Isaiah 13 thru 16 – Prophetic Accuracy?

Since I didn’t read yesterday (too busy having a day off work), I caught up today with chs. 13, 14, 15, & 16. The study notes in the JSP and HarCol give differing interpretations of the prophecy against Babylon. HarCol, along with the traditional evangelical view, dates this passage to Isaiah son of Amaz’s time, during the Assyrian crisis, when Babylon was a troublesome city that the Assyrians had to conquer repeatedly. JSP suggests this passage was added during the much later Babylonian empire, at the time of the Judean exile there. Either way, I have a problem with the end of the oracle in 15:19-22. Isaiah prophecies that Babylon will be completely destroyed, on the order of Sodom and Gomorrah. The imagery leaves no room for partial destruction, and specifically claims that no human will ever live there again. However, no invading army has ever, as far as I know, completely decimated the city. Indeed, as recently as 2003 Saddam Hussein rebuilt portions of the city (according to Wikipedia). So what do we do with prophecies like this which never quite come true? If we qualify the truth claims with “yet,” i.e. “This hasn’t come to pass yet, but surely it will in the future,” then how can we ever rule out any prophecy? And if Isaiah has made an incorrect prophecy in the name of the Lord, then can we trust anything he says?

Of course hyperbolic language in and of itself doesn’t necessarily disqualify the prophet. In chapter 14 the prophecy seems to be that the people will sing that song (v. 4a), not that the content of the song will come true. On the other hand, Deut. 18:20-22 makes clear that a prophet speaking in the name of the Lord can always be tested by whether those prophecies come true, and if they do not then the prophet has spoken presumptuously and should be put to death. I don’t know what value there is in testing prophecies like these that may not have their fulfillment until well past the lifetime of the prophet though. I suspect the test of the true prophet involves much more short-term prophecies than that.

This study of the prophets is not for the faint of heart or weak in faith!