They are called the 400 silent years.  Interesting that the whole world was convulsing with worldwide change, yet Biblically it was silent. While the world heard marching armies and battle cries, heaven was mute toward earth. It is called silent because there is no recorded instance of God speaking to man during this time.

When Malachi laid down his writing instrument, there was not a voice from God until the days of John the Baptist.  When that stern Essene, John, lifted his voice for the first time to preach, 400 years of silence was shattered.  How heaven must have rejoiced!  God was again on speaking terms with His creation.

You are reading your Bible.  You finish the Old Testament.  You turn the page.  You continue to read, not thinking of the vast time and change that happened in the turn of that page.

Because we are familiar with the New Testament, we do not stumble at terms like Pharisee, scribe or synagogue.  But none of those or many other terms are used in the Old Testament.  Were you not familiar with the Bible, you would indeed be scratching your head saying what is a Hasmonean?  What is a Herodian? These and many other important Bible subjects and issues emerged during this silent period.

When the Old Testament closes, The Babylonian Empire has fallen and the Media Persian Empire has taken over.  Cyrus the Persian has allowed the decree to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.  The Old Testament prophets have died, and there is a huge spiritual vacuum.

The writings of Daniel chart the course during these silent years and let Israel know all is on track as God predicted.  Without Daniel, would they have been able to persevere?  We do not know.

From the standpoint of world history, how do we measure the importance of the Greek Macedonian empire? The leader of Greece at this time was Alexander the Great.  He is called “the Great” for some valid reasons.  The cities the Greeks built, and the culture they exported to their conquered lands (Hellenism), was world changing.  Romans built upon the foundation Greece had laid.

This period of Greece was followed by the Roman Empire which lasted 700 years and had two pax romanas (empire wide peace).  Rome built the roads that missionaries would travel.  Rome brought peace so missionaries could travel in relative safety.  Yet all of Rome and Greece’s Hellenestic influence, is unmentioned or never referred to by God.  Heaven’s record and evaluation appears to be far different than mortal men.

When Paul begins his missionary journeys that would transform the known world, these issues of Hellenism would play a major part.  God placed these issues in the mosaic of time for all to be fulfilled when the fullness of time came to pass.

Cyrus the Persian was tolerant and allowed the repatriates to return to the land of Israel.  According to Ezra only 42,000 or so elected to return.  Babylon had been good to the Jewish merchants and life was plush.  They had no desire to endure the rigors of the journey back to Palestine!  Then after they arrived they would be required to live more primitive and frugal.  The majority said “no thank you”.

Their needs had changed as a nation.  Idolatry, that had been the albatross around the national neck for a thousand years, had finally been put away during the captivity.  The death of idolatry, as strong as idolatry had been, was final.  To this day none of us know of a single instance of a Jewish person who worships idols.

The Jewish people needed guidance.  Into this vacuum stepped the scribe.  Ezra was the forerunner of this elite group so highly esteemed.  They were to play a vital role in Jesus’ day.

In captivity they had no temple to worship at, so the Synagogue was established.  Any place ten Jewish males lived the Rabbi’s decreed a synagogue was to be built.  The Rabbi was the local leader of the synagogue.  Some Rabbis became famous and venerated among the population.

Here are some terms that play a part in the New Testament that are not in the Old Testament, but are there when you turn that page from Malachi to Matthew.

  • Scribe (mentioned in Ezra)
  • Synagogue
  • Pharisee
  • Sadducee
  • Hasmonian
  • Herodian
  • Essene (non biblical term)
  • Sanhedrin
  • Governor (Roman)
  • Tax collector
  • Zealot

All of these are important in the inter-testament period.

These are my definitions of them.

Scribe: became the leaders of the community.  Interpreted the law for the common man.

Synagogue:  House of worship for Jewish people all over the world. Visited every Sabbath.

Pharisee: Keepers of the law.  Very concerned with detail.  Jesus’ main opposition for three years.  Not powerful in the government, for they could not get Jesus arrested.

Sadducee: wealthy group as a whole, many of them members of the Sanhedrin.  Did not believe in the resurrection.  When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and offended them, Jesus was arrested and put on trial.

Hasmonian:  these were the Jews who wanted to merge with the Greeks and the Romans. They were ashamed of their Jewish heritage.  They dressed like the Greeks and Romans.  They even went so far as to reverse circumcision, so when they went nude in public like the Greeks, no one would know they were Jewish.

Herodians; these were a political group loyal to the Romans and the line of Herod who were puppet kings installed by Rome

Essenes: These were people who lived apart in communities like communes.  They ate, dressed and lived very sparingly.  John the Baptist was an example of an essene.

Sanhedrin: this was a Jewish council allowed by the Romans to adjudicate Jewish laws.  Rome did not want to deal with the petty issues of a conquered nation’s differences.  This group was comprised mostly of Sadducees, and consequently wealthy men.  History says the number was 70 who were on this council.  Maybe they chose the number from Moses’ day?

Governor; When Herod the great died he divided his kingdom into three parts.  He gave one of the parts to Archalaus his son who was extremely vial.  The night Archalaus inherited, he killed 3000 Jews to entertain his guests.  Rome removed him for his cruelty and replaced him with a governor.  There were several governors before the New Testament opens, but at Jesus’ trial the governor was named Pontius Pilate.

Tax collector: The Roman Empire lasted 700 years.  American has lasted about 250 years.  It is easy to see Rome was around a long time.  Their success in part was due to how they adjudicated the subjugated peoples they conquered.  As a rule they left the national laws and traditions in place and this contributed to their longevity as an empire.  They followed this policy with Palestine.  All Rome asked was the tax due the empire.  So they leased out the collecting of taxes to the highest bidder.  The tax collector kept whatever he could extort from the people.  As a rule the tax collectors were despised as rouges and crooks.  Matthew, Jesus’ disciple was a tax collector.

Zealot: maybe a more familiar term to us would be revolutionary.  A zealot was a person who wanted to over throw the Roman power over Palestine.  One of Jesus’ disciples was a zealot, lending credibility to the charges against Jesus that ultimately got Him crucified.

To the world at large the 400 years were not silent.  It was business as usual.  There was commerce and war, peace and revolution.  There was the siren song of time marching steadily forward.

Finally after 400 years of heaven’s silence, in a far flung corner of the mighty Roman Empire, a child was born and a son was given.  Heaven has never been silent since, and will never again hold it’s peace.

God was manifest!

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