Could Apocalyptic Imagery describe Real-World Events? If as Shown on this Website Apocalyptic Imagery Surrounding the Jewish War was Fulfilled Surprisingly Literally, This Fact Implies that Similar Predictions Fulfilled in Old Testament History Transpired in a Similarly Literal Fashion.
Because certain Old Testament prophecies concerning the destruction of heaven and earth which were quite obviously fulfilled in the sixth century B.C. did not result in the complete dissolution of the entire universe, many preterists believe that these prophecies could not predict the literal destruction of the earth and sky in A.D. 70. And this is true. However, many preterists then assume that the sun, moon and stars did not literally darken or that the moon did not literally turn blood-red at that time either. This assumption fails to account for the culture underlying these predictions as well as the ancient human conception of the cosmos, a cosmology that the ancient Israelites shared with perhaps all other ancient societies at the time especially their Egyptian and Babylonian neighbors. To ancient people the sun, moon and stars were not known to be large balls of gas burning millions of miles away. Instead, these heavenly lights were just that, lights in the sky. These lights depicted or represented earthly and heavenly beings and realities. See The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and Earth Explained! In the following article we shall investigate how Old Testament prophecies often used to illustrate the nonliteral nature of apocalyptic prophecies were fulfilled surprisingly literally, though with some degree of hyperbole, by various, not particularly unusual events. These various Old Testament apocalyptic predictions are used by many preterist to argue the idea that it is not necessary to look for any real-world fulfillment of many end time predictions during the Jewish War. Instead, many preterists believe that many of these apocalyptic predictions are Hebrew idioms.
Are apocalyptic predictions like the darkening of the sun, moon and stars or the moon turning to blood Hebrew idioms? Idioms are nonliteral expressions that mean something other than what is literally stated. It’s raining cats and dogs. I was sent on a wild goose chase. He has skeletons in his closet. I laughed my head off. I have a bone to pick with you. These are all English idioms. In support of this idea that apocalyptic expressions are idiomatic, some preterists will cite the Jewish philosopher Maimonides:
The very same thing happens to the ordinary reader of the Prophets: some of their words he does not understand at all . . . the metaphor frequently employed by Isaiah, and less frequently by other prophets, where they describe the ruin of a kingdom or the destruction of a great nation in phrases like the following: the stars have fallen, the heavens are overthrown, the sun is darkened, the earth is waste and trembles and other similar metaphors.1
Maimonides is certainly correct. The expressions Maimonides cites above like the “the stars have fallen, the heavens are overthrow, the sun is darkened, the earth is laid waste and trembles” are metaphors because these heavenly omens do, it is believed, symbolize something. However, these expressions are not Hebrew idioms. This fact can be stated with a good deal of certainty because these heavenly signs were often mentioned as literal, visible phenomena throughout all the cultures around Israel during the time in which these signs were recorded in the Bible. And at that time and in all those cultures statements like “the stars have fallen” or “the sun is darkened” were ALWAYS understood literally. These heavenly signs were never used as idioms or nonliteral expressions because ancient people frequently looked to the luminaries as signs to govern various mundane aspects of their lives like when to hunt or sew crops as well as omens foretelling the fate of their rulers. Europeans and ancient Middle Eastern people believed that unusual signs in the sun, moon and stars were prophetic omens foreshadowing significant events on earth.
