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Days of Future Past

18 January 2013, 08:38

There cannot be many subjects quite as contentious as Biblical prophecy and its fulfillment. It is, however, one of the most fascinating.

A brief history lesson is needed here before we can continue. Hiram, the King of Tyre, was a friend of King Solomon and, seeing as the Phoenicians were the finest sailors in the world, they gave many gifts to Solomon, as well as transporting the cedars from Lebanon for the building of the temple. Tyre was located about thirty two kilometres south of Sidon on the Mediterranean coast. Tyre was a busy seaport, with industrious, patient and hospitable inhabitants and welcomed strangers from all over the world.

The friendship between the Jews and Phoenicians ended when King Ahab married a daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidon. During the time of Joel, the Phoenicians sold Jewish children as slaves to the Greeks. The Lord promised retribution.

‘Indeed, what have you to do with Me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the coasts of Philistia? Will you retaliate against Me? But if you retaliate against Me, swiftly and speedily I will return your retaliation upon your own head; because you have taken My silver and My gold, and have carried into your temples My prized possessions. Also the people of Judah and the people of Jerusalem you have sold to the Greeks, that you may remove them far from their borders.’

Joel 3:4-6 ESV

After Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and carried King Zedekiah into captivity, he took all of Palestine and Syria on the Mediterranean coast, including Tyre, which finally fell after a thirteen year siege. This happened in 573 BC. However, the inhabitants of Tyre fled to a rocky island fortress, about a kilometre offshore with a fifty metre high walls running all the way down into the sea. The channel between the mainland and the island was over six metres deep and frequently lashed by south-west winds. They believed these fortifications would withstand the greatest battering rams ever devised. With the walls being so high, even an army with enough ships would not be able to scale these walls and shore-based catapults were useless at that range.

On his way towards Egypt, Alexander the Great led his Macedonian troops to victory at Sidon and then continued south towards Tyre. Tyrian envoys met with Alexander and assured him that their city was at his disposal. However, he put their goodwill to the test by expressing his wish to sacrifice at the shrine of Heracles inside the city; for the Tyrians recognized a Phoenician god who was identified by the Greeks as Heracles, and from this deity Alexander claimed descent. Tyrian goodwill unfortunately did not extend so far as to grant him the permission he sought In short, they would not admit him into the city.

Alexander was tempted to bypass the island fortress and continue his march towards Egypt. He sent messengers to Tyre, urging them to accept a peace treaty. Believing themselves to be safe on their island, the Tyrians killed Alexander's ambassadors and threw their bodies from the top of the walls into the sea. This act served only to anger Alexander and embitter his troops.

Alexander determined to build a mole to get his troops from the mainland to the island. The mole is said to have been at least sixty metres wide. It was constructed from stones and timber from the old city of Tyre on the mainland. In fulfilment of Ezekiel's prophecy, the very foundation stones, timbers and dust of the city was cast "in the midst of the water"

For a while the Tyrians laughed at Alexander's project. At first they would row boats across the channel and harangue the Macedonians. Their laughter turned to concern when they saw the mole was going to be completed. The Tyrians ignited a barge and drove it into the first mole. The towers on the mole caught fire and several of Alexander's men lost their lives. Alexander gave orders for the work to continue, and that the mole itself should be widened and more protective towers be built.

Alexander was able to obtain ships from Sidon, Greek allies and Cyprus to form a blockade around Tyre. When the mole was within artillery range of Tyre, Alexander brought up stone throwers and light catapults, reinforced by archers and slingers, for a saturation barrage. Battle engineers constructed several naval battering rams which smashed through the walls of Tyre. Though courageous, the Tyrians were no match for Alexander's troops. Over 7,000 Tyrians died in the defence of their island. In contrast, only 400 Macedonians were killed.

The seven month siege, from January to July 332 B.C., was over. "The great city over which Hiram had once held sway was now utterly destroyed. Her king, Azimilik, and various other notables, including envoys from Carthage, had taken refuge in the temple of Melkart, and Alexander spared their lives. The remaining survivors, some 30,000 in number, he sold into slavery. Two thousand men of military age were crucified. Then Alexander went up into the temple, ripped the golden cords from the image of the god (now to be renamed, by decree, Apollo Philalexander), and made his long-delayed sacrifice: the most costly blood-offering even Melkart had ever received."

Edward Creasey, in Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, wrote, ‘Alexander did far more against Tyre than Shalmaneser or Nebuchadnezzar had done. Not content with crushing her, he took care that she never should revive; for he founded Alexandria as her substitute, and changed forever the track of the commerce of the world.’

