Tragedy of Biblical Proportions

Katrina’s gale-force sign of the times
From the November 2005 Trumpet Print Edition

You know it’s bad when leading voices start using biblical language. msnbc called it an “Armageddon-like atmosphere.” The governor of Arkansas said it was actually equivalent to Armageddon—that it was “apocalyptic in nature.” Dozens of media outlets said it was a disaster of ” biblical proportions.”

Not that you can fault them for making such comparisons. Katrina was, after all, America’s worst weather-related disaster ever. But such comparisons, while understandable in midst of a human tragedy of this magnitude, nevertheless reveal a certain degree of biblical ignorance.

Armageddon is a Hebrew word mentioned just once in the Bible (Revelation 16:16). It means “fortified hill of Megiddo.” It’s just a place on Earth, located about 70 miles northwest of Jerusalem. Now it does happen to be the staging ground for multiple-million-man armies to gather together before triggering the war to end all wars—against Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. But the Bible refers to that as the “battle of that great day of God Almighty”—not Armageddon (see verse 14). If, by using the term Armageddon, commentators mean to equate New Orleans to the battle of mankind against Christ, then, as bad as Katrina’s aftermath has been, to compare it to the final climactic battle of the ages is actually a huge exaggeration.

The flood following that end-of-the-world battle will overflow out from Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley, filling a ravine stretching across Israel for 180 miles. Picture a 6-foot flood flowing through all of New Orleans, then east along Interstate 10 where the eyewall of the hurricane ravaged the Gulf Coast, blanketing Gulfport, Biloxi and Mobile—even reaching the western edge of the Florida panhandle. And, like New Orleans after Katrina, this prophesied flood will also be a toxic dump of human waste, animal carcasses and man-made pollutants. There is, however, one key difference—this prophesied flood won’t be one of water breaking through crumbling levees—but of blood flowing out of millions of slain soldiers.

Calling Katrina’s destruction an “apocalypse” is another odd comparison, technically speaking. Apocalypse is a Greek word that means revelation or disclosure. According to Webster’s, revelation means “something that is revealed by God to humans.” I can’t imagine that being the idea they want to communicate when using the word. There is, however, a book in the Bible called the Apocalypse in Greek manuscripts—or, as it is translated in English, the book of Revelation. And because of certain dire prophecies recorded in that book, its Greek name has become a euphemism for tragic events.

Again, I’m not taking issue with the journalists and politicians who have used terms like “Armageddon” and “apocalypse” to describe Katrina. I wish more commentators would make such comparisons! Since some have, why not take a step further and actually open the Bible to see what it has to say, if anything, about our increasingly frequent and intensifying “natural” disasters?

We live in perilous times! It’s not enough to merely refer to God’s Word—or to compare tragic events with those described in the Bible. We must look into the Bible and accept what God says!

What Man Can Do

In the storm’s aftermath, Germany’s environmental minister laid part of the blame for Katrina on the shoulders of President Bush because of his environmental policies. His comments reflected the sentiments of America’s own far-left environmentalists who have repeatedly urged the president to do something about global warming.

Leaving aside the global-warming debate, let’s apply the German minister’s criticism more broadly: Is there anything human beings can do to prevent “natural” disasters?

In fact, the surprising answer is yes—but not because man, in any way, controls the weather. God does. But in the pages of the book that has been referred to frequently in recent weeks, God says He will bless those who obey Him. Now open that book and read for yourself about some of the blessings God pours down upon the obedient. “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit” (Leviticus 26:3-4). Notice! God says if you walk in all His ways, then He will bless you with a mild climate, seasonal rain and bumper crops.

He spells out these same conditions in Deuteronomy 28:11-12: “And the Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers to give thee. The Lord shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand ….”

These two chapters, Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, are the pivot points on which all Old Testament prophecies turn. Anciently, God made these conditional promises to the people of Israel. When the Israelites turned from God in rebellion, God sent prophets to warn them of the consequences for disobedience: curses and captivity. This is the context we need in order to grasp what is recorded in the writings of the major and minor prophets.

The thing is, many of these ancient prophetic warnings were written and recorded after the Israelites had already been taken captive as slaves. Daniel, for instance, wrote his book after the people of both Israel and Judah had been uprooted from their homeland and carted off as slaves. There is no way he could have delivered his message to captive slaves. Besides that, he wrote at the end of his own book that he himself did not understand the prophecies he received, and that the message was “closed up and sealed till the time of the end” (Daniel 12:9).

