The following question came into my inbox and seemed to merit a more detailed answer that I usually have room for in our “Ask A Bible Teacher” column. Here it is.
Q. What is your opinion on the alleged ‘failed prophecies’ of the Bible listed below?
A. First of all, let me say that this is what comes of letting unbelievers interpret Scriptures for us. Paul warned us that the man without the Spirit cannot accept the things of God. They’re foolishness to him, he can’t understand them because they’re spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14) I read the responses to a similar question posted on a secular site recently and had Paul’s warning confirmed once again. For people who’ve probably never studied the Book, some of the respondents certainly act like they know a lot about it.
I noticed that unbelievers often think that if something is in the Old Testament, it has to be written about our past, as if there’s no future fulfillment to Old Testament prophecy. This causes them to reject our view that there are only two kinds of prophecy, the kind that has been fulfilled and the kind that will be.
God, Himself said, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is still to come. What I have said, that will I bring about, what I have planned, that will I do.” (Isaiah 46:10-11). But unbelievers think it’s a cop-out when we tell them a “failed” prophecy is for the future, even though most Biblical prophecy speaks about a time still future to us.
I also found that they give more credence to man’s word than to God’s. In other words, they read the Bible and then look for something man has written for confirmation. If they don’t find it they assume the Bible is wrong. It’s the reverse of the way believers approach things. We know that if man’s history differs from the Bible then man’s history is either wrong or incomplete.
With that, let’s have a look at the five “failed” prophecies that have been cited and see what the real story is.
1. Deut. 7:1, God Will Give Israel 7 Nations. Joshua 15:63, He Is Unable To Drive Some Out.
Joshua 15:63 specifically refers to the Jebusites of Jerusalem, one of the 7 nations mentioned in Deut. 7:1. It says that the Tribe of Judah was unable to dislodge the Jebusites from Jerusalem. But Judges 1:8 says, “The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.”
As per their agreement, the Tribe of Judah then went with the tribe of Simeon to capture the rest of their two allotments instead of remaining in Jerusalem and in their absence, the Jebusites returned. They also had difficulty with the Philistines in the southern coastal areas. And other tribes experienced problems with the people in their areas as well. All this happened after the major conquest had ended, “the land had rest from war” (Josh. 11:23) and the tribes went into their own allotted lands.
In Judges 2:1-4 we learn that previous to that the Angel of the Lord had criticized them for their lack of faith in completing the conquest of the Land, and withdrew His supernatural assistance. He had promised them victory over every enemy they chose to engage, (Josh 10:25) but they lacked the faith to make it so. (This is something unbelievers don’t understand. It wasn’t that God lacked the ability, but that His people lacked the faith. Of course they don’t understand this because they don’t understand faith.)
That being the case, He said, in effect, “Fine. If you want them living among you, so be it. But they’ll be thorns in your sides and their gods a snare to you.” (Judges 2:1-3) It wasn’t until the time of King David, a warrior of supernatural faith, that the Israelites finally possessed all the land that God had promised them. The prophecy did not fail.
2. Isaiah 17:1 Damascus Will Be Destroyed
Every scholar who takes the Bible literally agrees. This prophecy is in our future. Many believe it’ll likely be fulfilled as early as the summer of this year (2007). As evidence of this, here’s an excerpt from a report from the Jerusalem Newswire that I received this week. (June 24, 2007)
“Syria is making concrete preparations for war with Israel, and is anticipating such a conflict this coming summer.
According to reports carried in the Arab media Friday, the Assad government has already ordered, and carried out, the removal of the Government Archives and State Archives from Damascus to other locations.
Reports have circulated during the past two months that Syria is preparing its SCUD missile arsenal for war, including the VX gas warheads it has been working on producing for several years. It is widely believed that any attempt by Syria to introduce non-conventional warheads into a conflict with Israel will be met by an Israeli response that will destroy Damascus.” (www.jnewswire.com/article/1969)
3. Isaiah 19:5 The Nile Will Dry Up.
Many view the fulfillment of this prophecy in the construction of the Aswan Dam by the Soviets in the early 1960’s. When it became operational in 1965, it forever changed the economy of Egypt for the worse. For millennia, Egyptians had relied on the Nile’s annual flooding to renew the land and enrich the waters of the southern Mediterranean. It had been the most important event regulating the fertility of the region. The dam stopped all that.
In addition to forever changing Egypt’s agricultural industry, the decrease in fertility of the southeastern Mediterranean waters caused by the dam has had a catastrophic effect on marine fisheries. In spite of the dam’s benefits, such as cheap electricity, some have said that the best way to restore Egypt’s economy would be to blow up the Aswan Dam. A comparison of the economic and environmental effects of the Aswan Dam and the prophecy of Isaiah 19:5-10 clearly show that the prophecy did not fail.
4. Jeremiah 50:39 Babylon will be uninhabited.
For many years prophecy scholars believed this prophecy to have been fulfilled. And then came the first Gulf War. People were astonished to see Babylon standing there on the Banks of the Euphrates, rebuilt by Saddam Hussein. While there’s no comparison to the great city of Nebuchadnezzar, it does exist, and though it’s population had dwindled to as low as a few thousand when the Greeks built Baghdad to become the major river port city of the region, Babylon has not yet become uninhabited. But 6 chapters of the Bible are devoted to its destruction, Isaiah 13-14, Jeremiah 50-51, and Revelation 17-18. It’s clearly a prophecy yet future to us.
5. Ezekiel 29:10-13 Egypt Will Be Uninhabited For Forty Years (after being destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, Ezekiel 29:19)
I believe that this is a case of misunderstood context. There is no reason to connect the prophecy of Egypt’s 40 year desolation, given by Ezekiel on January 7, 587BC, with his prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of the Egyptians which was given on April 26, 571BC. The two are completely different utterances, spoken 16 years apart, and in reverse order of the “failed” prophecy claim. Nebuchadnezzar did defeat the Egyptian Army at the Battle of Carchemesh in 606BC and subsequently carried off the wealth of Egypt, as Ezekiel’s 2nd prophecy says, but the land of Egypt has not yet lain desolate for 40 years. (I guess you can say that when it does, it will have happened after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest.) The prophecy has not failed.
Some of you may be asking, “What’s the big deal if a few of the thousands of prophecies of the Bible didn’t come true?” Well, the big deal is this. If God couldn’t deliver on His promise to the men of Judah, or to Nebuchadnezzar, how can you be sure that He’ll able to deliver for you?
You’ve staked your eternity on the belief that He can perform on His promises. By the time you know for sure that your faith was justified, it’ll be too late. You’ll be dead.
None of us has ever seen Him. All we have is His word that He’ll come back for us and save us from judgment. He knows we have to trust Him for this, so He gave us an unblemished record to justify our faith. It’s called prophecy. I guarantee you that in just a few short years, there won’t be anyone left who still believes that God doesn’t do what He says He’ll do. But then, instead of ridiculing Him for not doing what He said, they’ll be cursing Him for doing it. (Rev. 16:10-11)