There are a number of prophecies that are “forever,” these are important if it is within human ability to overturn them.
Now some might say that “forever prophecies” are actually not so difficult to make, such as in saying “This car will never run again.” Certainly, making a probable “forever prophecy” is not so difficult, nor is making a probable prophecy about anything! “The sun, I predict, will rise tomorrow.” Yet these easy prophecies do not explain improbable ones, and more importantly, such easy predictions do not explain prophecies that can be falsified at any time.
We may also note here that prophecies in Scripture are not simply estimates of one sort of event, instead, there are prophecies that some specific nations would disappear, and yet others specifically would continue, so this would not be just someone making guesses based on a general tendency here.
So here are some “forever prophecies”:
Babylon will never be rebuilt, or reinhabited (Isa. 13:19-20, Jer. 25:12, Jer. 51:26).
Edom will never be rebuilt or reinhabited (Isa. 34:9-10, Jer. 49:18).
There will always be Jewish people (Jer. 31:35-37; 33:24-26).
There will be Egyptian and Assyrian people up until the fulfillment of Isa. 19:16-25.
Egypt will never again rule the other nations (Eze. 29:14-15).
And then there are other prophecies that took hundreds or even thousands of years to be fulfilled, and yet these are prophecies which no one post dates:
The Edomites would disappear as a nation (Oba. 1:18).
This finally was fulfilled when the Idumeans, who were present when Jerusalem fell in A.D. 70, disappeared from the world scene.
And the Caananites would disappear, most notably the nation of the Philistines, which it appears lasted the longest (Ex. 15:15, Isa. 14:31, Amos 1:8, Zeph. 2:5).
It might be said that forever prophecies can never be fulfilled, because that would take forever! Which is quite true, yet we may make fulfilled prophecies of any of these, as many as we would like, by noting that there is a prophecy that Babylon will not be rebuilt in the first century, nor in the second century, nor in the third, and so on. And all of these specific prophecies have been fulfilled.
And the prophecies that cities or geographic areas will never be rebuilt, or never even be reinhabited, are quite remarkable prophecies, since they may be tested at any time. For example, with regard to the city of Babylon, there have been two attempts to rebuild it, one by Alexander the Great (who contracted a fever there and died, in the midst of his project), and quite recently, by Saddam Hussein. Other examples are prophecies that Egyptian people, Assyrian people, and Jewish people will always be present in the world, and though Hitler certainly tried, and would quite possibly have become the ruler he wished to be, if he had built an atomic bomb first, yet he did not destroy the Jewish people.
Each of these prophecies is discussed further, individually, below.
ISA 34:16 “Look in the scroll of the Lord and read: None of these will be missing, not one will lack her mate. For it is his mouth that has given the order, and his Spirit will gather them together.”
With regard to the prophecy of Babylon, here are some pertinent Scripture references:
Isa. 13:19 “Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation; Nor will the Arab pitch his tent there, nor will shepherds make their flocks lie down there.”
Jer. 25:12 “Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,” declares the Lord, “for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation.”
Jer. 51:26 “And they will not take from you even a stone for a corner nor a stone for foundations, but you will be desolate forever,” declares the Lord.
Now as far as the events that followed, Xerxes burned Esagila and Etemenanki, the temples of Marduk (which “were considered to be the foundation of heaven on earth”) in 476, and Alexander the Great commanded the rebuilding of Esagila, and yet it was not done. So these were substantial parts of Babylon, that went down right away, and have never come back.
Also, here is further decline, after Xerxes time: “In 689 BC, Babylonia again revolted, but Sennacherib responded swiftly by opening the canals around Babylon and flooding the outside of the city until it became a swamp, resulting in its destruction, and its inhabitants were scattered.”
And final decline, and desolation: “In the time of Strabo (at the end of the 1st century B.C.), the site was in ruins. Jerome (5th century A.D.), learned that Babylon had been used as a wild game park for the amusement of numerous Persian dignitaries (McClintock and Strong, 1969, 1:596). In the 5th century A.D., according to Cyril of Alexandria, due to the bursting of canal banks, Babylon became a swamp (The Old Testament in the Light of Ancient East by Alfred Jeremias, 1:294).”
And along the same lines, Encarta Encyclopedia reads: “In 539 bc, Cyrus the Great captured Babylon and incorporated Babylonia into the newly founded Persian Empire. Under the Persians, Babylon for a time served as the official residence of the crown prince, until a local revolt in 482 led Xerxes I to raze the temples and ziggurat (temple tower) and to melt down the statue of the patron god Marduk.”