God told the Prophet Ezekiel to deliver his message to the house of Israel. Yet Ezekiel wrote his book a full 130 years after Israel had been overrun by Gentiles! By the time of Ezekiel’s ministry, Israel had been lost from world view!

So who are these messages for primarily, if not ancient Israel?

We know they are for the end time. We also know they are addressed to a people called Israel. And so all that remains to be discovered, then, is the identity of ancient Israel’s modern descendants. (If you haven’t yet proved who those descendants are, please write for our free book—requested by more than 5 million people—The United States and Britain in Prophecy.) These modern descendants of Israel primarily reside in America, Britain and the little nation called Israel today.

That means this message in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 is directed to our peoples.

It is a warning for us today!

The Great Big “IF”

Continuing with the conditional promises of these pivotal prophecies, God says in Leviticus 26:14, “But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments”—if we don’t obey God, it says, then God will bring upon us ever-intensifying curses, the likes of which this world has never seen! God says He will appoint terror over us, break the pride of our power, make our highways desolate and send pestilence (verses 16-25).

Notice verses 30-31 in particular: “And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcasses upon the carcasses of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you. And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.”

Deuteronomy 28 says we would build houses and not dwell in them and that our wives would be raped (verse 30). Later, God compares the plagues that come upon modern-day Israel with those He brought upon Egypt in the book of Exodus. “Then the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance. Moreover he will bring upon thee all the diseases of Egypt, which thou wast afraid of; and they shall cleave unto thee” (verses 59-60). In Egypt, by the way, the very first plague God brought upon them was to turn the nation’s water supply into a toxic dump of blood and dead carcasses.

The book of Amos is another message directed at Israel in this end time (Amos 8:2). “And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered” (Amos 4:7). Notice—this is God talking through His prophet. God causes these weather disasters! In one region God sends a drought—in another region, floods—and it all happens right before harvest time.

“So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord” (verse 8). This is hitting awfully close to home. People from one city wandering into another, searching for water to drink. And why is this happening? God causes it because we haven’t returned to Him. Amos is trying to help us see the connection between extreme weather upsets and human sin.

In verse 9, God says, “I have smitten you with blasting and mildew ….” The International Critical Commentary (icc) says this “blasting” refers to a scorching “east wind.” Most commentaries seem to think this is a hot blast of drought that wipes out crops. But the fact that the word is paired with “mildew” (as in Deuteronomy 28:22) might give this verse a broader application. The icc says this mildew is “caused by dampness and heat, having a yellow appearance.”

Katrina blasted the Gulf Coast with 140-mile-per-hour winds and 20-foot tidal waves. In the storm’s aftermath, with a soaked landscape, hot summer temperatures and plenty of dead carcasses, conditions were ripe for disease and pestilence.

Amos continues, “I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt …” (verse 10). And all of this happens, God says again, because you have “not returned unto me.”

The book of Nahum is another end-time book, although its message is primarily directed at the modern-day descendants of ancient Assyria. Even still, the prophet begins by drawing attention to the command God has over disastrous weather. “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:3). In today’s language, this is speaking of hurricanes and tornadoes. Again, just as in Amos, it says God sends storms—and these storms result in flooding and destruction.

“He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth” (verse 4). Anciently, Bashan, Carmel and Lebanon possessed some of the most fertile farmland in the world. But God dried the rivers with droughts, and all the abundance of those regions just withered away.

Here is what our editor in chief wrote in his booklet on Nahum: “God wants this world to learn that He controls nature. Many natural disasters are anything but natural. Soon, arrogant men will learn this lesson very deeply.”

God controls the weather. And in the many biblical passages quoted above, He reveals that there is a direct connection between the weather we experience and how we are living.

Confronting Our Decadence

After the July terrorist bombings in London, British columnist Minette Marrin had this to say about her own culture: “One of the things that strikes me more, not less, forcibly as time has passed is the contempt that Muslim extremists feel for us. They despise us for our decadence, and I feel more and more forced to accept the painful truth that they have a point. I don’t want to exaggerate; there are many things about Britain that are still great. People have shown courage and compassion in response to the bombings, and a restraint that is truly heroic. And the police have discovered and arrested the failed suicide bombers with an efficiency that is anything but decadent.