Long before the Jews settled in Palestine, the people and cultures of North Africa and the Middle East looked to the sun, moon and stars as signs of when to perform certain tasks like harvesting hunting, sailing, fishing by net or line, planting crops, collecting water, hunting, and other seasonal tasks. Because certain astrological signs so accurately preceded yearly milestones, the fate of the ruling authorities was also thought to have been foretold by certain signs in the sun, moon and stars. This belief goes back at least as far as the time of the Assyrian Empire–of which Israel was a province–wherein signs in the sun, moon and stars were thought to be linked to the well-being of the king. In 673 B.C. a lunar eclipse—a sign in which the moon turns blood-red like that predicted in Joel 2:31, Acts 2:20 and Revelation 6:12–was reported to King Esarhaddon recommending that a substitute for the king be made so as to divert the ominous sign away from the king himself.2
The ancient Babylonians are believed to be the first culture to introduce the most-well developed form of this belief system, though a more primitive form of astral fatalism clearly existed thousands of years before. This well-developed form of astral fatalism quickly spread throughout the ancient Babylonian Empire as far as ancient Israel which around the time in which the earliest records of this well-developed system of astral fatalism had surfaced was a province in the Babylonian Empire. From ancient Babylon this well-developed iteration of astral fatalism spread throughout the Roman Empire such that at the start of the first century signs in the sun, moon and stars were nearly universally feared for the ominous omens they were believed to foretell. For example, in the biography of Apollonius of Tyana, Philostratus says that the first century Roman mob believed that the death of Caesar Domitian was portended by a solar eclipse.3 Falling stars were also nearly universally believed to immediately precede the deaths of important figures throughout the first century Roman Empire and former Babylonian Empire. After a falling star was witnessed Nero Caesar following the council of his advisors proceeded to kill many of the Roman nobility so as to divert the meaning of the omen from himself to others:
A comet, popularly supposed to herald the death of some person of outstanding importance, appeared several nights running. His astrologer Balbillus observed that monarchs usually avoided portents of this kind by executing their most prominent subjects and thus directed the wrath of heaven elsewhere; so Nero resolved on a wholesale massacre of the nobility.4
Similarly, according to the Roman historian Cassius Dio, Caesar Vespasian feared that he might soon die from the illness he was presently suffering after having witnessed a falling star. The emperor’s fears were soon realized when he died shortly afterwards.5
Though the people of God were warned not to worship the heavenly lights (Deuteronomy 4:19). The ancient Jews did, however, see unusual events in the sun, moon and stars as premonitory warnings. This fact is implied in Genesis 1:14. Here the sun, moon and stars are said to have been created, in part, to serve as signs: “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years [emphasis mine.]’”6 Though the Israelites were different from their neighbors in that they did not worship the heavenly lights, the Jews did, like the cultures around them, see peculiar signs in these luminaries as portents of the future. This point is well-illustrated in Revelation 6:12-17 wherein the darkening of the sun, a lunar eclipse and falling stars inspire “the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free” to hide in caves in fear of the wrath of God.
Though not particularly idiomatic, apocalyptic literature is still metaphorical and symbolic. Thus rather than being a series of completely nonliteral idioms, apocalyptic literature is more like prophetic poetry. And like all forms of poetry, apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic and generally hyperbolic. Thus apocalyptic predictions generally describe real-world events and thus have a literal core of truth to them unlike idioms which have no literal truth to them at all. And as one would expect given the fact that apocalyptic literature is poetry, these real-world events predicted in apocalyptic literature are described in poetic and symbolic hyperbole. This premise is the exegetical foundation and pervading theme underlying this entire commentary.
This type of poetic and hyperbolic language characteristic of apocalyptic literature is not limited to apocalyptic literature. Similar poetic hyperbole and picturesque exaggeration is scattered throughout much of the rest of the Bible not characterized as apocalyptic or prophetic literature: “Yet I destroyed the Amorites before them, though they were tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks (Amos 2.9).” If one renders Biblical apocalyptic language as purely nonliteral symbolism with no literal core of truth to it, where does one draw the line when similar language is employed concerning Israel’s sacred history? Did the sun truly stand still in Joshua 10:13-14, and yet the sun did not actually darken as foretold in Revelation 6:12?
Though Biblical prophecy is often written in an apocalyptic or poetic style, it is important to note that all prophecy must be fulfilled in some recognizable or verifiable, real-world way. Deuteronomy 18:22 reads, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.” In this verse, we can see that prophecy must in some way be verifiable. Otherwise, how was Israel expected to recognize its real and false prophets?
Below we will illustrate and bolster this exegetical approach by addressing the most fantastic apocalyptic prophecies said to be fulfilled in Old Testament history. As will be shown below every detail of even those predictions describing the destruction of heaven and earth in the most seemingly cataclysmic terms were likely fulfilled fully and surprisingly literally in Old Testament history by natural, not-overly unusual events. If many Christians cannot believe that the Bible is speaking literally while mentioning natural events, how can these same people believe the Bible when it discusses supernatural miracles like the virgin birth or the resurrection? Furthermore, how could these astrological apocalyptic symbols pointing to the destruction of heaven and earth have any meaning at all if there were no real-world correspondence serving as visible omens to the victims of the events that these signs were meant to warn? Concerning events surrounding the end of the age, Jesus says, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars (Luke 21:25).” If the sun, moon and stars did not literally darken in Revelation 8:12 and the moon did not literally turn blood-red as predicted in Acts 2:20 and Revelation 6:12 as it does during a lunar eclipse, then why did Jesus say that there would be signs in the sun, moon and stars in the Olivet Discourse? If the signs in the sun, moon and stars mentioned by Jesus in Luke 21:25 were idioms thus implying that nothing literally happened in the sky to fulfill Revelation 6:12, Revelation 8:12 and Acts 2:20, how could there then be said to be signs in the sun, moon and stars in Luke 21:25?
