The Great Quake
Bible scholars often link Amos with Hosea, because they were contemporaries and probably knew each other. If so, they would have shared revelation and discernment and may have discussed national problems in light of the word.
Both of them were missionaries from Judah to Israel. Hosea prophesied during the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam II, king of Israel (Hos. 1:1). Amos prophesied “in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam, son of Joash, king of Israel” (Amos 1:1).
King Uzziah was also known as Azariah. 2 Kings 15:1 says,
1 In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah son of Amaziah king of Judah became king.
2 Chron. 26:1 speaks of the same coronation, saying,
1 And all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in the place of his father Amaziah.
Azariah, or Uzziah, was crowned king of Judah in the 27th year of King Jeroboam II of Israel. Jeroboam ruled 41 years in Samaria, so Uzziah ruled in Jerusalem during the final 13 years of Jeroboam in Samaria.
This seems to be the general time frame in which Amos was sent to preach in Israel. It was about 766-753 B.C.
Judah and Israel
To understand the historical context of these prophets, one must not confuse Israel with Judah. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom was divided in 931 B.C., and from then on, each kingdom had its own set of kings. There were kings of Judah and there were kings of Israel.
All of the commentators know that Israel and Judah were distinct nations, but yet many of them continue to call everyone “Jews,” rather than distinguishing between Israelites and Judahites. The term Jew is a shortened form of the name Judah and has reference to the people of the southern kingdom of Judah.
Prior to the divided kingdom, Jews were people of the tribe of Judah. After the kingdom was divided, the definition of Jew was no longer tribal, but national. Hence, a Jew was a citizen of the Kingdom of Judah, which included Benjamin and a portion of Levi.
Israel, of course, was deported to Assyria from 745-721 B.C. not long after Amos prophesied. Judah remained in the land until the series of deportations to Babylon occurred a century later from 604-586 B.C. Judah returned after 70 years; Israel did not return, though the prophets promised them restoration in the latter days.
By the time of the New Testament period, Israel had been away from the old land for more than 700 years and, by this time, were known by other names and counted among the nations (or “gentiles”). In the land of Judah (or Judea, as the Greeks called it) the term Jew took on a religious nuance. Perhaps this was necessary after the incorporation of Edom (Idumea) in 126-125 B.C. Edom had adopted Judaism at that time, and so, like the tribes of Benjamin and Levi, they too were known as Jews. Hence the definition moved from a tribal designation to a national designation to a religious designation as the historical situations changed over the centuries.
Amos 1:1 says,
1 The words of Amos, who was among the sheepherders from Tekoah, which he envisioned in visions concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
Scholars do not know precisely when this earthquake occurred, but they usually date it around 760-750 B.C. Sitting on the Dead Sea transform fault zone, Israel experienced many quakes over the centuries, but archeologists tell us that this was the strongest quake in Israel’s history. By excavating the ruins of Lachish, about 200 miles north of Israel at the epicenter of the quake, they say that the quake registered about 8.0 on the Richter scale.
This quake was notable because Amos used it as a well-known marker to date his prophecy. More importantly, the quake was seen as divine judgment upon Israel for its refusal to hear the word of the Lord through Amos. Hence, the quake occurred two years after Amos had prophesied.
At the very least we may say that the quake was an indirect judgment from God, in that it greatly weakened Israel and prepared the way for the successful Assyrian invasion a few years later. Further, the nation-destroying quake set the prophetic pattern for an end-time event prophesied in Zech. 14:4, 5, saying,
4 And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. 5 And you will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him!
This prophecy focuses more upon Jerusalem and Judah than upon Samaria and Israel. The quake in the time of Amos was large enough to affect both Israel and Judah, but because Israel was closer to the epicenter, it was virtually destroyed, whereas Judah survived.
Zechariah says the quake in the days of Uzziah prophesied of a future quake that is to hit Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives in the time of the second coming of Christ, when “the Lord, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him.”
