Was the destruction of Nineveh predicted?
Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, was a great city on the Tigris River in what is now Iraq (ancient Mesopotamia). Willingly burning cities, the Assyrians's cruelty inspired hatred from those they conquered. Sample punishments they inflicted included skinning people alive, burning children, impaling enemies on stakes, and chopping off hands and heads. Writing around 627 B.C., the prophet Zephaniah predicted Nineveh's destruction along with the Assyrian Empire's:
"And He [God] will stretch out His hand against the north and destroy Assyria, and He will make Nineveh a desolation" (Zephaniah 2:13).
Writing between 661 and 612 B.C., the prophet Nahum predicted Nineveh's destruction (Nahum 2:10; 3:19), with the help of a flood (Nahum 2:6) and fire (Nahum 3:13), during which many of its people would be drunk (Nahum 1:10). Like Babylon, Nineveh was one of the ancient world's greatest cities. Its inner wall was 100 feet tall and 50 feet thick, complete with a 150-foot-wide moat. It boasted a 7-mile circumference. But all this couldn't save it! As predicted (Nahum 3:12), the city fell easily, after a mere three-month siege, to the combined forces of the Medes, Scythians, and Babylonians under Nabopolassar in 612 B.C. Showing this wasn't all mere coincidence, guess work, or hopeful wishing, all of Nahum's specific predictions about how Nineveh would fall were fulfilled.
Why were the fates of Babylon and Nineveh different?
Now let's examine more closely the fate of Babylon and Nineveh, which were by no means fully identical. Since both cities were capitals of nations that were major enemies of Israel, Israel's prophets easily could have switched the names of these cities. Then they would have predicted wrongly, if they had not been inspired by God. Although both cities suffered destruction, Babylon was clearly predicted to never be inhabited again, but this was never prophesied for Nineveh. Today, the site of Babylon is totally uninhabited. The Euphrates River, which still flows through the site, has eroded the ruins on its west side, turning them into a swamp. On its east side, the ruins are mere low hills of debris. Isaiah predicted wild animals would inhabit the ruins. No shepherd would remain there, or stay to rest their flocks (Isaiah 13:20-22). As Floyd Hamilton relates, this has literally happened:
"Travelers [to Babylon] report that the city is absolutely uninhabited, even [by] Bedouins [Arab nomads]. There are various superstitions current among the Arabs that prevent them from pitching their tents there, while the character of the soil prevents the growth of vegetation suitable for the pasturage of flocks."
By contrast, even when the nineteenth-century archeologist Austen Henry Layard investigated the site, a small village sat upon the ruins of Nineveh, nowadays near the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq. Unlike Babylon, the plains around Nineveh's mound are farmed, and animals can graze on it during seasonal rains. Significantly, the site's largest mound has an Arabic name meaning "many sheep." Clearly, if Isaiah had condemned Nineveh instead of Babylon, which would have made sense when he wrote since Assyria was much the greater threat to Israel and Judah in the eighth century B.C., his specific predictions about site of its ruins would have been wrong. The skeptic can't argue that it's easy to predict the destruction of ancient cities, thinking in time all cities eventually will be destroyed. The Bible also predicts specifically how these cities would cease to exist, so these predictions can't be called mere lucky guesses. Furthermore, many ancient cities of the Middle East are still inhabited today, such as Damascus, Jerusalem, Sidon, Aleppo, etc. (1) Why was Babylon's fate different, its site now having been desolate for centuries after being a center of Mesopotamian civilization for centuries, a city dwelled in for perhaps over two thousand years? Because the God of the Bible yet lives, He intervenes in the affairs of men!
How was Tyre destroyed?
The seacoast of what is now Lebanon once was the center of the ancient maritime civilization of the Phoenicians. Two of their leading cities were Tyre and Sidon. Colonists sent out from Tyre settled in and established the city of Carthage in what today is Tunisia in north Africa, which later fought (and lost) the three Punic Wars against the Roman Republic in the period 246-146 B.C. Tyre was most unusual, since one part was built on the mainland opposite the remainder occupying an island about a half mile off the coast. God through the prophet Ezekiel condemned Tyre, predicting its complete demise:
"Thus says the Lord God, 'Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. And they will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; and I will scrape her debris from her and make her a bare rock. She will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken . . . and she will become spoil for the nations.' " (Ezekiel 26:3-5)
This prophecy initially was fulfilled in several steps. First, as Ezekiel 26:7-11; 29:18 described in advance, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar besieged the part of Tyre that was on the mainland for some thirteen years (585-573 B.C.). He was robbed of the fruits of victory: After his army broke down its walls and occupied it, he found most of the people (and their transportable wealth) had departed for the island city off the coast. Since Tyre had a strong navy, he couldn't attack it without a fleet. When Tyre made peace, it only admitted to Babylon's suzerainty (limited overlordship). Nevertheless, by destroying the mainland part of the city, Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled part of Ezekiel's predictions.
