How To Read Prophecy

Amos prophesied violent destruction and Bible readers ask how and when the prophecy was fulfilled. Some people think it all happened in past history, and some think it will happen in the future, in the end times. A good many Bible scholars believe it is both, the near fulfillment being a precursor of the far fulfillment. The near and the far seem mixed together sometimes, but even so this general principle helps in reading Amos, Isaiah, and other prophets.

Another principle of reading prophecy is that once the fulfillment happens we understand clearly. Before it happens we cannot see it clearly. An example is that Old testament people did not understand two comings of Jesus—once as suffering Savior and again as Messiah King. Now we clearly see the first coming. People debate details of the second coming, but when it happens that will become clear too.

Reading history in other books also can help us decide which Bible prophecies happened in the past. Jewish history books tell of the sun change on the very day they buried Ahaz. The Bible does not mention the burial; it simply mentions the sundial shadow. Greeks and Romans and others around the world write of times when the Earth was shattered and when the sun and stars moved in the sky, which likely implies that the Earth moved instead. A descendent of one of those stories often found in children's books is Phaethon. This youth took the reins of the sun chariot to drive it across the sky for one day and he failed miserably. To save mankind, Zeus had to kill him and hurl him to Earth in a thunderbolt.

Ancient writings tell of repeated shakings and even turning over of the globe of the Earth, with accompanying exterminations of almost whole species and civilizations. They told of thunderbolts from heaven. Evolutionists deny judgments of God and like to think that everything was always orderly as it is today. Many Bible commentators like to think the same thing.

For instance, if people do not want to believe that the Earth actually moved ten degrees, they propose that the shadow was on Ahaz's steps instead of on a sundial, and by some hard-to-understand means that shadow appeared to move backward. Or if they do not believe in the blast from heaven, they propose that a plague killed the Assyrian army, but plagues have never killed people that suddenly. Others posit a story that mice chewed the bowstrings so the Assyrians could not defend themselves and the Jews killed them all.

A city south of Judah, in Seir, could not know about mice or a small shadow on the steps. But they did know of Earth catastrophes because their land experienced them too. They sent to Isaiah and asked about coming catastrophes. Isaiah told them that a night was coming, but a morning too, and they should return to inquire more (Isaiah 21:11-12).

Science Ideas

Blasts and fire from heaven had happened at the tower of Babel, at Sodom, and at Joshua's long day. By the time of Amos and Isaiah, upheavals were becoming less violent. These were the last catastrophes described in the Bible until it tells of future tribulation times. These form a series of three Earth movements spaced rather regularly apart.

This regularity indicates to astronomers that possibly a comet was involved. The comet could pass on one side, slowing down Earth's rotation, and then after fifteen years pass on the other side speeding up the rotation. One event canceled the other as far as reading the stars for our calendar. But the earlier event in the time of Amos was more disastrous and required a calendar revision. That is exactly what happened.

Everybody everywhere revised their calendars. Bishop James Ussher who gathered all the history dating information he could find in his time in the 1500s, wrote about this in The Annuls of the World (translated and revised by Larry and Marion Pierce, Master Books 2003). Ussher wrote: "85from the evening of Wednesday, February 26, in the year 747 BC, all astronomers unanimously start the calendar of Nabonassar."