"An Example of 'Prophecy Fulfillment'": A Refutation
Keyword Search
Get a stripped-down copy of this page.

This is about an assertion by a Bible-defender about a passage in Ezekiel 12:10 said to have been prophetically, properly and justly fulfilled. The believer wrote:

Even though he was a captive in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel uttered oracles regarding his brethren who were as yet in the land of Canaan. One of his prophecies had to do with Zedekiah, who was serving as the "prince in Jerusalem" (Ez. 12:10). Zedekiah had been appointed ruler to replace Jehoiachin, when the latter was taken into Babylon in 597 B.C.
The prophet anounced that the "rebellious house" of Israel, along with the haughty ruler, would be taken into captivity (vss. 11,12 ). Concerning Zedekiah specifically, Ezekiel (speaking for God) declared: "My net also will I spread upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare; and I will bring him to Babylon to the land of the Chaldeans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there" (vs. 13).
This prophecy almost seems to contain a discrepancy. If the king is to be brought to the land, surely he will see it. That appears to be common sense. Or is it? The fact is, the prediction is extremely precise.
When the Babylonians came against Jerusalem in 586 B.C., Zedekiah fled the city, hoping to escape the in- vaders. He was pursued, however, and captured near Jericho. He was then transported to Riblah (north of Canaan). There he was forced to witness the execution of his sons. This was the last scene he was to view upon the Earth, for his eyes were put out, and he was led away to Babylon in chains. Imprisoned there, he finally died in that distant land (II Kings 25:6-7; Jeremiah 39:7; 52:11).

The critic replies with a few observations:

(Ezekiel 12:10 ) doesn't mention Zedekiah. In fact, the entire book of Ezekiel makes no mention of Zedekiah by name. Jackson's "proof text" refers only to a "prince in Jerusalem," and at this time there were many other princes in Jerusalem. Jeremiah, another prophet contemporary to Zedekiah, made many references to "the princes" in Jerusalem (17:25; 24:8; 26:10; 36:12-19 ). Mr. Jackson's task, then, is to prove, not speculate, that Ezekiel's "prince in Jerusalem" was in fact Zedekiah and not someone else.

Actually Jeremiah uses a different Hebrew word for "prince" (sar), but it doesn't matter because Ezekiel uses the phrase "princes of Israel" to refer to the ruling group (19:1). On the other hand, if the critic wants to take this tack, he needs to tell us how many "princes" there were indeed in Jerusalem and establish some odds for us in terms of how likely it is that Zedekiah is in view.

But that said, is there any indication that Ezekiel has a leading person in mind here? There is indeed:

Ezekiel 21:25-6 And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high.

Here and in other passages (28:2, 30:13) Ezekiel uses the word "prince" in a way that strongly suggests that when he uses it in correlation with a geographic location, he means, the leading person in the position. The Hebrew word here does have a broad usage that can refer to a king, a governor, or a ruler; in essence in means "an exalted one." I would say that the burden is on the critic to prove that the leading person is not who is intended here -- or at the very least, the critic needs to establish some of those odds for us.

We do have the standard Skeptic reply, "It was written after the fact." Now of course we expect this anyway; honest Skeptics like Tim Callahan will admit that this is a matter of preference for both parties, and that's why I don't use prophecy apologetically very often, as the critics opponent did. Nevertheless, he tries to add an extra layer of refutation to this one, as he claims that even Ezekiel's book itself makes it out that it was all written after the fact. How?

In the total context of the passages that Jackson cited, we learn that Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah to be a puppet king in Jerusalem after the overthrow of Jehoiachin. If we accept Mr. Jackson's chronology, which appears to be right, Zedekiah became king in 597 B.C., and reigned for 11 years (2 Kings 24:18). In Zedekiah's ninth year, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem again (25:1) and finally captured it two years later (25:2). The famous Babylonian captivity of the Jews began in 597 B.C. with the overthrow of Jehoiachin, and then in 586 B.C., when Zedekiah was defeated, the "rest of the people" who had remained in Jerusalem were also "carried away captive" (25:11).
The prophet Ezekiel was evidently taken to Babylon with the first wave of prisoners, because he identifies himself at the beginning of his book as one of the captives by the River Chebar "in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity" (1:1-2). This would have been also the fifth year of Zedekiah's puppet reign. In other words, by his own admission, Ezekiel did not begin writing his book until just a few years before Zedekiah's overthrow...

It is then noted that Ezekiel didn't "finish" his book until later:

In the twenty-fifth year of our captivity, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was captured, on the very same day the hand of Yahweh was upon me (40:1).
Ezekiel was taken into captivity at the time of Jehoiachin's overthrow. Then eleven years later, Jerusalem fell to Babylon a second time. The "twenty-fifth year of our captivity," then, would have been "the fourteenth year after the city [Jerusalem] was captured." However, it would have also been 14 years after Zedekiah's capture and the treatment he was accorded as summarized in Mr. Jackson's article. Obviously, then, before he finished his book, Ezekiel had had the opportunity to know exactly what had happened to Zedekiah.