Is Alexander the Great mentioned in prophecy?
Significantly, Ezekiel uses "he" to refer to Nebuchadnezzar in verses 8-11, but switches over to a more anonymous "they" for verse 12:
"Also they will make a spoil of your riches and a prey of your merchandise, break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses, and throw your stones and your timbers and your debris into the water."
Surely this wasn't the normal fate for an ancient city's rubble, since usually when ancient cities were rebuilt, the new buildings were conveniently placed on top of the old ones' remnants. What could possibly cause anyone to go through this much bother, to throw a city's ruins into the sea? The main part of the "they" was the next major actor in the drama of Tyre's fate, Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.). During his campaign of conquest against Persia, he attacked Tyre (332 B.C.) after it denied him permission to sacrifice to the Tyrian god Heracles. He insisted on making the offering in the temple dedicated to Heracles on the island off the coast, not the one in the mainland part of Tyre. (The mainland city had been partially rebuilt after the destruction wrought by Nebuchadnezzar over two centuries earlier).
In a remarkable operation, Alexander besieged the island city by taking the rubble of the old mainland city and throwing it into the Mediterranean to build a causeway out to it. After building this land bridge, his army intended to place siege engines up against the island city's strong walls, which seemingly jutted up right out of sea. The siege lasted seven months--once Alexander gained naval supremacy, the city's conquest followed in short order. He punished Tyre by executing 2,000 of it leading citizens and selling 30,000 of those left alive into slavery. Ezekiel prophesied that Tyre's walls and towers would be broken down, and that God "will scrape her debris from her and make her a bare rock." It happened! In order to build the 200 foot wide causeway into the sea about a half mile, Alexander's army left no visible ruins behind. Is this all mere coincidence?
Has the prophecy against Tyre been totally fulfilled?
Ezekiel 26:14 predicted:
"'And I will make you a bare rock; you will be a place for the spreading of nets. You will be built no more, for I the Lord have spoken,' declares the Lord God."
Have these predictions been fulfilled? Clearly, the part concerning the spreading of fishing nets was. After visiting the site of Tyre in recent years, Nina Nelson noted "Pale turquoise fishing nets were drying on the shore." The mainland city became a bare rock due to Alexander's actions in building the causeway, but what about the island city off the coast? Although it never recovered its former great power, it was rebuilt, becoming a major port in the time of Christ during the first century. But after the Muslim Mamelukes captured it from the Crusaders during the Middle Ages, they completely wiped it out in 1291. They wished to ensure some future possible counterattack wouldn't recapture its fort and use it against them again. Today, a small fishing town of about 12,000 sits on the site of ancient Tyre, due to the Metualis reoccupying the island city site in 1766. The mainland city site remains abandoned, despite it has large natural freshwater springs. Since the town of Sur occupies part of the island city site today, was Ezekiel wrong? Remember, the mainland site is indeed "a bare rock," and no city has ever been rebuilt there. Furthermore, the switch in Ezekiel's language from "he" (Nebuchadnezzar) to "they" (Alexander and the Muslims mainly) to "I" may imply the last part of Tyre's drama will be played out when God directly intervenes during the Second Coming and beyond. By this understanding, this prophecy isn't totally fulfilled yet. Even as it is, the town of Sur has no organic and direct tie to ancient Tyre, since hundreds of years lie between Tyre's destruction by the Muslims in the thirteenth century and the resettlers of the eighteen century.
For example, no buildings of old Tyre survived to be used by the present inhabitants of Sur--unlike the case for Jerusalem. Furthermore, some fishermen must be living nearby to supply the nets to be dried on the rocks of Tyre--they aren't going to sail miles out of their way to do that! (2) The witness of the mainland site's desolation should be enough to convince skeptics.
