Eating the Apple

Eve did it. Adam did it. Now it's my turn to take a bite. Why not? Hey! It's delicious.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ten False Prophecies

I have heard some people say that all of the prophecies in the Bible are true -- none have failed. I cannot agree. Although I am not a 'Bible expert' (an oxymoron?), I can list a few failed prophecies made by some of the most beloved prophets. How could people have read the Bible and still think that all prophecies are true?

Having said this, I must agree that many prophecies are true. There is a simple reason for this. In ancient there were as many prophets as political pundits today. Prophecies were all over the place. If, for example, a king was considering war, some prophets would predict victory, and others defeat. Jeremiah, for example, rails against false prophets. [Jer 14:14, 23:32] The successful prophecies were remembered and written down. The failed prophecies were forgotten -- except for a few object lessons.

Another reason for the apparent success of prophecies was that many were open-ended or vague predictions of disaster. One thing that you can always count on is disaster. For example, I prophecize that the last two years of Presdent Bush's reign, there will be hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, epidemics, airplane crashes, and hangnails. I am very confident that these vague prophecies will come true. But that would not make me much of a prophet. No one would consider me a prophet.

A third reason for successful prophecies is 'prophecy after the event'. I suspect that Genesis 15:13 is a case in point: "And he (God) said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall oppress them four hundred years." This part of Genesis was written down hundreds of years after Abraham (Abram) lived, probably during or after the time of King Solomon. The biblical scribes transcribed an oral tradition. Others copied the scrolls again and again. There was plenty of opportunity to add this so-called prophecy. The motive? To make it seem as thought the sojourn in Egypt was part of God's plan for Israel.

Here are the ten failed prophecies that I have found in the Bible:

1. At the burning bush, God instructs Moses:

Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt. And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey. [Genesis 3:16-17]

This command was carried out:

Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel: And Aaron spake all the words which the LORD had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. [Exodus 4:29-30]

In spite of this iron-clad promise from God, not one of the elders reached the land of milk and honey. Every one of them died in the wilderness. Of all the 600,000 adult men who left Egypt, only two, Joshua and Caleb, entered the promised land. They were young men, not elders.

2. In Exodus 17:14 God curses the Amalekites saying, "I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven." The Amalekites are today an enigmatic people. There are no historical records and no artifacts which testify the existance of this people. All we know about the Amalekites is written in the Old Testament. Exodus 17:14 commits the Israelites to a genocidal war against the Amalekites. Saul and David fight the Amalekites. What God did is unknown. There is no mention of an act of God against the Amalekites. God simply left it to the Israelites to fight and die. The last recorded mention of the Amalekites comes in the Book of Esther. However, the remembrance of Amalek was never blotted out. Ironically, it is Exodus 17:14 which keeps the memory of Amalek alive.

3. The Old Testament contains several verses where God promises to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan. These are unconditional prophecies:

Exodus 23:28 And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.

Exodus 33:2 And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

Exodus 34:11 Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

Deuteronomy 4:38 To drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day.
Joshua 3:10 And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites.

Joshua 13:6 All the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon unto Misrephothmaim, and all the Sidonians, them will I drive out from before the children of Israel: only divide thou it by lot unto the Israelites for an inheritance, as I have commanded thee.

However these five iron-clad prophesies were not fulfilled. Joshua 17:12 admits that "the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land." This was not the only failure of this prophecy. The Gibeonites were not driven out. They became slaves to the Israelites. The tribes of Reuben and Simeon could not conquer the territories allotted to them. They merged with other tribes. [William Friedman in "Who Wrote the Bible?"] Nor could the tribe of Dan conquer their allotted territory. They went north, conquered the city of Laish, and renamed it Dan. Finally, the city of Jebus was not conquered until King david took it and renamed it Jerusalem.

In a larger sense, God reneged on his promise to drive the inhabitants of the promised land. He never appeared on the battlefied, but just let the Israelites do all the fighting and dying.

4. Deuteronomy 32 contains the Song of Moses which prophecizes that God will save the righteous Israelites and destroy their enemies. But when the Israelites lived in the promised land they were surrounded by enemies. Then in 722 BC the Assyrians conquered Israel and exiled much of the population who formed the Lost Tribes of Israel. And in 587 BC Judah was conquered . The people were exiled to Babylon. From then on the Israelites had to live in the midst of their enemies. Even today, the modern state of Israel is surrounded by enemies. God has yet to destroy the enemies of the Jews -- the last time I looked.

5. In 2 Samuel 7 God appears to the prophet Nathan. Nathan is to tell King David, "Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee. Thy throne shall be established for ever." Implied by this prophecy was the promise that Jerusalem would never be conquered by a foreign power. Nevertheless, in 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzer conquered Jerusalem and deposed the last king of the Davidic line. David's kingdom became the possession of non-Jewish powers for the next 2500 years.

6. The Emmanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7 was intended to induce King Ahaz to change his foreign policy. In order to convince the king, Emmanuel had to be born within Ahaz' lifetime. However, in the Old Testament, there is no mention of any person named Emmanuel. In any case, the king was not convinced by Isaiah's sign. He persisted in the policy that Isaiah disapproved of. In Isaiah 8, this beloved Old Testament prophet seems to recognize the failure of his prophecy.

7. Between Isaiah and Jeremiah, there is an interesting clash of prophecies. Before and after Nubuchadnezzer conquered Jerusalem in 587 BC, many Jews fled to Egypt. Consider these two prophecies concerning the refugees:

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. [Isaiah 11:11-12]

And I will take the remnant of Judah, that have set their faces to go into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, and they shall all be consumed, and fall in the land of Egypt; they shall even be consumed by the sword and by the famine: they shall die, from the least even unto the greatest, by the sword and by the famine: and they shall be an execration, and an astonishment, and a curse, and a reproach. For I will punish them that dwell in the land of Egypt, as I have punished Jerusalem, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence. So that none of the remnant of Judah, which are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, shall escape or remain, that they should return into the land of Judah, to the which they have a desire to return to dwell there: for none shall return but such as shall escape. [Jeremiah 44:12-14]

Thus Isaiah predicts that the refugees in Egypt will return, Jeremiah says that they will be annihilated.

8. Jews are still waiting for the Messiah.

9. The Book of Revelations says that the number of the beast is 666. Jewish tradition had a method of converting words into numbers. And 666 was the number associated with the Roman Emperor Nero. That indicated that the end of the world was to occur during the reign of Nero. That did not happen -- the last time I looked.

10. Christians are still waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ.

There they are, ten failed prophecies in the Bible.


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