(November 14, 1990)
Remember permutations and combinations in high school mathematics? I don’t know what they call it now but it was the mathematical science of calculating the odds or the probability of something happening. For example, if you had three beans, and one was black, the odds of picking the black one out of the hat was a simple calculation.
Anything more complex than one chance in three was always beyond my comprehension. If the teacher started using numbers like 120 times 10 to the 22 power, I was lost. I knew the probability factor was a long shot but couldn’t grasp the numbers or their magnitude.
This week someone brought this science to my level. It was an explanation of probability regarding the Old Testament predictions (or prophecies) made about the coming Messiah. There are more, but this calculation was made on the basis of only 300.
It went like this: suppose you had enough American silver dollars to cover the state of Texas three feet deep. Not having been to Texas, I looked at a map and realized it is gigantic compared to the states we have driven through. That is a Scrooge McDuck-sized pile of money. Anyway, take one of the coins and paint it red. Bury that coin anywhere in the pile. Then, blindfold a volunteer, take him anywhere in that pile of money, turn him around a few times and tell him he gets one pick. The chances of him picking the red coin are the same as the likelihood of one man fitting those 300 very specific descriptions of a coming Messiah.
There isn’t room for all 300 prophecies here but look at a few:
Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Fulfilled at the birth of Christ, see Matthew 1:18.
Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon a donkey, and upon a colt the foal of a donkey.” Fulfilled at His entry into Jerusalem, John 12:13,14.
Zechariah 11:12 “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.” Fulfilled when betrayed by Judas, Matthew 26:15.
Psalms 22:18 “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” Fulfilled when Jesus was crucified, Mark 15:24.
Each of these passages referred to someone who would come. The Jews interpreted them as Messianic prophecies, to be fulfilled in a Deliverer sent from God. When Jesus came, He fulfilled not only the above four but each one related to His first coming.
What do we get out of this? For one thing, that the exact science of permutations and combinations illustrates that the Bible couldn’t have been written by mere mortals without some sort of divine revelation. How could they know a Deliverer would even come, never mind how each of the variety of authors would and could agree on many of the details of His birth, life, death, and resurrection? Most of them didn’t even live during the same era, never mind know each other.
Secondly, it shows the power of God to not only know ahead but to control history. Had Judas been paid only 29 pieces of silver, or 31, the Bible would be flawed. Yet not one detail has been proven wrong, despite all the challenges against Scripture.
From this, we can be assured that the same God who brought all of this together can also be trusted with other things, for instance... our lives.