by Farrell Till
(excerpted from Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfulfilled)
Possibly the most pessimistic of the Old Testament prophets, Ezekiel proclaimed impending doom upon everyone from Judah itself to the enemy nations surrounding it. The failure of his prophecies to materialize as he predicted makes a compelling argument against the Bible inerrancy doctrine. In one of his doom's-day prophecies, Egypt was to experience forty years of utter desolation:
Therefore, thus says Yahweh God: "Surely I will bring a sword upon you and cut off from you man and beast. And the land of Egypt shall become desolate and waste; then they will know that I am Yahweh, because he said, `The River is mine, and I have made it.' Indeed, therefore, I am against you and against your rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from Migdol to Syene, as far as the border of Ethiopia. Neither foot of man shall pass through it nor foot of beast pass through it, and it shall be uninhabited forty years. I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate; and among the cities that are laid waste, her cities shall be desolate forty years; and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and disperse them through the countries" (29:8-14).
Talk about extravagant rhetoric, we certainly have it in this passage. No such desolation has ever happened to Egypt; there never has been a time in recorded history when Egypt was not inhabited by man or beast for forty years, when its cities were laid waste and desolate, when its people were all dispersed to foreign lands, etc. Bible defenders, of course, resort quickly to figurative and future applications, but their strategy just won't work. Future fulfillments are excluded by patently clear references that Ezekiel made to contemporary characters who were to figure in the fulfillment: "Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him" (29:2). Although Egypt still survives as a nation, its rule by pharaohs ended long ago. Furthermore, Ezekiel identified Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as the instrument Yahweh would use to bring about Egypt's desolation: "Therefore thus says Yahweh God: `Surely I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; he shall take away her wealth, carry off her spoil, and remove her pillage, and that will be the wages for his army'" (29:19). Clearly, then, Ezekiel had in mind a contemporary fulfillment of this prediction. As for spiritual or figurative explanations of the prophecy, just what events in Egyptian history were so catastrophic in the days of Nebuchadnezzar and the pharaohs that they could justifiably be considered a figurative desolation of forty years? Unless bibliolaters can identify such a catastrophe, their figurative interpretations must be regarded as just more attempts to sweep aside another embarrassing prophecy failure.
Ezekiel just as rashly predicted the utter destruction of Tyre, a prediction whose failure has become even more embarrassing to bibliolaters than his doom's-day prophecy against Egypt:
Therefore thus says Yahweh God: "Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will cause many nations to come up against you, as the sea causes its waves to come up. And they shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for spreading nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken," says Yahweh God; "it shall become plunder for the nations. Also her daughter villages which are in the fields shall be slain by the sword. Then they shall know that I am Yahweh."
For thus says Yahweh God: "Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses, with chariots, and with horsemen, and an army with many people. He will slay with the sword your daughter villages in the fields; he will heap up a siege mound against you, build a wall against you, and raise a defense against you. He will direct his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. Because of the abundance of his horses, their dust will cover you; your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen, the wagons, and the chariots, when he enters your gates, as men enter a city that has been breached. With the hooves of his horses he will trample all your streets; he will slay your people by the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground. They will plunder your riches and pillage your merchandise; they will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses; they will lay your stones, your timber, and your soil in the midst of the water. I will put an end to the sound of your songs, and the sound of your harps shall be heard no more. I will make you like the top of a rock; you shall be a place for spreading nets, you shall never be rebuilt, for I Yahweh have spoken," says Yahweh God (26:3-14).
Ezekiel's tirade against Tyre continued through three chapters. His prediction was that the city's destruction would be complete and permanent: "The merchants among the peoples will hiss at you; you will become a horror, and be no more forever" (27:36). So sure was he of Tyre's eternal destruction that he repeated it: "All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you: you have become a horror, and shall be no more forever" (28:19).
That this prophecy was never fulfilled can be verified with no more difficulty than a trip to the public library. Ezekiel prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Tyre and that "you (Tyre) shall never be rebuilt" (26:14) and "shall be no more, though you are sought for, you will never be found again" (26:21). History, however, records the fact that Nebuchadnezzar not only didn't destroy Tyre, he didn't even capture it. The New Encyclopedia Britannica (Micropedia, Vol. 10, 1978) said this in reviewing the long history of Tyre:
... and in 585-573 (B.C.) it successfully withstood a prolonged siege by the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar II (p. 223).
In its summation of this same period of Tyrian history, The Encyclopedia Americana (Vol. 27, 1984) says:
The neo-Babylonian conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar II, subjected the island to a 13-year siege (585-572) without success (p. 331, emphasis added).
Nebuchadnezzar did capture the mainland suburb of Tyre, but he never succeeded in taking the island part, which was the seat of Tyrian grandeur. That being so, it could hardly be said that Nebuchadnezzar wreaked the total havoc on Tyre that Ezekiel vituperatively predicted in the passages cited.
