The Gemara at the end of Maseches Makkos says: “Rabban Gamliel and Rabi Elazar ben Azariah and Rabi Yehoshua and Rabi Akiva were walking… another time they were walking to Yerushalayim. When they reached Mount Scopus, they ripped their clothes. When they came closer near Har HaBayis they saw a fox leaving the area which had been the Kodesh Kodashim. They began to cry and he, Rabi Akiva, laughed. They asked him, ‘Why are you laughing?’ He answered, ‘Why are you crying?’ They answered him, ‘The place concerning where it says, “the non-Kohen may not approach upon pain of death” [Bamidbar 1] now has fulfilled the verse, “foxes will walk there” [Eichah 1] and we wouldn’t cry?’
“He said to them, ‘That is why I am laughing, for it is written, “I will bring two faithful witnesses, Uriah the Kohen and Zechariah ben Yevorchayahu” [Yeshayah 8]. What is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah was in the time of Bayis Rishon whereas Zechariah lived in the time of Bayis Sheini! Rather, the prophet here is linking their prophecies. Concerning Uriah it is written, “Because of you, Zion will be like a plowed field” [Michah 3]. Zechariah writes, “In the future, the elderly Jews will fill the streets of Yerushalayim”[Zechariah 8]. Until the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, I was afraid that the prophecy of Zechariah would not be fulfilled. Now that the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, it is certain that the prophecy of Zechariah will be fulfilled.’
“They then told him, ‘Akiva you have comforted us! Akiva you have comforted us!’”
The questions are obvious and have been raised by Maharsha. Why would Rabi Akiva doubt the fulfillment of a legitimate prophecy? What does one prophecy do to establish the credibility of a different prophet’s words?
Also, since it is implied that Rabbi Akiva had ripped his clothes as well, then surely this was not the time for him to be laughing.
To explain, let us look at the Rambam, Ch. 10 of Hilchos Yesodei haTorah, Law 4:
“Punishment that is said by a prophet, e.g., ‘Such a person will die!’ or ‘Such a year will bring famine or war’ — if it does not come to fruition is not a proof that he is a false prophet. On this we cannot say, ‘Behold he has spoken, yet it did not happen!’ Why? Because Hashem has patience, He is slow to anger and He can choose to forgive the offense and not punish. Possibly, people repented for their sins and were forgiven like the people of Ninveh. Or they were granted a reprieve like King Hizkiyah. However, if the prophet promises something good and this did not happen, then it is proof that he is a false prophet. This is because every good that Hashem decrees, even conditionally, He brings to fruition. There was one exception at the time of the destruction of Bayis Rishon. Then, Hashem promised that the righteous would not die with the wicked and He rescinded. This issue is discussed in Maseches Shabbos. From this we see that only through promises of good can we test the prophet. This is what Yirmiyahu told Chananyah ben Azur. Yirmiyahu was prophesying destruction whereas Chananyah was prophesying good. Therefore, said Yirmiyahu to Chananyah ben Azur, ‘If my prophecy is not fulfilled, it is not proof that I am a false prophet. But if your prophecy is not fulfilled, it is proof that you are a false prophet. As it is written, “Listen now to this matter… the prophet who says words of peace, when his prophecy is fulfilled it is a proof that Hashem sent him.”’ This teaches that any prophecy for good must be fulfilled; whereas a prophecy of destruction might be cancelled if they repent or other reasons.”
Concerning the sin of Shaul during the war with Amalek, it is written, “Shaul said to Shmuel, ‘I have sinned because I have violated the word of Hashem… now please forgive my sin’…And Shmuel said to Shaul, ‘Hashem has taken the malchus of Israel from you today and has given it to one better than you. The Eternal G-d of Israel will not lie nor change His mind’”[Shmuel 1:15].
Harav Chaim Brisker explained this passage according to the Rambam we have just quoted. When Hashem decrees for bad, He might nullify the decree. But when Hashem decrees for good, even conditionally, He will not retract. This explains the conversation between Shmuel and Shaul. When Shaul is told that Hashem is disgusted with him as king, he tries to repent. This decree is merely negative to him personally. Repentance can cause such a decree to be rescinded. But then the prophet tells him that his kingship has been given to someone else. Concerning the new king it is a prophecy of good. Such a prophecy cannot be rescinded. This is why the prophet describes here the nature of Hashem not to be fickle.
Rav Chaim Brisker explained similarly the beginning of Parashas Va’eschanan. Hashem tells Moshe, “You have spoken enough, do not continue to speak to Me further … command Yehoshua and encourage him because he will lead the people into the Land which you will see.” The reason Moshe should not continue to pray is because the bad decree to him is a good decree to Yehoshua and, therefore, according to Hashem’s ways, will not be annulled. So, the bad decree against Moshe is immutable.
However, it would seem that this whole discussion concerns when there are two distinct parts to a prophecy, being good for one and bad for someone else. However, if there would be a condition in a prophecy of good that it requires first the fulfillment of a prophecy for bad, this would be different. Though a prophecy for good will certainly be fulfilled, yet surely it will have to await fulfillment until the realization of the prophecy of bad because this is an internal condition to its own prophecy of good. In such a circumstance, it would seem if the prophecy of bad is canceled then the prophecy of good will also not be fulfilled. We have learned that a prophecy of bad can be canceled by repentance, etc., as explained by the Rambam, above.
Perhaps this is how to understand the Gemara in Makkos. Rabi Akiva learns that the verse teaches us that the prophecy of Zechariah is only triggered upon the fulfillment of the prophecy of Uriah. In this fashion, as explained, the prophecy of good awaits fulfillment of the prophecy of bad. Only after seeing the fulfillment of the prophecy of Uriah is Rabi Akiva confident that the ultimate Geulah will come, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah.
For a further, deeper understanding as to why these two prophecies are linked, see Harav Yerucham of Mir in Daas Chochmah U’mussar: “Yeshuas Hashem is different than we are accustomed to think. When a person experiences difficulty and then Hashem rescues him, he thanks Hashem for the rescue. Yet, normally, one is unable to thank Hashem for the difficulty in the first place. He would prefer if the trouble had never come about. The real truth is different. The reason the trouble came in the first place was for the yeshuah to occur. Yeshuas Hashem is not a method of solving problems. The opposite is true. Problems come in order to allow the yeshuah. The problem is the source of the sprouting forth of yeshuas Hashem — just as in the plant kingdom, a seed is planted and rots in the ground while becoming the source for the goal, the fruit. This is what Dovid Hamelech says in Tehillim, “I thank You because You afflicted me, and You were my salvation.” Dovid Hamelech is able to thank Hashem for the suffering itself because he realizes that the suffering is the beginning of the yeshuah.”
This would seem to be a reason why these two prophecies are interdependent. The bad of the destruction of Yerushalayim is itself the beginning of its rebuilding, its own yeshuah.