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The Truth of Christianity By William Harry Turton Characters: 24552

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

(A.) General Prophecies.

Three examples considered:

(1.) The desolation of Assyria and Babylonia.

(2.) The degradation of Egypt.

(3.) The dispersion of the Jews, including the Roman siege of Jerusalem.

(B.) Special Prophecies.

List of eight important ones: a single example, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians considered in detail; some general remarks.

(C.) Conclusion.

The cumulative nature of the evidence.

We pass on now to the Jewish Prophecies. It should be explained at starting that the word prophecy is used here in the sense of prediction; and not as it often is, in the Bible, to include various kinds of teaching. And the prophecies may be divided into two classes, general and special.

(A.) General Prophecies.

We will consider the General Prophecies first, the most important of which concern the Jews themselves, and their great neighbours Assyria and Babylonia, on the one hand, and Egypt on the other. All these nations had existed for centuries, and there was nothing to indicate what was to be their future; yet the prophets foretold it, and with remarkable accuracy.

(1.) The desolation of Assyria and Babylonia.

And first as to Assyria and Babylonia. The future of these countries was to be utter desolation. The kingdoms were to be destroyed, the land was to become a wilderness, and the cities to be entirely forsaken. We read repeatedly that they were to be desolate for ever; and though this cannot be pressed as meaning literally for all eternity, it certainly implies a long duration.[131] A single passage referring to each may be quoted at length.

[131] Isa. 13. 19-22; 14. 22, 23; Jer. 50. 13, 39, 40; 51. 26, 37, 43; Nahum 3. 7; Zeph. 2. 13-14.

Thus Zephaniah says of Assyria, 'And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like the wilderness. And herds shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations; both the pelican and the porcupine shall lodge in the chapiters thereof [the capitals of the fallen columns]: their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds: for he hath laid bare the cedar work.'

And Isaiah says of Babylon, 'And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldean's pride, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation; neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall shepherds make their flocks to lie down there. But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and ostriches shall dwell there, and satyrs [or goats] shall dance there. And wolves shall cry in their castles, and jackals in the pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.'

It seems needless to comment on prophecies so plain and straightforward. Nor need we insist at any length on their exact fulfilment; it is obvious to everyone. For two thousand years history has verified them. The utter desolation of these countries is without a parallel: the empires have vanished, the once populous land is deserted, and the cities are heaps of ruins, often the dens of wild beasts,-lions, hy?nas, and jackals having all been seen among the ruins of Babylon. In short, the prophecies have been fulfilled in a manner which is, to say the least, very remarkable.

(2.) The degradation of Egypt.

Next as to Egypt. The future foretold of this country was not desolation but degradation. Ezekiel tells us it was to become a base kingdom, and he adds, 'It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it any more lift itself up above the nations: and I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations.'[132] And here also prophecy has been turned into history. The permanent degradation of Egypt is a striking fact which cannot be disputed. When the prophets wrote, Egypt had on the whole been a powerful and independent kingdom for some thousands of years: but it has never been so since. Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantine Greeks, Saracens, Memlooks, Turks, and we may now add British, have in turn been its masters; but it has been the master of no one. It has never more ruled over the nations as it used to do for so many centuries. Its history in this respect has been unique-an unparalleled period of prosperity followed by an unparalleled period of degradation.

[132] Ezek. 29. 15.

With such an obvious fulfilment of the main prophecy, it seems needless to insist on any of its details, though some of these are sufficiently striking. Thus, we are told, Her cities shall be in the midst of the cities that are wasted.[133] And though it is doubtful to what period this refers, no more accurate description can be given of the present cities of Egypt, such as Cairo, than that they are in the midst of the cities that are wasted, such as Memphis, Bubastis, and Tanis. While a few verses farther on we read, There shall be no more a prince out of the land of Egypt; yet, when this passage was written, there had been independent Egyptian sovereigns, off and on, from the very dawn of history. But there have been none since. Stress, however, is not laid on details like these, some of which are admittedly obscure, such as the forty years' desolation of the land with the scattering of its inhabitants;[134] but rather on the broad fact that Egypt was not to be destroyed like Assyria and Babylonia, but to be degraded, and that this has actually been its history.