Did the Bible predict Sidon's future?
Twenty-two miles up the Lebanese coast, Sidon was the mother city of Tyre. Although mentioned together often in the Bible, Sidon's fate was to be quite different.
"Thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I am against you, O Sidon . . . For I shall send pestilence to her and blood to her streets, and the wounded will fall in her midst by the sword upon her on every side; Then they will know that I am the Lord." (Ezekiel 28:22-23)
Notice how the prediction prophesies a war torn future for Sidon, but nothing about her total destruction, complete abandonment, or never being inhabited again. Even today, Sidon remains a Lebanese port of some significance, although the capital of Beirut (to the north) is presently more important. After rebelling against the Persian Empire in 351 B.C., the city beat off the initial Persian attempts to quell her. Following betrayal by her king, 40,000 of Sidon's citizens chose to set fire to their own homes and die rather than let the conquering Persians torture them. Three times it changed hands between the Crusaders and Muslims during the Middle Ages. Even in modern times, it has been the scene of conflicts between the Druzes and Turks, the Turks and the French. In 1840, the fleets of France, England, and Turkey bombarded Sidon. Clearly, blood has been spilled in her streets--but each time after being destroyed or damaged, Sidon was quickly rebuilt. Even when the city revolted against Assyrian rule in 677 B.C. and got destroyed in retaliation, the Assyrians created a new provincial capital called "Fort Esarhaddon" on or near the site of the old city. Now, if Ezekiel had switched Tyre's name for Sidon's, wouldn't his prophecies have been proven wrong? (3) Nobody came along to toss Sidon's ruins into the sea! How did he know so far in advance that Tyre's fate would be so much worse than Sidon's? How was he able to get the specific details correct? Both cities' ancient inhabitants worshipped false gods using idols, something which Jehovah, the God of Israel, condemned time and time again through His prophets. Rationally speaking, is it plausible Ezekiel just blindly guessed correctly the different destinies of these two cities, although both were similarly sinful in his God's sight?
What was the prophetic fate of the Philistines?
One of the leading traditional enemies of Israel, against whom mighty Samson focused his heroics, were the Philistines. Once living along the Mediterranean coast, devastation for the Philistines' major cities and the end of their national existence was predicted (Ezekiel 25:15-17; Amos 2:6-8; Jeremiah 47:5). In particular, notice the grim fates in store for the cities of Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron:
"For Gaza will be abandoned, and Ashkelon a desolation; Ashdod will be driven out at noon, and Ekron will be uprooted . . . So the seacoast will be pastures, with caves for shepherds and folds for flocks. And the coast will be for the remnant of the house of Judah. They will pasture on it. In the houses of Ashkelon they will lie down at evening; For the Lord their God will care for them and restore their fortune. (Zephaniah 2:4-5, 6-7) "
As Ezekiel 25:15-17 and Zephaniah 2:5 predicted, the Philistines ceased to be an identifiable nation, unlike the Jews. Ashkelon's fate is portrayed differently from the rest. Remaining inhabited and an operational port until the Sultan Bibars destroyed it in 1270, Ashkelon's natural harbor then was intentionally filled with stones to render it useless. A Turkish garrison remained in it until the seventeenth century. As Zephaniah predicted, shepherding occurred around its site. Most remarkably, since the modern establishment of the state of Israel, Ashkelon has been rebuilt as a "garden city." Indeed today "the remnant of the house of Judah" does lie down "in the houses of Ashkelon" at evening! By contrast, the present-day Palestinian city of Gaza isn't built on the site of its ancient namesake. Although some thought this prophecy was wrong, the ruins of ancient Philistine city of Gaza were found some distance away. During his conquest of Persia, Alexander the Great took this city, killed many of its inhabitants, and sold the survivors into slavery. Buried under sand dunes today, indeed "baldness has come upon Gaza"! (Jeremiah 47:5). As for Ekron, its location has been evidently lost, after being inhabited until the time of the Crusaders in the Middle Ages. Tell Miqne is the most probable location. Having been tilled in recent times, it remains unsettled. Hence, the "remnant of Judah" dwells in Ashkelon today, but neither Ekron nor Gaza. (4) Without supernatural guidance, how could have Zephaniah have foretold the future so accurately? Couldn't he have randomly switched Gaza's or Ekron's name with Ashkelon, and criticized as wrong (at least to date)?