Now in the eleventh year, on the first of the month, the word of the Lord came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, because Tyre has said concerning Jerusalem, ‘Aha, the gateway of the peoples is broken; it has [a]opened to me. I shall be filled, now that she is laid waste,’ 3 therefore thus says the Lord [b]God, ‘Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. 4 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. 5 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. 6 Also her daughters who are [c]on the mainland will be slain by the sword, and they will know that I am the Lord.’”

7 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 [d]a great army. 8 He will slay your daughters [e]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. 9 The blow of his battering rams he will direct against your walls, and with his [f]axes he will break down your towers. 10 Because of the multitude of his horses, the dust raised by them will cover you; your walls will shake at the noise of cavalry and [g]wagons and chariots when he enters your gates as men enter a city that is breached. 11 With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets. He will slay your people with the sword; and your strong pillars will come down to the ground. 12 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 [h]throw your stones and your timbers and your debris into the water. 13 So I will [i]silence the sound of your songs, and the sound of your harps will be heard no more. 14 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.

15 Thus says the Lord God to Tyre, “Shall not the coastlands shake at the sound of your fall when the wounded groan, when the slaughter occurs in your midst? 16 Then all the princes of the sea will go down from their thrones, remove their robes and strip off their embroidered garments. They will clothe themselves with [j]trembling; they will sit on the ground, tremble every moment and be appalled at you. 17 They will take up a lamentation over you and say to you,

‘How you have perished, O inhabited one,
From the seas, O renowned city,
Which was mighty on the sea,
She and her inhabitants,
Who [
k]imposed [l]her terror
On all her inhabitants!
18 ‘Now the coastlands will tremble
On the day of your fall;
Yes, the coastlands which are by the sea
Will be terrified at your passing.’”

19 For thus says the Lord God, “When I make you a desolate city, like the cities which are not inhabited, when I bring up the deep over you and the great waters cover you, 20 then I will bring you down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of old, and I will make you dwell in the lower parts of the earth, like the ancient waste places, with those who go down to the pit, so that you will not [m]be inhabited; but I will set glory in the land of the living. 21 I will [n]bring terrors on you and you will be no more; though you will be sought, you will never be found again,” declares the Lord God.

Ezekiel 26 NASB

In point of fact, the mainland city of Tyre later was rebuilt and assumed some of its former importance during the Hellenistic period. But as for the island city, it apparently sank below the surface of the Mediterranean…All that remains of it is a series of black reefs offshore from Tyre, which surely could not have been there in the first and second millennia BC, since they pose such a threat to navigation. The promontory that now juts out from the coastline probably was washed up along the barrier of Alexander’s causeway, but the island itself broke off and sank away when the subsidence took place; and we have no evidence at all that it ever was built up again after Alexander’s terrible act of vengeance. In the light of these data, then, the predictions of chapter 26, improbable though they must have seemed in Ezekiel’s time, were duly fulfilled to the letter—first by Nebuchadnezzar in the sixth century, and then by Alexander in the fourth.

Then we come to another, even more astonishing prophecy, regarding Cyrus the Great. This is to be found in the Book of Isaiah. He ascended to the Persian throne in 559 B.C. Nine years later he conquered the Medes, thus unifying the kingdoms of the Medes and the Persians.

Cyrus is mentioned some 23 times in the literature of the Old Testament. Isaiah refers to Cyrus as God’s shepherd, the Lord’s anointed, who was providentially appointed to facilitate the divine plan. God would lead this monarch to subdue nations and open doors (an allusion to the Jews’ release from Babylonian captivity). He would make rough places smooth, i.e., accommodate the Hebrews return to their Palestinian homeland. He would ultimately be responsible for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the reconstruction of the temple.

Amazingly, the king would accomplish these noble tasks even though he did not know the God of Israel (45:4,5). In other words, though he was a pagan in sentiment and practice, yet, as an unconscious tool in the hands of the Lord, he would contribute mightily to the Jewish cause, and so, indirectly, to the coming of God’s greater Anointed, Jesus of Nazareth.

The fulfilment of these plain and specific predictions is set forth in 2 Chronicles 36:22,23 and Ezra 1:1-4,7,8; 3:7; 4:3. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, an unlikely source, acknowledges that in 538 [B.C.] Cyrus granted to the Jews, whom Nebuchadnezzar had transported to Babylonia, the return to Palestine and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple? (Vol. 6, 1958, p. 940).

H.G. Wells, in his book, The Outline of History, concedes that the Jews returned to their city, Jerusalem and rebuilt their temple there under the auspices of Cyrus, the Persian monarch (1931, p. 253).

What many people do not realize in reading Isaiah 44:28 is that this heathen ruler was named by the prophet long before the monarch was even born. Isaiah prophesied in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1). His ministry thus occurred in the latter portion of the 8th century B.C. (ca. 740-701 B.C.). This was some one hundred fifty years before Cyrus came to the throne!