[133] Ezek. 30. 7, 13.

[134] Ezek. 29. 11-13.

(3.) The dispersion of the Jews.

Lastly, as to the Jews. Their future was to be neither desolation, nor degradation, but dispersion. This is asserted over and over again. They were to be scattered among the nations, and dispersed through the countries; to be wanderers among the nations; sifted among all nations; tossed to and fro among all the kingdoms of the earth; and scattered among all peoples from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth.[135]

[135] Ezek. 22. 15; Hos. 9. 17; Amos 9. 9; Deut. 28. 25, 64; see also Deut. 4. 27; Neh. 1. 8; Jer. 9. 16.

Moreover, in their dispersion they were to be subjected to continual suffering and persecution. They were to become a proverb, and a byword among all people. Their curses were to be upon them, for a sign and for a wonder, and upon their seed for ever. They were to have a yoke of iron upon their necks; and to have the sword drawn out after them in all lands, etc. Yet, in spite of all this, they were not to be absorbed into other nations, but to remain distinct. They and their seed for ever were to be a separate people, a sign and a wonder at all times; and God would never make a full end of them, as He would of the nations among whom they were scattered. Indeed heaven and earth were to pass away, rather than the Jews cease to be a distinct people.[136]

[136] Deut. 28. 37, 46, 48; Lev. 26. 33; Jer. 24. 9; 29. 18; 30. 11; 31. 35-37.

And here again history has exactly agreed with prophecy. The fate of the Jews, since the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, has actually been dispersion, and this to an extent which is quite unique. It has been combined, moreover, with incessant suffering and persecution, yet they have always remained a separate people. The Jews are still everywhere, though the Jewish nation is nowhere. They are present in all countries, but with a home in none, having been literally scattered among the nations.

We will now examine a single passage in detail, and select the latter part of Deut. 28. The whole chapter is indeed full of prophecies as to the future condition of the Jews, some of which seem to point to the Babylonian captivity, (e.g., v. 36); but after this we come to another and final catastrophe in v. 49. This evidently begins a fresh subject, which is continued without a break till the end of the chapter. And it is specially interesting because, not only is the world-wide dispersion of the Jews, and their continual sufferings, clearly foretold; but also the previous war which led up to it. We have, as is well known, a full account of this in the history of Josephus, and as he never alludes to the prophecy himself (except in the most general terms), his evidence is above suspicion.

Ver. 49. First of all the conquerors themselves are described as a nation from far, from the end of the earth, as the eagle flieth, a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand, etc. And this is very applicable to the Romans, whose general, Vespasian, had come from Britain, and their troops from various countries, who had the eagle as their standard, and whose language, Latin, was unknown to most of the Jews.

50. And the merciless way in which these fierce warriors were to spare neither old nor young was painfully true in their treatment of the Jews.

51. And they also of course destroyed or confiscated their property.

52. Then the war is foretold as one of sieges (he shall besiege thee in all thy gates), rather than of open battles. And this was certainly the case, since a large number of towns, including Jotapata, Gamala, Masada, and Jerusalem itself, suffered terrible sieges. And these were to be continued till the high walls came down, which is very appropriate to the Roman battering rams that were actually used at all these places.

53. Then we have the dreadful famine, due to the severity (or straitness) of the siege, evidently the great siege, that of Jerusalem. This is strongly insisted on, being repeated three times, and it was to drive the wretched inhabitants to cannibalism of the most revolting kind, which it actually did.

54. It was also to lead to considerable strife within the city; even between members of the same family. And this, though by no means common in all sieges, was abundantly fulfilled in the case of Jerusalem.