The major purpose of this commentary is to show that even the hardest to believe apocalyptic predictions were, in fact, fulfilled historically often in a shockingly literal manner around the time of Israel’s first century war with Rome. This fact, therefore, implies that similar predictions fulfilled at the fall of various kingdoms in Old Testament history that use similar apocalyptic language were probably also fulfilled in a similarly literal manner. Below we will show how the Old Testament apocalyptic imagery often cited as evidence against interpreting apocalyptic language literally is fully explicable in light of a few natural and not particularly uncommon phenomena. If this is true then one might ask, “How can one confidently say that these predictions did not literally transpired in Old Testament history?”
Was Isaiah 40:3-4 Literally Fulfilled? How was Every Mountain made Low and Every Valley Raised Up?
Let’s look first at Isaiah 40:3-4. These verses are often cited as evidence that apocalyptic language is not to be understood literally. Isaiah 40:3-4 was fulfilled in events surrounding the destruction and conquest of Judah by the Babylonians and its subsequent reconstruction after the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. Isaiah 40:3-4 reads, “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. ‘Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley.’” (It should be noted that the fulfillment of this prophecy in the sixth century B.C. was fulfilled in exactly the same manner again in A.D. 70 which is why John the Baptist quotes this verse in John 1:23.)
When discussing the fulfillment of this verse, the first point that needs to be made is that Biblically speaking all or every does not necessarily mean all or every without exception. For example, according to Matthew 2:1-3 all of Jerusalem was upset over the birth of the Messiah: “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” There are many other examples in the Bible in which all or every are not strictly literal of which Matthew 4:8 and Matthew 10:22 are a couple examples.
The Bible often uses hyperbole for emphasis thus all or every are often used in a nonliteral manner. When the Bible says that every valley will be lifted up and every mountain laid low, this does not mean that every mountain in the world will lowered and every valley raised without exception.
Though every mountain need not have been lowered and every valley, raised, how was this prophecy fulfilled in the destruction and reconstruction of Judah? Before addressing the surprisingly literal fulfillment of this verse, let us first focus on the figurative meaning of this expression. Aside from the ease of passage implied by level ground there are two fundamental messages conveyed by this imagery. The first is a harkening back to the level topography of the earth prior to its creation in Genesis 1. According to Genesis 1:2 the world was formless and void (i.e. level or flat) before the separation of the waters. In other words, because the world was a desolate water world before its creation, the primordial world was, therefore, flat like the topography of the earth according to Isaiah 40:3-4. Then after the separation of the waters which caused dry land to appear, the earth took on its present rugged landscape. The fact that this verse points to the desolate state of the preformed earth in Genesis 1 suggests that this verse is a prediction about the destruction of the earth.
The second implicit message conveyed in this imagery is one of exaltation and humility. “To lay low” is to humble just as “to raise up” is to exalt. Job 40:11 reads, “Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud, and make him low.” In other words, to be high and exalted is to be lofty, proud and/or important. Conversely to be made low is to be dishonored or humbled like a slave or common servant.
How could a mountain be humbled or exalted? One does not need to read much of the Bible to realize that mountain has two meanings. A mountain is, of course, a large mound of earth. However, almost as often this word means kingdom or city in the Bible. One clear example of a mountain being a city or kingdom is found in Daniel 9:16: “[L]et now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain.” See In the Bible Mountains Represent Cities or Kingdoms. Cities are often called mountains in the Bible partially because many cities were literally built on mountains for defensive purposes. A mountain or kingdom may be laid low or humbled by war. This humiliation from defeat is often compounded by the fact that foreign conquest often also results in slavery or forced servitude. In this way, a mountain or kingdom can be said to be laid low or humbled by means of military defeat and subsequent subjugation. This is the figurative message underlying this expression. However, there is also a literal fulfillment to this expression that also accompanies foreign conquest.
