What about all of those amazing examples of prophecy fulfillment? This is a question that fundamentalists almost always resort to in trying to defend their claim that the Bible is the verbally inspired word of God. Their question can easily be answered with another question. What prophecy fulfillments? Upon careful examination, these so-called prophecy fulfillments invariably turn out to be arbitrary distortions or misapplications of vaguely written or highly symbolic OT scriptures. They are "prophecy fulfillments" only in the fertile imagination of fundamentalists who desperately want them to be prophecy fulfillments.
An example of the extremes that fundamentalists will go to in their search for prophecy fulfillment occurred in "The Blind Ruler," a short article by Wayne Jackson in the December 1992 issue of Reasoning from Revelation, a simplistic insertion that accompanies its parent publication Reason & Revelation:
Even though he was a captive in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel uttered oracles regarding his brethren who were as yet in the land of Canaan. One of his prophecies had to do with Zedekiah, who was serving as the "prince in Jerusalem" (Ez. 12:10 ). Zedekiah had been appointed ruler to replace Jehoiachin, when the latter was taken into Babylon in 597 B.C.
The prophet anounced that the "rebellious house" of Israel, along with the haughty ruler, would be taken into captivity (vss. 11,12 ). Concerning Zedekiah specifically, Ezekiel (speaking for God) declared: "My net also will I spread upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare; and I will bring him to Babylon to the land of the Chaldeans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there" (vs. 13).
This prophecy almost seems to contain a discrepancy. If the king is to be brought to the land, surely he will see it. That appears to be common sense. Or is it? The fact is, the prediction is extremely precise.
When the Babylonians came against Jerusalem in 586 B.C., Zedekiah fled the city, hoping to escape the in- vaders. He was pursued, however, and captured near Jericho. He was then transported to Riblah (north of Canaan). There he was forced to witness the execution of his sons. This was the last scene he was to view upon the Earth, for his eyes were put out, and he was led away to Babylon in chains. Imprisoned there, he finally died in that distant land (II Kings 25:6-7; Jeremiah 39:7; 52:11).
Ezekiel's prophecy was carried out to the letter. Fulfilled prophecy is a convincing evidence for the integrity of the Bible (p. 24).
I don't really pick on Mr. Jackson intentionally. It is just that his determination to "prove" the inerrancy of the Bible provides such an excellent source of fundamentalist nonsense. This example of prophecy fulfillment that he believes he has found is no exception. Insofar as the Bible relates them, Mr. Jackson has accurately summarized the circumstances of Zedekiah's capture and treatment by the Babylonians. His interpretation of them is where he enters the Never-Never Land of fundamentalist speculation and wishful thinking. He wants to see prophecy fulfillment in the Babylonian treatment of Zedekiah, yet the alleged prophecy that he quoted (Ezekiel 12:10 ) doesn't mention Zedekiah. In fact, the entire book of Ezekiel makes no mention of Zedekiah by name. Jackson's "proof text" refers only to a "prince in Jerusalem," and at this time there were many other princes in Jerusalem. Jeremiah, another prophet contemporary to Zedekiah, made many references to "the princes" in Jerusalem (17:25 ; 24:8 ; 26:10 ; 36:12-19 ). Mr. Jackson's task, then, is to prove, not speculate, that Ezekiel's "prince in Jerusalem" was in fact Zedekiah and not someone else.
Certainly the circumstances of Zedekiah's capture, treatment, and imprisonment, as they are related in the passages Jackson cited, appear to "fulfill" what was said in Ezekiel 12:10 about the "prince in Jerusalem"; however, even if Ezekiel was in fact referring to Zedekiah here, we have every reason to believe that the statement was written after the fact, and if we allow that advantage, anyone can be a prophet. In the total context of the passages that Jackson cited, we learn that Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah to be a puppet king in Jerusalem after the overthrow of Jehoiachin. If we accept Mr. Jackson's chronology, which appears to be right, Zedekiah became king in 597 B.C., and reigned for 11 years (2 Kings 24:18 ). In Zedekiah's ninth year, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem again (25:1 ) and finally captured it two years later (25:2 ). The famous Babylonian captivity of the Jews began in 597 B.C. with the overthrow of Jehoiachin, and then in 586 B.C., when Zedekiah was defeated, the "rest of the people" who had remained in Jerusalem were also "carried away captive" (25:11 ).
The prophet Ezekiel was evidently taken to Babylon with the first wave of prisoners, because he identifies himself at the beginning of his book as one of the captives by the River Chebar "in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity" (1:1-2 ). This would have been also the fifth year of Zedekiah's puppet reign. In other words, by his own admission, Ezekiel did not begin writing his book until just a few years before Zedekiah's overthrow, and, as we will later see, Mr. Jackson's own criteria for evaluating prophecy fulfillment would disqualify Ezekiel 12:10 as an example of fulfillment even if he could unequivocally establish that (1) the statement was referring to Zedekiah and (2) it was written before the fact.
