JERUSALEM—The ancient Hebrew prophet Haggai warned us in the pages of scripture that in the last days, God “will shake all the nations” (Haggai 2:7).
Likewise, the God of Israel told the Hebrew prophet Amos that He would specifically shake the nation of Israel: “For behold, I am commanding, and I will shake the house of Israel among all nations.” (Amos 9:9)
Is there any question through wars, rumors of war, terror, the COVID pandemic, economic distress, social and political tensions, religious divisions and, in a host of other ways, every nation in the world – including Israel – is being shaken in our time?
To be clear, this shaking is not to punish people, though the Bible makes clear in both the Old Testament and the New that judgment will occur during the period known as “the Day of the Lord.”
As we pray and hope for revival and healing in our countries, we should thank the Lord for the time we have left, however much that is.
We should also thank the Lord for shaking us in all kinds of ways.
These shakings are sometimes physical, financial, emotional, spiritual and/or relational.
They are rarely easy to endure, but as I carefully study the scriptures, I believe they have four key purposes.
PURPOSE #1: Because He Loves Us and Wants Us to Wake Up and Turn to Christ
In John 3:16, the Lord Jesus was crystal clear about God’s attitude toward the world. He said, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
God sent His Son to offer forgiveness and eternal salvation to anyone who would repent.
In other words, God doesn’t want us as individuals, families, or nations to implode or perish.
Rather, He wants us to put our faith in Jesus Christ and follow Him.
Sometimes, therefore, He shakes people to get their attention and help them realize their need for Him.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul pleads with the church to wake up.
“This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.” (Romans 13:11-12, NLT)
The proper response to this kind of divine shaking, the Bible indicates, is to repent.
What is repentance?
Lynn and I have tried to teach our four sons what repentance means in a very simple way. Our youngest is Noah. Sometimes, when he was young – maybe four or five, I would bring Noah over to my side during our morning family Bible studies, and say, “Noah, start running away from me, out of the family room, through the kitchen, and to the dining room. Ready? Go!” So, Noah would start running. Then suddenly I’d say, “Stop, Noah!” And he would stop. And I’d say, “Repent, Noah.” And he’d turn around. And I’d say, “Come back to Daddy!” And he’d come running to me and jump into my arms, and I’d hug him and kiss him.
God is telling us to stop because we’re running in the wrong direction, away from Him. He tells us to repent – to turn around – and to come running back to Him so he can forgive us and show us His love and restore us.
That’s why He shakes us.
He is trying to get us to let go of anything and everything we are holding – every form of ideology, philosophy, religious beliefs, political beliefs or material possessions – whatever we’re holding on to that we think will give us hope and peace and security other than Jesus of Nazareth, our God and Messiah.
PURPOSE #2: Because He Wants Us to Realize There Is No One Else Who Can Give Us True Peace and Security
God doesn’t simply want us to stop going in the wrong direction.
He wants us to move in the right direction, toward Him, because He is the only answer to all of our personal and national problems.
In Jeremiah 17:13-14, we read, “Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord.”
So, the prophet prays, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are my praise.”
In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
Jesus “spoke of the [Holy] Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive” upon salvation. (John 7:37-39)
Nothing else will quench our spiritual and emotional thirst except Christ’s “living water.”
The Lord wants us to discover Him and draw near to Him and drink the water only Jesus Christ gives us.
PURPOSE #3: Because He Has a Mission for His Church and for Each of His Followers
The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2 that born-again believers were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (verse 10)
In that same chapter, Paul makes it clear that we are not saved by doing good works.
Rather, we are saved by faith, in part so that we will do good works that the Lord long ago planned for us to accomplish for him.
As such, God doesn’t want us to miss the blessing of serving Him and seeing Him bear fruit through our lives of obedience.
One of the most remarkable examples in the Bible of God shaking a man to get him to stop, repent, and get back to the important mission of serving the Lord is found in the Old Testament book of Jonah.
Much of the narrative of that book is focused on a key biblical city in northern Iraq.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel into northern Iraq four times over the years to preach the gospel, teach the Word of God, assist with humanitarian relief efforts, and strengthen the local believers.
In the spring of 2010, I was invited to bring a team of pastors and staff from The Joshua Fund, the nonprofit organization Lynn and I created to bless Israel and her neighbors, to conduct a pastors’ conference in northern Iraq, near the province of Nineveh.
