Saturday, July 25, 2015

Are There Bible Prophecies about Contemporary Events?

"Gaza will writhe in agony.”
Gaza shall be abandoned.”
These are two ominous prophecies about Gaza found in the Old Testament (in Zechariah 9:5 and Zephaniah 2:4). Some claim that what has happened in Gaza over the past ten years, or last year, was a fulfillment of those prophecies.
But those who make such claims disregard what else is found in those two verses. Zechariah 9:5 also says, “Ashkelon won’t be inhabited.” And Zephaniah 2:4 declares, “. . . and Ashkelon [will certainly be] destroyed.”
As I wrote in my previous blog article, on the way to the Gaza Strip last month I passed through the outskirts of Ashkelon. While there was some rather minimal damage from Hamas-fired rockets last summer, it still seems to be a thriving city. Here is a picture of Ashkelon used by Reuters this month:

The prophecies mentioned above were fulfilled long, long ago. It is not in the least legitimate to see the destruction of modern Gaza as fulfillment of Biblical prophecies—or as military action that should be supported by the U.S.
Those who claim that biblical prophecies are being fulfilled at the present time are very selective in the verses they use and they tend to completely ignore the historical context of when and where the words were first spoken or written.
Earlier this month a friend sent me an email with the words “The Most Disturbing Documentary of 2015” on the subject line. It was a link to a video, which you can access here. (The transcript and some pictures are found at
The “documentary” begins with these words:
. . . Obama and the leaders of our church have a secret sinister pact to hide from the public the most terrible warning encrypted inside our Holy Bible . . . . because according to the final chapters of the Bible Obama will not finish his second term. He is the 44th and last President of the US.
Based on Daniel 11:36-40, the video asserts, “Vladimir Putin is undoubtedly the king of the north that will guide Russia in the end times.” Further, President Obama, “was born either in Hawaii or Kenya,” south of Jerusalem. That and other clues “prove that Obama is the king of the south as the prophecies foretold.” And these two kings will fight it out before January 2017.
But just as I predicted that the world was not going to end in May 2011 (see here), I now predict that the prophecy about the demise of the U.S. before the next presidential Inauguration Day is mistaken. (If I am wrong, send me an email any time after Jan. 20, 2017.)
Well, this video/transcript and many similar Bible prophesies that can be found on Internet might well be the work of what some people might call the “crazies.” But some Christian authors and politicians who are more “mainstream” hold similar views.
Joel Rosenberg, a New York Times bestselling author of ten novels (whom I referred to in the 5/2011 article), has long linked Iran to end-of-the-world prophecies. It is noteworthy that he has influenced some national politicians. In March of last year Rosenberg and Rick Santorum co-authored a piece about Iran for
Tony Perkins, head of Family Research Council and an ardent supporter of Israel, has announced that FRC will be conducting a tour of Israel this fall, and it will include Rosenberg, Santorum, and Bobby Jindal.
But here is a word to the wise: beware of linking Biblical prophecies to contemporary events.


  1. I don't know how it strikes other people, but the mere phrase "biblical prophecies" conjures up immediately in my mind that whole tradition of apocalyptic thought that, century after century, has "read" the current time and events as signs of the end times. I wonder if those of us who read these stories in historical context should abandon that phrase for something else -- "apocalyptic myths" or "apocalyptic narratives" perhaps?

    I want to say that there is something atavistic, even infantile or immature, in such thinking. Your essay dismisses the usual dismissal of such thinking as crazy, and I'm fairly sure you're right. Sane people can believe idiotic things. However, the belief in and thus the willingness to act on apocalyptic myths -- especially in these postmodern times with the amount of historical and cross-cultural information at our fingertips -- seems to me very much like some kind of mental regression or stunted development or some such thing.

    Of course, my thoughts here raise a question whether there isn't some kind of intellectual development that reflects a growing mental and emotional maturing. I know we're queasy -- certainly I am, too -- about viewing adults as on some kind of evolving scale of mental development, not only because of the empirical challenges in such an argument, but also because of the ethical implications of ranking people. But I'm wondering, if there is not a scale of development whereby we can understand alternative world views in terms of some level of maturation, we're left in a kind of anything-goes arena of competing ideologies with no foundation for assessing the level of rationality in arguments. Hm...

