Devouring Fire: Volcanoes and Scripture



The cover story of Discover magazine for November 1999 reviews evidence that there are several very dangerous volcanoes in the United States which are being largely ignored. The cover proclaims the warning, “When Mount Rainier blows, and it will, 100,000 people will have less than an hour to get out of the way.” It points out that Mt. Rainier erupts “every 500 years or so, spewing five-story-high avalanches of mud ice, trees, and boulders down river valleys that lead right to the suburbs of Seattle and Tacoma. And that’s if the beast ­ now 100 years overdue ­ burps. If it really blows its top, no one is quite sure what will happen.” 1

The article goes on to note that the U.S. has more potentially active volcanoes than any country other than Japan and Indonesia. It lists the “top ten” dangerous U.S. volcanoes which include Mt. Hood (Oregon), Mauna Loa (Hawaii), Augustine Volcano (Alaska), and Mt. Shasta (California). It notes that volcanoes are often accompanied by earthquakes and that both often occur together along fault lines. The main point of the article is to warn us of their potential danger.

Do the scriptures warn us of volcanoes? While the word “volcano” is not found in the scriptures, they are replete with warning of earthquakes, often accompanied by “devouring fire,” which might refer to fires started by flowing lava. For example:

Thou shalt be visited of the LORD of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire.  2

And they shall be visited with thunderings, and lightnings, and earthquakes, and all manner of destructions, for the fire of the anger of the Lord shall be kindled against them, and they shall be as stubble, and the day that cometh shall consume them, saith the Lord of Hosts.  3

And when that day shall come they shall be visited of the Lord of Hosts, with thunder and with earthquake, and with a great noise, and with storm, and with tempest, and with the flame of devouring fire.  4

Moreover, the scriptures often tell us that when the Savior returns, the mountains will flow down at his presence. Molten mountains are certainly consistent with lava flowing. For example:

Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence  5

And be adorned as a bride for that day when thou shalt unveil the heavens, and cause the mountains to flow down at thy presence, and the valleys to be exalted, the rough places made smooth; that thy glory may fill the earth  6

Calling upon the name of the Lord day and night, saying: O that thou wouldst rend the heavens, that thou wouldst come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence.  7

Some of our latter-day Church leaders have specifically mentioned the threat of volcanoes. For example, Bruce R. McConkie has written:

In these last days all things shall be in commotion. The waves of the seas will spread death; the volcanoes in many lands will belch forth their fire and brimstone; and earthquakes will increase in number and intensity. Woes shall rest upon men as the Lord by the voice of the forces of nature calls upon them to repent and be as he would have them be.  8

Several authors have noted that the destruction at the Savior’s death recorded in the Book of Mormon certainly sounds like a description of volcanic activity. Besides the fact that some cities took fire, and some were covered with mountains, the biggest clue might be the thick vapor of darkness which could be felt and which extinguished any fire 9. A moist ash often accompanies volcanoes. For example:

This seems to parallel the statement ‘I saw the vapor of darkness that it passed from off the face of the earth’ 10. The phrase ‘dispersed from off the face of the land’ suggests a breaking up and scattering, such as would characterize the eventual dispersion of an ash cloud. This verse also indicates that the trembling of the earth ended only at the end of the three-day period. Thus, the volcanoes could have been pouring forth ash all that time to sustain the darkness. 11

Thus, volcanoes apparently played an important role in the signs of the times before the first coming of the Savior to the Americas, and they will probably play an equally important role in the signs of his Second Coming. When the Lord cleanses the earth by fire, he certainly will have a variety of resources for “fireworks,” both in the earth beneath and the heavens above.

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  1. McClintock, Jack, “Under the Volcano,” Discover (Nov., 1999), pp. 82-89. The quote here is taken from the table of contents for that issue.
  2. Isaiah 29:6
  3. 2 Nephi 26:6
  4. 2 Nephi 27:2
  5. Isaiah 64:1
  6. D&C 109:74
  7. D&C 133:40
  8. McClintock, Jack, “Under the Volcano,” Discover (Nov., 1999), pp. 82-89. The quote here is taken from the table of contents for that issue.
  9. 3 Nephi 8:8–22
  10. 1 Nephi 12:5
  11. Ball, Russell H., “An Hypothesis Concerning the Three Days of Darkness among the Nephites,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies , Vol 2. No. 1 (Spring 1993), p. 113.

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