The apocalyptic expression stating that every mountain and hill will be made low is often used in the Bible to also convey the fact that the cities of a kingdom will be demolished and destroyed. As stated above, mountain often means kingdom in the Bible. When defensive walls, towers, homes, temples and buildings are built atop a mountain, the mountain, of course, gets taller. When ancient cities were attacked, conquered and pillaged by foreigners, these cities were often burned and demolished. The demolition of the defensive walls, towers, homes, temples and buildings of a kingdom or mountain, of course, makes the kingdom or mountain shorter. This is the visual or literal manifestation this expression. When the Biblical prophets predict that the mountains will be laid low, this expression also denotes this flattening effect on topography which is often a natural consequence of military conquest.
That having been said, how might valleys have been raised up? During a prolonged siege, an invading army will typically pile up stones, trees, brush and soil to form a ramp called a siege embankment in order to scale the high, fortified walls of a city that is under attack. According to the prophet Jeremiah, the Babylonian Army raised a siege ramp of rock and wood to help scale the walls of Jerusalem during the siege and subsequent fall of the city in the sixth century B.C.7 This human manipulation of the earth’s surface is how the valleys around these mountains were quite literally raised up. Here one can see how the mountains or cities of Judah were literally made low and valleys raised up at the destruction of Israel after the Babylonian conquest in the sixth century B.C. Here one can appreciate the fact that the raising of valleys and lowering of mountains is a poetic expression which paints a word picture of siege warfare while at the same time making a statement concerning subjugation and humiliation.
Was Micah 1:3-4 Literally Fulfilled? How were Mountains Melted and Valleys Split?
Another set of verses often cited as evidence that apocalyptic language is not literal is Micah 1:3-4: “[T]he Lord is coming forth from His place. He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. The mountains will melt under Him and the valleys will be split, like wax before the fire, like water poured down a steep place.” (Micah 1:3-4) These verses might initially sound too fantastic to be literal; however, vs. 3-4 are a direct and natural consequence of two curses listed in Deuteronomy 28: 1) siege warfare (Deuteronomy 28:52) and 2) drought (Deuteronomy 28:22-24). Furthermore, these verses are interpreted in the next three verses:
What is the high place of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem? For I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the open country, planting places for a vineyard. I will pour her stones down into the valley and will lay bare her foundations. All of her idols will be smashed, all of her earnings will be burned with fire[.]” (Micah 1:5-7)
The mountains and high places of the earth mentioned in vs. 3 and 4 are defined in vs. 5 and 6 as the cities of Samaria and Jerusalem, the capitals of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. The fact that mountains represent cities in these verses is not, of course, without precedence. As explained in Isaiah 40:3-4 above, mountains often represent cities in the Bible. And like Isaiah 40:3-4 where the mountains were lowered and the valleys raised at the coming of the Lord, Micah 1:3-4 portrays a similar message. Here the mountains are melted and therefore lowered to provide level ground for the Lord. This poetic imagery like that of Isaiah 40:3-4 represents a return to the barren, level topography of the preformed earth of Genesis 1:1-10. In other words these poetic images imply that the mountain or kingdom of Samaria is to be destroyed so thoroughly that it resembles the earth before its creation: flat and barren.
The fire that melts the mountain of Samaria in Micah 1:4 seems to picture the Assyrians burning and destroying Samaria at its conquest in the eighth century B.C. The fact that this mountain of Samaria is said to “melt” in v. 4 “like water poured down a steep place” pictures the city being burned and demolished with its ruins falling down its mountain slopes like wax flowing down a burning candle. This interpretation is made explicit in v. 6: “For I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the open country, planting places for a vineyard. I will pour her stones down into the valley and will lay bare her foundations.” Did this actually happen?
Yes. These verses were fulfilled in the eighth century B.C. when Assyria conquered and destroyed Samaria. Concerning the fulfillment of Micah 1:6 Floyd Hamilton writes, “To-day the top of the hill where Samaria stood is a cultivated field with the foundations of the columns marking the place where the palaces and mansions stood. At the foot of the hill, in the valley, lie the foundation stones of the city . . . .” [Emphasis mine.]8 Here one can see how the mountain of Samaria was poured down its mountain slopes like wax flowing down a candle or “like water poured down a steep place” fulfilling Micah 1:4-6 in a shockingly literal way.
Having explained how the kingdom or mountain of Samaria “melted” before the Lord, let us now address the possible poetic meaning of these verses. As will be explained in detail in the explanation of Joel 2:1-10 below, shaking and quaking signifies trembling in fear. Like shaking or quaking, the pouring and melting of the mountains in Micah 1:1-7 also appears to be a symbol of fear. This fact is implied in Hymn 12 of the Dead Sea Scrolls: “As for me, shaking and trembling seize me and all my bones are broken; my heart dissolves like wax before fire and my knees are like water pouring down a steep place. For I remember my sins and the unfaithfulness of my fathers.” Notice the similar imagery found in this Hymn 12 and Micah 1:1-7 which sheds light on the meaning of these verses.