“All the same, it can hardly be denied that with all our celebrated freedom, and all our wealth, we have somehow created a society that is characterized by growing disorder, uncertainty and loss. For a long time now, Britain—or rather many of its institutions and traditions—has been suffering from a loss of nerve and a loss of will which amounts to a national moral funk” (Sunday Times, July 31).

As in London, the aftermath of Katrina brought out the very best in some human beings. But it also revealed the ugliest side of human nature—drug addicts looting hospitals for “medicine”; gangs roaming the streets with shotguns and liquor, stealing designer clothing, shooting at rescue workers and raping little girls; policemen abandoning their posts by the hundreds; government officials at the local, state and federal levels all pointing fingers at each other’s mistakes; and so on.

New Orleans became a disgusting spectacle to the world. It was enough to provoke an outpouring of defensive responses from dozens of commentators worldwide who stepped forward to defend the city’s reputation with sentimental recollections about life in the Big Easy before the storm.

But according to the New York Times, New Orleans before the flood had “been a place of crushing poverty, of dreary housing projects and failing schools, where crime and violence have been an incessant shadow in daily life” (September 4). One British commentator described it as a “black city where the murder rate was already 10 times the national average because the local forces of law and order had long ago given up” (Daily Mail, September 5).

Of course, when reflecting on the “charming” days of New Orleans, commentators don’t mean the poverty-stricken, crime-infested slums that tourists were constantly warned to avoid. They are talking about the party section in the upscale French Quarter and Garden District. One British journalist described the city as the “Queen of the Deep South.” He then offered this description of life in the Crescent City: “Mardi Gras turned the city into an annual bacchanalia of drunken debauchery and hedonistic overindulgence each February; a party atmosphere that lingered throughout the year—until now. Bourbon Street, aptly named as it straddles the French Quarter awash in booze, bare-breasted women and naked dance clubs, for the first time in decades no longer smells like a brewery in the morning” (Express, September 3).

And Mardi Gras isn’t even the worst of it. In August, homosexuals from all over the country were preparing to descend upon New Orleans for Southern Decadence. A week-long homosexual street “party,” the event has been a Labor Day tradition in the French Quarter for 34 years. FrenchQuarter.com described the event this way: “Southern Decadence may be most famous (or infamous) for the displays of naked flesh which characterize the event …. While police have started to crack down on public lewdness and pressure from a local crackpot conservative religious organization has caused the five-day festival to become a little more sedate than it was in years past, the atmosphere of Southern Decadence has stayed true to its name, and public displays of sexuality are pretty much everywhere you look.”

This is the city commentators the world over are so enamored by?

Last year, more than 110,000 homosexuals attended the event. This year, thousands more were expected to attend. A day before the carnival started, organizers canceled it as floodwaters spread over 80 percent of New Orleans, and while the French Quarter was being ransacked by looters.

Charming, quaint and lovely are not the adjectives God would use to describe a city like this.

But who really cares about what God thinks these days? We might call upon God after tragedy strikes, like Governor Blanco and President Bush did during the floods, asking Americans to beseech God in a day of prayer. We can evoke biblical terminology to describe disasters. But never should we imply that God had a hand in sending this storm to wake up a stubborn and rebellious nation—or so the thinking goes.

In an interview with the president on September 1, Diane Sawyer asked President Bush about the similarities between this storm and the terrorist strike on 9/11. Both events left a massive trail of devastation, the president said. But as for the cause of the wreckage, that was different. “9/11 was … a man-made attack,” he said. “This is a natural disaster. And I had a little different sense of emotion about realizing that there are some killers out there killing Americans as opposed to a storm” (emphasis mine throughout).

This popular notion maintains that while Muslim fundamentalists were responsible for 9/11, no one is responsible for America’s worst-ever hurricane disaster. Not Islamic killers. Not Americans. And certainly not God.

Storms just happen.

After a speech on September 3, the president concluded with this remark: “May God continue blessing the United States of America.” But if God can bless the United States, isn’t it also true that He can curse us? And if so—if the present conditions in America are how God continues blessing us—one wonders what it would be like when He sends curses.

As in the Days …

“I felt like I was leaving Sodom and Gomorrah,” one survivor said after being rescued from the flood. “I never looked back—I never plan to go back there either,” she said.

Jesus made this exact same comparison. “Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:28-29). And what society was Jesus comparing to Sodom? “Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed” (verse 30). Jesus said it would be this way immediately before His Second Coming, when He will be revealed before all the Earth’s inhabitants.