“Alexander the Great captured the city in 330 BC and planned to rebuild it and make it the capital of his vast empire, but he died before he could carry out his plans. After 312 bc, Babylon was for a while used as a capital by the Seleucid dynasty set up by Alexander’s successors. When the new capital of Seleucia on the Tigris was founded in the early 3rd century BC, however, most of Babylon’s population was moved there. The temples continued in use for a time, but the city became insignificant and almost disappeared before the coming of Islam in the 7th century AD.”
If we ask what would qualify as rebuilding, I would expect a wall like the famous wall to be needed, and temples, and enough ancillary buildings for it to be called a city. The hanging gardens would be nice to have, too.
An example may even be found in the account of the rebuilding of the temple and city of Jerusalem, in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah in the Bible, like that rebuilding! That is what they would have understood as rebuilding, and would then describe what the prophecy meant.
Now with Saddam’s attempt at rebuilding, one new report (from architecture.about.com) said that “When Saddam Hussein rose to power in Iraq, he conceived a grandiose scheme to rebuild the ancient City of Babylon — Hussein said that Babylon’s great palaces and the legendary hanging gardens of Babylon (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) would rise from dust.”
It was also said that “Villagers told news media that a thousand people were evacuated to make way for this emblem of Saddam Hussein’s power.”
Yet the apparent absence of objections from the archaeologists (though they did object to Saddam rebuilding) would imply that these people had not built on the ruins themselves. And why would people build in the midst of ruins? It seems a most unsuitable place for starting a house and home.
Some would no doubt point to the city of Babylon in Revelation, though, and such trade as is going on there would certainly require rebuilding and reinhabiting the city. However, some other references to Babylon seem mostly to be referring to a spiritual descendant:
1 Peter 5:13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings..
Which seems most likely to refer to the geographical city of Rome (Grudem, “1 Peter”), and this also seems to be what is meant in Revelation:
Revelation 17:9 This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman [Babylon] sits.
Which would bring to mind Rome, the city “built on seven hills.” Also, John was taken out to the desert, to see Babylon, and Babylon is right by a river, and became a swamp when the city was flooded (this could disincline people from settling in it, by the way), and so this would also not indicate the actual geographical city of Babylon being in mind in the account in Revelation.
BABYLON, Iraq – “Every day, Babylon’s archeologist and director roam through the city’s labyrinths removing the last vestige of Saddam Hussein: hundreds of bricks inscribed with his name. ‘In the era of President Saddam Hussein, the President of Iraq, God preserve him,’ they read, ‘who rebuilt Babylon, as protector of the great Iraq and the builder of civilization.’ Since thieves torched the city’s small tourist shack, the bricks have become the hottest souvenir at Babylon, where they are snatched up by Marines for a buck a piece.” (Dion Nissenbaum, Knight Ridder newspapers)
And now that Babylon is desolate, it will not only never be rebuilt, it will also never be reinhabited. This does not need to be argued about, even, for to refute this prophecy, and the claim of inspired and inerrant Scripture, all it would take, would be to rebuild or reinhabit this city of Babylon.
Though the attempt, it seems, is not to be recommended, on other grounds…
With regard to the prophecy of Edom never being rebuilt or reinhabited, here are the verses:
Isa. 34:9-10 “Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night and day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again.”
Jer. 49:18 “Like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah with its neighbors,” says the Lord, “no one will live there, nor will a son of man reside in it.”
This is a “forever prophecy,” that ancient Edom will never be rebuilt or reinhabited.
But is the city of Bozrah still in existence?
“Bozrah: 1 Important city of Edom, probably the modern Busayra (Jordan), SE of the Dead Sea. The prophets often linked the name Bozrah with that of Edom. 2 City of Moab, perhaps identical with Bezer.” (from encyclopedia.com)
So the identification the current city of Bozrah with ancient Bozrah would seem not quite certain. And I think “reside in it” in Jer. 49:18 most probably refers back to verse 16, apparently to the city of Petra, which is indeed desolate. As far as Edom in general, though the extent of the kingdom of Edom at the time of this prophecy may not be certain, the cities of Idumea are recorded as desolate, and other nearby areas, as well:
“The Arabs, in general, avoid the ruins of the cities of Idumea, on account of the enormous scorpions with which they swarm.” (Volney)
“The magnificent cities of Edom have been laid waste and curious travelers never cease to wonder at the abandoned fortresses in the mountains.” (Higgins)
Isa. 34:8 “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause.”
