Predictions of Ruined Cities

By James M. Rochford

The Bible makes a number of predictions about the devastation of specific ancient cities, mentioning details about their destruction. This type of predictive prophecy demonstrates that the God of the Bible is in charge of secular nations and cities—not just spiritual matters. In my opinion, while these predictions are not the most persuasive evidence for the inspiration of the Bible, they still help to support the cumulative case that the Bible is a uniquely inspired book.

Destruction of Tyre (Ezek. 26:3-14)

Tyre was an affluent sea port in the ancient world. It was heavily guarded and fortified, and yet, Ezekiel predicted that it would be destroyed. Ezekiel wrote:

(Ezek. 26:3-14 NASB) “Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves.4  They will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; and I will scrape her debris from her and make her a bare rock.5  She will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken,” declares the Lord GOD, “and she will become spoil for the nations.6  Also her daughters who are on the mainland will be slain by the sword, and they will know that I am the LORD.”7  For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will bring upon Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses, chariots, cavalry and a great army.8  He will slay your daughters on the mainland with the sword; and he will make siege walls against you, cast up a ramp against you and raise up a large shield against you.9  The blow of his battering rams he will direct against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers.10  Because of the multitude of his horses, the dust raised by them will cover you; your walls will shake at the noise of cavalry and wagons and chariots when he enters your gates as men enter a city that is breached.11  With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets. He will slay your people with the sword; and your strong pillars will come down to the ground.12  Also they will make a spoil of your riches and a prey of your merchandise, break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses, and throw your stones and your timbers and your debris into the water.13  So I will silence the sound of your songs, and the sound of your harps will be heard no more.14  I will make you a bare rock; you will be a place for the spreading of nets. You will be built no more, for I the LORD have spoken,” declares the Lord GOD.

Ezekiel wrote this prophecy in 587 B.C. Regarding the dating of Ezekiel, Robert W. Manweiler writes:

Ezekiel is probably the most carefully dated of all Old Testament books… we here note that the majority of biblical scholars, even of those who reject the inspiration and unity of the Bible, believe most of the book was written in the sixth century BC by the prophet Ezekiel. The prophecy against Tyre in chapter 26 can be dated with great probability at least two centuries before its fulfillment.[1]

OT scholar Gleason Archer also confirms that most critics of the Bible date this book similarly.[2] For instance, even arch-skeptic Richard Carrier assumes a sixth century date for this prophecy.[3] Thus the date of this prophecy is fairly fixed to the sixth century—even by the critics.

A few years after Ezekiel made this prophecy, Nebuchadnezzar attacked Old Tyre.[4] His siege lasted for thirteen years, but he was unsuccessful in plundering the city (585-573 B.C.).[5] He eventually broke through Old Tyre’s defenses, but they retreated to New Tyre (or “Insular Tyre”) a half mile off the coast. Historian Lewis V. Cummings comments, “From the dawn of time… the city, impregnable behind its high walls, and located upon a rocky island two miles in circuit and half a mile offshore, had successfully repelled all attempts at invasion.”[6] After several failed invasions, the city of Tyre felt invincible.

Of course, critics of the Bible see nothing supernatural about this portion of the fulfillment, because it was written around the same time as Nebuchadnezzar. The truly supernatural element of this prophecy comes two hundred years later, when Alexander the Great came through and conquered New Tyre (332 B.C.). Remember Ezekiel predicted that Tyre would be destroyed by “many nations” (Ezek. 26:5)—not just Nebuchadnezzar, and he also predicted that Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t plunder the city (Ezek. 29:18-20).

Alexander didn’t want to continue conquering (onto Egypt) without securing Tyre. The Persians could’ve used it as a base to fight behind him after he left, thus breaking communications with his army. Historian Philip Freeman writes, “If he left Tyre unconquered, it would continue to serve as a base for the Persian navy and, even worse, as a glaring emblem of his failure.”[7] Since New Tyre was a half mile off of the coast, he ordered his men (and neighboring nations) to build a causeway to the city, which was 200 feet in width (thus fulfilling verse 12 regarding the “many nations” involved).[8] Freeman writes, “Alexander was present every day, conferring with the engineers, encouraging his men, and carrying stone after stone into the sea himself.”[9] To build the causeway, Alexander had his men tear down the buildings of Tyre, thereby fulfilling Ezekiel’s prediction that they would throw the “stones and timbers and even [their] dust into the sea” (v.12; c.f. Zech. 9:3-4; Isa. 23:2-3, 8, 18).[10]

Of course, the pagan Alexander had no motive in fulfilling Bible prophecy.

OBJECTION #1: Ezekiel predicted that Nebuchadnezzar would fulfill this prediction—not Alexander the Great

CLAIM: Critics of this prophecy argue that in verses 7-11, Ezekiel predicted that “he” (Nebuchadnezzar) would overcome Tyre—not Alexander the Great. The third person plural (“they”) in verse 12 does not refer to later conquerors; it refers to the “chariots” (v.10) and “horses” (v.11).