But before that blessed event, Jesus assures us there will be widespread destruction because of our many sins. “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved…” (Matthew 24:21-22). This is speaking of World War iii—a 31/2-year bloodbath that will culminate in the “battle of that great day of God Almighty.”

But before all this—before the battle of mankind against Christ—before the European beast power and the Asiatic kings of the east square off—before Europe destroys the nations of Israel—before Europe surrounds Jerusalem with armies—before the European Union comes against the Islamic king of the south like a whirlwind—before Arabs capture East Jerusalem—just before all of this happens,Jesus prophesied that weather patterns would take a violent turn for the worse! “And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven” (Luke 21:11). Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matthew 24:7). These are the days we are living in right now! Weather disasters, as they increase in frequency and intensity, are actually fulfilling Bible prophecy.

We are experiencing the outer edges of a storm that is about to inflict the worst suffering mankind has ever known. Jesus said so. “All these are the beginning of sorrows” (verse 8). It’s just the beginning. It’s going to get much worse. The Trumpet must tell you this—not because we derive some kind of sick pleasure from seeing people suffer—but because God says we must warn! God takes no pleasure in seeing people die, the Prophet Ezekiel said. “Wherefore turn yourselves, and live,” God says (Ezekiel 18:32). He wants us to turn to Him in obedience with our whole hearts so we don’t have to suffer and die.

These intensifying disasters are not God’s fault. They are our fault. National tragedies are upon us, and will increase one hundredfold because of our disobedience to God’s law and our rebellion against His authority.

The Last Hour

Of course there will be skeptics and scoffers—just as there were in the days before Noah’s Flood and before God rained fire from heaven upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus said there would be those who scoff. There will always be deceivers who insist that we are in no special danger today. We’ve always had enemies, they say. We’ve always fought wars. We’ve always had storms. We’ve always bounced back. We’ve always rebuilt.

To which, God responds, “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13). As evil worsens, so does God’s punishment. Paul is addressing those of us living in the last days. “This know also, that in the last days perilous [or dangerous] times shall come” (verse 1). People deceive themselves by thinking there is no special danger right now—that the world has always been like this. While it is true that human nature has always been hostile to God’s law (Romans 8:7), the Bible says that Satan-influenced nature waxes worse and worse as the day of Christ’s return approaches. Satan has been cast down to this Earth, it says in Revelation 12:9. Add to that this stark reality: Not until these latter days has man’s rebellious nature gained possession of weaponry powerful enough to annihilate himself. And add to that this frightening fact: God is against us! (Ezekiel 5:8).

These are not normal times. Things will never return to the way they once were—even 10 or 15 years ago.

The New York Times story I quoted from earlier referred to the “lull” we had in hurricane activity between 1970 and 1995 and how this may have contributed to our complacency in preparing for disasters in areas like New Orleans. “But more recently,” it went on to point out, “a string of studies found that after 1995, a natural Atlantic cycle had switched from the pattern that stifles storms to one that nurtured them” (op. cit.). The Wall Street Journal similarly noted that the duration and intensity of hurricanes and typhoons “has increased markedly since 1970.” According to the report, the power of storms in the Atlantic has tripled (September 2).

Of course, we’re led to believe that this is all moving in accordance with Mother Nature’s plan. It’s a natural, normal cycle you have to understand. God created usHe sends blessings—He continues blessing the United States of Americabut He can’t stop a storm, the twisted logic goes. Poor God—He’s just not strong enough to stop “Mother Nature.”

Sorry—but that’s not the truth of the Bible. God controls the weather. The Bible says that earthquakes, droughts, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and tsunamis are anything but normal. They are curses man has brought upon himself as a result of disobedience to God’s laws. And the Bible says that, in the modern nations of Israel, these curses are about to explode—they are about to get so bad that they might legitimately be compared to the events described in the pages of the Holy Bible!

In May of 2001, the Trumpet’s editor in chief announced that the world had entered into its last hour before Jesus Christ’s Second Coming (see 1 John 2:18, Revised Standard Version). In September of that year, we referred to that proclamation in the pages of this magazine. And about the same time that issue landed in mailboxes all over the world, 19 Islamic terrorists were putting the finishing touches on their plan to blow up the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Capitol.