The statement, “all the holy ones with Him” speaks of the second coming of Christ. The prophesied quake was to come shortly after Jerusalem was to be “captured” (Zech. 14:2) and a “half of the city exiled.” Yet portions of this were clearly fulfilled in His first coming.
Zechariah does not clearly tell us that Christ was to come twice, each having a different purpose. Hence, he blends events from both comings of Christ without explanation. This makes it difficult to interpret his prophecies until after the fact, when we have the benefit of hindsight.
While much of this was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, there remains more to be fulfilled in the time of Christ’s second coming. In fact, when Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., we ought to view that event as a precursor to a greater event yet to come. The Assyrian invasion was the first main pattern-setter, the Roman invasion in 70 A.D. was built upon that pattern, and the final fulfillment is yet to come.
When the quake strikes, Zechariah tells Judah, “you will flee” (Zech. 14:5). This seems to indicate another disaster yet to come upon Jerusalem prior to Christ’s second coming. Zechariah’s prophecy is sketchy, but quite clear insofar as this is concerned.
The quake affected both Judah and Israel in the time of Amos. Zechariah’s prophecy does not distinguish between Judah and Israel but focuses upon the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. Even as the quake devastated Israel and (as we shall see) destroyed its government, so also was Jerusalem to be devastated.
The Dissolution of Israel
Amos had prophesied two years prior to the earthquake, foretelling Jeroboam’s death by the sword and the destruction of the nation at the hands of Assyria. His message of divine judgment had an immediate fulfillment in Israel. This quake (760-750 B.C.) and subsequent turmoil greatly weakened Israel, and the nation never recovered.
A few years later (745 B.C.), Assyria began to conquer and deport the tribes of Israel who lived on the east side of the Jordan. By 721 they had conquered Samaria, ending the nation’s existence in the old land. The quake was a national judgment upon Israel for refusing to repent at the preaching of Amos. Judah was also shaken, but for a different spiritual reason, as we will see shortly.
The quake devastated the governments of both Judah and Israel but only Israel’s government completely collapsed for about 24 years. After Jeroboam’s death, Scripture records a long gap with no king at all, followed by a series of weak kings who each ruled only a short time before being killed.
Jeroboam of Israel died in the 13th year of Uzziah of Judah. Then there was no king in Israel for 24 years, at which time his son Zechariah (not the prophet by the same name) became Israel’s king. Zechariah was enthroned in the 38th year of Azariah/Uzziah (2 Kings 15:8).
Hence, there were no kings of Israel from Uzziah’s 13th year to his 38th year, leaving a 24-year gap in Israel’s political leadership.
Amos prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam and “two years before the earthquake.” It appears that the earthquake coincided in some way with the death of King Jeroboam, although he apparently did not die in the quake itself, but by the sword (Amos 7:11). We read in 2 Chron. 13:20 that “the Lord struck him and he died.”
If he had died in battle, this fact would likely have been recorded in Scripture, but nothing is said. Most likely, his house was destroyed along with all other buildings in Samaria, but he himself somehow survived. Hence, it is probable that Jeroboam was blamed for the quake (seen as a judgment of God) and was then assassinated with a sword, as Amos 7:11 had prophesied two years earlier.
Perhaps Jeroboam’s son, Zechariah, was simply too young to assume the throne of Israel when his father died. Perhaps there was too much chaos and anarchy to crown a king safely. We are not told in Scripture. Whatever the case, Zechariah did not ascend to the throne for 24 years. But since many kings had already been crowned at an early age, it is not likely that Zechariah’s youth itself was the problem. It is more likely that the devastation of a huge earthquake resulted in a period of anarchy.
When Zechariah came to the throne, he only reigned six months (2 Kings 15:8). Verse 10 then reads,
10 Then Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him and struck him before the people and killed him, and reigned in his place.
