Our Pages

Did the Bible ‘call it’ hundreds of years ago?

Did the Bible ‘call it’ hundreds of years ago?
Posted on August 25, 2019  - By Dr. David Brooks

Did you know there are people who taught that, over 2,600 years ago, automobile and traffic congestion was predicted by the prophet in Nahum 2:4? Many say that Ezekiel 38:2 similarly predicted that Russia would attack Israel. Did the Old Testament prophets really predict events hundreds of years in advance?

When we think of prophecy, we usually think of a prediction of future events. In American culture, when we say, “His words were prophetic,” we mean what he said earlier happened later, as if he knew it would happen. However, the Bible refers to many prophets’ speeches that do not predict future events (like Joel 1:2-20; Haggai 1:2-11) — and some predictions were of events that were not far in the future (see Isaiah 7:8; 37:30). 

Many Bible scholars have pointed out that the prophets spoke to conditions of their own time, not always about the future. Many of these scholars have even said the prophets never spoke about the future, or if they did, they did not speak of distant events hundreds of years in advance. 

We need a balance between the two extremes. Prophets did predict future events (e.g. Micah 5:2; Hosea 1:11), and some were hundreds of years in advance. Let’s look at three examples and see how they were applied to the prophet’s contemporaries.

Many scholars have said that the prophets spoke to conditions of their own time, never about the future. We need a balance between the two extremes

A case for timelines

First, in Isaiah 2:1-5, Isaiah forecast that the time was coming when God’s king would rule from Jerusalem and people from all different nations would go there to learn what God wanted them to know and how he wanted them to live. Isaiah lived about 700 B.C. Some interpreters might say this was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, which means he predicted an event 700 years in advance. Since the people in Jerusalem responding to the preaching about Christ had already been living in Jerusalem, they were not the internationals Isaiah mentioned. So, 2,700 years after the prophecy, it refers to what is still future. This was a prediction far in advance of its fulfilment. 

If we read the next verse in Isaiah’s prophecy, in Isaiah 2:6, he says to his audience, “Let us walk in the light of the Lord.” To paraphrase, “The other nations will want to walk in our God’s ways, so we ought to now.” Therefore, Isaiah used a prediction of the distant future to call his fellow citizens to repent of their sins.

Second, in Haggai 2:7, Haggai predicted that either (1) the desire of all nations — the Messiah — would come to the temple or (2) all nations would bring their valuable gifts to the Messiah. The language could be interpreted either way; but regardless, the reference is to the time of the Messiah. Some would interpret this the first way and say it was fulfilled when Jesus came to the temple, which was over 500 years after the prophecy. Others interpret the prophecy the second way, and it is postured towards the future even now. That would mean the prophecy was over 2,500 years in advance. With either interpretation, the prediction was hundreds of years in advance.

Learning from the prophets

In Haggai 2:3-4, we see Haggai used this prediction of a distant future event to encourage his contemporaries in 520 B.C. to do the work of building the temple that had been destroyed. 

In both these cases, the prophecies of the distant future were applied to the people of the prophets’ own times, in one case to call them to repent (Isaiah) and in the other case, to encourage them to work for the Lord (Haggai). In both cases, the prophets were saying that the future God has planned is going in a certain direction and His people should now live in harmony with God’s intentions.

The prophets were saying that the future God has planned is going in a certain direction and His people should now live in harmony with God’s intentions

We should do the same. If we are straying from the ways of the Lord, we ought to change our ways to live by God’s principles. Eventually, His standards will prevail. If we are discouraged in the work of the Lord, we ought to look ahead and take heart that God will accomplish His plans through us and our work. 

In the third example, the current application is not stated but seems clear. Over 2,000 years ago, Daniel prophesied that the kingdoms of the world will one day be replaced by God’s kingdom. The Son of Man will rule and administer the kingdom through His faithful saints (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27). Before that, their archenemy will win victories against them (Daniel 7:21, 25). 

By application, believers in Christ, the Son of Man, should not be discouraged by the power or successes of adversaries to Christ, but remain faithful. So, yes, the prophets spoke of the distant future, and their words are applicable all the time.

Dr. David Brooks

About Dr. David Brooks

David Brooks is a senior professor of Hebrew & Old Testament at Criswell College, Dallas, where he lives with his wife and four children. Having been raised with an emphasis on international missions, he often accepts international teaching assignments while also teaching adjunctively at Dallas Theological Seminary.



Get a notification in your Inbox

A weekly brief of new resources and Scripture-based insights from our editorial team.