55. And they were to grudge their nearest relatives a morsel of food; which again exactly agrees with Josephus, who says that parents would fight with their own children for pieces of food.

56. And all this was to be the fate, not only of the poor; but, what is very remarkable, and perhaps unique in the world's history, of the wealthy also. It was even to include one instance at least (perhaps several) of a lady of high position. She is described as not setting her foot upon the ground; which means that she was accustomed to be carried about in a chair, or ride on an ass; and was therefore rich enough to buy anything that could be bought.

57. And she was to eat her own children secretly. Here was the climax of their sufferings. Yet this very detail, so unlikely to have occurred, and so unlikely to have been discovered if it did occur (as it was to be done secretly), is fully confirmed by Josephus. For he mentions one instance that actually was discovered, in which a lady eminent for her family and wealth (Mary, the daughter of Eleazar) had secretly eaten half her own child.[137]

[137] Wars, vi. 3.

58. And these miseries were to come upon the Jews for their disobedience of God's laws; and again Josephus says that their wickedness at this time was so great that if the Romans had not destroyed their city, he thinks it would have been swallowed up by the earth.[138]

[138] Wars, v. 13.

59. Moreover, the plagues of themselves, and of their seed, were to be wonderful, even great plagues, and of long continuance. And no one who has read the account of the siege, and the subsequent treatment of the Jews, will think the description at all exaggerated.

60. And the people are specially threatened with the diseases of Egypt, which thou wast afraid of, and this, as said in Chapter IX., implies that the passage was written soon after the people left Egypt, and therefore centuries before any siege or dispersion.

61. And it was to end, as it actually did end, in the destruction of the nation, until thou be destroyed.

62. While the Jews that survived were to be left comparatively few in number; which was certainly the case, even allowing that the statement of Josephus that 600,000 perished in the siege may be an exaggeration.

63. And these were t

o be forcibly expelled from the land of Canaan, which they were just about to conquer. And they actually were so expelled by the Romans, partly after this war, and still more so after their rebellion in A.D. 134, when for many centuries scarcely any Jews were allowed to live in their own country, an event probably unique in history.

64. But instead of being taken away to a single nation, as at the Babylonian captivity, they were now to be scattered over the whole world, among all peoples, from one end of the earth, even unto the other end of the earth. And how marvellously this has been fulfilled is obvious to everyone. No mention is made of a king here, as in ver. 36; so while that suits the Babylonian captivity, this suits the later dispersion, though in each case there is a reference to their serving other gods, for which it must be admitted there is very little evidence.

65. Then we have the further sufferings that the Jews were to undergo in their dispersion. Among these nations they were to find no ease, nor rest for the sole of their foot, but were to have a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and pining of soul. And here, again, the event is as strange as the prophecy. Nowhere else shall we find a parallel to it. For centuries the Jews were not only persecuted, but were often expelled from one country to another, so that they found no rest anywhere, but were driven from city to city, and from kingdom to kingdom.

66. And their life was to hang in doubt night and day;

67. And they were to be in a continual state of fear and alarm; all of which was completely fulfilled.

68. Lastly, we read, that some of the Jews, instead of being dispersed, were to be brought to Egypt again with ships, and to be in bondage there. And this also came true, after the siege, when many of the Jews were sold for slaves, and sent to the mines in Egypt, probably in slave ships.

Everyone must admit that the agreement all through is very remarkable; in fact, the prophecies about the dispersion of the Jews-and we have only examined a single instance in detail-are even more striking than those about the desolation of Assyria and Babylonia, or the degradation of Egypt. And to fully realise their importance, let us suppose that anyone now were to foretell the future of three great nations, saying that one was to be utterly destroyed, and the land desolated; another to sink to be a base kingdom; and the third to be conquered and its inhabitants forcibly expelled, and scattered over the whole world. What chance would there be of any one of the prophecies (leave alone all three) coming true, and remaining true for two thousand years? Yet this would be but a similar case.