Shallum himself reigned only one month in Samaria (2 Kings 15:13). He was killed and replaced by Shallum’s general, Menahem (2 Kings 15:14), who then ruled Israel with great cruelty for the next ten years. Kings are most cruel when they fear the loss of the throne, especially in times of chaos and anarchy. Verse 17 says that Menahem took the throne in Azariah/Uzziah’s 39th year.
These short reigns paint a picture of political turmoil in the aftermath of the great earthquake.
The Earthquake’s Effect on Judah
Judah was also weakened by the earthquake but not destroyed, partly because they were farther from the epicenter of the quake than Israel was. The nation survived the Assyrian invasion a few decades earlier during the reign of Hezekiah but succumbed to Babylon a century later (604 B.C.).
The great earthquake brought judgment on Judah because of the sin committed by King Uzziah. When we examine the story of Uzziah, there is no doubt that the root cause of that quake hitting Judah was Uzziah’s unlawful attempt to be both king and high priest in violation of God’s law. We read in 2 Chron. 26:16,
16 But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.
In other words, he unlawfully tried to duplicate the Melchizedek priesthood, perhaps using the precedent set by his forefather, David. However, he was unqualified to claim such a high priesthood for he was not a type of Christ, nor was he submitted to the will of God. So the king was smitten with leprosy “to the day of his death” (2 Chron. 26:21), a judgment experienced earlier by Miriam (Num. 12:10).
Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, implies that King Uzziah/Azariah was the spiritual cause of the earthquake that had devastated Israel. As the story goes, Uzziah “was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chron. 26:16).
Uzziah ignored the objections of the chief priest and insisted on taking on the duties of a priest. 2 Chron. 26:19, 20 says,
19 But Uzziah, with a censer in his hand for burning incense, was enraged; and while he was engaged with the priests, the leprosy broke out on his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the altar of incense. 20 And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous on his forehead; and they hurried him out of there, and he himself also hastened to get out because the Lord had smitten him. 21 And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death….
When Uzziah died, of course, the prophet Isaiah saw his great vision of Yahweh seated upon His throne (Isaiah 6:1). It appears that Uzziah was a leper for most of his 52-year reign and that his son Jotham ruled as his proxy for a very long time. Scripture gives him just 16 years where, after his father’s death, he reigned in his own name (2 Chron. 27:1). But it is probable that he actually ruled Judah for closer to 50 years, most of it while his leprous father was being quarantined outside the city of Jerusalem.
As I said, Josephus linked the earthquake to Uzziah’s breach of temple protocol. After telling how the chief priest had argued unsuccessfully with the king who insisted on offering the incense, Josephus writes in Antiquities of the Jews, IX, x, 4,
“In the meantime, a great earthquake shook the ground, and a rent was made in the temple, and the bright rays of the sun shone through it, and fell upon the king’s face, insomuch that the leprosy seized upon him immediately; and before the city, at a place called Eroge [En-rogel], half the mountain broke off from the rest on the west, and rolled itself four furlongs, and stood still at the east mountain, till the roads, as well as the king’s gardens, were spoiled by the obstruction. Now, as soon as the priests saw that the king’s face was infected with the leprosy, they told him of the calamity he was under, and commanded that he should go out of the city as a polluted person.”
Eroge, or En-rogel, was located just south of Jerusalem at the juncture of the Kidron Valley and the Valley of Hinnom (gehenna in Greek, which the KJV renders as “hell”). This has great end-time prophetic significance on account of the prophecy in Zech. 14:4, 5.
Overall, we may say that when Zechariah’s prophecy is fulfilled, the story of Uzziah’s earthquake and the reason for it will be evident. That study is for another time, when we are led to study the prophecies of Zechariah. For now, we can say that the prophecies of Amos are applicable to the present day. Heeding those prophecies and repenting could stop the disastrous earthquake. But ignoring Amos (as the king of Israel did) and usurping the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood (as the king of Judah did) could result in the mountain (nation) being cast into gehenna.
Meanwhile, in our study of Amos, we find that this quake helps date his prophecies and also provides us with a glimpse of the judgment that is to come upon disobedient people.