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Message: The Din of Silence Part 1
The Din of Silence Part 1
Now that we have finished the old or first testament prophets, I thought it would be appropriate to give a brief overview of the years of silence leading up to Messiah and the New Testament which naturally followed.
I want to set something straight right here at the beginning. This is the time period which Amos foretold, “a famine for hearing the word of the Lord” – Amos 8:11. It is important that we understand this as a national famine, NOT a famine for each individual. That is VERY important because this speaks to the character of God.
God has NEVER withheld His presence or the ability to know Him from ANYONE who would seek Him in sincerity!
That is how people like Anna [Luke 2:36-38] and Simeon [Luke 2:25-35] recognized Messiah immediately when He came as a baby. They EVEN knew His birth was ultimately to set God’s people free from their sins which was FAR more than nearly anyone else knew in that day since the intertestamental period had so distorted the understanding of the prophetic words God had given Israel.
Just an exerpt from Luke’s account regarding Simeon,
“(25) Now there was a man in Jerusalem of the name of Symeon, an upright and God-fearing man, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. (26) To him it had been revealed by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Anointed One.
(27) Led by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do with regard to Him according to the custom of the Law…” – Luke 2:25-27
So we can clearly understand that this intertestmental period was a NATIONAL famine for hearing the word of the Lord. God was judging Israel as a NATION. As has ALWAYS been true of God with humanity, even if a nation at large were under judgment, those whose hearts were towards the Lord FEASTED on His presence, His revelation to them AND His favor towards them. Consider the life examples of Nehemiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being their Babylonian names).
Now, just to be clear – we have not finished the ‘Old Testament’ portion of our trek ‘Thru the Bible’ since we still have to cover the poetic books, but this it thought that since we just finished the last book of the Old Testament we’d traverse the intertestamental period while the events leading up to it are still fresh in our minds. Then we will go through the poetic books of the Old Testament before moving on to our Trek through the New Testament of the Bible.
I am far from alone in my amazement that there is no New Testament record of this time period. Knowing that all scripture – in order to BE scripture – MUST be inspired, it is no wonder of course, that such an account was not written DURING this 400 year period of silence. If it had been, it would simply be a historical account with no inspiration from the Spirit of God since this was the time of God’s NATIONAL silence.
There are however, many natural historical accounts of this time period, the specifics of which can be largely corroborated and therefore deemed reliable.
This intertestamental period of silence not only foretold by Amos as I mentioned earlier, many of the specifics regarding the development and distribution of power during this time were addressed, albeit in cryptic form, in the book of Daniel. So God did not leave Israel without a roadmap, as it were, of the events to come. Nor did He leave them with no indication of time or method of arrival of the Messiah from various places throughout the Old Testament. He DID however, stop speaking to them nationally through a prophet. They still had some access to the scriptures had they sought it out.
The 400 years of silence was approximately between the last prophetic word uttered by Malachi, which would be around 430B.C., and the time immediately leading up to Jesus’ birth.
I suppose most people assume God is deliberate in all He does which would be an accurate understanding of Him. Due to God’s unchanging character, taken together with His omniscience, it seems logical that God does not act upon whim as we would understand it. This being true, I think we can learn as much about this gap of silence from how it was broken and to what led up to it.
Now I know that I told you last week that it was when the angels spoke to the shepherds in the field announcing the birth of Messiah that the silence was broken, but I was reminded of this announcement regarding the birth of John the forerunner of Messiah to his father Zacharias and that in truth would be the real event which broke the silence!
I find it telling that God chose to first speak to a priest! However, it should not be so surprising. God has always respected the chain of authority He established, so quite honestly this should have been anticipated.
A godly couple of the lineage of both priest and David were approaching older age and deeply desired a child. God answered their prayer in the giving of John the Baptist – the first known prophet of God since Malachi!
Now there are literally lessons upon lessons we can learn from all of this.
One which may not be immediately obvious is attached to the fact that being barren was considered a sign of God’s disapproval back then. So it was seen as a shame for a couple to have no child.
Yet, clearly God did not see these two with disapproval.
God has a way of weaving into our daily experience things which reflect His heart and purposes. God wanted Israel to desire Him, to seek Him and long for Him. These two people did revere God and truly worship Him, so God used the barrenness of Elizabeth (which He may or may not have caused) in order to cause a godly couple to cry out to God for a child.
Little did they know they were asking God for the birth of a prophet in Israel… and not just any prophet, but THE prophet who was to come in the spirit and power of Elijah who would be the forerunner of Messiah!
The lesson being that just because one’s life appears from the outside to be a failure and might even insinuate God’s disapproval of them, does not mean it is true! The story isn’t over, until it’s over!
Now we learned another lesson EARLY ON in our trek ‘Thru the Bible’ and it was a rather important one. That God often answers questions and addresses issues by sending a person… by GIVING a person. We saw that in the persons of Joseph, Moses, Joshua, the judges, David and so on! So the fact that God broke His silence with Israel by sending not just one but TWO people should come as no surprise!
It also should be no surprise that the one paving the way for Messiah would be of the priesthood.
Now I want to take the time to read this account because it reveals more about the heart of God in all of this. That God would not speak to Israel for 400 years is unprecedented in all of history. He HAD to be pretty fed up with them, but He was not and IS not finished with Israel.
God WILL fulfill ALL He has said about them, even as Paul affirms in the New Testament that after the end of the time of the Gentiles God is going to once again turn His gaze upon Israel and pursue them, only THIS time, He is going to obtain His heart’s desire. “And so all of Israel will be saved” was the words of Paul. By which we know he was saying, those remaining after God cuts the others off who will NOT trust their Messiah.
We learned this back in Zechariah 13:8,9,
“(8) In the whole land–the LORD’s declaration–two-thirds will be cut off and die, but a third will be left in it. (9) I will put this third through the fire; I will refine them as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say: They are My people, and they will say: The LORD is our God.”
So the two-thirds refers to the majority of Israel who reject Jesus, but the remnant which Paul speaks of is saved and at the time that will be ALL of Israel.
“(25) For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. (26) And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion; He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. (27) And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”
(28) In regard to the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers.
(29) For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. (30) Just as you were formerly disobedient to God, but have now received mercy due to their disobedience, (31) so they too have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.
(32) For God has consigned all people to disobedience so that He may show mercy to them all.”
This was a living fulfillment of the parable Jesus taught of the Wedding Feast – [See – Matthew 22:1-14].
So let’s read the account of God’s ending His 400 years of silence…
“(5) During the reign of Herod king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and he had a wife named Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron. (6) They were both righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. (7) But they did not have a child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both very old.”
“(8) Now while Zechariah was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, (9) he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the holy place of the Lord and burn incense. (10) Now the whole crowd of people were praying outside at the hour of the incense offering. (11) An angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to him. (12) And Zechariah, visibly shaken when he saw the angel, was seized with fear.
(13) But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”
John means – God’s gracious gift! He was the first true prophet in Israel since the time of Malachi!
“(14) And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. (15) For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.
He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. (16) And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.
(17) He will also 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 a people prepared for the Lord.”
“(18) And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” (19) And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. (20) But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
Now it is interesting that the first response of this priest to the news that his prayers had been heard and that his son would serve such a great and noble purpose was doubt which was centered on his advanced years.
So while Zacharias was a godly man who feared God, he also clearly was not fully convinced his prayers would be heard or answered.
Also of interest is the mild yet stern rebuke Zacharias, received for his lack of trust. It is clear that God is still acting in sternness regarding Israel’s cavalier and disbelieving response to God’s word from all those years ago. Imagine the disappointment in having the first words you speak to and over your people to be disbelief and that from one of its spiritual leaders.
Now out of necessity I am going to briefly get ahead of myself here. It is most likely that Zacharias was astonished and as the passage says, “visibly shaken” for more than one reason. Of course to see an angel is not a common experience, so in all reality that “could” be all there was to his reaction. However, the priesthood of Jesus’ day was of the division of spiritual leadership in Israel known as the Sadducees. As such, it is quite possible that Zacharias did not even believe in angels. So to see one would have been not only a natural shock, but a theological one as well! We will deal more with this group and the reasons for their rejection of spiritual beings other than God later.
Now, anyone who has read through the Bible with any attention at all, and turned the page from the last words of Malachi to the first words of the Gospel of Matthew have had to ask the question. “What happened?” This question only becomes more and more pronounced as you read on.
The world we just left in the time of Malachi was vastly and radically different than what we find in Matthew.
Israel is under the rule of the heretofore unheard of empire of Rome.
There are divisions within Israel we’ve never heard of before – Pharisees, Sadducees, Essence, Zealots, Doctors of the Law. There are powers and authorities we have not seen before the Sanhedrin and Rulers of Synagogue and of course the existence of the Synagogue itself along with all of its rules of conduct.
Where did all of this come from?
Good question! That is what I will attempt to address as briefly and concisely as possible in these lessons.
Now most of our lesson will be with the starting point of the end of Malachi’s ministry, but in order to connect one other essential dot it is briefly necessary for us to back up a little.
When the Jews were allowed to return to Judah when Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, many of the Jews who returned from Babylon had intermarried with those of other nations. Among those nations was Samaria.
Now you may remember that WAY back when we were dealing with both the Northern Kingdom as well as the Southern Kingdom of Israel, that Samaria was the location of the Northern King’s summer home.
In 720B.C. the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom and later came against Judah as well. Following all these events, the Northern Kingdom was never given permission to return to their homelands like Judah was following the Babylonian exile.
Some of those Jews of the Northern Kingdom joined with Judah as is mentioned in 1Chron. 9:3. Many of the Jews who did not join with Judah remained in Samaria and intermarried with them. It was the descendants of these same marriages that the Jews of Jesus’ day hated because they were seen as impure half-breeds.
Now the reign of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon extended to Samaria as well because he had conquered their Assyrian captors.
In that time it was standard practice to divide conquered lands and so many Samaritans, which included some of those Jews from the Northern Kingdom who had intermarried with them, were brought to Babylon.
So it was that some of these same Samaritans also eventually intermarried with some of the people of Judah.
Upon returning to Judah, these were among those who Nehemiah and Malachi were addressing regarding their unlawful marriage practices.
The reason this is important is because the Samaritans spoke Aramaic which resulted in the whittling away of the language of the Jewish culture eventually challenging Hebrew as the native language of the Jews. This is why some of the literature of this time used Aramaic, including the books of Daniel and Ezra. Aramaic became the more common tongue of the people while Hebrew remained the primary language of Jewish religion, governing officials and the upper class.
For now, just remember that the Samaritans had intermarried with the Jews during their various captivities and that upon returning to Judah, those marriages continued and had a graduating impact on the language spoken by the Jews in future generations.
Now back to Malachi. You may remember, Malachi was living under the rulership of Artaxerxes I in the late 5th century B.C.. In fact he was under the same Persian ruler as was Nehemiah.
Artaxerxes I rule came to an end in 424B.C.
After him we have…
- Darius II (r. 424-404 BC)
- Artaxerxes II (r. 404-358 BC)
- Artaxerxes III (r. 358-338 BC)
- Artaxerxes IV (r. 338-336 BC)
- Darius III (r. 336-330 BC)
- Artaxerxes V (r.330-329 BC)
It is argued that these names, though originating as actual names, became more like titles than what we would understand as proper names.
The rule of Darius III came to an end four years after Alexander the Great began his invasion of the Persian Empire in 434B.C.. Darius III was killed by Artaxerxes V the self-proclaimed king of kings of the Persian Empire which quickly came to an end at the hand of Alexander the Great in 331B.C.. Until he died in 329B.C., Artaxerxes V held onto some form of power in the eastern portion of his former kingdom, resisting the inraods of Alexander the Great.
For you movie buffs, though I do not recommend watching it myself, the 2007 movie entitled ‘300’ which is a fictionalized depiction of a fictional novel about the Greco-Persian wars, most notably the Battle of Thermopylae was fought in 480B.C.. This was only 55 years before the end of the recorded ministry of Malachi. So I mention it only due to the public’s familiarity with this very loose interpretation of that battle, it may serve as a type of thumb tack on your historical road map.
The final conquering of Persia did not occur until Alexander the Great’s army defeated the Persian army led by Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela on October 1, 331 B.C.. Following the demise of the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great sought to Hellenize all he conquered.
For your education, Hellenization is a term which comes up a LOT in this intertestamental period and simply means the adoption of Greek is the culture, language, religious ideas and identity by non-Greeks.
So it was that the Jews who were already somewhat compromised in that direction by having intermarried with other cultures, were more easily influenced than more devout Jews. Many of these less devoted Jews eventually moved to other Greek regions, thus further fragmenting the Jewish people as well as their connection to their God, His word and His ways. It was also during this time period that the occupation very much hated by the Jews began to infiltrate Jewish culture – that of the tax collector. These were seen as collaborators and not without good reason. In fact, the New Testament begins with the Gospel account of a previous tax collector – Matthew!
In 323B.C., long after the life and ministry of Malachi, Alexander the Great died at the very young age of 32. Following his death, his great empire was eventually divided among four of his top generals. These represent the historically well known kingdoms of the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt, the Seleucid Empire of the East, the Macedonian Empire and the Kingdom of Pergamon in Asia Minor.
This division of the Grecian Empire into four smaller empires was foretold by Daniel in Daniel 8:5-8,
“(5) While I was contemplating all this, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of all the land without touching the ground. This goat had a conspicuous horn between its eyes.
(6) It came to the two-horned ram that I had seen standing beside the canal and rushed against it with raging strength.
(7) I saw it approaching the ram. It went into a fit of rage against the ram and struck it and broke off its two horns. The ram had no ability to resist it. The goat hurled the ram to the ground and trampled it. No one could deliver the ram from its power.
(8) The male goat acted even more arrogantly. But no sooner had the large horn become strong than it was broken, and there arose four conspicuous horns in its place, extending toward the four winds of the sky.”
The two horned ram was the Medo-Persian Empire and the male goat was Alexander the Great who conquered the known world and died by the age of 32.
Out of the four, the two major players in regard to the Jews, especially those in Judah, were the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt and the Seleucid Empire of the East.
Ptolemies were the first to exercise any sustainable control over land which included Judah. Their rule was relatively kind to the Jews though they did inflict heavy taxation. They also relocated many Jews to the now Greek speaking land of Egypt where Greek soon became their native tongue.
It was in Alexandria, Egypt therefore that the Septuigent translation of the Hebrew scriptures was created. This was the same translation of the scriptures used primarily by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. It also has been a tremendous aid to further understanding ancient Hebrew in recent years.
Now there is a LOT of history here, but I will spare you the great majority of it. Suffice it to say that the balance of power toggled back and forth between these two up until the establishment of the Roman Empire. However, Palestinian control remained largely in the Ptolemaic hands.
Ptolemaic rule over Palestine ran from 323B.C. to 198B.C.
In 198B.C. It was then that, under the rule of Antiochus III also known as Antiochus the Great, that Palestine came under the control of the Seleucids at the Battle of Panion in the Jordan Valley. Palestine remained in Seleucid control more or less until Pompey the Great of Rome took control in 63B.C..
At first the Jews welcomed the new control due to the end of hostilities it brought between Ptolmaic and Seleucid empires. However, their happiness was short lived for it was under their control that the Jews entered one of their darkest times of history yet.
Due to reasons I will not drag you through, Rome did defeat Antiochus in 190B.C., levied heavy financial fines on him, crippled his defenses, took over his Navy and took his war Elephants. To ensure continued payments to Rome, they took his son and held him for 12 years. This son later returned home, taking the throne and assuming the name Antiochus Epiphanies who Daniel had foreshadowed in his visions.
Now this is a good dividing point for our intertestamental study since the next section introduces the Maccabean war and the establishment of many of the classes and religious subgroups among the Jews we see when John the Baptist and Jesus arrive on the scene.
- King Hezekiah – Revelations of God’s heart Pt. 2
- Two Mountains, Two Choices and 800 years of Mercy
- Daniel’s vision of future Kingdoms