So Ezekiel just sat down and wrote out all 48 chapters in one sitting? Not likely -- and not that it matters. Of course we would reply that Ezekiel delivered the prophecy orally before the fact, and the writing may have occurred before, or after, but it doesn't matter. And of course Skeptics can still say it was after the fact regardless.

Either way Ezekiel's time markers aren't going to convince. The 12:10 prophecy is part of a set attributed to the sixth year (8:1), but Skeptics only need to say Ezekiel lied to be convinced. Rationally this one is a non-battle for lack of direct evidence.

That said, what of the fulfilling of the prophecy? The critic doesn't think it was specific enough. He would rather it was written in office-speak, to wit:

If Ezekiel had wanted to utter an unequivocal prediction of Zedekiah's fate, why didn't he say something like this: "Nebu- chadnezzar will besiege Jerusalem, and king Zedekiah will try to escape by night. The Chaldeans will capture him in the plains of Jericho and take him before Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah, where he will be forced to watch the execution of his sons. Then the Chaldeans will blind Zedekiah and imprison him in Babylon, where he will die"?

This isn't what the prophecy says already? It does, to those who lived in Ezekiel's time; it's only a reader 2600 years later who thinks otherwise, because he lives outside the context. If I say in 2001, "The President will sit on a tack in his office," no one will say that I wasn't specific because I didn't say (in 2001) "George W. Bush will sit on a tack in the Oval Office." Everyone knew G. W. was in charge, and where his office is. Ten years from now someone may object anachronistically about the lack of detail, especially if the office moves somewhere else, but who can object rightly? It's their lack of knowledge that is the problem.

Beyond that, the critic wants extra and extraneous details about Jericho for no other reason than his own personal amazement and satisfaction. I say that enough unusual detail has been given for satisfaction, and his dissatisfaction is his own problem.

Finally we are told of "an embarrassing prophecy failure that Jeremiah made concerning Zedekiah." It comes from Jer. 34:2-5:

Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, "Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, 'Thus says Yahweh: "Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. And you shall not escape from his hand, but shall surely be taken and delivered into his hand; your eyes shall see the eyes of the king of Babylon, he shall speak with you face to face, and you shall go to Babylon."' Yet hear the word of Yahweh, O Zedekiah king of Judah! Thus says Yahweh concerning you: "You shall not die by the sword. You shall die in peace; as in the ceremonies of your fathers, the former kings who were before you, so shall they burn incense for you and lament for you, saying, 'Alas, Lord!' For I have pronounced the word, says Yahweh".

So what's the problem?

  1. "I wonder if this is Mr. Jackson's idea of dying in peace." If we define "peace" in modern terms, no -- what's the definition here? Perhaps the critic thinks it means, "perfectly happy and in perfect health." Actually the word is shalom, and it is counterpointed to the idea that Zedekiah would die "by the sword," i.e., in battle. His ultimate fate was to live in prison (Jer. 52:11). The meaning here is that Zedekiah will not die in battle, which he didn't.

    Compare Judges 11:31, "Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering." Does this mean that Jephthah's life was all easy after defeating the Ammonites? In this day and age, dying "in peace" was a relative term.

    That's the standard answer, at any rate, but I prefer something else. Take a close look at that "yet" in verse 4. Now compare this:

    Jeremiah 37:17-18 Then said Jeremiah unto Zedekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel; If thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon's princes, then thy soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live, and thine house: But if thou wilt not go forth to the king of Babylon's princes, then shall this city be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and thou shalt not escape out of their hand.

    This is the same set of conditions laid down by Jeremiah to Zedekiah before, only in reverse -- and that "yet" in 34:4 isn't just for decoration. There, as here, Jeremiah is giving Zedekiah a choice: either surrender and die in peace, or put up a fight and get beaten. In the first case, he issues the "beaten" prophecy first, then says "yet" -- and then offers the peaceful alternative (Holliday commentary on Jeremiah, 234; Huey commentary on Jeremiah, 307).

  2. "I wonder too when incense was burned for Zedekiah and lamentations were made for him as in the ceremonies of his fathers...Are we to believe that the Chaldeans permitted this kind of funeral ceremony in Babylon for a captive king who had been accorded the treatment just described? Are we to believe that the captive Hebrews in Babylon would have even wanted to so honor the king who had presided over the downfall of their nation?"

    Josephus didn't think so; he said that Nebuchadnezzar gave Zedekiah a magnificent funeral, and there is nothing about being in Babylon that would have stopped incense-burning in private homes. But it doesn't matter -- under the rubric above, the spice fires came under the condition of Zedekiah's quiet surrender. He didn't do that, so no fires.

    -JPH