How were the fates of Egyptian cities Thebes and Memphis different?
Hugging the Nile River as its lifeline, ancient Egypt boasted one of the world's earliest civilizations. Two of its major cities were Thebes (No or No-Amon in Egyptian) and Memphis (Noph). Thebes was the dominant city of southern (upper) Egypt, while Memphis was one of the capitals from which the Pharaohs ruled and the dominant city of northern (lower) Egypt. (Since the Nile flows from the south to the north, unlike most major rivers, "upper" corresponds with "southern," and "lower" with "northern.") Since Egypt was the nation that oppressed Israel as slaves and was a dominant power in Middle Eastern politics for many centuries, these two cities naturally drew the attention of the Hebrew prophets for their idolatry (worshiping false gods using statues). First, consider the fate of Memphis, as prophesied by Ezekiel:
"Thus says the Lord God, I will also destroy idols and make the images cease from Memphis. And there will no longer be a prince in the land of Egypt; and I will put fear in the land of Egypt. And I will make Pathros desolate, set a fire in Zoan and execute judgments on Thebes. . . . I will also cut off the multitude of Thebes. And I will set a fire in Egypt; Sin will writhe in anguish, Thebes will be breached, and Memphis will have distresses daily." (Ezekiel 30:13-16)
Most remarkably, these predictions were fulfilled. Although the Assyrians under Esarhaddon (670 B.C.) and the Persians under Cambyses (525 B.C.) captured Memphis, the city recovered much of its former position. After visiting it, the Greek geographer Strabo (64 B.C.-after 23 A.D.) declared it second in size to the Egyptian port of Alexandria. But Memphis's doom came with the Muslim invasion of Egypt in the seventh century A.D. After the invading Islamic army conquered Egypt, the caliph Umar (ruled 634-644 A.D.) ordered it not to settle in Alexandria, buy property or take root in Egypt. As a result, it took up residence in an encampment near the fort that had protected Memphis. Over the centuries, this army base (Fustat) became the city of Cairo, Egypt's modern capital. Memphis was progressively abandoned in the meantime, with its people drifting over to Cairo. While one Arab traveler of the thirteen century, Abdul-Latif, declared Memphis to be a "collection of wonderful works," later on the very site was lost. Why? The buildings/ruins of Memphis became a convenient quarry for Cairo. As a result, hardly any stonework was left above ground. The founder of modern scientific archeology, the English Egyptologist Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) commented about the Temple of Ptah area in what once was Memphis:
"The site has been so much exhausted for building stone in the Arab ages, that it is not likely that a complete turning over of the whole ground would repay the work."
Amelia Edwards commented that the few ruins remaining were hardly worth observing and could easily be listed: "One can hardly believe that a great city ever flourished on this spot." This desolation clearly shows the idols of Memphis ceased to exist, just as Ezekiel foresaw.
What was the ultimate fate of Thebes?
The leading ancient Egyptian city in upper Egypt (i.e. further up the Nile from the Mediterranean, some 330 miles south of modern Cairo), Thebes's fate differed some from Memphis's. Being a center of the worship of the god Amon, Thebes also served as the capital of ancient Egypt for centuries. Here tourists can still visit the huge temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor. Across the Nile on its west bank lies the famous "Valley of the Kings" where Howard Carter found the tomb of Tutankhamen ("King Tut") in 1923. Although the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, and the Persian king Cambyses all took and destroyed Thebes, it was still revived each time. Centuries later, Thebes in 92-89 B.C. suffered a three-year siege by Ptolemy Lathyrus (Cleopatra's grandfather) before getting sacked and burned in punishment. Although Thebes recovered once again, Cornelius Gallus destroyed it (30-29 B.C.) for good during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.) for joining a tax revolt. The area the city occupied became a small collection of villages. Nine of them mark the spot today. But the ruins remain impressive, complete with many, many idols. When he wrote, Francis Llewellyn Griffith maintained:
"Thebes still offers the greatest assemblage of monumental ruins in the world."