I'll return to the first of these problem areas later to pit Mr. Jackson against himself, but before doing that, let's notice that problem number two kicks the props right out from under the claim that "Ezekiel's prophecy [in 12:10 ] was carried out to the letter." As just noted, Ezekiel began his book in the fifth year of the captivity, but he didn't finish it until at least the 25th year of the captivity:
In the twenty-fifth year of our captivity, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was captured, on the very same day the hand of Yahweh was upon me (40:1).
Ezekiel was taken into captivity at the time of Jehoiachin's overthrow. Then eleven years later, Jerusalem fell to Babylon a second time. The "twenty-fifth year of our captivity," then, would have been "the fourteenth year after the city [Jerusalem] was captured." However, it would have also been 14 years after Zedekiah's capture and the treatment he was accorded as summarized in Mr. Jackson's article. Obviously, then, before he finished his book, Ezekiel had had the opportunity to know exactly what had happened to Zedekiah. So what assurance can Jackson give us that Ezekiel did not write his book to make it appear that he had foretold the fate of Zedekiah? I can show Mr. Jackson prophesies in the Book of Mormon that he would summarily reject for the same reason that all rational people will reject his claim that Ezekiel precisely predicted the fate of Zedekiah.
For now, I will just let Mr. Jackson refute his own argument. Writing in the Christian Courier, Jackson once listed three criteria of valid prophecy: In order for prophecy to be valid, the following criteria must obtain. It must involve:
(a) Proper timing (i.e., significantly preceding the fulfillment); (b) Specific details--not vague generalities or remote possibilities; (c) Exact fulfillment--not merely a high degree of probability" ("The Holy Bible: Inspired of God," May 1991, p. 2, emphasis added).
By Jackson's own admission, then, Ezekiel 12:10 cannot be a valid prophecy. It clearly lacks "proper timing." As already noted, Ezekiel didn't begin writing his book until six years before Zedekiah's capture, so even if 12:10 was a reference to Zedekiah and even if the statement was made prior to his capture, it did not "significantly precede the fulfillment." Ezekiel could have appraised the political climate of the time to make an educated guess of what was likely to happen to Jerusalem and to its king who was presumptuous enough to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:20 ).
Likewise, Ezekiel 12:10 was too vaguely stated to meet Mr. Jackson's own standards of "valid prophecy." To say that "the prince in Jerusalem" would be taken to Babylon but would not see it, even though he would die there, is hardly my idea of "specific details." It reeks with "vague generalizations" and "remote possibilities." If Ezekiel had wanted to utter an unequivocal prediction of Zedekiah's fate, why didn't he say something like this: "Nebu- chadnezzar will besiege Jerusalem, and king Zedekiah will try to escape by night. The Chaldeans will capture him in the plains of Jericho and take him before Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah, where he will be forced to watch the execu- tion of his sons. Then the Chaldeans will blind Zedekiah and imprison him in Babylon, where he will die"? If just one prophet had made a prediction half as precise as this, which could be proven to have been made significantly before the fact, that would have put a lot of punch into the prophecy-fulfillment argument. As it is, the Hebrew prophets left us nothing but vague, symbolic generalizations that are as meaningless as the horoscopes that are published daily in our newspapers. That doesn't say much for the omniscient, omnipotent deity who allegedly inspired those prophets.
Mr. Jackson wants to find prophecy fulfillment in the fate of Zedekiah, but he conveniently said nothing about an embarrassing prophecy failure that Jeremiah made concerning Zedekiah. During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah and led him to make this remarkable prediction about Zedekiah's eventual fate:
Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, "Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, 'Thus says Yahweh: "Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. And you shall not escape from his hand, but shall surely be taken and delivered into his hand; your eyes shall see the eyes of the king of Babylon, he shall speak with you face to face, and you shall go to Babylon."' Yet hear the word of Yahweh, O Zedekiah king of Judah! Thus says Yahweh concerning you: "You shall not die by the sword. You shall die in peace; as in the ceremonies of your fathers, the former kings who were before you, so shall they burn incense for you and lament for you, saying, 'Alas, Lord!' For I have pronounced the word, says Yahweh" (Jer. 34:2-5, emphasis added).
Zedekiah's fate (according to the Bible) was as Mr. Jackson briefly summarized it. When the Chaldeans made a breach in the wall of Jerusalem, Zedekiah tried to escape by night. He was captured and taken before Nebuchadnezzar, who forced him to watch the execution of his sons. Then the Chaldeans put out Zedekiah's eyes, took him to Babylon, and imprisoned him till the day of his death ( 2 Kings 25:6 ). I wonder if this is Mr. Jackson's idea of dying in peace. I wonder too when incense was burned for Zedekiah and lamentations were made for him as in the ceremonies of his fathers, "the former kings who were before him." Are we to believe that the Chaldeans permitted this kind of funeral ceremony in Babylon for a captive king who had been accorded the treatment just described? Are we to believe that the captive Hebrews in Babylon would have even wanted to so honor the king who had presided over the downfall of their nation?
Prophecy fulfillment indeed! Anyone who sees prophecy
in the fate of king Zedekiah must be desperate for something to
shore up the badly battered inerrancy doctrine.