    1. What I meant by suggesting we stop using "biblical prophecies" is that, by using it, we reinforce the idea that the Bible has such prophecies that can be applied to current or future times. If it does, then, of course, there's no reason not to try to "read" the times for prophetic fulfillment.

    2. Anton, thanks for your thought-provoking comments--and for your suggestion that we stop using the words "biblical prophecies."

      I think that is a good suggestion--but one that is not going to be taken seriously by those who think that there are biblical prophecies that are very mportant for the present day. So how do we communicate or dialogue with them? To reject or refuse to use words that they think are so important is likely to just break all communication.

      I think there are levels of mental and emotional maturing, but it is hard to talk about that without sounding arrogant or dismissive of those we disagree with.

      When we confront people who hold ideas that we think are defective, I certainly am not for adopting a relativistic, anything-goes attitude. Rather, I think that we ought to listen carefully to what other people say (regardless of how ridiculous it may seem to us), try to understand why they believe such things, and then attempt to show the problems with their ideas and to suggest alternative ways to understand or interpret whatever they are talking about that we find flawed.

  2. I started a comment. It suddenly disappeared, into the cybersphere I suppose. But maybe the gods of biblical prophecy didn't like what I was about to say, and just snatched it away. I'll try again. Maybe the cybergods will be more merciful this time. In the SS class I attend at the UM church in Tulia, the subject of suffering for sin came up. "Why do bad things happen to good people." I think Rabbi Hershner phrased it "When bad things . . ." Most of the class firmly resisted the idea of suffering as related to personal sin. One asked, "Is it stated anywhere in the Bible that all suffering is a result of personal sin?" I said that the inference was there but I could not remember an unequivocal quote. (I also said the Bible does not speak with one voice on the issue.) Our pastor is on educational leave the month of July working on ordination requirements, and she asked me to write her weekly newsletter article. I decided I would take on the issue of suffering, with the questions "Why do bad things happen to good people?" and "Does the Bible ever unequivocally state that all suffering is a result of personal sin?" I went immediately to Deuteronomy 27 and 28. But I also thought of the whole series of prophecies against the nations at the beginning of the book of Amos. Amos comes close to affirming that. But of course the book of Job taken as a whole emphatically contradicts the so-called Deuteronomic theology of sin and suffering. As does Jesus in John 9. But your question regarding Gaza made me wonder, if one took those diatribes in Amos, one by one, ending with Judah and Israel, and tried to connect them to current events, what would be the result? BTW, I agree wholeheartedly: beware of linking Biblical prophecies to contemporary events.

    1. Charles, thanks for sharing some of your thoughts about the problem of bad things happening to good people.

      Of course, as you indicate, the prophesies of Amos (and other Old Testament prophets) is mostly about bad things going to happen to "bad" people, that is, those who are in opposition to God.

      I am quite certain that Amos's prophecies were all for the people/nations of the 8th century B.C. and not for the 21st century A.D., and I am grateful for your wholehearted agreement.

  3. As he often does, local Thinking Friend Eric Dollard (who is moving to Chicago next month), sent very perceptive comments:

    "Some Muslims believe that the Qur'an contains prophecies about modern times; in fact, ISIS preaches an apocalyptic message, based on a bizarre interpretation of the Qur'an, of an upcoming final battle between the forces of good (ISIS) and evil (the West). The final battle is set of occur somewhere in Northern Syria.

    "The book of Daniel is clearly a product of the 2nd century BCE, when the king of the north (the Seleucid empire in Syria) and the king of the south (the Ptolemaic empire in Egypt) were fighting for control of Palestine.

    "It is dismaying and frightening that some the Republican presidential candidates would base America's foreign policy on an invalid (in my opinion) interpretation of the Bible."

    1. Eric, thanks for your comments, including mention of who the king of the north and king of the south were in historical context. Similar to what I wrote above, I am quite certain that the prophecy in Daniel was for the 2nd century B.C. and not a veiled reference to Putin and Obama in 2015-16.

