Faith in the Face of Natural Disasters
אֱלֹהִים לָנוּ מַחֲסֶה וָעֹז עֶזְרָה בְצָרוֹת נִמְצָא מְאֹד׃
Hashem is our refuge and stronghold, a help in trouble, very near. Psalms 46:2
When I opened my computer today, I was shocked to discover that I was scheduled to write about Psalm 46. It seemed as if David had written this Psalm specifically for this week.
the earth reels, though mountains topple into the sea—its waters rage and foam; in its swell mountains quake. (Psalm 46:3)
Last week, a massive earthquake hit Syria and Turkey, killing over 34,000 people. The massive quake was felt in Israel, and several other minor earthquakes shook Israel as well, though this was nothing compared to what was experienced in Turkey.
But many earthquakes have hit the land of Israel over the course of its history. In fact, the book of Amos (1:1) refers to a major earthquake that shook the land of Israel already in Biblical times. And so it is not surprising that David would write about this natural phenomenon.
How are we supposed to react to such terrifying events?
People living in the 21st century sometimes fall into the trap of believing that they are in total control of reality, usually at the touch of a button. The internet is even worse, lulling us into the false belief that at the click of a mouse we can create new worlds.
But that is all just an illusion. Nature has a nasty habit of reminding us that we are not in charge; that God is still in control and has a few surprises in store for us. Man was created in the image of God, and we are vested with great power and intellect. But God is still the main author of our lives. For better or worse, this is especially true when it comes to powerful natural events.
That is where emuna (faith) comes in. We believe that God will not let us down or make us suffer needlessly. So, even when times are rough, even when an earthquake shakes our world, we have faith in God.
King David had total faith in God. When writing about earthquakes he wrote:
Hashem is our refuge and stronghold, a help in trouble, very near. Therefore we are not afraid though the earth reels, though mountains topple into the sea—its waters rage and foam; in its swell mountains quake. Selah. Psalm 46:2-4
This sentiment is especially rings true when it comes to living in Israel. This tiny enclave of Jews in the Middle East is surrounded by enemies who want to run its inhabitants into the sea. And when it comes to earthquakes, Israel sits on the fault line of the Syrian-African rift.
Ironically, this Psalm is dedicated to the offspring of Korah who sang in the Temple. King David actually dedicated this Psalm about hope at the time of an earthquake to the descendants of a man who was swallowed by the earth. His children were saved from being buried alive at the last second by repenting. If anyone could have faith that God could save them from natural disasters, surely it was the descendants of Korah who themselves were saved from a similar disaster.
But earthquakes are more than just natural disasters. Rabbi David Kimhi, a medieval Biblical commentator known by the Hebrew acronym the RaDaK, explained that earthquakes will be God’s way of entering into the pre-Messiah war of God and Magog (see Ezekiel 38:18-19).
When David wrote “Hashem is our refuge and stronghold, a help in trouble, very near,” perhaps what he meannt was that not only does the Lord protect His people in times of trouble, but these ‘natural’ phenomena themselves, generally seen as disasters, are really Hashem’s mysterious way of offering protection and salvation to His people.
One theory about this psalm is that it was written after the miraculous destruction of Sennacherib’s army during their attack on Jerusalem (II Kings 19:35), hinted at by the reference to the Lord causing a war to cease (Psalm 46:10). Indeed, the Lord protected His children and helped them in their time of trouble.
May we always merit to see God’s protection, especially in difficult times, and may the ultimate redemption come speedily in our days.