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BIBLE AND THEOLOGY FORUM
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Is OT (Hebrew) Prophecy Inherently uncertain of fulfillment?

The claim has been made that Old Testament (OT) prophecy is generally uncertain; God may change his mind on the outcome based on human response to the message. For example, the Lord may announce doom, but call it back if the people repent, even when no such condition is stated in the prophecy. An argument has been made for this point of view despite the fact that a prophet is authenticated as a true prophet based upon the fact that his prophecies come to pass, and a false prophet is subject to the death penalty in the OT in Deuteronmony. Jonah and Jeremiah have been cited in support of this position,.

According to the literalistic ASV when Jonah (4:4) confronted the people of Nineveh
“he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”

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Yet the city was not overthrown at that time because they people repented.

Jeremiah 18 gives this general principal:

6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith Jehovah. Behold, as the clay in the potter’s hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy it; 8 if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. 9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; 10 if they do that which is evil in my sight, that they obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.

But we must beware of translational theology. In the Jonah 4:4 above, the verb at the end of the phrase translated “shall be overthrown” is not a future tense in Hebrew, nor the imperfect tense. The verb is a niphal participle yielding this overliteral translation:
“and Nineveh being overthrown” – probably “and Nineveh is to be overthrown.” Thus Jonah seems poor support for this uncertainty theory.

This theory merits careful examination. If the Lord does make uncertain predictions, are these not always given in language that itself is uncertain? Are not such “predictions” warnings about what the destiny of the bad conduct will be if one continues using uncertain or contingent language? Let us consider this theory in more depth at a later time.