Failed Prophecy! - Can Prophecy Fail?
(Is Prophecy Conditional? - Page 4 of 4)
Failed prophecy is a possibility according to the Bible. We have already seen that a prophecy to a nation or an individual can be changed.
"(Go back to page 3: Prophecy of the Nation of Israel of this 4-part study: Is Prophecy Conditional?)
But the Bible actually says that a prophecy can fail:
"Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." (1 Cor 13:8)
Now this verse may be referring more to the fact that prophecy will not be needed in eternity but it raises a question: can a prophecy fail?
Let's look at this question. If a prophecy is foretelling what God Himself will do independent of man then it will not fail because God is faithful to fulfill His word.
If a prophecy is of something God will do in response to what man may or may not do, then the foretold event is conditional on the actions of man. A good example of this is, again, the prophesied destruction of Nineveh. Jonah prophesied:
"... Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." (Jonah 3:4)
Was Nineveh overthrown in forty days? No. Then, as we said before, the prophecy was obviously conditional. Was Jonah's prediction of the destruction of Nineveh a failed prophecy? It would seem so - at first. But when we examine the purpose of the prophecy we get a different picture.
If Nineveh had not repented and had been destroyed, what Jonah said would have come true but there is a sense in which the prophecy would have failed. A conditional prophecy designed to bring a change in man could be said to fail if it does not bring about the desired result. God was not just thinking "I haven't used any fire and brimstone lately; I think I should destroy Nineveh." No, God, in His love for the Ninevites, was seeking only the best for them - their repentance and their salvation.
What looked like a failed prophecy was actually a success. Jonah's prophecy succeeded because it brought about the desired result - the larger goal of repentance. Think about it - if prophecies were meant to be unconditional then why even utter them? Just destroy Nineveh and be done with it. Why cause 40 days of needless anxiety to a whole city? The objective of giving a prophecy containing a promise or a threat is to encourage repentance and/or obedience. This clearly applies to the people/nation of Israel:
"And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul," (Deut 10:12)
Those who believe that every prophecy about Israel was given unconditionally and must be fulfilled regardless of the actions of the people involved need to examine the principles of and reasons for prophecy being given in the first place.