Nations in Bible Prophecy - It's all Conditional
(Is Prophecy Conditional? - Page 2 of 4)
Various nations in Bible prophecy have received many threats and promises.
(Go back to page 1: Israel and Prophecy of this 4-part study: Is Prophecy Conditional?)
Whether they were fulfilled or not depended on the reaction of those nations. Bible prophecy has an abundance of stated conditions. Here is a well-known prophecy:
"And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey. And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." (Jonah 3:1-4)
Was that prophecy conditional? If not, then Ninevah should have been destroyed, If it was conditional, then why wasn't the message given as:
"If you don't repent within forty days, then Nineveh shall be overthrown."
This is an example of a conditional prophecy where the conditional aspect is not stated in the prophecy. It doesn't say "if ... then" and actually sounds like a certainty although, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that it was conditional.
Obviously, even the Ninevites understood that. If they understood otherwise they would more likely have packed up and left the city (they had 40 days notice) than have repented.
Why would a prophecy containing what was essentially a threat be conditional? Because its purpose was to bring about repentance. Why would a prophecy containing a promise be conditional? Because it was meant as an inducement to obedience.
I believe that all of God's promises and threatenings are conditional. That doesn't mean all prophecies are conditional as there are times when God speaks a prophecy concerning His eternal kingdom, such as:
"And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever." (Dan 2:44)
Once the eternal kingdom of heaven is set up, it will stand forever. Its continued existence will not be dependent on the actions of sinful man. This prophecy is not conditional because it does not depend on the actions or choices of man.
But in dealing with sinful man, God uses warnings of the consequences of wrong choices to bring about repentance or some change in behaviour. A promise is given on condition of obedience. The conditional aspect of either warnings or promises are not always stated as it wasn't in Jonah's prophecy to Ninevah.
Here is a verse showing the importance of obedience to the fate of not just an individual or a city but a whole nation:
"But if they will not obey, I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation, saith the LORD." (Jer 12:17)
As it applies to nations in Bible prophecy, this principle of conditionality is most clearly described by Jeremiah:
"At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, [then] I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them." (Jer 18:7-10)
In this passage, the conditional aspect is clearly given and this is describing the principle by which God operates in regard to nations - as he did in the case of Ninevah. Here it is in another version:
"If at any time I say that I am going to uproot, break down, or destroy any nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns from its evil, I will not do what I said I would. On the other hand, if I say that I am going to plant or build up any nation or kingdom, but then that nation disobeys me and does evil, I will not do what I said I would." (Jer 18:7-10, GNB)
And there are many similar passages showing that, when it came to nations in Bible prophecy, the threats and promises they were given were conditional. A principle is spelled out here that whenever God speaks of promises or blessings to a nation, He is speaking conditionally. From what Jeremiah writes, it seems that the general rule is that prophecies concerning nations are conditional.
But Assyria (of which Ninevah was the capital) and other nations were not God's chosen people. Does the same principle apply to prophecy about the nation of Israel?
See part 3 - Prophecy About the Nation of Israel.