Isaiah: The Proven Prophet

One atheist blog posted this as one piece of evidence against Biblical prophecy:

In 2 Kings 19, Sennacherib, king of Assyria has come against Judah.  King Hezekiah is afraid, but Isaiah tells him that the threat will go away and Sennacherib will fall by the sword in his own land.  We see in verse 37 of the chapter that this is exactly what happens to him.

Is this a good example of prophecy fulfillment?  Not for our purposes.  The prophecy and its fulfillment are both given in the same chapter.  And since 2 Kings records events that run through the Babylonian captivity, it seems quite likely that this entire account was written long after the events transpired.  So how can we know that the prophecy was actually spoken and not just added in after the fact?  We can’t.  So it fails the first of the criteria we established.  In other words, while this prophecy doesn’t provide any proof against the Bible, it doesn’t serve as any real evidence for it either.

To understand what is going on in 2 Kings 19, we have to understand the war that was raging at the time. The following is from The Bible Knowledge Commentary:

Sennacherib led his armies into Judah as expected. This was in 701 b.c., the 14th year of … Hezekiah’s sole reign which began in 715 b.c. On their way to Judah the Assyrians defeated the rebels in Phoenicia, which caused several other members of the alliance to withdraw. Then Sennacherib marched his armies down the coast into Philistia where he brought the Philistine cities into line. Next he attacked all the fortified cities of Judah except Jerusalem and captured the people. Sennacherib’s inscriptions refer to his conquest of 46 strong cities of Hezekiah plus many villages. (elipsis in original)

This is confirmed in 2 Kings 18:13, which says “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them.” So the Assyrians had been at war for a while and captured every single city of Judah plus those of the surrounding nations. Into this context Assyria comes against Jerusalem.

In such a context, to say that the invading commander would stop, turn around, and be defeated in his own land would be fantastic at best. That Isaiah said that Sennacherib would do so, and that it actually happened, is some evidence that Isaiah spoke for God.

But there is a great deal more to what Isaiah said about Sennacherib. Isaiah said, speaking for God, “Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’” (Isaiah 37:7), “I will turn you back on the way by which you came.’ (Is. 37:29), that for two years Judah would be able to eat from what grew naturally, without having to plant crops (Is. 37:30) and the third year the people of Judah would still be there to plant crops (Is. 37:30), there would be a remnant in Jerusalem that would grow (Is.37:32). This is in contrast to every other city of Judah which had their populace taken captive by the Assyrians. To make such a claim is amazing, and them coming true due to happenstance or Isaiah being a good guesser is not reasonable.

Even more amazingly, even though Assyria had conquered 46 other cities in Judah, cities and the surrounding nations, and Jerusalem already failing to buy their way out of war, Isaiah goes further with his prophesy. After Assyria’s spokesman had spent considerable time threatening Jerusalem (2 Kings 18), Hezekiah the king was in despair. Isaiah, again speaking for God, says

Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 34 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 35 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.(37:33-35).

Now we have an amazing statement. This conquering nation had demolished every foe it had encountered in Judah and surrounding nations, had already rejected the large payment Judah offered, threatened complete destruction, and Jerusalem was demoralized and without funds or friends. Yet Isaiah says Assyria would not even fire an arrow or surround the city. Yet all of God’s words, given through Isaiah, were literally fulfilled.

Because Isaiah’s immediate prophesies came true, the other prophesies he made were also held to be true. By no means were the prophets in the Old Testament accepted as true prophets blindly and without question.  Men like Isaiah showed themselves to be true prophets with situations like the Assyrians, therefore the Jewish leaders accepted their words as evidence of speaking for God.

Regarding the other portions of the original quote, the author also claims “it seems quite likely that this entire account was written long after the events transpired.” This falls under what I call the “it seems to me” fallacy. Such statements are given without proof or logic, and are, in the end, mere opinion that proves nothing. (I’ve already spoken against this fallacy here.)

But what about this claim:  “it seems quite likely that this entire account was written long after the events transpired.  So how can we know that the prophecy was actually spoken and not just added in after the fact?  We can’t.”  Well, all history is written after the fact, so if we are rejecting it because the writer wrote of past events, we would have to reject all historical accounts. But do we know this account was written “long after the events transpired”? We do not; to suggest so is unsupported. What we do know is that Isaiah spoke of many nations and their situations and lived through several kings of Israel and Judah. His actions and statements are spoken of in three Old Testament books written by at least three authors: 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, and Isaiah. The situation with Sennacherib is spoken of in all three of these books. So while the end of 2 Kings stops with the captivity of the Jews in Babylon, we have no evidence that these events transpired long after the time they were written down. Many Bible scholars hold that the Jewish scribes of the Babylonian period compiled earlier documents into the canon of scripture we have today. So it is entirely possible that three independent authors transcribed what Isaiah said during his lifetime. Even if the events were first written down during the Babylonian captivity, which we have no evidence of being true, there were only 136 years between Hezekiah and the captivity, a rather short period for ancient books, and certainly not considered a long period.

