Knowledge That Cannot Come from Men
“YOU do not know what your life will be tomorrow. For you are a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing.” These words, quoted from the Bible, express an undeniable truth—we humans cannot say positively what tomorrow will bring.—Jas. 4:14.
In view of this, would it not be far more difficult, yes, impossible for men to foretell major future events with unerring accuracy and in clear terms centuries in advance? Would the presence of such forecasts or prophecies in the Bible not be a strong substantiation for its claim to be inspired of God? But are there such prophecies in the Bible? Consider:
THE FATE OF BABYLON AND NINEVEH
Babylon, built on both sides of the Euphrates River, was once the impressive capital of the great Babylonian Empire. Surrounded by palms, equipped with a permanent water supply and situated on the trade route from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, the city indeed had an excellent location. Nevertheless, even before Babylon’s status changed from a mere satellite of the Assyrian Empire to that of the capital of the world-conquering Babylonian Empire, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah declared in the eighth century B.C.E.: “Babylon, the decoration of kingdoms, the beauty of the pride of the Chaldeans, must become as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. She will never be inhabited, nor will she reside for generation after generation. And there the Arab will not pitch his tent, and no shepherds will let their flocks lie down there.”—Isa. 13:19, 20.
No one today can deny the fulfillment of these words. For many centuries already Babylon has lain in ruins. Even in the spring there is nothing on which sheep and goats might be seen feeding. Babylon has indeed come to an inglorious end. Curator-in-Chief of the French National Museums André Parrot said:
“The impression it always made on me was one of utter desolation. . . . [Tourists] are generally deeply disappointed and almost with one voice exclaim that there is nothing to see. They expect to find palaces, temples, and the ‘Tower of Babel’; they are shown only masses of ruins, most of them consisting of baked brick—that is to say, sun-dried clay blocks, grey-coloured and crumbling, and in no way impressive. The destruction wrought by man has been completed by the ravages of nature which still takes its toll of everything which excavation has brought to light. Eroded or undermined by rain, wind, and frost, the most magnificent monument, if it is not kept in repair, will return to the dust from which it was reclaimed. . . . No human power can arrest this ceaseless spoliation. It is no longer possible to reconstruct Babylon; her destiny is accomplished. . . . Babylon . . . has completely disappeared.”—Babylon and the Old Testament, pp. 13, 14.
Likewise Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, became a desolate ruin. This, too, testifies to the accurate fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Regarding what would befall Nineveh, the prophet Zephaniah, in the seventh century B.C.E., stated: “[God] will make Nineveh a desolation, a drought like the desert; and herds shall lie down in the midst of her.”—Zeph. 2:13, 14, An American Translation.
Evidence still exists that God’s will as expressed in this prophecy has been carried out. Two great mounds mark the site of what was once the proud Assyrian capital. Atop one of these mounds lies a village, with a cemetery and a mosque. But on the other one, with the exception of some grass and strips of cultivated land, there is nothing. In the springtime, sheep and goats may be seen grazing there.
Could any man have foreknown that both mighty Babylon and Nineveh would have such ends? Could any man have foreknown that sheep and goats would graze on the site of ancient Nineveh but would not be seen on the site of desolated Babylon? Neither Isaiah nor Zephaniah claimed to be the originators of their prophetic messages. They referred to what they spoke as the “word” or message of the true God whose name is Jehovah. (Isa. 1:1, 2; Zeph. 1:1) Faced with the accurate fulfillment of their prophecies, do we not have good reason to accept what they said?
No argument as to time of writing or the like can weaken the force of these fulfilled prophecies. As late as the first century B.C.E., Babylon, though no longer enjoying its former glory, still existed. Nevertheless, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (dated by scholars as being of the late second century or the early first century B.C.E.) contained the same prophecy about Babylon as do later manuscripts. So no one has any basis for claiming that these things were recorded after they happened and made to appear to be prophecies. Nor can anyone explain away the ruins to which Babylon and Nineveh were reduced.