Importantly, as Ezekiel's prophecy outlined, Thebes suffered from a much more violent history than Memphis's before its very violent end. Ezekiel said Jehovah would "execute judgments on Thebes," would "cut off [kill] the multitude of Thebes," and that "Thebes would be breached." By contrast, besides having her idols destroyed, Memphis merely would have "distresses daily." The multitude of Thebes was suddenly cut off, but Memphis's population just drifted a few miles away to Cairo over the centuries.
The ruins of Thebes are far more impressive than the scraps that meet the traveler's eye at Memphis: The idols still stand at Thebes, but not at Memphis. Suppose Ezekiel had switched the names of the two cities. Since the idols have not been cut off from Thebes, he easily could have been called wrong (the escape clause of saying it wasn't yet fulfilled wouldn't look very promising). Skeptics might claim Ezekiel wrote out of some uninspired emotional Hebrew proto-nationalism that hated Egypt and desired its downfall. But then, had he randomly reversed these two cities' names, unbelievers easily could have stamped him as wrong. So then, did he merely "guess" right? Isn't it more sensible, given the mute testimony of the stones in Egypt, to say Ezekiel had supernatural help? (5)
What other predictions are made about Egypt?
Consider other predictions made against Egypt. Although Egypt had been a glorious civilization for centuries, even millennia, when Ezekiel prophesied, he still boldly predicted its coming fall from greatness:
"And I shall turn the fortunes of Egypt and shall make them return to the land of Pathros [upper Egypt between roughly Aswan and Cairo], to the land of their origin; and there they will be a lowly kingdom. It will be the lowest of the kingdoms; and it will never again lift itself up above the nations. And I shall make them so small that they will not rule over the nations." (Ezekiel 29:14-15)
Since the time Ezekiel lived, other nations and empires have repeatedly conquered Egypt, including Persia, Greece, Rome, the Arabs, the Turks, the French, and finally the British. Although independent today, Egypt is a relatively insignificant Third World country which has lost some four wars against Israel in the past half century. Notice how its fate differed from Assyria's or Babylon's--today Egypt still exists, but total desolation overcame the two Mesopotamian civilizations. Egypt was also no longer to be ruled by its own kings: "And there will no longer be a prince in the land of Egypt" (Ezekiel 30:13). The line of Pharaohs with even some minimal semi-independence ended with the reestablishment of Persian rule in 341 B.C. Almost ever since, Egypt generally has endured foreign overlords and/or foreign monarchs. (6) A critic can't say that the Bible only predicts about the destruction of cities or empires--in Egypt's case it predicts its humbling and abasement despite its past centuries of great power, but not its destruction.
How were prophecies against Edom fulfilled?
Once occupying an area nearly the size of New Jersey to Israel's southeast, the kingdom of Edom had an especially grim future predicted for it. Isaiah 34:9-15; Jeremiah 49:17-18; Ezekiel 25:13-14; 35:5-9 all predict Edom's permanent desolation and destruction. Jeremiah even predicted "no one will live there," while Isaiah predicted "none shall pass through it forever and ever." Although their language sounds extravagant, especially because cities in the Middle East were often rebuilt after their devastation, but it has almost literally been fulfilled. Despite Ezekiel prophesied during the time Nebuchadnezzar was applying pressure against Judah, who finally virtually leveled Jerusalem (587 B.C.) and hauled the Jews into exile in Babylon, he still predicted Judah would defeat Edom one day. Since Judah had just endured utterly total defeat, his prediction would have seemed absurd in the early sixth century B.C. Nevertheless, during the Maccabean Wars of the second century B.C. it actually happened, when Judas Maccabeus defeated them. (See I Maccabees 5:3, as found in Catholic Bibles). Attacking them as well were John Hyrcanus, who forced them to accept Judaism, and Simon of Gerasa.
Although the Edomites took advantage of Rome's impending siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. to rob and kill the Jews therein, soon afterwards they disappear from history. (Rome took formal control of Petra and the Nabataean kingdom that had absorbed Edom in 106 A.D.) Today, Edom's stone city of Petra stands out as one of the most spectacular set of ruins in the world, since it has buildings hewn from cliffs of bare rock.