      I don't know much about it, but in some forms of Islam, or among some Muslims, there is the idea of the coming of the twelfth imam in the end times. Joel Rosenberg's 2010 novel is titled "The Twelfth Imam," and here is how it is introduced on

      "Tensions are rising in the Middle East. Iran’s president vows to annihilate the United States and Israel. Israel’s prime minister says someone must hit Iran’s nuclear sites 'before it’s too late.' The American president warns against a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities and says negotiations are the key to finding peace. And amid it all, rumors are swirling throughout the region of a mysterious religious cleric claiming to be the Islamic messiah known as the Mahdi or the Twelfth Imam."

  4. Thinking Friend Glen Davis in Canada shares these comments:

    "Thanks for this good word on biblical interpretation. Context is crucial to all biblical interpretation. To ignore the historical and social context of a biblical text and apply it to events today shows a profound disrespect for the scriptures.

    "It reminds me of this quote from Dr. Donald A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which he attributes to his father, a Canadian minister, 'A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.'

    "If truly contextual interpretation were taken more seriously, the church would be set free from so many of the battles around social issues which plague it today. (Like climate change, human sexuality, etc.)"

    1. Thanks for these good words, Glen.

      I cited D.A. Carson in my book "The Limits of Liberalism," but I didn't know (or didn't remember) that he is from Canada.

      I like his father's words, which I don't remember hearing before. Thanks for sharing them.

  5. We all love a good story, a narrative that makes sense out of our lives. Sometimes we love it too much, and crush it into a fundamentalist obsession. Not just the Bible and the Koran, but just about any thought system can be turned into a fundamentalism, all with similarly disastrous results.

    I just finished a tumultuous book documenting one such fundamentalism, the market fundamentalism of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics. The book is "The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein (2007). She shows how the foreign and economic policy of the United States has been increasingly driven by an economic orthodoxy that would make the Grand Inquisitor proud, if only he had been a neoliberal.

    A few years ago I had not run into the term "neoliberal," so when I was trying explain my in some ways post-liberal theology, I used the term "neoliberal" in an attempt to put a name on it. Leroy gently expressed some skepticism at my choice, and after reading Klein's book I can really see why. The economic use of the term "neoliberal" points at an economic theory I want nothing to do with. What she shows in excruciating detail is how the total incompatibility of neoliberal economics with human society lead Milton Friedman and friends to support increasingly violent impositions of the policy around the world. From Suharto's Indonesia to Pinochet's Chile to Paul Bremer's Iraq, an orgy of American inspired and frequently conducted terror, torture and destruction of democracy has left a trail of increasingly bloody attempts to create a neoliberal New Jerusalem, even as each effort has lead to little except the stripping of nations of their resources and human rights. Now, from Russia's Putin to Iraq's ISIS, the United States is peering into the abyss created by neoliberalism's catastrophic failures. Except, for true believers, like Dick Cheney and Halliburton, it is not failure but spectacular financial success.

    I am far more afraid of fundamentalist neoliberalism than I am of fundamentalist Christianity or Islam. ISIS may be a dangerous band of Sunni and Baathist radicals seeking revenge, but they are merely the equal and opposite reaction to the horrific war we launched in Iraq seeking yet again to create a neoliberal paradise. How quickly we forget Abu Ghraib when we condemn senseless beheadings. How quickly we forget "Shock and Awe" when we condemn forced conversions. America may have literally taught Osama bin Laden how to be a terrorist, but, other than the countless former Baathist soldiers in ISIS, we taught ISIS by example.

    Klein subtitles her book "The Rise of Disaster Capitalism." Half way through the book I thought a more appropriate title would have been "The Rise of Neoimperialist Capitalism," as neoliberalism ultimately was the ancient doctrine of imperialism, dressed up in modern democratic pretensions. However, by the end I got her message, that disaster is the heart of "The Shock Doctrine," and ultimately its greatest weakness. As she shows at the end of the book, societies around the world are learning to shock-proof themselves against neoliberalism. As the world watches Greece become the latest victim of shock and awe, more and more are slowly learning the painful lesson. Perhaps in the 2016 elections we will learn if America has learned it, too. If not, watch for more Detroit and New Orleans in a city near you.