BIBLE PROPHECIES ARE UNIQUE AND PURPOSEFUL
Of course, some persons may try to devaluate the testimony of Bible prophecy, pointing to the fact that in ancient times there were other prophets who did not claim to be inspired by the God of the Bible, Jehovah. But what did such other prophets foretell? Of what real value were their prophecies? Note the comments of The Encyclopedia Americana (1956 edition, Vol. 22, p. 664): “No important written records of the utterances of any of these prophets outside of the Hebrew people have been preserved. . . . Prophecy among other nations aside from the Hebrews was ordinarily of the clairvoyant type, being given in answer to specific questions of individuals, and hence of no general or permanent value.” So the existence of other prophets in no way discredits the fact that the Hebrew prophets were inspired of God. To the contrary, the great contrast in the prophetic utterances serves to strengthen the Bible’s claim to be God’s message.
Furthermore, the prophecies recorded in the Bible had a definite purpose. Even when pointing to a coming destruction as a punishment for violating righteous moral standards, prophecies inspired of God gave individuals and nations opportunity to take a serious look at their ways and dealings, make changes and escape calamity. This was true in connection with all public advance announcements of divine judgment, as is evident from God’s message through his prophet Jeremiah: “At any moment that I may speak against a nation and against a kingdom to uproot it and to pull it down and to destroy it, and that nation actually turns back from its badness against which I spoke, I will also feel regret over the calamity that I had thought to execute upon it.”—Jer. 18:7, 8.
A case in point is Jonah’s prophecy directed against Nineveh in the ninth century B.C.E. He went throughout the city, saying: “Only forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4) This message made such an impression on the Ninevites that they repented of their wrongs. The king put on sackcloth and decreed that all the inhabitants and domestic animals fast and be likewise arrayed in sackcloth. Due to their repentance, the Ninevites escaped the calamity that would otherwise have come upon them at the end of the specified forty-day period.—Jonah 3:5-10.
Another example in this regard concerns Jesus Christ’s prophecy foretelling that Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed within the lifetime of the generation that heard his words. That prophecy specifically pointed out the way to escape through positive action. Jesus told his disciples: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her.”—Luke 21:20, 21.
How were Jesus’ disciples enabled to heed those prophetic words? Human reasoning would have suggested that once the enemy forces surrounded Jerusalem it would be far too dangerous to flee. But, as indicated in the writings of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, completely unexpected developments opened the way for escape.
It was in the year 66 C.E. that the Roman armies, under the command of Cestius Gallus, came against Jerusalem. The capture of the city appeared certain. Strangely, however, Cestius did not press the siege to its completion. Josephus reports that he “suddenly called off his men, abandoned hope though he had suffered no reverse, and flying in the face of all reason retired from the City.” This unusual turn of events gave those who believed Jesus’ prophecy the needed opportunity to forsake Jerusalem and Judea, finding safety in the mountainous region east of the Jordan River.
But what about those who paid no attention to Jesus’ prophecy? They experienced a time of great suffering. Around Passover time of 70 C.E. the Roman armies, now under the command of Titus, returned and again laid siege to Jerusalem. Though the siege lasted less than five months’ time, the results were frightful. The city was crowded with Passover celebrants and, as there was no way to get food into the city, terrible famine conditions developed. Of the some 1,100,000 who reportedly perished during the siege, the majority were the victims of pestilence and starvation. The 97,000 taken captive (from the beginning to the end of the war) faced only degradation. Many were subjected to hard labor in Egypt and Rome. Others were handed over to perish in the arenas of the Roman provinces. Those under seventeen were sold. The tallest and handsomest youths were kept for the Romans’ triumphal procession.
Jerusalem and her glorious temple were razed to the ground. All that remained standing was a section of the western wall and three towers. “The rest of the fortifications encircling the City,” writes Josephus, “were so completely levelled with the ground that no one visiting the spot would believe it had once been inhabited.”