Around the beginning of the first century A.D., the Greek geographer Strabo reported that Petra was a major terminal for caravans crossing the Middle East from Asia. Later, the city had already fallen into decline when the Arabs invaded the area in the seventh century. The Crusaders built a castle there in the twelfth century. But soon afterwards the outside world forgot about the city's very existence, until the Swiss traveler J.L. Burckhardt discovered it in 1812. Once a center of the Eurasian caravan trade, the caravan routes shifted elsewhere and Petra was abandoned. The sounds of jackals and owls at night and the presence of scorpions under its rocks have given visitors (like Arab nomads) good reasons to avoid hanging around. The rarity of people staying long or inhabiting significantly this region is sufficient evidence for this prophecy's fulfillment. (7)
Was the destruction of a world empire predicted?
The prophet Daniel, writing during the period 605-536 B.C., predicted Greece would destroy the Persian Empire. Using a goat to stand for Greece, and a ram to symbolize Persia, he wrote:
"While I was observing [in a prophetic vision], behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. And he came up to the ram that had the two horns, which I had seen standing in front of the canal, and rushed at him in his mighty wrath. . . . So he [the goat] hurled him [the ram] to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power. . . . The ram which you saw with two horns represented the kings of Media and Persia. And the shaggy goat represented the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king." (Daniel 8:5-7, 20-21; cf. Daniel 11:2-4).
Over two hundred years after Daniel's death, his inspired predictions came true. Alexander the Great invaded and conquered Persia during the years 334-330 B.C.
Did Daniel predict the division of Alexander the Great's empire?
Daniel also foresaw the division of Alexander's empire into four parts, after the Macedonian conqueror's death:
"Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns towards the four winds of heaven. . . . the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king. And the broken horn and the four horns that arose in its place represent four kingdoms which will arise from his nation, although not with his power" (Daniel 8:8, 21-22).
Following Alexander the Great's sudden and early death, four of his generals divided up his empire. Ptolemy (Soter) took Egypt and Judea, Lysimachus controlled Asia Minor (modern Turkey), Cassander got Greece and Macedonia, and Seleucus (Nicator) grabbed what is now Iraq and Syria on into Iran. This prophecy was fulfilled to the letter, since these kingdoms never reached the size or power of Alexander's empire, and Alexander died soon after conquering Persia at age 33. This was hardly a lucky guess. Daniel just as easily could have written that the Greek king's empire would be split up into a different number of parts, be defeated by Persia, or that Alexander would reign long. (8)
Was history masquerading as prophecy?
At this point, skeptics may argue that fulfilled prophecy is merely history in disguise. To avoid the ominous implications for their spiritual lives that these Hebrew prophets predicted the future accurately, they will postdate their books to some time after the events they predicted happened. (Of course, this concession admits the Bible isn't myths or fairy tales, but historically accurate in these cases). This argument suffers from some major objections. It assumes ahead of the fact (a priori) what it wishes to prove: Implicitly claiming there is no God and/or that He doesn't intervene in history, it asserts all fulfilled prophecies are actually history pretending to be prophecy. Therefore, the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc. were written centuries after their putative authors lived. This reasoning is actually circular, and ignores any contrary archeological or historical evidence raised against it. For example, because Daniel accurately describes in advance important events in Middle Eastern history down into the second century B.C., many higher critics conclude it had to be written in or finished by that century.
Now about half of Daniel was written in the language of Aramaic. Since Aramaic changed over the centuries, much like English has since the time of Chaucer or even Shakespeare, documents written in it can be roughly dated. The skeptics ignore how its style, in vocabulary, structure, and syntax, doesn't fit the second century B.C. Consider the implications of the Elephantine Papyri of the fifth century B.C. The structure of their Aramaic more closely matches Daniel than the Aramaic of the Maccabean period of the second century. As Old Testament scholar Gleason L. Archer comments:
"Hence these chapters [Daniel 2-7] could not have been composed as late as the second century or the third century, but rather--based on purely philological [language structure] grounds--they have to be dated in the fifth or late sixth century . . ."
When was the book of Ezekiel written?
Then consider the book of Ezekiel, which has been frequently cited above. Did Ezekiel write it and prophecy between about 597 B.C. and 570 B.C.? To claim someone else wrote this book ignores how, unlike other Biblical books, the personal pronoun "I" is used throughout. It contains commonly used catch phrases, such as: "Then they will know that I am the Lord" (over 50 times), "As I live, says the Lord God" (13 times), "my sabbaths" (12 times), "countries" (24 times), "idols" (around 40 times), and "walking in my statutes" (11 times). Commonly, higher critics assert authors always keep the same literary style no matter what subject or time they write something. (If this kind of reasoning was always true, the English poet John Milton (1608-74) couldn't have written the poem "Paradise Lost," the poem "L'Allegro," and his political tracts). But here this kind of reasoning undermines their own arguments against the unity (single authorship) of Ezekiel.
