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External Evidence Tests: Prophecy
Is the Bible the word of the almighty God? Even if I believe that there is a great deal of historical accuracy - that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, and that David was King of Israel - why should I believe that it was not written by men? Aren't there many ways to find God? Can't my Higher Power be my God without the Bible? And even if I need the word of God, how do I know the Bible is it? There are many writings from people that claim to be divine. Of all categories of evidence, prophecy is by far the most compelling reason to trust the Bible as the word of God. Once we can trust the Bible as His word, then the other questions are easily answered within its pages.
"I declared the former things long ago and they went forth from My mouth, and I proclaimed them. Suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead bronze. Therefore I declared them to you long ago, before they took place I proclaimed them to you, so that you would not say, 'My idol has done them, and my graven image and my molten image have commanded them.' You have heard; look at all this. And you will you not declare it? I proclaim to you new things from this time, Even hidden things which you have not known. They are created now and not long ago; And before today you have not heard them, so that you will not say, 'Behold, I knew them.'" (Isaiah 48:3-7)
God has a purpose for prophecy - to confirm His word. He made declarations through His prophets before they took place, and then the things He said came to pass by His power - exactly as He told in advance. And He did this to be clear that no idol, graven image, molten image or any false prophet was in control and causing these things.
God does not ask us to have a blind faith, but one that is well grounded. He knew that there would be false prophets among us - the Bible is full of warnings to these unsavory characters, and to those who might be led astray. Therefore, God provided for His people a method of distinguishing the true prophet from the false.
"I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him." (Deuteronomy 18:18-22)
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1)
God's word is packed with warnings about false prophets. For this very reason He has provided us with a way of knowing His word from the many imposters. I can test the spirits, examining those that say they are speaking from God and discerning the true from the false. This is an important passage to become familiar with... false prophets abound even today. Most of them make the occasional accurate prophecy and miss at other times. God never misses.
Matching many of the Bible's prophetic passages to documented historical events is a chilling exercise. These proofs confirm, beyond doubt, that the Bible is not only accurate, but is God's inspired word. The prophet Isaiah wrote an interesting prophecy about the future of Jerusalem,
"Confirming the word of His servant and performing the purpose of His messengers. It is I who says of Jerusalem, 'She shall be inhabited!' And of the cities of Judah, 'They shall be built.' And I will raise up her ruins again. It is I who says to the depth of the sea, 'Be dried up!' And I will make your rivers dry. It is I who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.' And he declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundation will be laid.' Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, To subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden wealth of secret places, So that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me." (Isaiah 44:26 - 45:5)
In order to understand the extraordinary revelation in this prophecy it is helpful to understand the historical context in which it was made. Isaiah wrote this prophecy about 740 BC during the reign of King Uzziah. The people of Israel, and specifically Jerusalem, were alive and well.
During that time Isaiah claims of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundation will be laid.' Yet, while he makes this statement, Jerusalem and the temple are alive and well. The destruction of Jerusalem didn't come until about 576 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar and his troops besieged the city, destroying it and the temple. Why then, with the temple standing before him, would Isaiah make such an absurd statement as, Your foundation will be laid?
Isaiah continues saying, not only will Jerusalem and the temple be rebuilt, but the decree will go forth from a man named Cyrus, of whom God says, I have also called you by your name. There are several things that Isaiah also says about this man named Cyrus. He will be a shepherd. He will subdue nations. He will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. He will be very wealthy and have a title of honor, though God does not know him, he is a Gentile.
About 150 years later, around 590 BC, a child was born and given the name of Cyrus. Not too much is known about the early years of Cyrus, other than that he was reared by shepherds after his grandfather, Astyages, king of Media, ordered that he be killed. Evidently, Astyages feared a vision that he had, believing that Cyrus would assume his crown before his death. The soldier ordered to carry out the execution delivered him the shepherds instead.
True to his grandfather's vision, Cyrus led a revolt against his father and grandfather and assumed rule of the Medo-Persian empire in about 550 BC. Cyrus continued his campaign into Sardis, and then India, the powerful Babylonian Empire, and finally Egypt (taken by his son). Known by a title of great honor - Cyrus the Great, King of Persia - by 545 BC he ruled most of the known world and controlled its great wealth.
Perhaps the greatest thing Cyrus is known for, however, is not his great military conquests, but his peacetime decrees. In 539 BC, just as Isaiah had prophesied, Cyrus issued a decree that the Jews be released to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. This is the proclamation as recorded by Ezra,
"Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem." (Ezra 1:2-4)
More than 200 years after Isaiah foretold these events, they came to pass with unimaginable precision. This prophecy and hundreds others like it give me chills. To consider this a coincidence, that the direction of nations fulfills these words by chance, is absurd. Clearly, this is the hand of God.
One of the most interesting aspects of Biblical prophecy revolves around the city of Jerusalem. As the Jews were going in and out of the city and moving across the land they encountered many other people. Consequently, there were many interactions and often conflict, which God opposed. It appears that nearly every major city in Palestine has been the subject of prophecy at one time or another. Ezekiel foretold the judgement on the city Tyre with divine precision.
"Son of man, because Tyre has said concerning Jerusalem, 'Aha, the gateway of the peoples is broken; it has opened to me. I shall be filled, now that she is laid waste,' therefore 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. 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,' declares the Lord GOD, 'and she will become spoil for the nations.'" (Ezekiel 26:2-5)
"For thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I will bring upon Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses, chariots, cavalry and a great army. He will slay your daughters on the mainland with the sword; and he will make siege walls against you, cast up a ramp against you and raise up a large shield against you." (Ezekiel 26:7-8)
"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. So I will silence the sound of your songs, and the sound of your harps will be heard no more. 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. (Ezekiel 26:12-14)
This is an incredible prophecy that deserves a more detailed look than we will give it here. There is little doubt, however, that even this cursory glance bears the reflection of God. Note the details in these few verses:
Again, these are just a few of the things foretold about Tyre in this chapter, circa 587 BC. Nevertheless, consider the fulfillment as told by secular historians. Tyre was an important Phoenician seaport situated on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea. It was unusual in that part of the city was located on the mainland, while the remainder was located on a small island off the coast.
During the time that Ezekiel wrote this prophecy, about 587 BC, Tyre was a thriving, wealthy, independent city. Shortly after that time, probably less than 15 years later, Nebuchadnezzar concluded a 13-year onslaught and took the city. During this process thousands were killed and the mainland part of the city was completely destroyed, but unfortunately for Nebuchadnezzar, most of the people and much of their wealth escaped to the nearby island. This ended the siege, as Babylon's naval fleet was no match for the powerful navy of Tyre. Interestingly, in the prophecy above, verse 8 uses he to refer to Nebuchadnezzar, but beyond verse 12 Ezekiel changes to the pronoun they. This reference clearly indicates more nations, coming as waves upon Tyre.
About 332 BC Alexander the Great marched his military forces through Tyre. Precisely as the prophet foretold, Alexander's army began the peculiar process of throwing the rubble and debris into the ocean until they had built a 200 foot wide causeway. In order to build the bridge to the island port, Alexander's army left no debris behind. They literally scraped the debris from the city site, making it as a bare rock. A few months later the army marched across the debris and routed the offshore Tyre.
Sometime later the city was rebuilt on a different site, but would never regain its former status. To this very day you can see fisherman spreading their nets to dry on the barren rocks of the seashore.
As there is no theme in the Bible more important than Christ, an overview of biblical prophecy would be incomplete without a discussion of Messianic prophecy. These prophecies concerning Jesus Christ are plentiful and significant, and are surveyed in a separate series of pages.
Proceed to A Survey of Messianic Prophecy -->