What conclusion, then, must be drawn from all these prophecies, so clear in their general meaning, so distinctive in their character, so minute in many of their details, so unlikely at the time they were written, and yet one and all so exactly fulfilled? There appear to be only three alternatives. Either they must have been random guesses, which certainly seems incredible. Or else they must have been due to deep foresight on the part of the writers, which seems equally so; for the writers had had no experience of the permanent desolation of great empires like Assyria and Babylonia, while as to the fate of Egypt and the Jews themselves, history afforded no parallel. Or else, lastly, the writers must have had revealed to them what the future of these nations would be; in which case, and in which case alone, all is plain.

(B.) Special Prophecies.

We pass on now to the Special Prophecies. These are found all through the Old Testament, the following being eight of the most important.

The fact that David's throne should always be held by his descendants, i.e., till the captivity, about 450 years;[139] and its fulfilment is specially remarkable when contrasted with the rival kingdom of Samaria, where the dynasty changed eight or nine times in 250 years.

[139] 2 Sam. 7. 12-16; 1 Kings 9. 4, 5.

The division of the kingdom into ten and two tribes, evidently announced at the time, since Jeroboam had to go away in consequence, and apparently the reason why the rebels were not attacked.[140]

[140] 1 Kings 11. 31, 40; 12. 24.

The destruction, rebuilding, and final destruction of the Temple; the first of these prophecies being made so publicly that it caused quite a commotion, and nearly cost the prophet his life.[141]

[141] Jer. 26. 8-16; Isa. 44. 28; Dan. 9. 26.

The destruction of the altar at Bethel, which was set up as a rival to that at Jerusalem; publicly announced some centuries before, including the name of the destroyer.[142]

[142] 1 Kings 13. 2; 2 Kings 23. 15, 16.

The destruction of Israel by the Assyrians.[143]

[143] 1 Kings 14. 15; Isa. 8. 4.

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.[144]

[144] 2 Kings 20. 17.

The captivity of the Jews, including its duration of seventy years, their most unlikely restoration, and the name of the restorer.[145]

[145] Jer. 29. 10; Isa. 44. 28.

The wars between Syria and Egypt.[146]

[146] Dan. 11.

We will examine a single instance in detail, and select that referring to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, as this is connected with one of the miracles mentioned in the last chapter, the shadow on the dial. Now, it will be remembered that, on one occasion, the Jewish King Hezekiah was seriously ill, and on being told of his unexpected recovery, he naturally asked for a sign. And then in accordance with his demand the shadow on his dial went back ten steps.[147]

[147] 2 Kings 20. 8-11 (margin, R.V.); Isa. 38. 8.

This dial was evidently a flight of steps, with some object on the top, perhaps an obelisk, which threw a shadow on a gradually increasing number of these as the sun set. And a sudden vibration of the ground, due perhaps to an earthquake, and causing the obelisk to slope to one side, would quite account for the shadow going backward, and leaving some of the steps which it had covered. And the narrative certainly implies that the effect was sudden, and apparently limited to this one dial.

It seems, however, to have attracted considerable attention; since messengers came from Babylon to enquire about it, and to congratulate the King on his recovery.[148] And if the sloping obelisk, and perhaps broken steps, were still visible, this would be much more natural than if there was nothing left for them to see. Though in any case, as they called it the wonder that was done in the land, it evidently was not noticed elsewhere, and must have been due to some local cause. And we may ask, how could any writer have asserted all this, even a century afterwards, if no such sign had occurred?

[148] 2 Chron. 32. 24, 31.

We are then told that Hezekiah showed these messengers all his treasures, which leads up to the prophecy that the treasures should be carried away and Jerusalem destroyed by these very Babylonians. This is introduced in the most natural way possible, as a rebuke to the king for his proud display; and it is difficult to consider it a later insertion. Yet the event could not have been humanly foreseen. For Babylon was then but a comparatively small and friendly nation, shortly to be absorbed into Assyria (in B.C. 689), and only when it regained its independence nearly a century later did it become strong enough to cause any fear to the Jews.