Although the authenticity of Ezekiel has been attacked for dating events by some year "of king Jehoiachin's captivity," more recently this has become an excellent argument for dating it to early in the sixth century B.C. During much of the time Ezekiel prophesied Zedekiah was king in Jerusalem. But the people of Judah considered Zedekiah (the uncle of Jehoiachin) as only a regent for Jehoiachin, who had been taken into captivity earlier by Nebuchadnezzar during an earlier assault on Judah. The archeological discovery of seal impressions on three jar handles that referred to "Eliakim steward of Jehoiachin" implies that Jehoiachin still had property in Judah despite being in exile. Ultimately, the only reason to believe Ezekiel didn't write Ezekiel are the assumptions of liberal skeptics who automatically disbelieve any book of the Bible was composed when it said it was: It would challenge their presuppositions that God doesn't exist and/or doesn't intervene in history.
Where prophecies fulfilled independently?
The prophecies of the Hebrew prophets outlined above clearly are not ambiguous statements that can be interpreted in myriads of ways. They avoid (say) the deliberately obscure predictions of astrologers which allow for many widely varying events to "fulfill" them. Similarly, consider their differences from the ancient Greeks' Oracle at Delphi. At this shrine to the god Apollo, Croesus, the king of Lydia, asked the "prophetess" whether he should attack Persia, the empire next door. She replied: "If Croesus should make war on the Persians, he would destroy a mighty empire." This prediction encouraged Croesus to attack Persia--and he did indeed destroy a "mighty empire"--his own! In another case, Athenians argued over how to interpret one prediction by the prophetess at Delphi as the Persian king Xerxes's invading army threatened Greece. She predicted: "Yet Zeus the all-seeing grants to Athene's prayer that the wooden wall only shall not fall, but help you and your children." The Athenians then debated whether the "wooden wall" referred to their navy protecting them or to the thorn-hedge that surrounded the Acropolis where the Parthenon stands today. Thanks to Themistocles, they opted for the former interpretation. They went on to win the naval battle of Salamis as a result (480 B.C.)
In contrast, when Isaiah predicts Babylon would be destroyed and not inhabited again forever, no ambiguity exists: Either Babylon is or isn't destroyed. Either Babylon is or isn't inhabited again. Furthermore, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah were in no position to make sure their prophecies were fulfilled. The cities and empires listed as destroyed or humbled above were finished off centuries later by non-Jewish nations in most cases, especially Greece, Rome, or the Arabs and Muslims. The prophecies were not self-fulfilling, but accomplished independently of any actions by the prophets themselves. The nation of Judah was unable to fulfill these for them. Since Judah lacked significant military power, it was prey for the great empires of the Middle East except when Yahweh intervened for it. (9)
What is God's challenge to skeptics?
Other prophecies could be related to the reader. Christ's prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20-24; Matthew 24:1-2) comes to mind. The longest single prophecy in the Bible, Daniel 11, is a remarkably detailed summary of centuries of struggles between the Selucid and Ptolemic dynasties after Alexander the Great's conquest of Persia and beyond. These predictions all confirm God's challenge to the skeptic:
""Present your case," the Lord says. "Bring forward your strong arguments," the King of Jacob says. Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; as for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them, and know their outcome; or announce to us what is coming. Declare the things that are going to come afterward, that we may know that you are gods." (Isaiah 41:21-23)
Compare this to how successful today's supermarket tabloid psychics are. You will find they are normally wrong. (Just save a few pages of predictions out of one of these newspapers for a couple of years, and check them out against what actually happens). Remarkably, a minor nation's seers were routinely correct about the downfall and desolation of much more powerful enemies who worshipped (they believed) false gods. As McDowell describes:
"There were many centers of religious worship in the ancient world: Memphis-Thebes, Babylon, Nineveh, and Jerusalem were among them. The pagan deities which men said claimed an equal footing with the One-God, Yahweh [Jehovah, "the Lord"], never did last, especially after Jesus Christ. Yet Yahweh refused to even consider Himself on equal terms with these pagan gods, and even went further by condemning the cities in which these gods flourished. It is one thing to issue threats, but the point here is to look at history. Which city out of the above listed has remained?" (10)
To say these specific predictions are all just lucky guesses is a self-deluding rationalization.
