Does Ezekiel chapter 30 contain failed prophecy?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: Can you explain Ezekiel 30:10-11 and how it was fulfilled? Because from what I could find Nebuchadnezzar failed to conquer Egypt. Don't you require the prophecies of the past to be ful­filled in order to believe that the future ones will be too?

Thus says the Lord God: “I will put an end to the wealth of Egypt, by the hand of Nebuchad­nez­zar king of Babylon. He and his people with him, the most ruthless of nations, shall be brought in to destroy the land, and they shall draw their swords against Egypt and fill the land with the slain. And I will dry up the Nile and will sell the land into the hand of evildoers; I will bring des­olation upon the land and everything in it, by the hand of foreigners; I am the Lord; I have spo­ken.” (Ezekiel 30:10–12, ESV)

Answer: Thank you for the question. I will be happy to respond to it, but in my opinion, there is no slam-dunk response to this particular challenge, and by slam-dunk, I mean a known historical event that played out succinctly, exactly as described in the scripture. Although Nebuchadnezzar made some progress into Egypt, he never caused the devastation that Ezekiel described in Chapter 30... but is this a real problem for the Bible? Let's explore.

We have many historical indications that Babylon did invade at least some of the Nile delta. Although this did not constitute a full conquering of Egypt, it could have helped in that county's decline. We know that Egypt's power and influence continued to diminish until it became a shadow of its former self. Nebuchadnezzar could have been the initial outside agent of that decline, thereby earning his mention in the prophecy, but his mention stops at verse eleven. Because we are no longer locked in time by his person in verse twelve, we have room for a change in prophetic voice. Here the narrative turns proleptic as the narrator speaks about a future event while still speaking in the present tense. This is a common tool for prophetic communication.

We should also be sensitive not to apply too much importance to a lack of historical or archaeological data from that time. Remember, we are talking about events that happened over 2500 years ago. I am not aware of any archeological evidence that proves whether or not Babylon successfully conquered Egypt's capital, destroyed its structures, or enslaved its people. Keep in mind that the lack of archeological evidence for Babylon's victory cannot automatically be cited as evidence that the prophecy had failed because that would be an argument from silence, and an argument from silence is a categorically weak argument. Just because a person has not found his preferred evidence at some point in time, does not mean that he shall not eventually find it. As is frequently quoted, an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Additionally, the delta region did indeed change between the 6th century BC and now, both politically and geologically. Pliny wrote that the delta once had seven tributaries to the Nile but only two of them exist today. Additionally, archaeologists have discovered an entire city that was deconstructed and moved stone-by-stone because the Nile tributaries had changed in a way that cut off the water supplies to a government center. They have also found evidence of other government-subsidized cities in the desert that were abandoned and left desolate. These could either fulfill or foreshadow the cultural decay or the drying up of the Nile.

Although these and other changes do not necessarily add up to the exact biblical description, they do tell us that we do not know everything... yet — and since the archaeology tends to verify more than vilify the Scriptures, it is wise to take a wait-and-see attitude when you run across such an anomaly, and this is especially important when we're talking about a prophetic scripture.

If you aver that the Bible must precisely match every detail in the secular histories before it can be considered God's true word, you have a couple of problems. First, the secular histories often do not agree with one another, so in the case of disagreement, which of the arguable "truths" should we choose to be the matching standard that verifies the Scripture's veracity? Second, even if you could decide on a credible matching standard, you'd still have a wrong idea about biblical inerrancy. God's word is indeed inerrant — and it stands as so with or without secular corroboration. However, it is easy to get the wrong idea of what that means. God's word is not a technical document, designed to match a customer's criterion in precise detail (although it often does this). It is God's word, designed to communicate his truth in his way. But we humans interface with this truth imperfectly. Because of this, when we have a history that does not seem to align, it is probable that we are not using the proper interpretive device for the information at hand or that the historical information is itself flawed.

This Ezekiel chapter 30 issue keeps showing up as a challenge to biblical veracity because it is one among very few that seems to have the chops. And since it is one of very few, what will you do about the rest of the Bible — that hulking mass of truth — because the Bible is verifiably accurate to an astronomical degree! By crumbling under a relatively minor problem, you've allowed your focus to shift away from this mountain of truth and onto a pile of sweepings. Do not allow the enemy to dupe you so easily. Take a lesson from mathematics.

If you've done any statistical work, you are probably familiar with outliers in the data. These are results that lay outside of the dominating curve or results, and their presence is normal — so normal, in fact, that their absence might indicate that the data was fudged. Do as I do with the occasional biblical outlier. Take it as evidence that the whole data is credible. And by all means, do not throw away mankind's most precious resource, God's word, on the basis of an outlying and amplified problem.

You are in one of two places right now. You are either a saved person who is wrestling with biblical inerrancy, or you are a skeptic, fishing around to see if anyone can answer this challenge to the Scripture. The forums are simply filled with skeptics who like to see believers bending these verses around to align with the secular histories... so they can pounce on their inadequacies! But I do not want to do that even though it is likely that my brief explanations of Ezekiel 30 have not satisfied. But I cannot allow this small disappointment to dim my view of Jesus Christ — and neither should you. If you are a Christian, take your gaze off this small problem and put it back where it belongs. If you are not a Christian, you are standing on the edge of hell. Do not allow an outlier to keep you from the true answer... and if you are indeed interested in the truth, go to Jesus Christ for salvation, and you will see with new eyes. I promise.

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To see a similar query about Ezekiel chapter 29, click here.

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