The most indisputable proof of the bible’s veracity must be fulfilled prophecy. Can anyone anywhere claim to accurately know the future? There are people, such as Nostradamus, who have attempted to foretell future events, but their prophecies are so vague that anything can be read into them. Others are able to make a shrewd guess at what will happen in the future by a good understanding of the present. But nobody has ever or can ever foretell the future in accurate and minute detail. If ever such a person existed and their prognostications came true, then we would have to listen to them because they would be able to speak with authority.
Well, somebody has made such accurate and detailed prophecies that have come true – repeatedly. That person is Jehovah, Jesus, the God of the Bible. With God, everything is present. There is no past, present or future in his sight. All is set out before his scrutiny and he knows the beginning from the end and the end from the beginning because it is all there, together, in front of him, as it were, and he beholds it all at once. We can only comprehend a linear understanding of time because that’s how time works – it has a beginning, a middle, and an end – or, if not an end, a line going into eternity. This is how we understand and experience time. But God is infinite and eternal. There was never a time when he wasn’t. And there will never be a time when he isn’t. He encompasses time because he created it; he stands outside of it; he inhabits eternity (Isa 57:15).
And he is also able to tell what lies ahead because he is working all things according to his will. He doesn’t simply look into the future to see how events will pan out; he knows the future because he has already determined what will happen – he has decreed it and therefore it must happen. These concepts are so hard for us poor mortals to comprehend; and that’s one reason why he’s God and we aren’t.
A popular Christian author states all this very nicely. He writes, “Biblical prophecy is the key to understanding both the past and the future. While to sceptics that may seem a preposterous claim, it is easily proved. Because most prophecy recorded in Scripture has already been fulfilled, it is therefore a simple matter to determine whether or not the prophecies in the Bible are reliable.
Two major themes of prophecy run consistently throughout all of Scripture: 1); Israel; and 2) the Messiah who comes to Israel and through Israel to the world as Saviour of all mankind. Around these two central themes almost all other prophecies revolve and find their meaning….
Just as prophecy is unique to the Bible, so it is unique to Christ. No prophecies foretold the coming of Buddha, Muhammad, Zoroaster, Confucius, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddie, the currently popular Hindu gurus who have invaded the West, or any other religious leader, all of whom lack the credentials which distinguish Jesus Christ. Yet there are more than 300 Old Testament prophecies which identify Israel’s Messiah. Centuries before His coming, the Hebrew prophets set forth numerous and specific criteria which had to be met by the Messiah. The fulfilment of these prophecies in minute detail in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth demonstrates indisputably that He is the promised One, the true and only Saviour” (Hunt, D. 1994, p. 19-20).
In 1 Timothy 4:1 it says, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith” i.e. God has foretold the future in precise, and sometimes minute, detail. This is not like the Delphic Oracle of ancient Greece who prophesied the future with such enigmatic utterances that they could be interpreted in a variety of ways. The king of the Lydian Empire found this to his cost when he met with the Persians in battle. Before the battle, he asked the oracle whether he should go to war. The oracle told him, “If Croesus goes to war he will destroy a great empire”. Croesus lost the battle and the war, along with his empire. The oracle came true but not as Croesus was allowed by the oracle to believe; a great empire was indeed lost, but it was Croesus’ empire, not the Persians and Medes of Cyrus. And, of course, the priests of the Oracle kept the treasures that Croesus brought them as the fee for his consultation – prophetic of modern day televangelists, no doubt.
In contrast to this however, God, challenging us, says “…..for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10). Again, he says “I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them…” (Isa 48:5).
In the following I want to present three remarkable prophecies of the many that God gave through his prophets and show how precisely they have been fulfilled. I’ve had to be selective because there are so many of them. I could have chosen other remarkable fulfilled prophecies to discuss, such as the four empires of Daniel chapters 2 and 7; or the greatly detailed prophecy of the wars between Ptolemy and Seleucus, etc. But books have been written about them, so no need to add yet another discussion of them. I could have chosen the incredibly detailed and specific prophecies concerning Jesus Christ; but you only have to read the bible for yourself to see how they were fulfilled, even to the day.
There are so many fulfilled prophecies in Scripture – one only has to flip through Isaiah or Jeremiah, for example, to see how God, through the prophet, foretold the fate of all the nations surrounding Israel; and history shows that every prophecy was fulfilled. Or read the wonderful little book of Nahum, one of the so-called Minor Prophets, to see how he prophesied in detail the destruction of the great city of Nineveh.