Our editor in chief then wrote about the significance of this attack in his “Personal” the following month. He wrote, “In a sermon in May, I said we should expect this last hour to be different than any other hour in the history of man! Just four months later, the face of the world changed dramatically. The terrorist attack of September 11 changed so much” (November 2001).

Now please—please—think about how different this world is today as compared to the way it was before 9/11—before the last hour. Look at how different the Middle East is today, with Iran poised and ready to grab control of the whole region—looming as a much, much bigger threat to world peace than Iraq ever was! And now it no longer has Saddam Hussein to worry about. Before it’s over, Iran will have a friend in Iraq—no longer a foe. And what a tremendous cost America has paid to remove the obstacles in Iran’s path toward Middle Eastern dominance. What a price we’ve paid—in terms of lives, morale and treasure. Look at how we have stretched our forces and divided our people.

Ask yourself, Is the world a better, safer place than it was five years ago? Have things improved since the last hour began?

Earlier this year, on June 4, our editor in chief announced in a sermon that the world had now entered the last half of the last hour. Less than five months after his 2001 announcement, 9/11 jolted the United States. After the June announcement, in less than three months, Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast.

God, in His mercy, is trying to shake our peoples out of their drunken stupor before the real Armageddon-like events hit home!

After 9/11, our editor in chief said, “In the future, it will get so bad that they won’t even be able to take care of all the dead. God is going to get our attention.” Now please weigh those words—written four years ago this month—against the images we witnessed in September of this year—rescue workers searching for survivors in New Orleans even as dead bodies floated by unattended to.

God is trying to get our attention, as we noted back in 2001: “What we saw is just a tiny little problem compared to what is coming. Multiply what happened on September 11 by maybe 30 or 40 thousand to begin to get a picture of what it will be like in the future, with all the blaring sirens and the bleeding nation. The unparalleled violence will continue until we repent!”

The same can be said about Hurricane Katrina.

It Could Have Been Worse

As devastating as this storm was, the worst is yet to come. In fact, Katrina itself could have been much worse, according to meteorologists. If you watched the news as I did on Sunday night, August 28, you witnessed a monstrous Category 5 steamrolling across the Gulf, with New Orleans directly in its road.

The next morning, just before the storm hit landfall, a “puff” of Midwestern dry air weakened Katrina to a Category 4 and nudged its eyewall ever so slightly to the east. Thus, the coast of Mississippi and Alabama withstood the storm’s fiercest wrath, whereas the much larger, below-sea-level, critical U.S. port of New Orleans barely escaped a direct hit. Residents of the city and commentators alike collectively breathed a sigh of relief as New Orleans had been “spared.” Of course, the nightmare that followed was brought about by two breaches the storm surge had punched in the city’s levees.

But think about how much worse it could have been if a Category 5 had hit New Orleans dead on—especially considering the number of city residents who did not evacuate. We’ve seen what a Category 4 did to the Mississippi coast. What if the homes, hotels, businesses and office buildings in New Orleans had been leveled like the structures in Biloxi?

Of course, it’s normal for a “puff” of dry air to come billowing out of the Midwest right at the point of contact between Katrina and the coast.

Or maybe—just maybe—God mercifully spared us from something that could have been much more deadly and destructive. There are, after all, end-time prophecies in the Bible that speak of entire cities being left without inhabitant (Isaiah 6:11; Jeremiah 2:15). New Orleans has essentially been left without inhabitant, although most of its residents were spared—either by fleeing before the storm or by being rescued out of it. Perhaps God is giving us a small foretaste of what it will soon be like when all the inhabitants will go down with the city—when there won’t be time to evacuate—or anywhere else to go.

God is giving you advance news of the storm that will soon strike all of America, Britain and the Jewish nation—just like those meteorologists warned us about Katrina before it struck. Think about that. Step back in time for a moment and put yourself in the path of Katrina. What would you do if you knew, ahead of time, that a Category 5 was barreling down upon your neighborhood? Would you heed the warning?

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees in His day because they had become quite good at making weather predictions. You can discern the face of the sky, He told them. But you can’t discern the signs of the times! (Matthew 16:3). Besides weather predictions, these religious zealots were also quite good at reciting Scripture, pointing to significant biblical events, even comparing the events of their day with those of old, as referred to in God’s Word. But they didn’t obey Christ. And they disregarded His repeated warnings. They could not discern the many signs—advance warnings—of the times in which they lived.

What about you? Will you discern the signs of the times? Will you heed Jesus Christ’s warning?

Or ignore it?