    1. Excellent post Craig. I've been obsessing over this topic for over a decade, writing and discussing with many individuals. I picked up Klein's book the day it came out,after hearing her discuss it months before at a talk her sister Mischa organized.
      I'm currently focusing on a huxster by the name of Joel Rosenberg. Take a look at this piece he wrote for The Heritage Foundation in 1991 demanding that Israel switch over to radical neoliberal economics. Which they did, with devastating results. There is more poverty and extreme wealth in Israel right now then pretty much any industrialized nation.

  6. Thanks so much, Craig, for your very significant comments.

    Of course, as you probably know, there are also those who talk about biblical prophecies concerning financial matters. Here is the link to such an article published list year under the title "The Financial Collapse of America..9/13/2015." (We don't have much time left to sell our stocks and bonds and get our saving put in gold bars and hidden in a bunker.)

    I don't know much about Naomi Kline and have not read any of her books. I am most interested in her newest book, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate" (2014), but when I saw it is more than 570 pages long, I decided that maybe I wouldn't read it after all--although I do plan to read selected parts of it.

    It is a lot easier for people to see the real or imagined threat of ISIS or Iran (or the coming war between Putin and Obama) than the threat of "Disaster Capitalism" (or "Neoimperialist Capitalism"). Thank you for leading me (and other readers of this blog) to think about the latter.

  7. Local Thinking Friend Joe Barbour shares these comments:

    "As you have pointed out so very clearly people are trying to back God into corners it seems. But God is not bound by what men say or think and to try to take biblical prophecies and tie them to events in today’s world is not a good idea.

    "All I see in the Bible is that Jesus is coming again and we need to be ready ourselves and keep sharing the gospel and making disciples.To add to this is to make what men think and what God wants one. Don’t believe we have that right."

  8. I also just finished "The Shock Doctrine" based on Craig's recommendation. It shocked me how unethical, in my opinion, the U.S. among others has been in manipulating other countries' economies.

    Regarding the upcoming presidential elections, I am hoping Donald Trump does what he promises in bringing up topics that no one wants to talk about during an election. Since he has no chance of winning the nomination, this likely will be most impactful to the Republicans. It would be good but more difficult if he also has an impact on the Democrats. Hillary Clinton certainly has some questions to answer, including Bill Clinton's backing of Boris Yeltsin's dismantling of the Russian economy that was discussed by Klein. Bill was the only Democratic president in the last three decades other than Obama, who escaped Klein's book since it was written before his terms. Based on the way Afghanistan and Iraq have gone in his terms, I doubt she would have found him blameless. Bottom line, this economic meddling has not been limited to one party. Unfortunately, this is not a topic Trump is likely to expose.

  9. Facebook Friend Mike Greer posted these comments on FB:

    "I have no use for claims that the historically contextualized events referenced in scriptures should be superimposed on present or future events. At a minimum one must do the hard work necessary to understand what those prophets were saying to their own people in their own day if he/she is to interpret their words with integrity.

    "The biblical prophets (including Jesus) were far less interested in the future than they were in matters of ethics and justice - collective (social), national, and individual. The Semitic prophets often called far a national act of public repentance.

    "I often ask people this question: Can you name 3 people you consider to be worthy of the moniker of prophet today? Our personal list reflects a great deal about who we are and what we value."

  10. To deny the relevance of "biblical prophesy" is to deny Christ's own word concerning the end of the age and His return. Surely no thinking person can read Matthew 24 and not see the parallels with today's headlines, especially as pertains to the cultural shift and condemnation of traditionally held Christian views, the rise of ISIS and persecution of Mideast Christians, the furor over the Iranian nuclear deal, etc. Christ himself links contemporary events to Old Testament prophesy in verse 15. Let us beware not to fool ourselves with such dismissive arguments and become wise in our own eyes.

    1. I don't usually reply to anonymous comments. (If people are serious about dialogue, they will identify themselves and take responsibility for what they write.) But here is a brief response:

      There have been Christians for more than a thousand years who have tried to link, and thought they were successful in linking, Matthew 24, and many other passages in the Bible, to contemporary events. I wonder how a "thinking person" can suppose that Jesus was referring to 2015 in what he is recorded as saying in Matt. 24:15.