Incredible declarations of this nature have led critics (who reject the possibility of predictive prophecy) to suggest that these portions of the book of Isaiah were added much later after the fact, as it were. A popular reference work states:

All of these promises assume that Jerusalem and the cities of Judah have been razed, that the temple is no longer standing, that Cyrus is on the scene and swiftly growing in power, and that the return of the exiles is imminent (Isaiah, p. 380).
If such is the case, then this material could not possibly have been written by the prophet Isaiah since he died long before these events transpired. The author, in spite of his claim of a conservative approach to the book (p. 31), clearly reflects his opinion that this portion of the book of Isaiah was authored by a writer of the 6th century B.C. (cf. p. 381).

Against such a viewpoint we have the assurance of scripture itself. Earlier, in 41:25, Isaiah had spoken of the coming of one . . . from the rising of the sun. Though not called by name, the allusion is clearly to Cyrus, who would bring good tidings regarding Jerusalem.

In 41:26, Isaiah makes it plain that the mission of Cyrus was a matter of prophecy, not educated speculation. It is a reflection of compromised faith to postulate a late date for these prophecies.

Finally, as an interesting sidelight, we note that Josephus, the Jewish historian, states that the Jews in Babylonian captivity showed Cyrus the prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures which contain his name and described his role in the scheme of God. The historian says that it was this circumstance that motivated the ruler to fulfil what was written?(Antiquities 11.1.2), and thus to issue his edict permitting Israel’s return to her homeland.

Excavations at Babylon (1879-82) led to the discovery of a clay barrel, known as the Cyrus Cylinder, which contained a marvellous historical confirmation of the biblical narrative. It portrays the benevolent policies of Cyrus in the following fashion: All of their peoples I gathered together and restored to their dwelling-places (see: Ira M. Price, The Monuments and the Old Testament, 1899-1907, p. 234).

Here is the prophecy:

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb,

“I, the Lord, am the maker of all things,
Stretching out the heavens by Myself
And spreading out the earth [
s]all alone,
25 Causing the [
t]omens of boasters to fail,
u]Making fools out of diviners,
Causing wise men to draw back
And [
v]turning their knowledge into foolishness,
26 Confirming the word of His servant
And [
w]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.
27 “It is I who says to the depth of the sea, ‘Be dried up!’
And I will make your rivers dry.
28 “It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd!
And he will perform all My desire.’
And [
x]he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’
And of the temple, ‘[
y]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 [
a]to loose the loins of kings;
To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:
2 “I will go before you and make the [
b]rough places smooth;
I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars.
3 “I will give you the [
c]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.

Isaaiah 44: 24-28 45:1-3

The next example deals with the destruction of Edom and its capital city of Petra. Remember the movie ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?’ The last part where they go through a narrow canyon and into a temple in a lost city was filmed at Petra. What happened in the movie was . . . well, just a movie. For example, the ‘temple’ is really a magnificent tomb cut into the cliff.

Edom was a very powerful nation and Petra was not only a great city, but Edom’s capital. The people of Edom were proud of the strength of their cities, over which Petra reigned supreme. Located next to the mountain (or mountain range) of Mount Seir, other nations and people often referred to Petra as “Mount Seir”—a symbol of their strength and lofty position. Unfortunately, they were a very evil nation and each of the many prophecies about them in the Bible includes God’s judgment of their actions and a description of their future destruction. The Old Testament book of Obadiah is completely devoted to this topic.

The history books tell us that Edom flourished for perhaps a hundred years after their final warning from God’s prophets. Then, during the fifth century (400-499) B.C. the ‘Edomites’ were overwhelmed by other Arab groups. In turn, these groups were taken over by the Nabataeans, who started living in the area sometime around 312 B.C. By the way, the Nabataeans, not the Edomites, are the people who cut the temples in the sandstone walls of Petra. Under the Nabataeans, the city of Petra flourished until 106 A.D., when the Romans conquered Petra

Like the prophecies in the book of Obadiah (written about 585 B.C.), these were unbelievable predictions! It would be like predicting that everyone in London will be killed and it will remain desolate while the rest of England continues normally!

12 ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because of what Edom did against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and has greatly offended by avenging itself on them,”
13 therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “I will also stretch out My hand against Edom, cut off man and beast from it, and make it desolate from Teman; Dedan shall fall by the sword.” ’

Ezekiel 25: 12-13

1 Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
2 “Son of man, set your face against Mount Seir and prophesy against it,
3 and say to it, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD:

“Behold, O Mount Seir, I am against you;
I will stretch out My hand against you,
And make you most desolate;
4 I shall lay your cities waste,
And you shall be desolate.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD.

