Skip to content

Insight #77 — Hyperbole in Prophecy

December 15, 2001.

“Jack never says a word.” That is not a lie; it is hyperbole–an “exaggeration used as a figure of speech.” Consider Matthew 3:5. “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and ALL Judea.” This is an intended exaggeration for emphasis. It is a general statement, not meant to be taken literally in an absolute sense.

Some persons ignore this accepted manner of speech when interpreting prophecy. Prophecies about Babylon are a leading example. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah predict that “Babylon… shall never be inhabited” (Isaiah 13:19,20). This has been fulfilled–in general–for 2000 years! Some persons force this prophecy into an absolute sense. Since Babylon’s ruins have sometimes had inhabitants, they claim the prophecy is not fulfilled. They envision a modern rebuilding of Babylon to its former glory as a world power–so that it can finally be destroyed “like the Bible says.”

The error in this type of interpretation can be seen by testing it on  a prophecy about Jesus. Isaiah 53:7 predicts of the Messiah: “as a sheep before her sheerers is dumb, so he opens not his mouth.” Mark 14:61 says that before the high priest, Jesus “held his peace, and answered nothing,” thus fulfilling the prophecy. But in the very next verse, Jesus does answer him. Also, in Matthew 27:14, it says that Jesus “answered him [Pilate] to never a word; insomuch that the governor marveled.” The prophecy is clearly fulfilled. But John 18:33-37 records conversation between Jesus and Pilate, proving the silence was not total.

Jesus fulfilled the prophecy–but not in the absolute sense. What then? Must Jesus return to earth for a rerun of His trial, making sure the next time to keep his mouth totally shut–no exceptions?! Who could accept such a preposterous idea? Yet, this is exactly how some persons deal with prophecies of Babylon. They want a rerun, instead of praising God for a tremendous fulfillment!