Having addressed the melting aspect of Micah 1:1-7, let us now turn our attention to how the valleys of Micah 1:4 might be split. This verse also has a surprisingly literal explanation. Valleys can be naturally split by two phenomena: earthquakes and drought. When soil becomes dry it contracts and cracks. A great drought would have left much of the desert valleys of Israel cracked and shattered looking. This shattering effect on soil caused by prolonged drought is how valleys quite literally split. In Deuteronomy 28:24 God threatened to bring a drought upon the land if His people failed to follow the Law as Samaria was charged with doing by the prophets in Isaiah 10:10-11. It seems that God fulfilled His promise in Deuteronomy 28:24 by bringing on a drought during the three-year Assyrian siege of Samaria in the eight century B.C. with the end result of this drought presumably splitting and cracking the desiccated earth in the valley around Samaria. (Though perhaps not the immediate intended fulfillment of Micah 1, it is interesting to note that both a literal earthquake and drought hit Israel during the Jewish War with Rome.)
Having explained the real-world fulfillment of Micah 1:3-4, it is now clear that the apocalyptic symbolism in Micah 1:3-4 is not empty rhetoric. Rather, these two verses are actually a slightly more poetic restatement of Isaiah 42:15: “I will lay waste the mountains and hills [kingdoms] and wither all their vegetation; I will make the rivers into coastlands and dry up the ponds [from drought].”
Could Apocalyptic Imagery describe Real-World Events? Most of the Astrological Omens of Apocalyptic Predictions are Natural Consequences of the Coming of the Lord on the Clouds of Heaven in the Glory Cloud.
Many of the other miraculous signs said to accompany the destruction of various kingdoms in Old Testament prophecy are astrological signs like the sun, moon and stars going dark or the sun and moon becoming dimmer or brighter. How might these apocalyptic signs have been accomplished at the fall of ancient kingdoms? In order to answering this question, we must first address what exactly the Bible means when it says that the Lord is or was to come on the clouds of heaven.
Could Apocalyptic Imagery describe Real-World Events? What is the Glory Cloud?
When the Bible mentions God coming on the clouds of heaven, this means that God was going to come in the midst of the Glory Cloud. The Glory Cloud is mentioned often in the Bible (Exodus 40:34-38; Leviticus 16:2; 2 Samuel 22:8-15; Isaiah 66:15-16; Psalm 18:6-16; 50:3; 97:1-5; 144:5). The Glory cloud is a rain cloud or cloud of smoke generally accompanied by gale-force winds, lightning, thunder and earthquakes often in the presence of foreign armies:
The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. . . . He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
As indicated in Psalm 18:7 cited above the coming of the Lord on the clouds of heaven is often marked by rainclouds and a thunderstorm. According to Psalm 18:9 and 11, these “dark rain clouds of the sky” presumably blanket God’s likeness rendering Him invisible. (Though God is only ever seen by the living in visions. See If No Man can see God and Live, How Could Jesus be Seen during the Parousia?) Furthermore, whenever God came on the clouds of heaven this often meant that God was coming to come before an invading army:
Before them [an invading army] the earth shakes, the heavens tremble, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine. The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty is the army that obeys his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it (Joel 2:10-11)?
Earthquakes like the one mentioned in Joel 2:10 are another sign of God’s presence in the Glory Cloud. Joel 2:10 also mentions the fact that the heavens tremble and the sun, moon and stars are darkened. As stated above, the coming of the Lord on the Glory Cloud is generally marked by a thunderstorm in which rain clouds mask God’s likeness so that He is not typically seen at this time. These rainclouds and this thunderstorm explains why the “heavens tremble” and “the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine” in Joel 2:10. The “dark rain clouds of the sky” that render God invisible also darken the heavenly lights as mentioned in v. 10. Likewise, the trembling of the heavens is also a likely consequence of a thunderstorm in which loud blasts of reverberating thunder whose sound waves literally vibrate and shake the sky.
Was Ezekiel 32:7-9 Literally Fulfilled? The Sun, Moon and Stars were Darkened by the Thick, Dark Clouds of the Glory Cloud, the Physical Manifestation of the Presence of God on the Clouds While in Judgment.
