Syrian Civil War seems to be nearing an end as Israel rescues the White Helmets on its border, and Israeli Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song contest with her song, “Toy.”

Israel’s Brain Drain Grows.  Spurred by the high cost of living, low salaries, and political and demographic trends, Israelis are leaving the country in droves, trying to build their lives elsewhere, mostly in the United States.  More.

What are the most important finds of Israeli archaeology?  See, here.

Mind-blowing 1,600-year-old biblical mosaics paint new picture of Galilean life.  More.

Earliest evidence of bridle use found on 4,700-year-old donkey from Bible’s Gath.  More.

More Evidence for New Site for Bethsaida, the Hometown of Philip, Andrew and Peter.  More.

Come See the Land of the Bible with 
Yoni Gerrish and JCF Biblical Study Tours

  • Longmont Tour from Denver (Sept 29 – Oct 13, 2018) “The Exodus and the Gospels” (Wilderness experience with a day-trip to Petra)
  • English Tour from Minneapolis (Oct 13 – 27, 2018)  “The Exodus and the Gospels” (Wilderness experience)
  • Hill Tour from San Diego (Nov 14 – 26, 2018)   “Biblical Landscapes” (with overnight at Petra)
  • Ehrlich Tour from Chicago (Mar 9-23, 2019) “Israel’s Landscapes and Memory”
  • Johnson Tour from Minneapolis ( Apr 5-17, 2019) “Israel’s Landscapes and Memory”

For more information on how you can join one of these tours, here.

20th Year of Biblical Language Center's Summer Biblical Hebrew Courses in Israel

This summer marked the 20th year of Biblical Language Center’s summer Biblical Hebrew courses.  The course was held at Jerusalem Hills Inn in Abu Ghosh.  Participants came from the Netherlands, Israel, Canada, the United States, and Greece.  The class was taught by Rachel Schultz, Gary Alley, and Sharon Alley.

There are approximately twelve needy and very lonely Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem who have been receiving loving care and companionship from an aid organization with whom we partner.   These Survivors receive monthly checks to support them economically and receive regular volunteer visitors, which is also very important to them.  A very nice program was begun to link boys from a local institution for disadvantaged children and youth, to some of these Holocaust Survivors.  This has greatly benefited both the teenage boys and the elderly survivors.
Loneliness is a huge problem to people who have lost all their family and often their spouse.  Visiting some of these Jerusalem Survivors regularly ourselves, we know how important this program is which supplies both financial and emotional support.  
The donations of JCF have been used in part with help to maintain the ongoing expense of supporting these survivors in Jerusalem with monthly help in form of coupons for food items.  The other part has been used to cover maintenance problems in their homes. For example, when our staff visited a 90 year old Survivor, her small, modest apartment was quite dark owing to a broken slatted shutter which could not be raised and had been like this for more than a week.   Having received the gift from JCF, we were in a position to immediately arrange its replacement.  One of hermost  terrible memories is from her home town of Yasi in Romania where she suffered terribly from violence and terror.  She lost most of her family and witnessed people being pulled out of their homes and killed.  She finds it very difficult to talk about those memories. She is suffering from many health problems, does not have children, and lost her husband many years ago.  Visits from Christians like us mean the world to her.