5 “Because you have had an ancient hatred, and have shed the blood of the children of Israel by the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, when their iniquity came to an end,
6 therefore, as I live,” says the Lord GOD, “I will prepare you for blood, and blood shall pursue you; since you have not hated blood, therefore blood shall pursue you.
7 Thus I will make Mount Seir most desolate, and cut off from it the one who leaves and the one who returns.
8 And I will fill its mountains with the slain; on your hills and in your valleys and in all your ravines those who are slain by the sword shall fall.’ ”

Ezekiel 35:1-8

15 “For indeed, I will make you small among nations,
Despised among men.
16 Your fierceness has deceived you,
The pride of your heart,
O you who dwell in the clefts of the rock,
Who hold the height of the hill!
Though you make your nest as high as the eagle,
I will bring you down from there,” says the LORD.
17 “Edom also shall be an astonishment;
Everyone who goes by it will be astonished
And will hiss at all its plagues.
18 As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah
And their neighbors,” says the LORD,
“No one shall remain there,
Nor shall a son of man dwell in it.”

Jeremiah 49: 15-18

10 It shall not be quenched night or day;
Its smoke shall ascend forever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
No one shall pass through it forever and ever.
11 But the pelican and the porcupine shall possess it,
Also the owl and the raven shall dwell in it.
And He shall stretch out over it
The line of confusion and the stones of emptiness.
12 They shall call its nobles to the kingdom,
But none shall be there, and all its princes shall be nothing.
13 And thorns shall come up in its palaces,
Nettles and brambles in its fortresses;
It shall be a habitation of jackals,
A courtyard for ostriches.
14 The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the jackals,
And the wild goat shall bleat to its companion;
Also the night creature shall rest there,
And find for herself a place of rest.
15 There the arrow snake shall make her nest and lay eggs
And hatch, and gather them under her shadow;
There also shall the hawks be gathered,
Everyone with her mate.

Isaiah 34: 10-14

Petra was rediscovered by a Swiss traveller Johann Burckhardt in 1812. In 1865, George Smith gave an account of what Petra was like in his day. Compare these descriptions with the prophecies written two thousand four hundred years earlier.

Captain Mangles, who visited these ruins, says, that when surveying the scenery of Petra, ‘the screaming of the eagles, hawks, and owls, who were soaring over our heads in considerable numbers, seemingly annoyed at any one approaching their lonely habitation, added much to the singularity of the scene.’

So plentiful, as observed by Mr. Cory, ‘are the scorpions in Petra, that, though it was cold and snowy, we found them under the stones, sometimes two under one stone!’ The sheik, and his brother, who accompanied Mr. Cory, assured him that ‘both lions and leopards are often seen in Petra, and on the hills immediately beyond it, but that they never descend into the plain beneath.’

The likelihood that these prophecies came true by some random chain of events is all but impossible. (Compare Petra to Jerusalem, another city often torn by war, that still thrives today.) Also remember that this is a fraction of the Biblical prophecies made about nations that have been fulfilled. I could continue with other examples, but the point has been made. The Bible contains many prophecies, all of which accurately predict future events—something that no other ‘sacred writing’ can claim.

And finally, a prophecy that needs no interpretation of any kind, or any history lesson to accompany it.

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
[b]Far from my deliverance are the words of my [c]groaning.
2 O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And by night, but [d]I have no rest.
3 Yet You are holy,
O You who [e]are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
4 In You our fathers trusted;
They trusted and You delivered them.
5 To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not [f]disappointed.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
A reproach of men and despised by the people.
7 All who see me [g]sneer at me;
They [h]separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying,
8 [i]Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him;
Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”

9 Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb;
You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts.
10 Upon You I was cast from [j]birth;
You have been my God from my mother’s womb.

11 Be not far from me, for [k]trouble is near;
For there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have surrounded me;
Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me.
13 They open wide their mouth at me,
As a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water,
And all my bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax;
It is melted within [l]me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
And You lay me [m]in the dust of death.
16 For dogs have surrounded me;
[n]A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
[o]They pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones.
They look, they stare at me;
18 They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.

Psalm 22 NASB

This was written about 800 BC by King David. Many people have tried to post-date this prophecy because of its uncanny accuracy, but in about 323 BC, Ptolemy the Great, fulfilling the dying wishes of Alexander, had all the great works of the world translated into Greek. Amongst these was the Torah, or Old Testament, as we know it.

Translation was completed in 285 BC and copies were distributed throughout the Greek-speaking world, which was most of the civilised world at that time. So even if David didn’t write the Psalm in 800 BC, a very clever or inspired scribe wrote it between 323 and 285 BC, a good long while before Jesus was born.

This article is merely the tip of an enormous iceberg and it’s the sort of thing that, if you were interested enough, you could Google. The article is long, but it had to be.

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