Having described the signs that signify the presence of the Lord when he comes on the clouds of heaven amidst the Glory Cloud, let us now turn our attention to the apocalyptic imagery of Ezekiel 32:7-9. Here Ezekiel warns Pharaoh of Babylon’s future defeat and conquest of Egypt in the sixth century B.C.
When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will trouble the hearts of many peoples when I bring about your destruction among the nations, among lands you have not known (Ezekiel 32:7-9).
Notice that the sun, moon and stars are darkened by cloud cover at the conquest of Egypt by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C. This is not empty symbolism. As stated above, when God came on the clouds in judgment on a nation He often did so amidst the thick, dark clouds of the Glory Cloud at the head of His punishing army. It is these clouds; the Glory Cloud, indicative of the spiritual presence of God on the clouds; that are the clouds mentioned in Ezekiel 32:7-9 that cover the heavenly lights in these verses.
Was Isaiah 13:9-13 Literally Fulfilled? The Sun, Moon and Stars were also Darkened by the Glory Cloud in Isaiah 13:9-13.
The physical presence of the Glory Cloud that covers and therefore darkens the luminaries also explains similar apocalyptic imagery like that found in Isaiah 13:9-13 concerning the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C.:
See, the day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. . . . Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of his burning anger [emphasis mine].
In the verses above the sun, moon and stars do not show their light because the Glory Cloud covers the sky in a thick, dark blanket rendering the light of the luminaries invisible as was also the case in Ezekiel 32:7-9. In these verses one can see that the darkening of the heavenly lights in the Bible is an indirect way of saying that God is coming on the clouds in judgment on a nation.
As mentioned in Joel 2:10-11, the fact that “the heavens tremble” and the earth shakes in Isaiah 13:9-13 also point to the spiritual presence of God. The heavens tremble from the reverberating blasts of thunder and the earth shakes from earthquakes. Though these earthquakes probably are literal, Joel 2:10 indicates that there is more to the earthquakes that accompany the presence of God than solely the shifting of tectonic plates. The surprising cause of these earthquakes that naturally accompany the presence of large armies will be discussed in greater detail shortly. It should suffice to say for now that as stated above, thunder and earthquake are both signs of the spiritual presence of God in the Glory Cloud.
Was Isaiah 34:4-5 Literally Fulfilled? The Darkening of the Stars and the Heavens Rolling Up Like A Scroll is Also A Consequence of the Glory Cloud. As the Glory Cloud Spreads Across the Sky, the Remaining Stars of the Sky Appear to Progressively Disappear like a Scroll with Stars Printed On It Being Rolled Up.
Much of the apocalyptic symbolism concerning the destruction of Edom in Isaiah 34:4-5 is also explicable by the physical presence of the Glory Cloud above a city. Isaiah 34:4-5 was also fulfilled around the time of the Babylonian conquest of Judah in the sixth century B.C:9
All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed.
In v. 4 Isaiah says that “the stars in the sky will be dissolved.” The dissolving of the stars is another way of saying that the light of the stars will be extinguished from the vantage point of those on the surface of the earth. This darkening of the stars is, of course, also accomplished by the blanketing effect of the physical presence of the Glory Cloud overhead.
In Isaiah 34:4-5 the heavens are also said to roll up like a scroll. This apocalyptic imagery paints a picture of the dark clouds of the Glory Cloud slowly approaching a city that is the subject of God’s wrath blanketing the sky and darkening the heavenly lights as these clouds spread forth. As the Glory Cloud spreads across the sky the remaining stars in the sky are likened to a scroll rolling up as they gradually darken and disappear by the spread and progression of these clouds as they approach and move over the kingdom of God’s wrath. In other words, the receding of the stars of the sky by the expanding black clouds of the Glory Cloud give the illusion of stars printed on a scroll disappearing as the scroll is rolled up.
The fact that the stars are said to “fall like withered leaves” may point to their disappearance behind the Glory Cloud though this could also be a literal description of a meteor shower preceding the approach of these clouds. (It should also be noted that all the stars of the sky appear to fall to the earth every night as the earth turns along its axis.)
Was Isaiah 30:6 Literally Fulfilled? The Dimming and Subsequent Seven-Fold Brightening of the Sun in Isaiah 30:6 is Another Consequence of the Glory Cloud.