“Again and again the desolation of Edom is foretold. In the time of the prophets such a prediction seemed most unlikely of fulfillment. Even after the Edomites had been pushed out, the Nabateans developed a flourishing civilization that lasted for centuries. But God had said, ‘I will lay thy cities waste.’ Today the land stands deserted, a mute testimony to the sure Word of the Lord. Petra [the capital of Edom] is a remarkable example of the literal fulfillment of this prophecy. This great ancient capital with its theater seating 4000, its temples, its altars and its monuments, is now silent and alone, decaying with the passage of time.” (Higgins)
“The ground is covered with broken pillars and pavements, heaps of hewn stone, and many other ruins. Scorpions and owls abound among its ruins. Burchardt, one of the boldest and most daring of travellers, says he never knew what fear was until he came near Petra.” (Herbert Stewart)
With regard to there always being Jewish people, we read:
Jeremiah 31:35-37 This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the Lord Almighty is his name: “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the Lord, “will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.” This is what the Lord says: “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the Lord.
And we may note that there have been attempts time and again to remove the Jewish nation, Psalm 83 speaks of one instance, the book of Esther documents another, and recently, Hitler tried, and all of them failed.
As far as estimating the probability of this prophecy being fulfilled up until this time, we can examine the nations in and around Canaan at the time of the entry into this land by the Israelites:
Exodus 3:8 Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
Also, there were Moab, Edom, Egypt, the Arabic people, Midian, Amalek, the Kennites, Asshur, Eber, and Og and Sihon across the Jordan. There may have been more, but that is 18 nations, including Israel, so now how many of those have lasted to this day? Egypt, the Arabic people, and Israel, so the probability here is 3/18, or 16%, which, though not very improbable, is not actually probable, either.
We may also note that all these nations were mentioned explicitly, in Scripture, as to whether they would last or not. And the three that were said to last, have lasted, and the ones that were said not to last, have not lasted.
So then what is the probability of that? Well, according to our quick estimate, this would be (16% ^ 3) * (84% ^ 15), which is 0.03 percent (not 3%, .03%)! That’s not very likely at all, and cannot be only a lucky guess.
And it would also seem that 16% is conservative, there were probably other nations that we don’t know about, that did not continue until today, and that would decrease the probability.
We may also notice that ten tribes of Israel were deported to Assyria, where they were apparently absorbed by that nation, but this did not happen to the two tribes deported to Babylon.
So this is an indication that the Israelite nation has passed through narrow gates in fulfillment of this prophecy, it should also be mentioned here that Israel was without a homeland for almost 2000 years, and yet the Jewish people retained their national identity, which is again, remarkable, and makes the fulfillment of this prophecy by chance even more improbable.
And no matter how probable or improbable this might be, for every period of (for example) one thousand years, we may pick any probability estimate P for this period, and the overall probability for two such periods is P*P, for three, it is P*P*P, this gets smaller and smaller quickly, this gets below any small value you can pick, below any threshold of what anyone might reasonably expect.
And yet, there are still Jewish people.
It is said that a king one day asked his minister to give him a one word argument for the existence of God. “The Jews,” his minister answered, “the answer to your majesty’s question is the Jews.”
As far as Egypt never ruling the other nations, sometimes the Ottoman empire is mentioned, yet this is not Egyptians ruling, but rather Arabic people. We would not say that the Native Americans conquered the Germans in World War II, only because the army came from the land they had held as their territory.
Here is the prophecy in Scripture of the Edomites disappearing as a nation:
Oba. 1:18 ” ‘The house of Jacob will be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame; the house of Esau will be stubble, and they will set it on fire and consume it. There will be no survivors from the house of Esau.’ The Lord has spoken.”
Now this prophecy was fulfilled many centuries later, after the time of Christ:
“The Edomites were now incorporated with the Jewish nation, and the whole province was often termed by Greek and Roman writers ‘Idumaea.’ Immediatedly before the seige of Jerusalem by Titus, 20,000 Idumaeans were admitted to the Holy City, which they filled with robbery and bloodshed. After the massacre of the Jews, the Idumeans returned home. But with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the children of Esau disappear as a separate people from the stage of recorded history.” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary)
OB 1:13 “You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor look down on them in their calamity in the day of their disaster.”
And the length of time over which this occured, makes this impossible to post-date, so this must be a real prediction.
With regard to the Canaanites disappearing as a nation, we read:
Exodus 15:15 “Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; The leaders of Moab, trembling grips them; All the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.”
Isaiah 14:31 “Wail, O gate; cry, O city; Melt away, O Philistia, all of you…”
Amos 1:8 “I will also cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, And him who holds the scepter, from Ashkelon; I will even unleash My power upon Ekron, And the remnant of the Philistines will perish,” Says the Lord God.
Zephaniah 2:5 Woe to the inhabitants of the seacoast, The nation of the Cherethites! The word of the Lord is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines; And I will destroy you So that there will be no inhabitant.
And as with the Edomites, this is impossible to post-date, for the first prediction is all the way back in the book of Exodus.