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Failed Prophecies

Prophecies are writings or utterances about the future by prophets. It is important to say a few words here about some prophecies in the Bible that seemed have been fulfilled.

  • Some prophecies were accurate because, quite simply, they were written after the event it purports to have foreseen. The Book of Daniel is a good example of this. It pretends to have been written during the time of the exile, that is around the sixth century BCE. Today, it is has been shown that Daniel was actually written around the second century BCE.
  • Other prophecies were not prophecies at all, but have readings forced into them by believers. The “virgin birth” prophecy of Jesus found in Isaiah 7:14 is one such case.
  • Still other prophecies fulfilled events that never occurred! In fact the supposed events were constructed purely from the Old Testament through a method called midrash. Many of the messianic prophecies supposedly fulfilled in Jesus' life are of this type.
Thus, not only are many “fulfilled” prophecies suspect, many a time the prophets simply got their prophecies wrong!

Isaiah's Failed Prophecies

The prophet Isaiah, for instance, foretold the drying up of all the waters of the Egypt, and the destruction of all land used for plantation due to this drying up of the River Nile.

Isaiah 19:5-7
And the waters of the Nile will be dried up, and the river will be parched and dry; and its canal will become foul, and the branches of Egypt's Nile will diminish and dry up, reeds and rushes will rot away. There will be bare places by the Nile, on the brink of the Nile, and all that is sown by the Nile will dry up, be driven away, and be no more.

This part of Isaiah, widely accepted by scholars to be written around the eighth century BC, is about 2750 years old. And in all this period of two and three quarters millennia, this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled! Moreover it is clear from the context that Isaiah prophecy was meant for the Egypt of his time. For it was with that Egypt that Isaiah and his people had a grievance against, and the prophecy was a warning to them. Obviously this is a clear example of an unfulfilled prophecy.[1]

In a similar vein, Isaiah predicted the complete and utter destruction of Damascus.

Isaiah 17:1-2
An oracle concerning Damascus. See, Damascus will cease to be a city, and will become a heap of ruins. Her towns will be deserted forever...

As we noted above, it is now almost three millennia since that prophecy and Damascus remains a vibrant city to this day. While Damascus had been overran many times in its past, it is still around. Thus the prophecy that says Damascus will cease to be a city forever is obviously false.[2]

Isaiah also spoke of a prophecy God made to Ahaz, the King of Judah that he would not be harmed by his enemies:

Isaiah 7:1-7
In the days of Ahaz,...king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but they could not conquer it...And the Lord said to Isaiah “Go forth to meet Ahaz...and say to him, ‘Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be the fierce anger of Rezin...and the son of Remaliah. Because Syria...and the son of Remaliah has devised evil against you saying “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it and let us conquer it for ourselves...” thus says the Lord God: “It shall not stand and it shall not come to pass...”

Yet according to II Chronicles, Syria and Pekah did conquer Judah!

II Chronicles 28:1, 5-6
Ahaz was 20 years old when he began his reign...[T]he Lord God gave him into the hand of the king of Syria, who defeated him and took captive a great number of his people...He was also given into the hand of the king of Israel who defeated him with great slaughter. For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew a hundred and twenty thousand in Judah in one day...

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Ezekial's Failed Prophecies on Tyre and Egypt

Ezekiel made a prophecy that, at the time he wrote, seems most likely to be fulfilled. The prophet was writing, in 587BC, at the time when Nebuchadnezzar was laying siege on Tyre. With such a powerful army like Nebuchadnezzar’s, it was not surprising that Ezekiel prophesied the fall of Tyre to the Babylonian king.

Ezekiel 26:7-14
For thus says the Lord: "Behold I will bring upon Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a hosts of many soldiers. He will slay with the sword your daughters on the mainland; he will set up a seige wall against you. He will direct the shock of his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers...With the hoofs os his horses he will trample all your streets; he will slay your people with the sword and your mighty pillar will fall to the ground...they will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses... I will make you a bare shall never be rebuilt, for I have spoken," says the Lord God.