The three prophecies I’ve selected to discuss were thoughtfully chosen. That of Babylon because there is some confusion about the prophecies; hopefully, I’ve been able to correct that. The other two are of individuals, two kings, one of whom was a great conqueror; the other was even greater, though less esteemed by our infidel world, because he was a Jewish king. But he was greater by far than the conqueror because he served and knew the true God faithfully. And the three combined reveal that nothing is too small to escape God’s notice; he raises up nations and empires and brings others down. He sees individual persons centuries before they were born and knows everything about them, even their names. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit?” (Ps 139:6-7).
Babylon and the Chaldean Empire
In the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah (741-726 BC), the prophet Isaiah foretold the destruction of Babylon (Isaiah ch 13; 21:9). And what is more he specified how and by whom it would happen; it was to be by the hands of the Medes (Isa 13:17-18; 21:2-3, 9). Further, Babylon would never again be inhabited: “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrha. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch his tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged” (Isa 13:19-22). This remarkable prophecy was reiterated by the prophet Jeremiah (ch. 50 & 51). And it has been fulfilled to the letter. Babylon fell to Cyrus II of Persia in 539 BC, after he had conquered the Lydian Empire.
In 612 BC a combined force of Chaldeans and Medes attacked Assyria’s capital city Nineveh and destroyed it forever (a fulfilment of prophecy in itself). Subsequently, the seat of power in Mesopotamia transferred to Chaldean Babylon, and it became the centre of an empire, part of which included Israel and Egypt. Then, in 539 BC, Babylon was itself captured by the Persians and the Medes under Cyrus the Great (Isaiah 14:4-28). The Persians had always been under the domination of the Medes, a related race. They were seen by the Medes as a backward people. However, Cyrus overthrew and subjugated the Medes forever, and his empire became the greatest the world had yet seen; but for some time both Persians and Medes were all still called Medes. You can read the story in Herodotus’ History.
However, some scholars can’t see that the prophecy has been fulfilled, and consequently they look for this in the future. For example, MacDonald (2016, p. 870), in his comments on Isaiah 13:14-22, writes, “There are certain difficulties connected with the prophecies of the destruction of Babylon, both the city and the country (Isa 13:6; 14:4-23; 21:2-9; 47:1-11; Jer 25:12-14; 50; 51). For example, the capture of the city by the Medes (Isa 13:17) in 539 BC did not result in a destruction similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa 13:19); did not leave the city uninhabited forever (Isa 13:20-22); was not accomplished by a nation from the north – Medo-Persia was to the east (Jer 50:3); did not result in Israel or more than a remnant of Judah seeking the Lord or returning to Zion (Jer 50:4-5); and did not involve the breaking of the walls and burning of the gates (Jer 51:58).
When we come to a difficulty like this, how do we handle it? First of all, we reaffirm our utter confidence in the Word of God. If there is any difficulty, it is because of our lack of knowledge. But we remember that the prophets often had a way of merging the immediate future and the distant future without always indicating any time signals. In other words, a prophecy could have a local, partial fulfilment and a remote, complete fulfilment. That is the case with Babylon. Not all the prophecies have been fulfilled. Some are still future.
Babylon is slated to play a prominent role in the Tribulation Period. But its doom is already painted in vivid colours in Revelation 17 and 18. Before the Second Advent of Christ, all the prophecies concerning the destruction of Babylon will be fulfilled to a ‘T.’ What is unclear to us today will be crystal clear to those living at that time”.
