Contingencies in Biblical
Prophecies

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Question
How does Jeremiah 18 teach that God allows for human contingencies to alter the outcomes of prophetic predictions?
Answer
In some instances we may see Old Testament prophets predict things that end up not happening, ever. And you might wonder, well, what happened to the word of God in those situations? But Jeremiah 18 gives us some really important insight into how historical contingencies interact with what the prophets predict, because if you look at the predictions of the prophets, you generally see three types of predictions. One are [sic] predictions with conditions attached: "If you don't do this," i.e., repent and turn back to me, "this will happen." And so it's clear in those cases, if the people repent and turn back to the Lord, the bad thing is not going to happen. You see a second category of prophecies which says, "This is going to happen and nothing's going to change that." In fact, a lot of the message of Jeremiah is exactly that, that exile is coming, and the way forward is to accept that and look for God's purposes in that. But there's a third kind of prediction that Jeremiah 18 gives us insight into, and that is, if you look at what Jeremiah is saying there, you see that even when conditionality is not explicit, it is often implicit. So, for instance, if you're standing in the middle of the road and I see a bus coming. I say, "You're going to get killed!" And you look, and you see the bus, and you run out of the road, and you didn't get killed. Well, am I a false prophet if I did that? There was an implicit condition that if you jump out of the way, you won't get killed. And so, there are those cases where there are predictions where the conditionality is implicit, not explicit, and when God's people respond in the right way, then the prediction doesn't happen, which is just a natural kind of way that we speak. And how much more so is it a way that God might speak? And he does.

Answer by Rev. Michael J. Glodo

Rev. Michael J. Glodo is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.