RESPONSE: While Ezekiel did predict that Nebuchadnezzar would initially attack the city, he didn’t claim that he would be the one to completely decimate the city. In fact, Ezekiel began the prediction stating that “many nations” would take Tyre (Ezek. 26:3, 5).[11] Indeed, later in his book, Ezekiel specifically states that Nebuchadnezzar would not take spoil from the city: “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre; every head was made bald and every shoulder was rubbed bare. But he and his army had no wages from Tyre for the labor that he had performed against it” (Ezek. 29:18). Skeptic Richard Carrier claims that here Ezekiel had to “retract his prediction” in this verse because it failed.[12] But why does Carrier assume this? If this was really the case, why wouldn’t Ezekiel simply edit chapter 26 to fit with what happened? It was his book after all! Instead, it is more reasonable to believe that 29:18 is a necessary caveat for his prediction made in chapter 26, which said from the beginning that “many nations” would conquer Tyre.

OBJECTION #2: Modern Tyre has been rebuilt

CLAIM: Critics of this prophecy argue that modern Tyre has been rebuilt—despite God’s prediction that “[Tyre] will be built no more” (v.14). For instance, National Geographic has reported on modern Tyre recently.

RESPONSE: Since Old Tyre was destroyed and thrown into the sea, it has never been rebuilt. No one has pulled the stones and bricks from under the silt. In AD 1170, an ancient traveler named Benjamin of Tudela commented that he could see the old city buried beneath the shallow sea.[13] This would make sense of Ezekiel’s description that “when I bring up the deep over you and the great waters cover you” (Ezekiel 26:19). Then he writes, “I will make you dwell in the lower parts of the earth, like the ancient waste places, with those who go down to the pit, so that you will not be inhabited” (Ezek. 26:20). Therefore, because this ancient city was submerged in the sea, it has never been rebuilt. While the current dwellers of Tyre are on the same territory, they really have little to do with the ancient city other than being in the same location. Robert Newman adds, “Remembering that Ezekiel spoke against a Tyre that was a world-trade center and naval empire, the fact that the site now has museums and resorts in addition to its fishing village hardly constitutes regaining her former title ‘Queen of the Seas.’”[14]

OBJECTION #3: Robert Newman’s history about Nebuchadnezzar was wrong

CLAIM: In his article criticizing Robert Newman’s argument from predictive prophecy (“Newman on Prophecy as Miracle” 1999, 2005), skeptic Richard Carrier writes,

What is Newman thinking? He obviously has never picked up a history book. He claims that Nebuchadnezzar “took” the city in 573 B.C., but we have no evidence of that. As far as we know, the city submitted to Babylonian rule without being sacked. Indeed, since it was a trade powerhouse with two outstanding naval ports, a conqueror would be a fool to destroy it (even Alexander’s successors rebuilt it for that purpose). So Nebuchadnezzar surely got a sweet deal… Newman is clearly the worst historian I’ve ever seen. Never mind that he has absolutely no basis for this claim–it is already extraordinarily absurd!

Since Robert Newman has given the most scholarly presentation of this prophecy to date,[15] Carrier attacks his presentation of this prediction to discredit the prophecy as a whole.

RESPONSE: This seems to be a common strategy for Carrier when he doesn’t know how else to reply: name calling and pulling rank. Is it possible to discuss these issues without having to call Newman “the worst historian I’ve ever seen,” or to claim that Newman “obviously has never picked up a history book”? Robert Newman has a PhD for God’s sakes! I think he has read a book or two! Since Carrier is a PhD in ancient history, he must feel comfortable pulling rank on this issue.

It’s interesting that Carrier doesn’t cite any sources when he writes that Nebuchadnezzar “got a sweet deal.” How does Carrier know this without any sources? Perhaps he knows of some contrary sources, but he does not cite any. At least Newman has a source when he makes his assertion about Nebuchadnezzar: the Bible. This argument from Carrier really shows the prejudicial approach that many critical scholars have when approaching the Bible: they don’t treat it as they would any other ancient historical source.

Finally, this remark from Carrier is really just a clever distraction from the overall fulfillment of this prediction in Alexander the Great. Carrier used this tactic in his critique of the regathering of Israel. In my critique of Carrier there, I compared his bickering to a football coach asking the referees to review a call on a fourth down play, when their team is down by 60 points in the fourth quarter! He focuses on the minutia, rather than the overall prediction. Whether or not Nebuchadnezzar took the city is really inconsequential to the overall prediction with Alexander. Carrier doesn’t have a strong reply here or in his book Sense and Goodness Without God.[16] Therefore, he focuses on inconsequential details of Newman’s overall argument.

The Permanent Destruction of Babylon (Is. 13:19-20; Jer. 51:24-26)

Both Isaiah and Jeremiah predicted that Babylon would be permanently destroyed:

(Is. 13:19-20 NASB) And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. 20 It will never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation; nor will the Arab pitch his tent therenor will shepherds make their flocks lie down there.