We have a son named Jonah, and he really wanted to go with me so he could see Nineveh.
Initially, I wasn’t sure that was a good idea because Jonah was only 11.
But Lynn and I prayed about it and felt God’s peace, so Jonah came with me.
As we were flying in, a big storm came up and prevented our flight from landing in northern Iraq.
We were diverted back to Amman, Jordan.
There, I texted Lynn and told her what had happened and said Jonah and I were disappointed and weren’t sure what was going to happen next.
She texted back to say, “Don’t worry. This would be the first time in history that a Jonah wanted to go to Nineveh and God prevented him from going. I think God is going to actually let you and Jonah get to Nineveh after all.”
She was right.
In the Bible, the Lord gave the prophet Jonah a mission: to take a warning of judgment and the urgency of repentance to the people of Nineveh (in what was then Assyria and is now northern Iraq), lest they face God’s wrath and implode.
Jonah famously refused to obey.
Instead, he tried to run away from the Lord by boarding a ship that was heading for Tarshish, in modern-day southern Spain.
God began to shake Jonah’s world.
Let’s pick up the story in Jonah 1:4-6:
“The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. So the captain approached him and said, ‘How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.’”
You probably know the rest of the story.
Jonah was tossed overboard by the ship’s crew, was saved from drowning by being swallowed by a huge fish, and three days later was belched up onshore, shaken to his core but essentially unharmed.
From there he hightailed it to Nineveh and carried out God’s instructions.
He could have avoided a lot of pain and hardship if he had just obeyed God to begin with, but eventually he repented and did as God had told him.
And because of his words, the people of Nineveh – one of the most notoriously evil cities of the day – repented, as well.
The story turns out well, but not without a whole lot of shaking going on.
Jonah – a man of God, a prophet of God, a teacher of God’s Word – was on the run from God.
He was asleep to God’s voice and resistant to God’s will.
How convicting is this: that a pagan ship captain had to shake a teacher of God’s Word and wake him up and beg him to pray for his salvation?
What about you?
What mission has God given you?
Are you obeying, or are you on the run from the Lord and asleep to his voice?
PURPOSE #4: Because Jesus Christ Is Coming Back Soon, and Time Is Running Out
The Old Testament prophet Joel pleaded with the people of God to wake up.
“Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,” he said. “For the day of the Lord is coming; surely it is near.” (Joel 2:1)
How do we know the Lord is coming back?
Because the Bible says so repeatedly, and Jesus said so himself numerous times.
Here’s one example: in Revelation 22:12, Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”
We are seeing the signs that the Bible says will precede Christ’s return.
We are experiencing the “birth pangs” that Scripture foretold for the days before the rapture and later Jesus’ second coming.
We are being shaken, as prophecy warned, because Jesus wants to wake us up.
He wants us to be ready.
The Bible doesn’t tell us the day or the hour of the rapture, but Jesus said we would know the season.
Thus, we should be living as though his hand is on the doorknob, so to speak, ready to re-enter human history at any moment.
In Matthew 24:42, Jesus said, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”
In the next verses, Jesus said, “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (v. 44).
The world is not ready for Christ to return.
People are lost.
They don’t believe in the Resurrection, much less the rapture.
But the Church is supposed to be the last best hope of any nation.
The Church is supposed to be ready and eager for the Lord to come, helping others wake up and get ready too.
Yet how can the Church be ready and be faithful in reaching the world with the gospel if she is asleep?
GOD’S CALL TO A SLEEPING CHURCH
In the book of Revelation, we read these words the Lord Jesus sent to the church in Sardis, a now-deserted city in modern-day Turkey:
“I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore, if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.” (Revelation 3:1-3)
Is it possible that Christ’s words describe you? Or your family? Or the church congregation that you attend or serve at or pastor?
Perhaps you have “a name” – a reputation – that you are spiritually alive.
Yet maybe that’s not how Jesus sees you.
Maybe he sees you as dead inside.
Maybe you’re not obeying Him.
Maybe you’re not worshipping Him—not really—with your whole heart.
Maybe you’re not sharing the gospel with your family or friends.
Maybe you’re not making any disciples, here at home or in any other country.
Maybe you’ve never made a single disciple.
Maybe you don’t even know what it means to make a disciple, even though Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”
Then it’s time to wake up, for the clock is ticking and we are running out of time.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.