Here’s the truth about tardy earthquakes


Ever heard of the day Jonathan and his armor bearer attacked an entire army?

You’ll find the account in the story-rich record of 1 Samuel. Read a bit past this story, for instance, and you’ll soon run into the battle between David and Goliath. When it comes to great Bible stories, it’s hard to beat all you’ll find in the chapters that bear Samuel’s name.

But these aren’t just interesting stories. The lessons found here are nothing short of life-changing.

Take Jonathan’s decision to attack the Philistines.

His father – King Saul – had gathered his forces to fight the Philistines. Instead of fighting, however, Saul choked. He froze. He went into hiding. His troops followed his example.

Jonathan took matters into his own hands. Like David, Jonathan was intent on finding a genuine relationship with God. Like David, Jonathan wasn’t most afraid of dying. He was most afraid of missing what God wanted to do.

You can read the entire account in 1 Samuel 14, but here’s the gist of it. Convinced they’d been given a sign from God, Jonathan and his armor bearer climbed a steep cliff and attacked 20 men. Surprisingly, they won the skirmish.

Now watch what happens:

Suddenly, panic broke out in the Philistine army, both in the camp and in the field, including even the outposts and raiding parties. And just then an earthquake struck, and everyone was terrified. (1 Samuel 14:15, NLT)

Read the entire story, and it’s easy to skip over the earthquake. Had we been there, I think, we would have never forgotten it!

But my question today is one you’ve already asked many times.

Why didn’t God send the earthquake first? Wouldn’t it have been easier for Jonathan to have felt the ground shake even as he prayed for direction? Wouldn’t that have been a great sign, back when Jonathan was wondering what to do? As a matter of fact, if God was willing to send an earthquake, why not just swallow the enemy whole?

Why, oh why, does God send tardy earthquakes?

Jonathan and his assistant had to come out into the open, hear the taunts of their enemies, climb the side of a cliff and brace themselves for almost certain death as they came over the ridge on the wrong side of the valley. Then they had to fight. Swords were swinging, slicing and piercing. There was blood everywhere. Men were screaming and fighting for their lives. There was nothing easy about it. There were no stunt men pulling off the hard parts. Two men, led by God, were engaged in the fight of their lives.

At any point along the way, an earthquake could have cut the battle short. Alas, the ground was firm and Jonathan and his friend were in a life-or-death struggle.

It was as tough as making a living when there’s just not enough money.

It was as tough as dealing with illness when you had planned on wellness.

It was as tough as making a broken marriage work again.

It was as tough as taking a step of faith when you’re still trying to figure out exactly what God wants you to do.

Difficult circumstances got your attention right now? Better see this pattern and never forget it. Life gives us plenty of opportunities to choose faith and courage. Many people freeze with fear like Saul and his troops.

Only a few will kneel in faith and desperately seek God’s direction.

Those who trust in God will be asked to do amazingly difficult things. You’ll see them start on a journey without enough resources to reach their destination. You’ll watch them head back to school in mid-life. You’ll see them ask for a meeting that no one else was willing to schedule.

In short, you’ll see them willingly step into the fight of their lives.

In time, the earthquake will arrive.

More than likely, it won’t really be an earthquake. Jonathan got an earthquake because it was an appropriate tool for his particular battle. Few things are more frightening than having the ground beneath your feet become less grounded. And if two men from the other side have just beaten 20 of your own men, an earthquake wouldn’t seem tardy at all. It would seem to them to be incredible timing! The Philistines got the message and ran for their lives. Saul’s army followed and took a great victory.

For you, it might be the unexpected check that arrives with incredible timing. It might be the satisfying completion of the first semester of studies, the growing attendance in your new church, or the shocking turn of events inside a troubled family relationship.

Read the Bible and you’ll see this pattern over and over. God challenges us, waits for us, watches us … and then acts for us.

You want to know what faith is? It’s Jonathan and his armor bearer climbing a cliff when the only thing they know for sure is that they’re headed straight for a fight.

It’s you doing what you believe God wants you to do, even when the earthquakes are late.

Few people ever get this. Most will hide with Saul and wait for someone else to give faith a shot. Most will miss the sensation of feeling an earthquake under their feet while watching their enemies scatter in all directions.

You don’t have to miss it.

If God has asked you to take a faith journey? Take it. Start climbing. Engage the enemy.

Soon enough, the earth will move.

Want to see more great stories like this? Check out “The Search for God’s Own Heart: How imperfect people can earn the most coveted title of all.”