Even Ezekiel himself admitted the failure of this prophecy. Three chapters after predicting the everlasting destruction of Tyre, Ezekiel, as he often did in his prophecies, dated a long tirade against Egypt: "And it came to pass in the twenty-seventh year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, that the word of Yahweh came to me..." (29:17). There is no general agreement on the interpretation of Ezekiel's dating system, but at least we can use it to determine when one prophecy was made with reference to another. For example, his prophecy against Tyre was made in "the eleventh year, on the first day of the month," (26:1). If, then, the prophecy against Egypt in chapter 29 was made in the 27th year (whatever that year was), this would mean that sixteen years separated the prophecy against Tyre in chapter 26 and the one against Egypt in chapter 29. Ezekiel's doom's-day prophecies against the nations surrounding Judah were apparently motivated by their delight in the fall of Jerusalem, which occurred in 587 B. C., because he often mentioned this as the reason why Yahweh was pronouncing judgment against them (25:3-4, 6, 8; 26:2). Obviously, then, these doom's-day prophecies had to have been made after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B. C., so even if Ezekiel's prediction of Tyre's destruction was made as quickly as the day after the fall of Jerusalem, his prophecy against Egypt, which (as noted above) came 16 years later, could not have been made before 571 B. C. By then, Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Tyre, which lasted from 585-572 B. C., was over, and Ezekiel would have known that his prediction had failed.
His prophecy against Egypt did show a clear awareness that he had botched his prediction that Nebuchadnezzar would decimate Tyre:
"Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon caused his army to labor strenuously against Tyre; every head was made bald, and every shoulder rubbed raw; yet neither he nor his army received wages from Tyre, for the labor which they expended on it. Therefore thus says Yahweh God: `Surely I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; he shall take away her wealth, carry off her spoil, and remove her pillage; and that will be the wages for his army'" (29:18-19).
This statement referred to Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Tyre as a completed act, which of course by this time it would have been (as the chronological analysis above clearly proves). That being true, it necessarily follows that the book of Ezekiel could not have been written, at least not in its entirety, until after the siege of Tyre was over. To say the least, then, serious questions must be raised about Ezekiel's credentials as a bona fide prophet. A prophet who completed his book after the facts he had prophesied about! What kind of prophet was that? And, in Ezekiel's case, we have a prophet who apparently didn't even have the good judgment to go back and revise his predictions after unfolding events had proven them wrong. Are we supposed to see this as compelling evidence that the Bible was inspired of God?
Furthermore, Ezekiel's prophecy against Egypt frankly admitted Nebuchadnezzar's failure to destroy Tyre. It plainly said that Nebuchadnezzar and his army "had no wages" for their "labor" against Tyre. As a result, Yahweh, according to this prophecy, had decided to award Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar as payment for his services: "Therefore thus says the Sovereign Yahweh: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off her multitude, and take her plunder, and take her prey: and that will be the wages for his army" (29:19). Strangely enough, Ezekiel was admitting in this statement that his prophecy against Tyre had failed, for if Nebuchadnezzar had taken the island part of the city, he surely would have carried off its multitude, taken its plunder, and taken its prey, and these would have been his "wages." If one wonders why a man claiming divinely endowed prophetic powers would make a prediction and then three chapters later admit that his prediction had failed, I can only say what I said before: stranger things than this can be found in the Bible.
Some bibliolaters have tried to mitigate the failure of Ezekiel's Tyre prophecy by extending its scope beyond Nebuchadnezzar to Alexander the Great, who did succeed in capturing the island part of Tyre in 332 B.C. But this ploy won't work. Ezekiel clearly identified Nebuchadnezzar as the avenging instrument that Yahweh would use to bring about a total, everlasting destruction of Tyre. If Alexander the Great was to be a part of the scenario, why didn't Ezekiel name him too? After all, Ezekiel was a prophet, and prophets can see into the future, can't they? Inerrantists delight in pointing to 1 Kings 13:2 where a prophet allegedly mentioned Josiah by name almost 300 years before he was born and to Isaiah's alleged references to Cyrus by name over 100 years before he was born, so if Ezekiel had meant for his Tyre prophecy to include Alexander the Great as Yahweh's instrument of destruction, why didn't he refer to him by name? If other "prophets of God" could pull off amazing feats like these, why couldn't Ezekiel? Why would the predictive talents of one inspired prophet of God have been so consummately inferior to others'?
Even if bibliolaters could somehow prove that Ezekiel had intended Alexander the Great to be a part of the prophecy against Tyre, they would still have to explain why the complete and everlasting destruction of the city did not happen as predicted. Most assuredly, nothing comparable to the scope of destruction predicted occurred at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and although Alexander the Great did succeed in capturing the island part of the city, Tyre by no means ceased to exist after this conquest. In The History of Tyre, Wallace B. Fleming said this of the city's defeat by Alexander:
Alexander then left the city which was half burnt, ruined, and almost depopulated. The blackened forms of two thousand crucified soldiers bore ghastly witness to the completeness of the conquest. The siege had lasted from the middle of January till the middle of July, 332 B.C. The city did not lie in ruins long. Colonists were imported and citizens who had escaped returned. The energy of these with the advantage of the site, in a few years raised the city to wealth and leadership again (Columbia University Press: New York, 1915, p. 64, emphasis added).
So Ezekiel predicted that Tyre would "be no more forever," but, to the embarrassment of Bible inerrantists, it just didn't happen that way. Tyre existed after Ezekiel in the days of Jesus, who "withdrew into the parts of Tyre and Sidon" at one time during his personal ministry (Matt. 15:21), and it existed in the time of the Apostle Paul, who, returning from one of his missionary journeys, stopped there, found disciples, and tarried with them seven days (Acts 21:3). In fact, Tyre still exists today, as anyone able to read a map can verify. This obvious failure of a highly touted Old Testament prophet is just one more nail in the coffin of the Bible inerrancy doctrine.