Another astrological sign often cited as evidence against interpreting apocalyptic language literally is found in Isaiah 30:26. Concerning the arrival of the Assyrian Army at Jerusalem in 701 B.C., Isaiah mentions the following sign to mark Jerusalem’s deliverance: “The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days, on the day the Lord binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted.” How could the light of the moon equal the light of the sun while the light of the sun grows seven times brighter? This effect is also explicable by the presence of the Spirit of God on the clouds of heaven. Imagine cloud cover stretching across the skies over Jerusalem indicative of the presence of God on the Glory Cloud. But this time instead of this cloud cover completely blotting out the heavenly lights as it typically does, perhaps this time it just dims the light of the sun and moon such that only 1/7th of their full light is able to shine through? Once the Glory Cloud recedes, the light of the sun and moon then reverts back to their original luminosity. This radiance is now, of course, seven times brighter than it was before.
Was Jeremiah 4:23-24 Literally Fulfilled? The Darkening of the Luminaries in Jeremiah 4:23-24 is Also a Consequence of the Presence of the Glory Cloud. But what about the Earthquake? Was the Earthquake Caused by Seismic Activity, The Rhythmic Pounding March of Myriads of Enemy Soldiers (Joel 2) or Both?
What about Jeremiah 4:23-24? “I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.” In these verses and the verse in their immediate context, Jeremiah portrays the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C. in the likeness of the primordial state of the earth before its creation: dark, barren, formless and void. We have already discussed the fulfillment of v. 23 with how the Glory Cloud naturally darkens the heavenly luminaries. But what about the fact that the mountains are said to move to and fro? How could this have happened? Remember that according Psalm 18:7-14, earthquakes along with thunder, lightning, tempest, rain and hail are all signs of the presence of God on the clouds of heaven in the Glory Cloud. The fact that the “hills moved to and fro” in v. 24 is likely to be a literal description of what happens during an earthquake, one of the many signs of the presence of God when He comes in judgment on a nation.
I believe that the shifting of tectonic plates in a natural earthquake is likely to accompany the presence of God when He comes in judgment on a nation. This idea is illustrated by the fact that Josephus mentions a literal earthquake upon the arrival of the Idumean army outside of Jerusalem during the Jewish War. During the earthquake that accompanied the arrival of the hostile Idumean army outside of Jerusalem every sign said to accompany the presence of God on the clouds of heaven quoted above is explicitly, implicitly and literally mentioned by Josephus.10 See The Appearance of Christ in A.D. 68?
That having been said Joel 2 implies that there is more to the earthquakes that accompany the coming of God on the clouds of heaven than just the shifting of tectonic plates. According to Joel 2:1-10 the earth is said to shake as a result of the synchronized march of a vast besieging army:
Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; surely it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn is spread over the mountains, so there is a great and mighty people. . . . A fire consumes before them and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them but a desolate wilderness behind them, and nothing at all escapes them. Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; and like war horses, so they run. With a noise as of chariots they leap on the tops of the mountains . . . like a mighty people arranged for battle. Before them the people are in anguish; all faces turn pale. They run like mighty men, they climb the wall like soldiers; and they each march in line, nor do they deviate from their paths. . . . They march everyone in his path . . . . Before them the earth quakes . . .
In Joel 2:8-10 Joel describes an army so vast that its march shakes the earth: “They march everyone in his path . . . . Before them the earth quakes . . .” In other words, earthquakes in apocalyptic literature is often the result of an army so numerous that the synchronized march of its soldiers seems to shake the earth.
Naturally this army causes the people of a fortified city to “tremble” or shake in fear (Joel 2:1). Though earth can be used in a global sense, throughout the Bible earth often just represents the people of a particular city or kingdom (Isaiah 1:1-3; 24-27). See In the Bible “Earth” Signifies the Specific Land Addressed While “Sea” Symbolizes Foreign Nations. The shaking of the earth in apocalyptic language seems to poetically describe the trembling fear of the people in the earth or land of God’s wrath at the approach of an unbeatable army. In other words, more than just the literal shaking of the earth due to seismic activity, the shaking of the earth in apocalyptic imagery is a poetic description of the earth or kingdom of God’s wrath trembling or shaking in fear at the coming of God’s punishing army: “They march everyone in his path . . . . Before them the earth [kingdom] quakes [trembles or shakes in fear] . . .” (Joel 2:2-10) Another clear example in which people are said to shake or tremble in fear at the sight or possible approach of an invading army is found in Isaiah 7:2: “Now the house of David was told, ‘Aram has allied itself with Ephraim’; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.”