(Jer. 51:24, 26 NASB) “But I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all their evil that they have done in Zion before your eyes,” declares the LORD… “They will not take from you even a stone for a corner nor a stone for foundations, but you will be desolate forever,” declares the LORD.

Let’s consider each prediction made here, one by one:

PREDICTION #1: Babylon will be permanently abandoned. When these predictions were made, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and the city itself was the center of the known world. Today, however, the modern city of Babylon has been completely abandoned. An Iraq tour guide web site notes, “Today, Babylon lies completely in ruins. A large and splendidly carved stone lion is all that remains of its former glories.”[17]

PREDICTION #2: Stones will not be plundered from the city. Newman writes, “Interestingly, as Jeremiah predicted, natives who work the site for building materials only take bricks; they burn the stones they find for lime.”[18]

PREDICTION #3: People will not even take their animals there to graze. Newman writes, “The Euphrates River, which used to flow through the heart of the city, has eroded away the ruins that may have been on its western bank. Moreover, the river has changed its main course since ancient times, leaving a swampy area in its place.”[19] Elsewhere, he writes, “Even today, Arabs are afraid to live at the site of Babylon, and its soil is too poor to provide grass for grazing.”[20]

Destruction of Edom (Jer. 49:16-17)

Jeremiah predicted that Edom would be a place of permanent destruction. It would not be rebuilt. This was an incredible prediction at the time, because Edom was a fortress carved out of rock. And yet, Jeremiah predicted that it would be permanently destroyed.

(Jer. 49:16-17 NASB; c.f. Ezek. 25:12-14; Isa. 34:10:15) “As for the terror of you, the arrogance of your heart has deceived you, O you who live in the clefts of the rock, who occupy the height of the hill. Though you make your nest as high as an eagle’s, I will bring you down from there,” declares the LORD. 17 “Edom will become an object of horror; everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss at all its wounds.”

At the time this was predicted, Edom was an impenetrable fortress. But in the seventh century AD, Edom was conquered by Muslim warriors (AD 636). Today, it is a place for tourists. It has never been rebuilt.[21]

[1] Newman, Robert C. The Evidence of Prophecy: Fulfilled Prediction as a Testimony to the Truth of Christianity. Hatfield, PA: Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1988. 21.

[2] After commenting on the biblical criticism of C.C. Torrey regarding a late dating of Ezekiel, Gleason Archer writes, “Few scholars, however, have followed him in this skepticism, and in more recent years the cumulative data of Palestinian archaeology… point to a complete cessation of Israelite occupation in Palestine during the greater part of the sixth century.” Archer, G., Jr. (1994). A survey of Old Testament introduction (3rd. ed.) (412). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carrier, Richard. Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2005. 249.

[4] According to the 2010 World Book Encylopedia, “In 573 B.C., the Babylonians crushed a Tyrian revolt after laying siege to the city for 13 years. Badly weakened, Tyre fell to the Persians in 538 B.C.” The World Book Encyclopedia. Vol. 19. Chicago, IL: World Book, 2010. 541-542.

[5] Josephus Against Apion 1:21.

[6] Cummings, Lewis Vance. Alexander the Great. New York: Grove, 1968. 175.

[7] Freeman, Philip. Alexander the Great. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. 133.

[8] Historian Lewis V. Cummings writes, “Diodorus claims to know that is was two hundred feet wide when it was finished.” Cummings, Lewis Vance. Alexander the Great. New York: Grove, 1968. 176.

[9] Freeman, Philip. Alexander the Great. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. 131.

[10] Historian Philip Freeman writes, “The siege of Tyre began with the demolition of older parts of the town on the mainland for construction materials for a causeway to the island.” Freeman, Philip. Alexander the Great. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. 131.

[11] Biblical commentators note a chiastic structure in Ezekiel’s prophecy, which is popular in biblical writing. That is, it begins with “many nations” (vv.3-5) and it ends with the pronoun “they” to emphasize the work of the nations—not just an individual (vv.12-14).

[12] Richard Carrier “Newman on Prophecy as Miracle” (1999, 2005).

[14] Newman, Robert. “Public Theology and Prophecy Data: Factual Evidence that Counts for the Biblical Worldview.” JETS 46/1 (March 2003) 96.

[15] See his chapter “Fulfilled Prophecy as Miracle” in Geivett, R. Douglas., and Gary R. Habermas. In Defense of Miracles: a Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997. Or more recently Newman, Robert. “Public Theology and Prophecy Data: Factual Evidence that Counts for the Biblical Worldview.” JETS 46/1 (March 2003).

[16] Carrier, Richard. Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2005. 247-251.

[18] Newman, Robert. “Public Theology and Prophecy Data: Factual Evidence that Counts for the Biblical Worldview.” JETS 46/1 (March 2003). 94.

[19] Newman, Robert. “Public Theology and Prophecy Data: Factual Evidence that Counts for the Biblical Worldview.” JETS 46/1 (March 2003). 94.

[20] Robert C. Newman “Fulfilled Prophecy as Miracle.” Geivett, R. Douglas., and Gary R. Habermas. In Defense of Miracles: a Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997. 220.

[21] Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999. 613.