Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
The Bible makes a lot of predictions. And not vague ones, like a Chinese fortune cookie (“You will meet someone today!”), or completely indecipherable ones, like Nostradamus (“A thing existing without any senses will cause its own end to happen through artifice”), but specific predictions that can be verified.
The predictive prophecies in the Bible fall into two groups: those that haven’t happened yet (we call those “end-time prophecies,” or “eschatology”), and those that have. Of the latter group there are a great many, but the two historical events most actively predicted are the Babylonian Captivity and the earthly life of Jesus. I’d like to look at several of these.
Jeremiah lived in Judah during the time that Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was advancing against this southern kingdom. He prophesied that Babylon would win and counseled Judah to surrender. (You can imagine what kind of response that got from the king.) Very specifically, he said that Judah would go into captivity in Babylon for 70 years and then return (Jer 25.8-14). Eventually he bought property and saved the deed as evidence of his confidence that Judah would return to the land (Jer 32.6-15).
Seventy years of captivity in Babylon. How did he do?
Nebuchadnezzar’s first attack on Judah came in the third year of Jehoiakim (Dan 1.1), which would have been about 606 BC. He took a relatively few captives, including Daniel. He returned about 10 years later, in 597 BC, and took 10,000 captives, including the new king Jehoiachin (2K 24.8-17). A third wave, the Big One, came in 586, when the Temple was destroyed and the city left in ruins (2K 25.8-21).
Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon descended, in more ways than one, through his heirs until Nabonidus overthrew the dynasty in 556 BC. His son, Belshazzar, quickly became his co-regent in 553. As we all know, it was during a feast thrown by Belshazzar in Babylon that the kingdom was overthrown by the Persian Cyrus II (“the Great”) in 539 BC (Daniel 5).
Cyrus was enlightened, compared to his contemporary dictators. He figured that exiled peoples would probably be happier if they could go home, and about 538 BC he issued a proclamation allowing exactly that (Ezra 1.1-4). A number of Jewish exiles organized (Ezra 1.5-11) and returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 2) in 536 BC. They rebuilt the altar at the site of the former Temple and began sacrifices, which had ceased during the Captivity (Ezra 3). However, they quickly ran into opposition from the local Persian officials (Ezra 4), and construction stopped for about 16 years.
In 520 BC the prophets Haggai and Zechariah arrived (Ezra 5) and began exhorting the people to rededicate themselves to the construction work, which they quickly did (Haggai 1.12-15). Just 4 years later, in 516 BC, the Second Temple was dedicated (Ezra 6.13-18).
Now, that’s a lot of dates. What do they say about Jeremiah’s prophecy?
Right away we notice that Judah returned to the land in 536 BC, after Cyrus’s decree. And that’s 70 years after the first deportation. We also notice that the Second Temple was dedicated in 516 BC, 70 years after it was destroyed in 586.
Well, whaddaya know? Jeremiah was right. In fact, he was right twice, with just one prophecy. That’s really difficult to pull off, especially since Jeremiah was long dead by the time either of these resolutions occurred.
I suspect a skeptical reader might accuse me of cherry-picking—of finding any old numbers in the narrative that are 70 years apart and calling the prophecy validated. Slanted selection of evidence, that’s called in research.
Fair enough. The allegation should be examined for slanted selection.
So let me ask. How would you calculate the length of an exile? Wouldn’t you reckon from the first deportation to the first return? And in a case where the defining event of the exile was the destruction of the central monument to the nation’s unique religious belief, wouldn’t you count from the destruction to the reconstruction? How else would you count?
So there’s a clear, verifiable, objectively countable prediction, for which there is abundant historical confirmation of veracity.
You can reject the premise that the Bible is extraordinary, but you can’t legitimately do that without dealing with this evidence.
By the way, this isn’t the only such prediction, not by a mile. We’ll look at more in the next post.