The whole passage clearly prophesied the sack and complete destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar. However, the vivid description of the sack and fall of Tyre never happened. After a siege of thirteen years, until 573BC, Nebuchadnezzar lifted his siege on Tyre and had to arrive at a compromised agreement.[3] Thus Nebuchadnezzar did not destroy Tyre. Tyre was destroyed by Alexander the Great, 240 years later. And furthermore, despite the prophet, the city of Tyre was eventually rebuilt.[4].

Its amazing that despite these disconfirming evidence some apologists actually try to salvage that prophecy. One example is Josh McDowell in his Evidence that Demand a Verdict.[5] In it he claims that the prophecy was actually fulfilled. We will look at two of his specific arguments regarding the prophecy. First this is what McDowell writes about the “destruction of Tyre”

When Nebuchadnezzar broke the gates down he found the city almost empty. The majority of the people had moved by ship to an island about one half mile off the coast and fortified the city there. The mainland city was destroyed in 573, but the city of Tyre on the island remained a powerful city for several hundred years.

The implication of this paragraph is clear: that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed a major portion of Tyre. However McDowell got it wrong! Tyre’s main city was always on the island. The part of the city on the mainland is nothing more than a suburb. In other words, Nebuchadnezzar could achieve no more than take over a relatively minor part of the city. Furthermore it is obvious from the passage in Ezekiel that the complete destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar was prophesised. McDowell tried to argue that the complete destruction by Alexander the great was the one actuallly prophesised here. This is a forced reading on the passage-nowhere in the passage was anyone else except Nebuchadnezzar mentioned. However the most powerful argument against McDowell’s apologetics is that Ezekial himself admitted that this prophecy was a mistake!

Ezekiel 29:17-20
...the Lord God came to me: “Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army labour hard against Tyre; every head was made bald and every shoulder was rubbed bare; yet neither he nor his army got anything from Tyre to pay for the labour that he had performed against it...”

McDowell tried to twist history to show that Tyre has never been rebuilt. His argument is that the modern city of Tyre is not the old city of Tyre since the former was not on the exact location of the latter. Suffice to say that no one agrees with such a twisted method to fulfil prophecy. Furthermore the prophecy says that Tyre shall never be rebuilt after the destruction by Nebuchadnezzar-which never happened-since he never destroyed the city. Even after the destruction by Alexander the Great, the city was still rebuilt. In fact the city of Tyre was even referred to, by that name, in the New Testament (Mark 7:24, Acts 12:20). Tyre exists to this day and has a population of about 12,000.

Having failed in one prophecy did not make Ezekiel shy about making more:

Ezekiel 29:8-12
...thus says the Lord God..and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a foot of man shall pass through it and no foot of beast shall past through it; it shall be uninhabited for forty years. And I will make the city of Egypt a desolation in the midst of desolated countries; and her cities shall be desolated forty years... I will scatter Egyptian among the nations, and disperse them through the countries.

This passage must take the cake for the most prophecies proven wrong!

  • Egypt has never been desolate and waste.
  • Men and people have always walked through it.
  • There has never been a single moment (let alone forty years) when Egypt was uninhabited.
  • Egypt has never been a desolated countries surrounded by more desolated countries.
  • Its cities has never been desolated for any period of time
  • and finally there was no Egyptian diaspora[6].

Ezekiel tried his luck with another prophecy regarding Nebuchadnezzar:

Ezekiel 29:20
I have given him [Nebuchadnezzar] the land of Egypt as his recompense for which he has laboured, because they worked for me, says the Lord God.

Unfortunately, here too he failed! For Nebuchadnezzar never conquered Egypt.

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Jeremiah's Failed Prophecy

The last prophecy we will look at is that by the prophet Jeremiah. He prophesied that Jehoiakim will have no successor:

Jeremiah 36:30
Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah, he shall have none to sit on the throne of David.

Unfortunately his prophecy is proven false by another passage in the Bible:
II Kings 24:6
So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his stead.

Prophecies that can fail are further evidence that the Bible is by no means an error free book.

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1.Howell-Smith, In Search of the Real Bible: p40
2.Callahan, Bible Prophecy: p60
3.Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p587-588
4.Howell-Smith, In Search of the Real Bible: p40-41
5.McDowell, Evidence, p274 to 280
6.McKinsey, Biblical Errancy, p304

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