Are MacDonald and the other scholars who don’t think the prophecy has been fulfilled correct? If Babylon was prophesied to become uninhabited except for wild beasts and birds, why do we read of its existence right up to its conquest by Islam in the 8th century AD and beyond? Uriah Smith, in his commentary on Daniel and the Revelation, gives us the answer. He explains that after Cyrus had conquered Babylon, the greatest and most magnificent city in antiquity, instead of making it the capital of his empire as one might expect, he instead chose Susa as his capital. Smith writes: “God had said that that city would become a heap, and the habitation of the beasts of the desert…..it must first be deserted. Cyrus removed the imperial seat to Susa, a celebrated city in the province of Elam, east from Babylon, on the banks of the River Choaspes, a branch of the Tigris. According to Herodotus, the Babylonians, in the fifth year of Darius Hystaspes, 517 BC, rose in rebellion, which brought upon themselves again the whole strength of the Persian empire. The city was once more taken by stratagem…..And that they might ever after be deterred from rebellion, Darius impaled three thousand of those who had been most active in the revolt, took away the brazen gates of the city, and beat down the walls from two hundred cubits to fifty cubits. This was the commencement of its destruction. By this act it was left exposed to the ravages of every hostile band. Xerxes, on his return from Greece, plundered the temple of Belus (in Babylon) of its immense wealth, and then laid the lofty structure in ruins. Alexander the Great endeavoured to rebuild it; but after employing ten thousand men two months to clear away the rubbish, he died of a fever aggravated by excessive drinking, and the work was suspended. In the year 294 BC, Seleucus Nicator built the city of New Babylon in its neighbourhood, and took much of the material and many of the inhabitants of the old city to build up and people the new. Now almost exhausted of inhabitants, neglect and decay were telling fearfully upon the ancient city. The violence of Parthian princes hastened its ruin. About the end of the fourth century, it was used by the Persian kings as an enclosure for wild beasts. At the end of the twelfth century, the few remaining ruins of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace were so full of serpents and venomous reptiles that they could not, without great danger, be closely inspected. And to-day, scarcely enough even of the ruins is left to mark the spot where once stood the largest, richest, and proudest city the world has ever seen. Thus the ruin shows us exactly how accurately God will fulfil His word, and makes the doubts of scepticism appear like wilful blindness” (Smith. U, p. 53-54).
Thus was the biblical city of Chaldean Babylon ruined just as the prophets foretold; and the Babylon that continued into the medieval period is actually New Babylon, built at the end of the 4th century BC. God’s Word is sure. He said the Medes would destroy Babylon, and they did. The prophecy was fulfilled and history testifies to it.
Cyrus of Persia, Conqueror of Empires
But nearly two hundred years before this, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to reveal that Cyrus II, the “Great”, was to be conqueror of the Median, Lydian, and Chaldean empires; and his son, Cambyses conquered the Egyptian empire, thus fulfilling the prophecy of the four beasts in Daniel chapter 7, each beast signifying an empire. The second beast signifies the Persian Empire. The prophecy is: “And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh” (Dan 7:5). Its raising itself up on one side indicates Persia being the dominant of the two nations, the other being Media. The three ribs in its mouth are the empires of Lydia, Babylon, and Egypt. It’s being told to “devour much flesh” signifies its ability to conquer many nations.
These three empires, combined with the conquering nation/empire of Persia and Media, thus formed the foundation of the greatest empire the world had ever seen. It was staggeringly vast, absolutely dwarfing anything seen before it, and stretched westward into Europe, Libya, and Egypt/Ethiopia, eastward as far as the Indus Valley in India, northward to the Caspian Sea, and south along the coast of the Persian Gulf. It is estimated that the Persian Empire contained 44% of the world’s population, making it the largest empire in history in terms of population.
However, Cyrus was no accident of history nor self-made conqueror; known as “Cyrus the Great” to history, he was under the watchful eye of Divine Providence. All that he had, all that he achieved, was given him by Jehovah, God of Israel and Creator of all things, who created and raised up Cyrus for his own purpose, namely, to bring his people Israel back from captivity in Babylon to their homeland in Israel.
But the important thing as far as this article goes is that God foretold the coming of Cyrus through the prophet Isaiah one hundred and fifty years before Cyrus was born; and thus before Persia was a dominant power or even a military threat – indeed, Persia was a part of the Median Empire, being Media’s next door neighbour and a kindred race. But Persia was also regarded as a backward people and was little regarded by Media. So a prophecy of a specific man in a backward country by his own personal name, and who became king of Persia 150 years before it happened, was absolutely astonishing. It would be as unlikely as prophesying today that a Tongan chief would have a South Pacific empire in the year 2270, and bring all nations on earth under his absolute control. It would be regarded as laughable and ridiculous.
The remarkable passage in question says, in part: “Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden [held], to subdue nations before him…..For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else” (Isa 45:1-6).
Gleason L. Archer (1962, 1990, p. 640-641) comments on Isaiah 44:21-23 in the Wycliffe Bible Commentary: “Worldlings would never have believed that Jerusalem and its holy Temple would be completely rebuilt seventy years after the Chaldeans had demolished them; yet the city and the Temple were restored exactly as God had foretold. Worldlings, too, would have scornfully rejected the possibility that a repopulated Judah would be rebuilt by descendants of Nebuchadnezzar’s deportees; yet Jehovah was to bring even that to pass. Least likely of fulfilment, to the mind of an unbeliever, was the prediction that the Jews would be liberated by a non-Israelite pagan like Cyrus; and yet so it was, 150 years after the Lord predicted it”.
