Monday, December 12, 2016

What about prophecies that predict human behavior?

When Biblical prophecies predict divine action, the fulfillment of those prophecies depend upon the continuation of the current state of affairs when the prophecy is delivered. God reserves the right to change his mind and change his plans (Jeremiah 18).

When prophecies depend upon human behaviors, their precision is less dependable because people often respond to events in surprising and unexpected ways. They may repent of their sinful ways or they may respond to a prophecy in ways that nullify the prophecy's fulfillment. Sometimes, prophecies only predict how people will behave in certain situations. When the time comes for fulfillment, for some strange reason, those people respond in unanticipated ways. Consider Isaiah's prophecies about the Assyrian king Sennacherib when he threatened Jerusalem (2 Kings 19):
2 And he [Hezekiah] sent Eliakim, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 3 They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. 4 It may be that the Lord your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the LORD your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” 5 When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, 6 Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. 7 I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’” 
God did indeed cause Sennacherib to believe two rumors; but Sennacherib's consequent actions did not go as predicted.
8 The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah; for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. 9 When the king heard concerning King Tirhakah of Ethiopia, “See, he has set out to fight against you,” he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to King Hezekiah of Judah: Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 See, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, destroying them utterly. Shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my predecessors destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?” (2 Kings 19:2-13)
The Assyrian king heard two rumors. He heard Libnah was rebelling against the Assyrian army. He also heard that the Ethiopians were coming up against him. It appeared that Judah had two new allies, Lackish and Ethiopia. Neither was true; but Sennacherib believed the rumors, as God promised. The expected result was for Sennacherib to abandon the Jerusalem effort and head back to Assyria. Surprise of all surprises, Sennacherib did not go home. Instead, he steeled his resolve against Jerusalem. Well. That was totally contrary to the prophetic expectation! How could God have been so wrong? The reason is because the prophecy was based upon Sennacherib's likely response to the rumors. His response was not certain, even from God's perspective. The prediction was a likelihood but not a certainty.

In round two, Hezekiah himself prays. The prayer plus Sennacherib's blasphemous bragging provoke a new divine response. God sent an angel into the Babylonian camp. The angel killed 185,000 Assyrians. Sennacherib finally went home to Nineveh.

When God predicts human behaviors, the predictions are based upon strong likelihoods rather than on unalterable certainties. Thus, for example, we recall that Jesus told Peter that he would deny Jesus three times. A short time later, he instructed the disciples‒and Peter‒to pray that they will not come to the time of trial (Luke 22:40, 46). That means Jesus' prediction of Peter's denials was not a certainty but rather a strong likelihood.

There is an interesting side-lesson here. Prayer affects God. God makes plans and alters plans based upon people's prayers. The sincerity of an offered prayer seems to matter. Hezekiah's prayer resulted in stronger divine action than did Isaiah's prayer. We do not know why; but it is very possible that the reason for the stronger divine response was due to Hezekiah's greater commitment in the prayer. Hesekiah's appeal reminds me of the prayer of Epaphras when he prayed for his friends in Colossae.
Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills. (Colossians 4:12)
When you need prayers, be sure to ask your friends and maybe even your minister to pray for you; but be sure to bend your own knees in prayer too. Your prayer may be the one that has the biggest impact on God.

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