In summary, all the evidence we have points to Isaiah’s statements happening prior to the events, so that the leaders of his day would know Isaiah was speaking the words of God. those Jewish leaders were much closer to the events than we are, and we are on shaky ground when we try to out-guess them today. We can trust our Bible as the word of God because the writers proved themselves to the true prophets during their day. False prophets were rejected at that time and their words not kept for future generations.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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23 Responses to Isaiah: The Proven Prophet

  1. Nate says:

    Thanks for responding to my post. However, this statement of yours is without basis:

    all the evidence we have points to Isaiah’s statements happening prior to the events, so that the leaders of his day would know Isaiah was speaking the words of God.

    We don’t really know what the leaders of that time thought about Isaiah, or if they even knew him personally. We simply don’t know a lot about that time period, because our earliest fragments of Isaiah are from the 2nd Century BCE, at the earliest — centuries after Isaiah lived. Quite possibly, they’re not even that old. So to say that all evidence points toward Isaiah making an actual divinely-inspired prophecy is just not accurate. There’s no way we can know.

    Again, the main point of my initial article was not that this prophecy is a reason to doubt the Bible. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with it at all. But since the prophecy and its fulfillment were recorded at the same time, it was obviously written about after the events in question had already transpired. So while the author claims that Isaiah spoke this prophecy ahead of time, there’s no way we can know if that’s true.

    However, there are prophecies, like Ezekiel’s prophecy of Tyre, that can be tested, because they make statements about the far future. We know Ezekiel prophesied that Tyre would be destroyed and never rebuilt. So that’s a claim that we can test even today — it would count as much stronger evidence for the Bible’s authenticity if it were true. This prophecy about Sennacherib can’t be investigated in the same way.

  2. William says:

    dude, the original post wasn’t saying that history must be recorded before it happens… Of course, all of history is recorded after the fact, because people just aren’t clairvoyant enough to foretell yet-to-come events. It was saying that true prophecies must be shown to have actually been made before the historical event took place, in order to be a good example of a true prophecy.

    In the examples above, we know the “prophecies” were written after the event, because they (the alleged prophecies) are in the exact same chapter as the “fulfillment.” It just doesn’t serve as convincing proof when presented that way.

    A prophecy is different than recording a historical event. There is nothing wrong with a historical event being recorded after the fact, as you pointed out, they all are. Prophecies, on the other hand, are claims that something specific will happen before it actually happens.

    If i Wrote a book today about 9/11, and in that book I claimed that I foretold that the towers would be struck by two large planes and tumble, would anyone believe that claim? would anyone believe that I prophesied 9/11? No. Now, if I had good PROOF that I prophesied those events well before they happened, then that would help. written record of that prophecy being made well before the actual events would be a good starting point. But claiming to have foretold something after it happened, one would have to admit takes at least a little grandeur away from it all. certainly, this is understandable. Certainly, anyone would at least have to admit where they see this could be problematic for some… and actually, i cannot see where anyone wouldn’t have issue with it.

    Would you believe such a “prophecy” in the Koran, or such a “prophecy” from Tecumseh, or does the bible get a special pass?

    • humblesmith says:

      There were false prophets in those days, as there are false prophets today. The OT speaks of them in several places. The false prophets’ words were not kept for posterity. The words of the prophets who spoke truth were kept.

      I think what you’re asking for is a book that is published with the prophesy, then time goes by, and another book is published with the fulfillment. This does occur in prophesies made in the OT that are fulfilled in the NT, such as the time and place of Jesus birth. There are other instances where this happens, such as when Jeremiah foretells that the captivity would last 70 years, and later we find that it does….Daniel refers to reading Jeremiah’s prophesy. But Daniel lived during the captiviy…….the only way he could know Jeremiah’s prophesy is that Jeremiah was already written and preserved many years prior. The only way the Jewish leaders would have preserved Jeremiah’s words is if Jeremiah said things during his lifetime that were proven true.

      So the point I was trying to make, perhaps not clearly, is that for the sections of Isaiah that speak of events many years in the future to be taken seriously, and thus preserved for centuries, is if there were things like the Assyrian war that Isaiah was proven true at the time. The events mentioned in the post from 2 Kings 18-19 happened over the coruse of days, and proved to the leaders that Isaiah was a true prophet. Therefore they kept Isaiah’s words from Chapters 30ff, which speak of events well beyond their lifetimes.

      Your 9/11 example is a good one…..if someone claimed such a thing after the fact, they would not be considered trustworthy. But if they repeatedly predicted such things as 9/11 prior to the event, we would record their words during their lifetime. The people who lived centuries later would read it all in one account…..or in Isaiah’s account, it was preserved in three different books by three different authors.

      The only way to present all this in a clear manner is to put it in a single chapter. When it occurrs over several books, such as the Jeremiah prophesy and the prophesies in Isaiah 53, they are often missed.

      • William says:

        Where again was Jesus’ birth specifically foretold in the OT?

        And I appreciated the response, but I do feel like Nate’s above points may ought to be addressed in tandem with your comment to me.

        Looking back through all the claimed prophecy fulfillment from the OT to the NT, they look pretty suspect when you back at the OT. Most being argued as “two-fold” prophecies, etc, in order to account for the fact that the prophecies in the OT had an OT fulfillment. So when Mathew claims a NT event fulfilled an OT prophecy, we look back and see something that didn’t even appear to be a prophecy, or something that already had a fulfillment (meaning no one was looking for it to be fulfilled again). And who knows, maybe the virgin birth will happen a third time and we can all stand in wonder of Isiah’s threefold prophecy.

        I guess we should just trust the bible, and then we would see that all problems aren’t really problems, because the bible doesn’t have problems. We may all do well to also recognize that since anything is possible for God, even the absurd and illogical, then any and all “possible” scenarios rectifying such problems are then possible, no matter how outlandish they appear on the surface – God can do anything, after all…. And we should know that this line of “logic” only works for the bible, all other religions and philosophies are excluded from being aloud to argue this way for obvious reasons. Once we accept this, it becomes so clear. Such a simple and perfect plan.

        sorry to be sarcastic, but i couldn’t help myself. But don’t you see that your position is based on little more than pure hope and unsubstantiated statements like, “…if there were things like the Assyrian war that Isaiah was proven true at the time…”, and “Men like Isaiah showed themselves to be true prophets with situations like the Assyrians, therefore the Jewish leaders accepted their words as evidence of speaking for God?”

        • humblesmith says:

          Actually the sarcasm has little effect, for I’m rather accustomed to it by now. It does make a good persuasion technique, which seems to be very popular nowdays. For all the talk of reason and logic from the atheists and skeptics, I tend to see more sarcasm, ad hominem, and “it seems to me” and “it might be that” type of arguments. I have given a reasonable and logically sufficient explanation, not one based on hope. To refute it, one must show that the explanation is not sufficient. Saying that since we live after the fact and read it all in a single account, therefore it might be an invented story, does not refute the logical sufficiency of my argument. It merely expresses an opinion, of which you are entitled. Most people will not apply such skepticism consistenly. For example, see here: http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/how-much-historical-evidence-is-sufficient-to-go-beyond-doubt/

          Demanding older documents from something that happened in such a short period of time is not realistic and occurs with hardly anything in history. Plus, as I’ve shown, and supported by your question about the prophesies surrounding Jesus’ birth, people do not take the time to locate them and connect them together.

          • William says:

            The sarcasm was just only for my own amusement and was never meant as the crux of my argument. However, my sarcastic rant did accurately represent you “logical” argument.

            “It could have happened” is an argument based without any fact, and almost solely on hope – and anyone could make that argument about anything, especially when claiming that they have a god to whom nothing is impossible.

            So, do you trust such claims from extra-biblical sources?

      • Nate says:

        You’re quite right that your scenario could be what happened. But without the older disparate writings from different dates to prove it, there’s no way we can really know that today. It might be what happened, but it might not. For someone who’s already a believer, this is faith-bolstering. But for those of us who don’t believe, it doesn’t count as evidence. Prophecies with a longer period between pronouncement and fulfillment simply serve as better evidence.

        • humblesmith says:

          You are correct that I do not truly know what someone else is thinking. No one truly knows this about anyone at any time, current or historical. But I think we can make some reasonable assumptions, and the scenario I described is common human nature, namely, to test the words of someone who was making a prediction. If they had accurately predicted the many things listed in the post, it is reasonable to conclude what the leaders would think.

          You are correct that the longer-gapped prophecies are better evidence for us today. I am correct that the shorter-gapped prophecies are better evidence for contemporary audiences, and that these short ones are the only reason the longer ones were preserved. They were intelligent men in those days, and could discern between contemporary true and false prophets as well as we can.

          The rest of your comments have been addressed in my other comments.

          • William says:

            “IF” they’re actually prophecies, which was the pint of the original post. How can we trust these as actual prophecies since everything we have about them were written after the fact?

          • humblesmith says:

            You know, there was a guy who applied very similar logic to Napoleon, and a facebook group is now applying it to Abraham Lincoln. I’ve posted on both of these recently. I’ve responded to all of this already, and it’s getting repetitive.

          • Nate says:

            Comparing this to Napoleon or Lincoln is misleading because no one believes either of them performed miracles. Secular scholars give just as much credence to the Bible’s history as they do secular history when they accept the plausible stories and are skeptical of the fantastic ones.

          • humblesmith says:

            Actually Napoleon’s feats were quite implausible, which was the point of the book. No one in the history of the world did what he did, which was after one army was defeated, put together a second in record time, and after that was defeated be banished, where he put together a third army and almost overthrew the government with but a mere 600 men. The whole point of the book was that this was a quite unique and implausable historical event, that when we apply the skeptic’s reasoning consistently, it disproves Napoleon. The only way you get away with it on Biblical issues is applying the standards inconsistently.

          • William says:

            are you suggesting that god was behind napoleon’s actions?

          • William says:

            and i wanted to add, that while you’re responded, you’ve hardly answered anything. Smoke and mirrors. You use the term proof far too loosely and comparing unlikely events with physically and naturally impossible actions is quite a stretch. I can’t understand how you cant see this.

          • Nate says:

            Here’s the other thing — and it’s a pretty stark difference. Napoleon’s feats may have been improbable, but miracles are (by definition) impossible. No one could do a miracle without divine intervention. The same can not be said about the things attributed to Napoleon.

          • humblesmith says:

            These comments are a bit of another subject for this post. These latest comments should be viewed in the context of what David Hume has said. Hume was the king of the skeptics, and developed what many consider to be some of the greatest arguments ever written. He was indeed formidable, but has been dealt with many times since he died. If we refute Hume, we’ve refuted all of the arguments you suggest here. I’ve dealt with him in many posts…search for his name in the search box, or start with these few:

            http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/king-of-the-skeptics/

            http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/can-miracles-happen/
            http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/can-miracles-be-proved-or-disproved/

            As for proving things, this post was about Isaiah and prophecy, and so far I’ve seen nothing that refutes the point I made, and the point still stands.

          • William says:

            what are you talking about? the points you made didnt answer anything… It was all “could be, because nothing is impossible for god”… that’s not proof. That’s not evidence. and just saying that the people of Isiah’s time accepted his prophecies means nothing to us today without verification. I may be convinced that Kawasaki makes the best motorcycle, but if you’ve never ridden one, my word (a guy you dont know) means little to nothing. I may have seen bigfoot, but does my seeing it make you see it? Does my witnessing of something so unlikely make you believe it?

            where’s the proof, real proof, of this prophecy? What do we have to point to that verifies it was indeed made before the actual events transpired? So far, all we have is a claim that he made the prophecy. while I guess that’s a neat claim, If that’s all you require for validation, then you sir do not know the meaning “proof.” And I’d even settle for decent evidence. And I suspect, that when it comes to other religious texts, and their claims of prophecies, you become much like I am now. Skeptical.

            And who cares about Hume? Refute him, dance on his grave – I don’t care. that’s skirting around the real issue and near insane to say “well, if i can prove Hume Wrong, then i have proven my point.” All that does is prove Hume wrong – nothing more. It may be better to address the comments that have actually been made on this blog.

            Let’s do this, on this thread or another, whatever you prefer, but let’s take supposed prophecies of the Koran or Tecumseh and you can explain why we should or should not believe them. It may be best to leave Hume out of this unless he decides to join in the discussion himself. It seems to me, based on your criteria for plausible miracles, anything could and should be believable. I think that’s called being gullible.

          • humblesmith says:

            I’d have to go back and check my words, but I’m pretty sure in this post I never gave a response that said “could be because nothing is impossible with God.” If I’m mistaken I will stand corrected, but please do not misquote me.

          • William says:

            you’re right. a stretch in paraphrasing. I’m trying to understand your position, which is hard when so many questions are sidestepped. But I should do that. Apologies.

            Your responses still aren’t “answers” though. and I still think you’d change positions in your argument if we were talking about Tecumseh or Koran prophecies. I’m not trying top out words in your mouth, but this is simply what i have inferred.

  3. portal001 says:

    I can only speak for myself, but one of the reasons I use a lot of “it seems to me” and “it might be that” within discussion is because I prefer to clarify that my opinions are a work in progress and can change. Whether someone expresses their opinion through “it seems” and “it might” makes no difference on whether their opinions are valid or true. It’s just a way of expressing a point, while also acknowledging that this point is a thought rather than necessarily a fact.

  4. humblesmith says:

    The basic concept here is not difficult. There were false prophets around in Isaiah’s day as there have been in every generation. Isaiah distinguished himself because of the immediate prophecies that he mentioned that came true, therefore his words were saved. Some of his prophecies came true in a matter of days, some in a few years, some in the distant future. I’ve not done an exhaustive study of his prophecies, but I do know Isaiah spoke of what would happen to Jerusalem, Babylon, Moab, Damascus, the land beyond Ethiopia, Egypt, Babylon, Edom, and also spoke of the Messiah of Israel and the millennial kingdom. Isaiah distinguished himself because the people of his day recognized the immediate prophecies came true. False prophets were to be rejected in the Jewish law.

    If we dismiss every historical book that was written at the end of someone’s life, as seems to be suggested here, we’ve lost history. Selective reading based on our perception of the likelihood of the events is what David Hume argued about more capably than anyone I know, and Hume’s methods have been proven false.

    We’re going round and round about this, and it will be stopped soon, per comment policies.

    • Nate says:

      History is different, because history is plausible. To say that God told someone the events of the future is a statement that transcends natural law, so it requires really good evidence to be persuasive. The evidence you’re laying out for Isaiah just doesn’t match up.

      For one, we don’t know that the people of Isaiah’s time held onto his writings because he had accurately delivered prophecy. We don’t really know what they thought of him. It may be that Ezra and the other scribes who put these writings together found Isaiah’s writings and made the same assumption that you are, and that’s why Isaiah’s writings were held onto and why he was mentioned in Kings and Chronicles. Or maybe he did have respect from his contemporaries. But even if he did, it doesn’t mean that respect was due to his prophecy fulfillment. We just don’t know.

      Secondly, there are many people throughout history that have amassed huge followings, but neither of us would believe they actually had divine guidance. Buddha, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones, David Koresh, etc. Just because some people believe in someone else is not a reason to throw out our initial skepticism.

      Look, even the Bible talks about the benefits of a healthy skepticism (Deut 18:20-22, Acts 17:11, 1 John 4:1). There’s nothing wrong with requiring evidence before we buy into something. Maybe Isaiah really was a true prophet. But for people today to believe that, it’s reasonable to want solid evidence. Instead, things like the virgin birth prophecy of Isaiah 7 and 8 raise more doubts than they dispel. And prophecies like the one we’ve been talking about (concerning Sennacherib) are not given in a way that let us know whether a prophecy was actually made or not.

  5. humblesmith says:

    You are underestimating the intelligence of the Jewish fathers, who were just as scholarly as we are, if not more so. Even if Ezra did compile the OT canon, he of all people would have been quite aware of the dangers of following false prophets, since there had been many leading up to the Babylonian captivity. The period at the time of Ezra was a cleansing one for Israel, where they finally were purged of false religion. The false prophets just prior to the captivity were were proven wrong rather quickly when Babyon came and destroyed the nation. Leaning one’s eternal destinay on whether they might have made a mistake is a big gamble, but you’re certainly free to do as you please. You are also underestimating the number of prophecies in the OT, their duration, and their fulfillment. They were not all done in such a short order; they spread over many years and the contemporaries had ample opportunity to investigate the prophecies over many years. Some, such as Daniel, even if we give the liberal and skeptical date of authorship, have fulfillment well after the fact. Lastly, you are overestimating the number, scope, and fulfillment of prophecies from the other sources you mention. The Bible has a huge number of prophecies, and other sources pale by comparison. But as to how to evaluate them, specifically to the historical ones, we weigh them based on the history we know and when they were written. We reject the ones that do not come to pass, and even if they do come to pass but are atrributed to sources other than the true God, we reject them. This was the standard in ancient Israel and is the standard today.

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