And where God, through Isaiah, called Cyrus his Anointed One, Archer comments: “Great stress is laid upon the evidential value of naming Cyrus specifically such a long time in advance. The fulfilment of this prediction was to furnish positive proof of the divine authority of this prophecy and the sovereignty of the Revealer, as the only God who exists” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary p. 641).
And MacDonald comments: “44:28. This prophecy concerning Cyrus is remarkable in that it mentions him by name 150-200 years before he was born. It is also amazing that God calls him ‘My Shepherd.’ Again Cyrus is named as the one whom God will use to deliver His people from Babylon and to authorize the rebuilding of the Temple. Josephus, the Jewish historian, wrote: Now Cyrus learned this (as to building the Temple) by reading the book that Isaiah the prophet had left of his own prophecies 210 years before…..These things Isaiah foretold 140 years before the Temple was destroyed. When Cyrus, therefore, had read them, and had admired their divine character, an impulse and emulation seized him to do what was written……
…..45:1-6. The Lord calls Cyrus His ‘anointed’ (the same word as ‘messiah’ in Hebrew) because the Persian monarch was a prototype of the Messiah who would give final deliverance to His people. Jehovah promises to give him victory over nations, principally Babylon, to remove all hindrances to his conquests, and to hand over to him tremendous amounts of hidden riches in secret places. Still addressing Cyrus, the Lord speaks of Himself as the only true God, who calls Cyrus by name, who surnames him as anointed and shepherd (44:28), and who equips him for his mission. God does all this for the sake of His people, and so that the whole world may know that He alone is the LORD”.
Josiah: King of Judah, Servant of God
Interestingly, another famous king, Josiah, was prophesied by name, in 931 BC; his deeds were also specified very particularly. He became king of Judah at the age of 8 years in the year 640 BC. “And behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the LORD unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn offerings. And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee. And he gave a sign the same day….” (1 Kings 13:1-3; read whole chapter for full story). In the year 640 BC Josiah ascended the throne according to the prophecy, “And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2).
Josiah set out to repair the temple which had fallen into neglect and disrepair due to altars to other gods being built in the temple by his grandfather Manasseh and his father Amon (1 Kings 21). In the course of repair work, a copy of the law of Moses was found in the temple of the Lord, and Shaphan the scribe took it to Josiah and read it to him. King Josiah was convicted and alarmed by it and, warned by the prophetess Huldah, took steps to put things in the nation right and avert the judgment of God (2 Kings 22 and 23). Josiah made a thorough cleansing of the whole religious system in Jerusalem, rooting out every skerrick of idolatry, killing the pagan priests, burning the idols, desecrating the pagan holy places, burning every trace of anything that had any connection to idolatry, grinding it to powder and throwing the ashes into the brook Kidron (2 Kings 23). During this great work of reformation which Josiah oversaw personally, the scriptures tell us: “And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchres that were there in the mount, and sent, and took the bones out of the sepulchres, and burned them upon the altar, and polluted it according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words. Then he said, What title [monument] is that that I see? And the men of the city told him, It is the sepulchre of the man of God which came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that thou hast done against the altar at Bethel. And he said, Let him alone; let no man move his bones. So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria” (2 Kings 23:16-18). See also Jeremiah 7:29-8:3.
Here is yet another prophecy, given approximately 300 years before its fulfilment, in which a man is named and his deeds described precisely and in detail. Truly, our all-knowing and all-powerful God controls all things, whether empires, nations, or individuals. “The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, As I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand” (Isa 14:24).
“…there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these….the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter; and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him. The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret” (Dan 2:28, 45-46).
“Believer’s Bible Commentary 2nd edition” by William MacDonald ed. Art Farstad, Commentary on Isaiah, copyright 2016, publ. Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee
Hunt, D. 1994, A Woman Rides the Beast, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon
Smith, U. (about 1897), “Daniel and the Revelation”, publ. The Stanborough Press Ltd., Watford, Herts, UK
Archer, Gleason L. commentary on Isaiah, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, ed. Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Harrison, Everett F, copyright, 1962, 1990, The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago