Tuesday, December 8, 2015

When God was Silent

 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,  in these last days has spoken to us in His Son”  Hebrews 1:1-2

I love this season as we  think about  the birth of Christ and reflect on the Old Testament predictions of His coming.   But have you ever wondered what God was doing between the two Testaments?    

The gap between the Old and New Testament has been called “The 400 Silent Years” because God had stopped communicating directly with His people.     The book of Malachi was written around 430 BC  and closes with a prophesy  remarkably similar to the  first  divine communication recorded in the New Testament:
Malachi 4:5-6 says,   “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.  He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse"
Now fast forward  four centuries to when the Angel Gabriel appears,  
"Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for  your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and  you shall call his name John.   …and  he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and  the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”  (Luke 1:13)
But the 400 years of silence did not mean that God was on vacation.   He was busy fulfilling prophesy and paving the way for the Son's appearance.  During that time  Israel was overtaken   by  the Medo-Persia,  Greek,  and  Roman empires.    After the two exiles (2 Kings 17:23; 2 Kings 25:21) the majority of Israelites had not returned to Judah and  were settled outside of Palestine by the first century AD.


The conquest of Alexander the Great  in 332 BC introduced  Hellenism (Greek culture) to every place he had conquered.   One historian notes:   "The Greek language became the tongue of all government and literature throughout many countries where the people were not Greek by birth.” 1

Synagogues sprang up in regions where Hellenistic Jews spoke Greek.     Legend has it that around 250  BC  Ptolemy II,  the King of Egypt,  gathered 72 scholars to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek in 72 days which became known as the Septuagint (LXX),  the Latin word for 70.  

Up until recently many thought Jesus spoke  primarily  Aramaic,  but  scholars now believe Christ was tri-lingual.  One author writes: 
“The evidence available today indicates that Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek were commonly spoken in Israel in the first century A.D. … It seems reasonable to conclude that Jesus could speak Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  …It is reasonable to conclude that the Gospel authors chose to record things which were originally spoken in Greek since they were writing in Greek” 2
And so we  see how God was shaping  events so that  both  Jew and Gentile could hear the Gospel.    For the Jew,  Gabriel’s  announcement of  John the Baptist’s birth  meant  God was  active  once again among His people  and was preparing the way  for the Messiah.   And for the Gentile, the  Old Testament was  widely available  in the  common language of  the people. 

 F.F. Bruce explains the importance of the Septuagint in spreading the Gospel at that time.
“As soon as the gospel was carried into the Greek-speaking world,  the Septuagint came into its own as the sacred text to which the preachers appealed.  It was used in the Greek-speaking synagogues throughout the Roman Empire.  When Paul at Thessalonica visited the synagogue on three successive Sabbaths and ‘argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead’ (Acts 17:2f.),  it was on the Septuagint that he based his arguments.   
 …The Septuagint played its part even when the gospel was presented to complete pagans, like the unsophisticated Lycaonians at Lystra, who mistook Paul and Barnabas for divine beings ” 3
The stage was set and the time had finally come for God to fulfill the promise.    Our Wonderful  Counselor,   Mighty God,  Eternal Father,  and  Prince of Peace (Is.9:6),   was revealed in human flesh in a lowly manger.  The Seed of the woman was poised to  crush the Serpent’s head.    The Son of God came into the world to defeat  Satan, sin, and death,  by  offering Himself as a spotless sacrifice for our sin and then raising Himself from the dead.   With His own precious blood Christ has purchased and redeemed  a people for his own possession”.   

As we gather together to celebrate  let us  joyfully proclaim the “excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (I Pet.2:9)

Come, O Immanuel, come,
And set Thine Israel free;
In exile from our home,
We long and sigh for Thee:
O Saviour, come, on earth to dwell,
Thou, "God with us," Immanuel! 4


1. General Sketch of History by Edward Augustus Freeman; pg. 41
2. The Languages Spoken by Jesus by Aaron Tresham   
3. The Canon of Scripture;  F.F. Bruce,  Intervarsity Press; 1988; pg 49
4. Veni, Veni, Emanuel (the "O" Antiphons),  Authorship Unknown, 8th Century Latin
MacArthur Study Bible: Crossway;  2010;  Introduction to the Intertestamental Period
Image:  Ancient fragment of the Septuagint  SOURCE


  1. A few other things.....

    The rise of the Roman empire and Pax Romano ensured that there would be a system of travel for the first missionaries to spread the gospel. It also ensured that crucifixion would be the means of Jesus' death.

  2. I have always wondered how we know the book of Malachi was written 430 BC though.

    1. Good question - The internal evidence in Malachi’s prophecy clearly shows that he ministered during the time of Nehemiah’s second visit to Jerusalem BC 430-420 Keil & Delitzsch demonstrate how Nehemiah provides the necessary info to ascertain the date of Malachi’s writing:

      “all are agreed that he lived and prophesied after the captivity…. The chief reason for this is to be found in the agreement between Malachi and Nehemiah (ch. 13), in the reproof administered for the abuses current among the people, and even in the priesthood, - namely, the marriage of heathen wives. You can find that discussion in their commentary here: http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kdo/view.cgi?bk=38&ch=0

      For another good discussion check out the Pulpit Commentary’s introduction to Malachi’s author and date. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/view.cgi?bk=38&ch=0

      And also Eugene Merrill’s exegetical commentary on Malachi:

  3. Those years before Jesus came were also crucial for the nation of Israel. The conquest by the Babylonians, and the subsequent return to the homeland (and the fact that many did not return) stirred many questions about what it meant to be Jewish. It changed the way Jews worshiped, with the rise of the synagogue. It was a time of change in Judaism, which influenced the kind of Messiah the people were expecting.