What about Jeremiah 4:24? “I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro (Jeremiah 4:24).” As stated above, mountain also represents a city or kingdom in the Bible. See In the Bible Mountains Represent Cities or Kingdoms. Thus when Jeremiah 4:24 says that the mountains or cities were quaking and the hills shaking at the coming of the Lord this poetic imagery similarly points to the mountains or kingdoms of God’s wrath shaking or trembling in fear at the reverberating march of God’s unconquerable army.
Was Isaiah 13:9-13 Literally Fulfilled? What about the Trembling of the Heavens in Isaiah 13:9-13?
The same message is implicit in the trembling of the heavens mentioned in Isaiah 13:9-13. Just as the prophecies of earthquakes that accompany the coming of the Lord were probably fulfilled in literal earthquakes, the trembling of the heavens is also likely to have been literal. As mentioned above, the heavens are said to tremble as a consequence of reverberating blasts of thunder at the coming of the Lord on the storm clouds of heaven. And like these literal earthquakes which were symbols of the people of the earth trembling in fear, the trembling of the heavens from resounding thunder at the coming of the Lord on the clouds also seems to point to the inhabitants of heaven trembling in fear (Isaiah 24:21; 51:6; Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 12:4; 2 Corinthians 4:4; John 12:31; Psalm 102:25-26; Matthew 5:18; 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; Hebrews 1:10-12; 2 Peter 3:102; and 2 Maccabees 5:1-4). See The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and Earth Explained! and Daren Wiseman’s controversial article Why does the Bible say that Heaven will be destroyed by Fire and a New Heaven Created?.
Was Joel 2:31 Literally Fulfilled? The Moon Turns to Blood Every Few Years During a Full Lunar Eclipse.
If the darkening of the heavenly lights is explicable by the physical presence of cloud cover, what about Old Testament prophecies that say that the moon will turn to blood? Joel 2:31 reads, “The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” When the moon turns blood red it is called a blood moon. This happens during a full lunar eclipse. During a full lunar eclipse the earth blocks all of the sun’s rays hitting the moon except those on the red end of the visible spectrum. It is this red light that turns the moon a blood-red color. Full lunar eclipses occur every few years.
Could Apocalyptic Imagery describe Real-World Events? Having Explained How Apocalyptic Imagery is Literally Fulfilled in Natural and Not Particularly Unusual Phenomena, How Can One Say That These Predictions Could Not Have Literally Come to Pass in Old Testament History?
Above it has been shown that apocalyptic predictions could have been fulfilled quite literally in Old Testament history. When a kingdom is conquered by another through violent conflict it is expected that buildings would be demolished and the city often leveled causing this mountain or kingdom to be literally and figuratively laid low. Furthermore, the raising of siege embankments around these fortified cities or mountains shows how the valleys around these mountains were raised up. The dimming or darkening of the heavenly lights also often mentioned in apocalyptic predictions is equally explicable. When God came in judgment on a nation amidst the thick, dark storm clouds of the Glory Cloud, the darkening of the sun, moon and stars from this thick, dark cloud cover would be a natural and expected consequence. Furthermore, why must we dismiss apocalyptic language as nonliteral when it predicts that the moon will turn to blood when blood moons occur naturally every few years? Having explained how apocalyptic imagery is literally fulfilled in natural and not particularly unusual phenomena, how can one say that these predictions could not have literally transpired in Old Testament history? This fact seems especially probable in light of the fact the apocalyptic predictions pointing to the end of the age seem to have transpired surprisingly literally around the time of the Jewish War as is abundantly addressed in the commentary on all major end time prophecies on this website.
- Resurrecting the Past: A Case for Fulfilled Prophecy, 120 min., Zephon Ministries, 2016, DVD.
- Koch-Westenholz (1995) p.12. Tablet source given as: State Archives of Assyria 8 250.
- Kenneth S. Guthrie, Gospel of Apollonius of Tyana: His Life and Deeds According to Philostratos (US: Kessinger Publishing’s, 1900), 70.
- Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 6.36; Tacitus Annals 14.22.
- Cassius Dio Roman History 66.17.
- Martin J. Dougherty and others, Battles of the Bible 1400 BC-AD 73: From Ai to Masada, (New York: Metro Books, 2008), 138.
- Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, A Commentary: Critical, Experiential and Practical on the Old and New Testaments , (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1961), 316 cited in Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith Volume 1, (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1979), 283.
- Charles S. Meek, Christian Hope through Fulfilled Prophecy: Is Your Church Teaching Error about the Last Days and Second Coming?, (Spicewood, TX: Faith Facts Publishing, 2013), 123.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 4.4.5.