It is remarkable that the devastation was so complete. Why? Because this had not been the intent of General Titus. The historian Josephus quotes Titus as saying to the Jews: “Most unwillingly I brought engines to bear on your walls: my soldiers, ever thirsting for your blood, I held in leash: after every victory, as if it was a defeat, I appealed to you for an armistice. When I got near to the Temple I again deliberately forwent my rights as victor and appealed to you to spare your own holy places and preserve the Sanctuary for your own use, offering you freedom to come out and a guarantee of safety or, if you wished, a chance to fight on other ground.” Yet, despite what may have been Titus’ original intention, Jesus’ prophecy about Jerusalem and her temple was fulfilled: “They will not leave a stone upon a stone in you.”—Luke 19:44; 21:6.
To this day, in the city of Rome, may be seen the Arch of Titus, commemorating his successful capture of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. That arch stands as a silent reminder that failure to heed the warning of true prophecy, as preserved in the Bible, leads to disaster.
Be it also noted that Jesus Christ did not claim to be the originator of what he foretold. He, like the Hebrew prophets before him, acknowledged the real source of inspiration to be God. On one occasion he told certain Jews: “What I teach is not mine, but belongs to him that sent me. If anyone desires to do His will, he will know concerning the teaching whether it is from God or I speak of my own originality.” (John 7:16, 17) The fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic statements would therefore confirm their being God’s “word.”
BENEFITING FROM BIBLE PROPHECY TODAY
The fact that acting in harmony with the prophetic word in the past often resulted in the preservation of life certainly emphasizes the importance of considering it today. While recorded many centuries ago, numerous prophecies are yet to be fulfilled and call for positive action. These include prophecies about the approaching end of all corruption, injustice and oppression.
The very one who foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and her glorious temple, Jesus Christ, also prophesied about a grand deliverance from the present wicked system of things, to be experienced by his disciples in our day. As to developments that would mark the nearness of that deliverance, Jesus indicated that there would be a very bleak, dark period. It would be as if the sun, moon and stars were no longer serving as luminaries, leaving men to grope around blindly in the darkness. (Matt. 24:29) “On earth,” said Jesus, “nations will stand helpless, not knowing which way to turn from the roar and surge of the sea; men will faint with terror at the thought of all that is coming upon the world.”—Luke 21:25, 26, New English Bible.
While all this would be going on, his followers would not need to hang their heads in hopelessness and despair. Jesus continued: “When all this begins to happen, stand upright and hold your heads high, because your liberation is near.” Then he illustrated the point, saying: “Look at the fig-tree, or any other tree. As soon as it buds, you can see for yourselves that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all this happening, you may know that the kingdom of God is near.”—Luke 21:28-31, NE.
Is it not true that today men aware of world trends greatly fear what lies ahead? Are not overpopulation, food shortages, crime and violence, pollution of land, air and sea, and economic insecurity increasingly becoming more serious problems with which men and nations are unable to cope successfully? Was there ever a time prior to the outbreak of World War I when mankind faced such a host of problems? Hence, are there not clear indications that we definitely must be living in the period of unprecedented fear and trouble foretold by Jesus Christ? Surely!
This means that a grand deliverance by means of God’s kingdom must be very near. That kingdom, according to Bible prophecy, is a righteous government that will rid this earth of all corrupting influences and usher in an era of true peace and security.—Dan. 2:44; 2 Pet. 3:13.
The Bible will enable you to learn more about this kingdom and how you can be among those to share in the grand liberation it will bring. As is evident from the accurate fulfillment of its prophecies, the Bible can be depended upon as God’s message for all mankind. Surely you do not want to be like Jesus’ unbelieving fellow countrymen who could have escaped calamity in the first century C.E. had they but acted in harmony with the prophetic word. Really, what better way could there possibly be to spend some of your time than in taking positive action to inform yourself about matters that can lead to a secure and happy future for yourself and your loved ones?
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Could any man have foreknown that mighty Babylon would become a ruin where even flocks would not graze . . . ?
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. . . but that Nineveh, when also in ruins, would become a place where flocks would graze?
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The Arch of Titus, in Rome, confirms the truthfulness of God’s prophetic Word