Failed prophecies and intellectual honesty

I am posting an email response that I wrote up to one of the many people that email me. The background context you need is essentially: she claimed that there was a prophecy that Herod would kill the children of Bethlehem because of Jeremiah 31:15. After telling her the reasons why I thought this was inadequate, she pointed me to an article called: The King Fulfills Prophecy--Part 2. The following is my response.

I fully read the article you recommended to me (I read the version here: regarding whether Jeremiah 31:15-17 was a prophecy of the coming messiah, or not.

Jeremiah 31:15-17 (NSRV) "Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country."

I found it an interesting article for a number of reasons. I agree entirely with the scene that the author of the article vividly paints: "I can imagine the terror that those bands of soldiers caused as they went from house to house, chasing fleeing mothers who clutched to their breasts their little ones. Torn out of their mother's arms, the babies were pierced with swords until they were all dead. That's what went on in Bethlehem because of the rage of this man."

Indeed, if this happened it's an atrocity. This is what happens when soldiers are sent in to kill every infant in an area.

This bring me to my first question. For all the hatred and condemnation brought down on Herod for his ordering male infants under the age of two to be slaughtered, how can you worship a God that previously commanded the same? I'm thinking specifically of:

1 Samuel 15:2-3 -- "Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” ’"

God, Himself, apparently ordered His followers to kill every infant, child, man and woman -- He orders an even greater genocide. Are the scenes of terror and slaughter any less vivid in your mind when you think of the consequences of what God ordered in 1 Samuel? If they are, how can you possibly worship such a God -- and I mean this entirely seriously -- if you think that God ordered such a terrible act, how can you think that God is worthy of worship?

Now, onto the alleged prophecy:

"The prophecy about Ramah is recorded in Jeremiah 31:15, and what's interesting about it is that it doesn't appear here to be a prophecy. But it is a prophecy because Matthew said it was, not because it's inherent in this text."

I agree entirely with half of this statement. Jeremiah 31:15 does not appear to be a prophecy at all. I disagree that it is a prophecy because Matthew said it was -- that is just an intellectually dishonest way of thinking.

By the way, you are claiming something much greater than what this article claims.

You said, "it was prophesied ... that Herod would kill the children in Bethlehem".

No, that is simply a false statement. If the 'prophecy' does not contain the name "Herod" -- it cannot predict that "Herod" would do anything. So, at best, you should fix your claim to say something like, "it was prophesied that children in Bethlehem would be killed."

Of course, that is false, too because "Bethlehem" is not mentioned, and thus, as before, the prediction cannot be said to predict anything specific about "Bethlehem". With that consideration, you should fix your claim to say something like, "it was prophesied that children near Ramah would be killed".

But darn it all, it doesn't say anything about killing either -- it says, "the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country." So the prediction is about children in Ramah who are 'no more', but will come back to their own country. So... how do we fix the prophecy further? "It was prophecied that children would be 'no more' -- perhaps killed? -- in or around Ramah (which is close to Bethlehem) but that they would return from the enemy country."

But now the prophecy isn't true (the children didn't return from the enemy country), so I can see why you wouldn't want to properly state the 'prophecy' -- resist the urge, and embrace intellectual honesty. The article you sent me to is very forthright about what they are doing: 1. Realize that Matthew thinks that this verse in the Old Testament is a prophecy. 2. Since Matthew is inspired by God, he's not mistaken, so we have to figure out exactly why this verse that no one else thinks is a prophecy -- from the Old Testament, to the New Testament -- actually is a fulfilled prophecy.

You do not work backwards starting with the assumption that a prophecy is true then force the interpretation to guarantee that it is true.

There are even more problems, but by now I feel that I've sufficiently countered the claim, so I'll retire my effort on this unless you honestly think you still have a case.

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