We need not discuss the other prophecies at length, since that they all refer to the events in question is generally admitted. Indeed, in some cases, owing to the mention of names and details, it can scarcely be denied. Therefore those who disbelieve in prophecy have no alternative but to say that they were all written after the event.

At this lapse of time it is difficult to prove or disprove such a statement. But it must be remembered that to say that any apparent prophecies were written after the event is not merely to destroy their superhuman character, and bring them down to the level of ordinary writings, but far below it. For ordinary writings do not contain wilful falsehoods, yet every pretended prophecy written after the event cannot possibly be regarded in any other light. The choice then lies between real prophecies and wilful forgeries. There is no other alternative. And bearing this in mind, we must ask, is it likely that men of such high moral character as the Jewish prophets would have been guilty of such gross imposture? Is it likely that, if guilty of it, they would have been able to pass it off successfully on the whole nation? And is it likely that they would have had any sufficient motive to induce them to make the attempt?

Moreover, many of these prophecies are stated to have been made in public, and to have been talked about, and well known long before their fulfilment. And it is hard to see how this could have been asserted unless it was the case, or how it could have been the case unless they were superhuman.

It should also be noticed that in Deuteronomy the occurrence of some definite and specified event is given as the test of a prophet, and one of the later prophets (Isaiah) appeals to this very test. For he challenges the false prophets to foretell future events, and repeatedly declares that this was the mark of a true prophet.[149] And it is inconceivable that men should thus court defeat by themselves proposing a test which would have shown that they were nothing more than impostors. Yet this would have been the case if all their so-called prophecies had been written after the events.

[149] Deut. 18. 22; Isa. 41. 22; 44. 8; 48. 3-5; see also Deut. 13. 1-3.

(C.) Conclusion.

In concluding this chapter, we must notice the cumulative nature of the evidence. The prophecies we have referred to, like the miracles in the last chapter, are but specimens, a few out of many which might be given. This is very important, and its bearing on our present argument is naturally twofold.

In the first place, it does not increase, and in some respects rather decreases, the difficulty of believing them to be true, for thirty miracles or prophecies, provided they occur on suitable occasions, are scarcely more difficult to believe than three. And the number recorded in the Old Testament shows that, instead of being mere isolated marvels, they form a complete series. Their object was to instruct the Jews, and through them the rest of the world, in the great truths of Natural Religion, such as the existence of One Supreme God, Who was shown to be All-Powerful by the miracles, All-Wise by the prophecies, and All-Good by His rewarding and punishing men and nations alike for their deeds. And when we thus regard them as confirming a Revelation, which was for the benefit of the whole human race, they lose a good deal of their improbability. Indeed many who now believe Natural Religion alone, and reject all revelation, would probably never have believed even this, but for the Bible.

On the other hand, the number and variety of these alleged events greatly increases the difficulty of any other explanation; for thirty miracles or prophecies are far more difficult to disbelieve than three. A successful fraud might take place once, but not often. An imitation miracle might be practised once, but not often. Spurious prophecies might be mistaken for genuine once, but not often. Yet, if none of these events are true, such frauds and such deceptions must have been practised, and practised successfully, over and over again. In fact, the Old Testament must be a collection of the most dishonest books ever written, for it is full of miracles and prophecies from beginning to end; and it is hard to exaggerate the immense moral difficulty which this involves.

Many of the Jewish prophets, as before said, teach the highest moral virtues; and the Jewish religion, especially in its later days, is admittedly of high moral character. It seems, then, to be almost incredible that its sacred writings should be merely a collection of spurious prophecies uttered after the event, and false miracles which never occurred. We therefore decide in this chapter that the history of the Jewish religion was confirmed by prophecies.

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