Thu | Nov 15, 2018

Prophecy: beyond polls and forecasts

Published:Monday | March 7, 2016 | 12:00 AMClinton Chisholm
Clinton Chisholm


As my former lecturer John Bloom said about prophecy, it is rare in all holy books except the Bible and has a few markers; clarity (so that failure or fulfilment can be recognised, unlike the vagueness of the Delphic oracle in ancient Greece or some psychics and pollsters today), prior announcement (forecast is made before the alleged fulfilment); and independence (the fulfilment is not influenced by the prophet(ess) or followers.

I confess to you that God would have had a hard time convincing me to say what Isaiah said about Babylon as recorded in Is. 13: 19-22. Ponder the reading from the NKJV: "And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans' pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited, Nor will it be settled from generation to generation; Nor will the Arabians pitch tents there. Nor will the shepherds make their sheepfolds there. But wild beasts of the desert will lie there, And their houses will be full of owls; ostriches will dwell there, and wild goats will caper there. The hyenas will howl in their citadels, And jackals in their pleasant palaces. Her time is near to come, and her days will not be prolonged."

This prophecy was uttered early in the 7th century BC when Babylon was the wealthiest, most protected and prosperous city in the ancient world, thus Isaiah's prophecy must have appeared positively lunatic, even to fellow Jews.

Imagine someone today prophesying that the general location of the White House in the USA (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, DC) will become a deserted wasteland never to be inhabited again!

If God told you to proclaim that, would you not see a few ear specialists before you even pray/fast about repeating what you heard?

Why the difficulty with Isaiah's prophecy, though? Here's a titbit about the city of Babylon.

"... The city occupied hundreds of acres; its outer wall was over 70 feet wide, so broad that chariots could pass each other along its top; it had towers and wide, wet moats. The inner city was protected by three sets of defensive walls, moats, and towers and a fortress with massive walls beside the palace." (Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology & the Old Testament, 1998, p. 381)

Despite Babylon's impregnable look, eventually, as Isaiah said, Babylon was conquered and overthrown. Sennacherib, in 689 BC, did grave damage to Babylon.

Babylon became uninhabitable because of the extreme salinisation of its nearby farmlands after more than 2,000 years of irrigation from the salt-bearing waters of the Euphrates.

Babylon, as a site, was said to be accursed by Allah after the Muslim conquest in the mid-7th century AD. Mention of Arabian in v. 20 is really fascinating because there were no Arabs in this Mesopotamian region until the 8th century AD!

For centuries prior to the 19th of this era, the location of Babylon was guesswork. Extensive excavation confirmed the earlier conjectured BirsNemroud as ancient Babylon and even today it lacks a residential population apart from the tourist attractions near one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces in Iraq.

Wikipedia is not a scholarly source but it is factual when it says: "All that remains of the original ancient famed city of Babylon today is a large mound, or tell, of broken mud-brick buildings and debris in the fertile Mesopotamian plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers."

For those who have a smattering of knowledge of Bible history re Babylon, I offer the clarifying words of the British archaeologist and specialist on Ancient Near Eastern Literatures, Kenneth Kitchen: "The Babylon prophecies of Isa. 13-14 have nothing to do with the well-known (to us) Babylonian exile of 597/587 but with the ... destruction of Babylon by Sennacherib in 689. In 539, Cyrus did not destroy Babylon - he became its king and enhanced it!" (On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 2003, p.394)

Fulfilled biblical prophecy (and there are hundreds of examples) is one of the hardest elements of the Bible to explain without invoking an all-knowing God as the source. As the late linguist, lawyer and theologian Dr Gleason Archer said, "There is no possibility of explaining away 600 topics of fulfilled prophecies as within the competence of uninspired human authorship." (In his Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 2007, p. 475)

- Clinton Chisholm is a theologian. Email feedback to and