This past Christmas season, one of the Advent sermons at my church touched on the time between the Old and New Testaments, sometimes called “the silent years” because no canonical book was written during that time. The speaker described God’s silence during those 400 years as deafening.
The idea of God’s lengthy silence caught my attention. I briefly stopped listening to think about what it would mean to face the challenges of everyday life, much less times of crisis, without the foundational understanding that God was with me. I’ve always known God is present even if I don’t feel his presence. What would it be like if God withheld his voice? What if he ceased to be involved in our world? I couldn’t imagine living in a world that is always winter, never Christmas, to quote Mr. Tumnus from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It would be so cold, so silent.
And then the silence was broken, the speaker assured us, by the cry of a baby. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” John 1:14. Christmas Day is when we celebrate that God “put skin on,” but every day is when we experience God’s “with-ness”—his presence.
It turns out, however, that lots of important things happened between Malachi and Matthew; it was hardly a quiet time. During these 400 years, Israel was ruled by the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans. Aramaic replaced Hebrew, providing a common language for the world of that day. Jewish parties emerged—Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots—and synagogues were established as Jews who were now scattered sought to remain faithful. All of these impact the events of the New Testament.
The intertestamental period isn’t the only time in the Bible when God was “silent” for a lengthy period. For example, scholars seem to agree that Genesis 1 to 12 covers 2,000 years. That’s a lot of time for only a dozen chapters of biblical history. And nothing has been added to the Bible since the book of Revelation, which is another 2,000 years of silence. When you think about it, God has been “silent” about a lot of human history.
But has God really been quiet? I’m thankful the answer is no. God is always speaking, is always active and is always answering prayers even if he is not having people write about it. God is with us, moving in our lives, communicating with us through Scripture and the words of others. We hear his voice speaking to us as we listen and are attuned to his presence. This issue focuses on prayer, one of the ways in which God talks to us and we to him. As I’ve read and re-read the reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, I am thankful that God has never been silent. Instead, he always was and always will be with us, caring for us, forgiving us and delivering us. Thanks be to God.
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law and two grandchildren. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.