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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Larsen

Four Hundred Years of Silence



 

Last year, as I made my way through my Bible in a Year journey, the day arrived when I reached the end of the Old Testament. I let out a cheer and a sigh of relief.  Done with the long books of history of God’s people Israel. Done with the many (way too many) battle descriptions where God led his people into bloody war with other nations to fulfill his promises.  Done with the countless rules and laws God called for his people to follow.  Done with the multitudes of prophets telling God’s people what was to come, along with pleas to be ready.


It seemed to me that if you pulled way back from the Old Testament and looked at it from the 40,000 feet level, here’s what it’s about:


1.        God loves his people and provides them with everything they need

2.        His people eventually take his love for granted, sin against God and his expectations

3.        God becomes angry and doles out discipline on his people, just as a loving parent would

4.        The people mourn and repent and ask for forgiveness

5.        God provides forgiveness.


Repeat steps 1 through 5.  Then repeat steps 1 through 5.  Then repeat steps … you get the idea.


And side note: We are “his people.” Yes, it was the ancient Jews who made the mistakes documented in the Old Testament, but I could just as easily write, “we” instead of “they.”  Throughout the Bible, when people act in a certain way, you can rest assured that modern people in today’s age still make all those same mistakes!


In order to speak with his people, God appointed prophets to share his message. His primary message was a warning that a time was coming when God will make all things right and restore humanity back to how they were originally intended before sin invaded the Garden of Eden. And the people needed to be alert and ready for that time.


Malachi is considered by most to be the very last Old Testament prophet God sent, although not all – my Chronological Bible reports that some historians believe Joel was the last one. Regardless, the very last verses of the entire Old Testament are Malachi 4:1-6. Let me share them here, in the New Living Testament translation:


The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed – roots, branches, and all.


“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.


“Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant – all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel.


“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”


And … cut.  That’s it – that’s the end.  Essentially, a big “THE END” appears after that speech.


But … that’s not a satisfying ending, is it?  That’s a cliff hanger if I’ve ever seen one! If that were at the end of a bestselling suspense novel, or Hollywood blockbuster movie – if the credits came on or you turned the page only to find the About the Author page – you’d be furious, wouldn’t you?  You’d flip pages and say, “What?  Where’s the rest of it?  What happens next?”


I heard an incredible sermon that included these six verses of Malachi from one of our church’s pastors, Eric Spatz. He asked us to place ourselves as one of the Jews who lived in the era of Malachi, about 430 to 400 BC. Malachi had just delivered this fiery, impactful prophecy. You were fired up! This message was welcome, after all the fighting and difficulties of life on earth. You were determined to do everything the Lord had said. Malachi had sold you on the sense of urgency and you certainly wanted to be the side of the Lord!


Then, what happened?


Nothing, that’s what.  Life went on and assuming Malachi died off, it was time for God to appoint another prophet to keep his people informed.


But there wasn’t one. Instead, there was silence from God.


Eric asked us to imagine what we’d be praying to God after a year of silence, five years, ten years, twenty.  “God? Are you there?  Why are you silent? The world is black and you’re not responding, Lord.  Have we sinned so badly that you simply can’t forgive us?  What’s going on?”


The current generation fell away, and a new one grew up.  And another one. Now, no one alive had actually heard the prophesies of Malachi or any of the other prophets.  God’s messages were now just ancient history written on scrolls, read by rabbis and priests in the synagogue every week.


Did God forget about them?  Did he even care anymore?


To go from the end of the Book of Malachi in the Bible to the beginning of the New Testament, it takes a second to flip one page.  But for those people at the time who were waiting, it was four hundred years of silence.





As Christians, we all know what happens when we flip that one page:  Jesus is born! But before we go there, let me take you somewhere else. Eric’s passionate sermon made me start wondering, before this four hundred year wait between prophets, what was the normal length of waiting for new prophets to appear?  How different was four hundred years to what the ancient Jews were accustomed to? So, I did the research.


Here is a list of the prophets of the Old Testament with their approximate years of activity prophesying for God:

·        Elijah, 870 – 848 Before Christ (BC)

·        Elisha, 848 – 797 BC

·        Amos and Jonah, 760 BC

·        Hosea, 755 – 722 BC

·        Isaiah, 740 – 700 BC

·        Nahum, 664 – 612 BC

·        Jeremiah 627 – 580 BC

·        Zephaniah, 612 BC

·        Habakkuk, 605 BC

·        Daniel, 605 – 536 BC

·        Obadiah, 586 BC

·        Ezekiel, 593 – 571 BC

·        Haggai and Zechariah, 520 BC

·        Joel, 400 “ish” BC

·        Malachi, 433 – 430 BC


Was four hundred years between prophets a big deal for the Israelites in Malachi’s timeframe?  YES!  It was.  According to this table, the most they’d ever gone without a prophet sharing God’s word with them was about forty years. Often, several prophets were all sharing messages simultaneously.


For believers at the time, it was a dark, scary, silent time. And then … we have our choice of four gospels that tell the story of Jesus. But let’s look at one: Mark. Mark starts his gospel with the words (NLT version): This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1a)


WOW! If there was any doubt that God had arisen from his long silence, Mark tells us that this is the event everyone had been waiting for!


He goes on to quote a prophecy from Isaiah: “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’


John the Baptist! 


His message is clear (Mark 1:7 – 8) John announced, “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am – so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”


And we’re off and running into the beloved story of Jesus, sometimes described as The Greatest Story Ever Told.  The pace will pick up incredibly, culminating in only about three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry before his crucifixion and resurrection. The days of waiting in darkness were over.  Thank God that He ended the silence in such a fabulous way!  A brilliant light has replaced the darkness and all the hope in heaven and earth has replaced the sadness.


Prayer: God, thank you for the way you introduced the coming of your son in such a positive and exciting way after the final prophecy of Malachi. Thank you for loving us and continuing to forgive us for our sins when we stray, and for pulling us back into the fold when we repent. Thank you for being a good, good Father. Amen.

 

 

 

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