Today’s post is focused on the history between the Old and New Testaments. I want to increase your understanding of this time period for a few reasons:
- When you see what God is doing in the silence you realize that He did not abandon His people—He’s very active, He has simply using the most effective method He can to recapture their attention since they refuse to respond when He speaks.
- When you understand the things that happened leading up to the time of Jesus, you better understand what was happening when Jesus comes along.
- When you see that God is doing great things in history—even though He’s not recording them in Scripture—you’ll think differently about the present age. There’s all kind of miracles and amazing things happening because God is at work—God is just as real today as He is in Scripture. The present day and age in Clarksville Tennessee is just as exciting and amazing as Jerusalem in 40 AD. God doesn’t need our part of the story to be a part of His message to the world in Scripture—but it is worthy of record and it reveals His awesome plan, just the same. Scripture contains the essentials, not the whole story. I have a feeling there will be an account of our lives in heaven somewhere…
The story of Jesus isn’t about a silent night, but it’s about the interruption of 400 years worth of silent nights. The Bible is separated into 2 sections—the Old Testament and the New Testament. When the Old Testament comes to an end, it comes to an end with the book of Malachi. As Malachi writes his 4 chapter book, we turn the page and we begin the book of Matthew in the New Testament. But we have to slow this down. Because this one page between the Old Testament and the New Testament represents over 400 years of silence. So when Malachi comes to the end of his 4 chapter book, the curtain comes to a close on the Old Testament, and as the curtain draws to a close to the Old Testament—God goes silent.
There is no Word of God. There are no prophets of God. There are no scripture written by God. Just silence. 400 years worth of silent nights. Where did He go? What was He doing for 400 years? Did He get so fed up and frustrated with this messed up world that He just threw His hands up and walked away—for 400 years? Slowly, over time, did He get in a better mood? And once He got in a better mood, He sent His Son Jesus? Is that what happens? Where did He go? What was He doing? Why the silent nights? Two reasons:
1. The Jewish nation continued to be disobedient. God could not accomplish His purposes through them, and they were not listening to Him, so He stops talking. It wasn’t making any difference anyway!
2. Silence builds anticipation for the events to come. The Jews are looking for God everywhere—fervently. When He does finally show up on the scene, He is guaranteed to have EVERYONE’s attention. And for the next scene—He wants their attention.
Side Note: This is not the first time God was silent for 400 years building anticipation. He was silent as the children of Israel multiplied living in Egypt. That was not the result of disobedience, but rather God building up to some greater events. Never confuse God’s silence with God’s absence.
Key Historical Events during the Intermission:
A Common Language: Alexander the Great appears on the world stage. He takes on the Persian Empire, demolishes Persia, and this begins a string of military conquests that is unprecedented to this day. He conquered all of the known world, and he made them all learn the language of Greek. A common language makes the ability to spread God’s good news to the world VERY effective.
Jews in Jesus day often knew Greek, though they were resisting the change and spoke mainly the language that they had been forced to adopt in their captivity in Assyrian and Babylon: Aramaic. They didn’t want to adopt another language, and were stuck between their Hebrew Bible, their Aramaic conversations with Jews and the Greek common language of the day they had to use when communicating with Greeks and Romans.
An Accessible Bible: The Jewish nation makes the first official translation of their Scriptures, the Old Testament, during this time. It’s known as the Septuagint (70) because legend has it that seventy translators contributed to the translation, often translating the same passages and then comparing their work to come to the best result. For the church, this Bible becomes their main text. Most Christians speak Greek, so they needed a Greek Bible.
Fast Communication: The second thing that Alexander the Great accomplished was to establish a postal system. 111 post stations over 1677 miles from Susa to Sardis to Ephesus. Caravans took 90 days. Royal carriers took 1 week by horse relays. This prepared the way for Jesus by increasing communication and information so that Jesus and His message could be heard around the world. In the ancient world, this speed of information was like the invention of the internet. It was revolutionary to communicate between distant places with speed.
Efficient Travel: After Alexander the Great died, years and years pass, and another world power appears on the stage of history. The world power you know as the Roman empire. When the Roman empire appeared on the stage of history, they accomplished two things that was important for our discussion. They reunified the world and created a Roman military peace–they called Pax Romana. This Roman military peace allowed you to travel with great sense of security and peace. Roman citizens in particular and general people could expect fair treatment no matter where they went in the empire. The second thing the Romans did was they created an intricate system of roads and transportation, so that you could travel further faster. They even marked distance with Roman mile markers so that people could estimate travel.
Example: When Jesus said “If someone makes you go one mile with them, go two.” He was referring to the Roman rule that a soldier could force you to help them for a mile. People could visualize that distance thanks to the Romans. No one else had ever marked the road for distance.
Conflict and Threats to the Jewish Nation and Religious Practices:
The Romans allowed the Jews to practice as a people group, but they constantly interfered. They wanted to ensure that the Jews didn’t try to revolt (so they often showed them how brutal they could be to revolutionaries—lots of crucifixions), they wanted to try to get Jews to adopt the Greek lifestyle and values (so they tried to mix Jewish religious practices with Greek ones), and they wanted to obtain more and more Jewish money (so they collected taxes and fees).
The Romans failed continually to maintain peace. They tried appointing and organizing the region many different ways, but it always fell apart after a decade or two. The Jews were loyal to their culture and practices, and the fought back violently whenever the Romans tried to encourage compromise. The Jewish books of the Maccabees are named after the revolutionaries who successfully beat back the Romans for a short period to give the Jews independence. Under the leadership of Judas “Maccabeus” (meaning “the hammer”) and his brothers, the Jews won independence from Seleucid rule in 142 B.C. However, in 63 B.C., this independence was lost to Rome when Pompey took control of Jerusalem. This is also the origin of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. On Hanukkah, the Maccabean forces regained control of Jerusalem and cleansed/rededicated the Temple to Jewish worship.
At the time of Jesus, people were hungry to have a Jewish nation restored and able to rule itself without the Roman’s interference. The Sadducees and Pharisees were managing an uneasy truce between the two nations with the high priest acting as a politician rather than a temple manager. When Jesus threatened their power and created a large following of people, the religious rulers feared He would upset the political balance, not just the religious system. When conflict rose up again after Jesus in 70AD, the Romans were fed up with the Jews. They decided genocide was the best solution. They tore the city of Jerusalem apart to ruin the people and hunted the Jews everywhere they tried to hide. Their last big fortress was Masada, which the Jews months and months fighting off the Romans before the fortress was breached and taken.
The Synagogue: When the Jewish nation was cast out of the land and their temple was destroyed, they were desperate for a symbol to help keep their worship going. Think about it: if all the churches in Clarksville were gone…would people be as good as gathering, worshipping, and maintaining their faith? Probably not. They would find some symbol, location or routine to cling to. When this happened to the Jews, they created the Synagogue—the Jewish version of church (Paul stole their idea and structured the church in a similar way—and we stole their leadership structure: elders and deacons).
Synagogue’s were gathering places for worship. They were schools for kids. And they protected, read and preserved copies of the Bible. Remember, documents were scarce, and most people couldn’t read. They were dependent upon the synagogue to read the Bible so they could memorize and learn from it.
When the Jews returned to their land, synagogues came with them, and guess who was in charge of coordinating them? The Pharisees. That’s why they had political and religious influence. They were the celebrity priests and pastors of Jewish life. They disseminated information through the synagogue network. A synagogue might have local elders and a rabbi teacher, but the Pharisees provided resources, copies of Scriptures, and oversight to ensure that everyone was teaching the Scriptures appropriately. Jesus was a rabbi who constantly ignored and attacked their supervision.
A Short Timeline of Events Between the Old and New Testament:
586 – Jerusalem is destroyed and people are deported to Babylon
539 – Babylon falls to the Persians
515 – The temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem
440 – Malachi is written
332 – Alexander the Great conquers Palestine
250 – the Septuagint is created (Greek language OT Bible)
167 – the Jewish temple is defiled and the Jews revolt under the Maccabean family
164 – the Jews beat back the Selucid’s and restore the Jewish temple
40 – Herod the Great comes to power as a “Jewish” ruler with the Roman’s blessing
20 – Herod builds the great temple that will function in Jesus day
Read the first two chapters of 1 Maccabees online here: http://www.catholic.org/bible/book.php?id=20
Remember that God uses silence: God may be somewhat silent or less active in your own life during certain periods. While you should ask yourself if there’s anything you have refused to obey and whether there is sin in your life that’s hindering your relationship with Him, You can also trust that God may have chosen to use silence for your good. When you reach times of silence and you don’t think it’s a sin or obedience issue—be diligent to obey God in your routines, and celebrate His activity in the lives of others around you that you get to see.
Take time to write about times of silence in your own life, and what God did in the midst of that silence.
Review the Big lessons of the Old Testament
- Believe more and more every day that God is trustworthy. Strive to see Him as in control, doing what’s best, and worthy of your obedience. Make Him your LORD, the Creator, and King…not just your friend or Father.
- See yourself as playing a small but crucial role in the epic story of God. Remember that God is writing a mystery novel—learn to appreciate the twists, turns, hardships and rescues that He chooses to write into your own story. Don’t resent Him for making it dramatic.
- Appreciate the New Covenant that God has given us, and don’t try to get super-spiritual by adopting or requiring things that God intended only Israel under Moses to do.
- Seek to be a light (or a Jedi)—to have joy, peace, friendship, wisdom, and truth that shines bright in your life and draws people to the God where those things are found.
- Fear hardness of heart. Don’t let it sneak into your life. Stay close to God, keep a soft heart, and follow Him with everything you’ve got.
- Fear sin’s ability to spread quickly and harden to the point of people doing inhuman things. Our society can deteriorate faster than you think. Do your part to preserve our society, to stand up for your beliefs humbly, and to draw lots and lots of people to Jesus, where they can see sin for what it is too.
- Don’t make an idol that looks like God—worship God just as He really is. Determine to understand Him, even the parts you are uncomfortable with.
- Take modern scholars’ new theories on the Bible lightly. God’s message has always been clear and led people to salvation. Don’t let them convince you that we’ve had it wrong for 10,000 years.
Plan to Get Engaged and Grow from the Old Testament:
- Learn from the wisdom of the Old Testament
- Empathize and use the stories of it’s characters to challenge you and comfort you in your own life’s up and downs.
- Use the Psalms to give voice to your emotions and struggles
- Understand better through the prophets how God uses justice and punishment as a last ditch effort to bring people to their senses, and to halt the infection of sin from spreading.
- Study the world through the eyes of God who created it. Consider arguments for science from the perspective of young earth and see if it enlarges how awesome God is.