The late H.A. Ironside, senior pastor of the historic Moody Church in Chicago from 1930-1948, wrote a book titled The 400 Silent Years. This brief work is a historical, biographical, and devotional look at the period between the prophecy of Malachi and the Gospel of Matthew. In between Malachi and Matthew, the grass of Greek culture grew lush. The Romans flexed their imperial muscles. The faith of Israel was diminished and then renewed when the Temple was rebuilt. However, the fire of Israel’s distinct and prominent national identity that once roared was reduced to a few scattered glowing embers. The influence of Greek culture, the rise of the Roman Empire, and the persuasion of Israel’s religion all simultaneously intersected during this inter-testamental period. Most striking to any believing Jew, however, was the conspicuous and deafening silence. This was an epoch when there was no prophetic word from the Lord. The prophets, whose voices persistently uttered “Thus says the LORD,” were now hushed. Because God was silent, it was the longest silence. Why was God silent? To this question we do not have an answer. But a question we might consider with greater profit is what do we glean from the period of the longest silence? This is a pertinent question for us today. Hebrews 1:1-2 asserts that God once spoke through the prophets but in these last days speaks to us through His son. So neither do we hear a new word from the Lord. There are three pillars which held up the faithful during this period of the longest silence that instruct and help us this Christmas season.
First, the pillar of providence. Though God’s voice was silent, His invisible hand was active. Revelation was put on hold but providence was not. The Lord was raising up Jewish leadership in the Maccabeans, elevating and tearing down Roman emperors, and advancing the Greek language, which would be the language of the New Testament. Not to mention the miracle of what is celebrated today as Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights, when God kept the fire of the eternal flame burning for eight days when there was only enough olive oil for one day in 164 BC. This Christmas season consider the providence of God in your life. As God was at work then, He is at work today.
Second, the pillar of God’s purposes. God’s word withstands the test of history and time. All of what the prophets spoke happened. In some cases, it unfolded before their very eyes. And just as God fulfilled His word in the past, He will accomplish what He has purposed for the future at the time appointed by Him. Like rocks that remain unmoved when stormy winds fiercely blow and the tempestuous waves violently crash upon them, so the purposes of God remain unshaken against the fiercest wind gusts of history and the most violent waves of time. This Christmas season consider the unhindered purposes of God in your life. As God was faithful and true then, He is faithful and true today.
Third, the pillar of God’s trustworthiness. God’s people are exhorted to walk by faith not by sight. As the prophet Habakkuk said, “the just shall live by faith” (2:4). The nation of Israel did not have “Thus says the LORD” between Malachi and Matthew the verbal pillar of cloud by day and the vocal pillar of fire by night to navigate very difficult times in their history; and neither do we. We don’t need more revelation. We need a fuller and sincere trust in what all-wise God has already revealed. This Christmas season consider the trustworthiness of God. God is trustworthy. He desires and is worthy of our absolute dependence on Him, not independence from Him.
But alas, the longest silence is broken. The fullness of time has come; God speaks once again.
“Gabriel” (cf. Luke 1:26).
“Speak Lord, your servant hears.”
“Go to a virgin named Mary in Nazareth. She is betrothed to Joseph. Tell her she has found favor in My sight. She will give birth to My Son, who is the Christ. He will save My people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).