How does prophecy impact our lives?
The sufficient criterion for the Bible's inspiration is fulfilled prophecy, since attributing successful long-term prophecies to guesswork is preposterous. This means the Bible's moral standards, such as on sexual morality, can't be lightly dismissed: The God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, Babylon and Nineveh, is very much alive and well. When facing what God has done to so many in the past who defied Him by worshipping false gods, we should consider putting our own lives in order.
Americans, in particular, shouldn't delude themselves into thinking they don't worship false gods. They don't worship Zeus, Apollo, Dagon, Baal, Asarte, Chemosh, Apis, Amon-Re, or Bel, but instead worship money, power, sex without commitment, and the endless distractions produced by Western materialism and consumerism. If we don't repent, we'll meet the same fate. Furthermore, many of the end-time prophecies of the Bible found in the books of Daniel and Revelation could happen in our lifetimes. These books describe catastrophic disasters, as does Christ's Olivet prophecy (Matthew 24; Luke 21; Mark 13), that make the Second World War look like a firecracker by comparison, such as the great tribulation and the Day of the Lord. In the light of the above, they should not be scoffed at. The God who decreed doom in the past to Babylon, Nineveh, and Thebes could well do so today against London, Paris, New York, or Tokyo. Although Christ warns against setting dates (Matthew 24:36, 42), He also described there would be general indications that His Second Coming was near:
"Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." (Matthew 24:32-34)
Although the world today laughs at the thought of a wrathful God who punishes nations for their sins, the ruins of cities scattered throughout the Middle East bear witness that this is no laughing matter. The God of the Bible is a God of love (1John 4:16), as shown by His sacrifice by His Son's life for us (1John 3:16). But this same God hates sin. He demands that we repent from breaking His holy law (2Peter 3:9; Romans 6:12-16; 8:4). As the book of Revelation shows, the unrepentant during the Second Coming will meet the same fate as ancient Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt.
|(1) Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of the Christian Faith (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1927), p. 310, as cited in Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Here's Life Publishers, 1979), vol. 1, pp. 296-309; John A. Bloom, "Truth Via Prophecy," in John Warwick Montgomery, ed., Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question (Dallas: Probe Books, 1991), pp. 184-86; Orley Berg, Treasures in the Sand (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1993), p. 203. |
(2) H. Hoeh, "A New Look at Ezekiel's Prophecy on Tyre," The Authority of the Bible, pp. 8-10; McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, pp. 272-80; Bloom, "Truth Via Prophecy," Montgomery, ed., Evidence for Faith, pp. 181-83; Aid to Bible Understanding (New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1971), p. 1622.
(3) McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, pp. 280-81; Bloom, "Truth Via Prophecy," Montgomery, ed., Evidence for Faith, p. 183; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, gen. ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBN) (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), vol. 4, p. 501.
(4) Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 1307; McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, pp. 283-85; Bloom, "Truth Via Prophecy," Montgomery, ed., Evidence for Faith, pp. 183-84.
(5) Bloom, "Truth Via Prophecy," Montgomery, ed., Evidence for Faith, pp. 179-81; McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, pp. 294-96; R.F. Youngblood, "Thebes," Bromiley, ed., ISBN, vol. 4, p. 824; Herbert Lockyer Sr., Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986), p. 761.
(6) McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, pp. 295-96, 307.
(7) McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, pp. 287-93; Keith N. Schoville, Biblical Archaeology in Focus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 485.
(8) H. Armstrong, The Middle East in Prophecy, pp. 2-3.
(9) Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), p. 283; Berg, Treasures in the Sand, p. 210; McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, pp. 270-72; Lockyer, ed., Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 368; Herodotus, The Histories, trans. Aubrey de Selincourt (London: Penguin Books, 1954), pp. 488-89; Bloom, "Truth Via Prophecy," Montgomery, ed., Evidence for Faith, pp. 176-77; The Bible: God's Word or Man's? (New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1989), pp. 40-41.
McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict
, vol. 1, p. 308.