The time between the last events of the Old Testament and the first ones in the New Testament covers a span of roughly 400 years. At the end of the Old Testament, we see the people of Israel trying to piece their society back together after returning from exile. The historical situation is quite different when we turn the page to the New Testament: the Jews are under the rule of the Romans, several different sects within the Jewish community are on the scene, and we see the synagogues as a place of meeting for religious purposes.
The time between the Testaments is sometimes referred to as the “period of silence” or “years of silence.” These terms are used because there were no special messengers of God who proclaimed to be prophets, nor were there biblical books being written during this time. So it could be said that God was silent as for over 400 years he did not speak through spokesmen nor have specific revelation to be recorded as Scripture.
On the historical scene, however, we can say that the years between the Testaments was anything but silent.
As far as wars are concerned, perhaps there is no other span of time that compares to what took place between 400 b.C. to 0. Take a look at some of the wars that happened:
410-340 Second Sicilian War
400-387 Persian -Spartan War
395-386 Corinthian War
382-379 Olynthian-Spartan War
379-371 Theban-Spartan War
370-350 Satrap’s Revolt
355-346 Third Sacred War
340-338 Latin War
327-304 Second Samnite Wars
322-320 First Diadoch War
319-316 Second Diadoch War
315-311 Third Diadoch War
315-307 Third Sicilian War
307-301 Fourth Diadoch War
306-303 Seleucus I Nicator's invasion of India
This list only contains the wars during the 4th century b.C., and it is not even an exhaustive list, it only includes some of the major ones! Power struggles all throughout the Intertestamental period saw the end of many major world empires: The Greeks, Egyptians, Carthaginians, Seleucids, Macedonians, and Persians. Mankind was definitely marked by a heightened longing for power, fame, and comfort during this age of time.
Another way that people were “flexing their muscles” was in the intellectual arena. Socrates, Epicurus, Plato, Zeno of Citium (founder of Stoicism) and Aristotle all lived during this time and obviously had a huge impact on the development of many different fields in philosophy. If you happen to be a teacher of Geometry you can thank Euclid, the founder of Geometry, for having a job, he lived in 300 b.C. Archimedes was another brilliant mind to make a mark during the Intertestamental period, he was a mathematician and is known to be the first person to calculate the value of pi.
In spite of the world’s quest for increased intelligence, power, and fame, there was still strife in the world and there was a lack of peace. The Jews had gone astray in their religious practice. They were tired of the revolving door of empires which conquered them. The nations were at war. An established language (Koine Greek), and the building of a network of roads had both connected the world together like no time before. The time had finally come for God to break the silence and come on to the scene once again. The time was perfect for a miracle baby to come onto the scene.
The first event of the New Testament is actually the story of the birth of John the Baptist. His parents were Zachariah and Elizabeth. Zachariah’s name means “God remembers” and Elizabeth’s name means “God of oath”, while John’s name means “God is a gracious giver.” What an interesting way to break the silence from the Old Testament! God remembers that he is a God of covenant who keeps his promises and that he is a gracious giver!
John the Baptist served as the last prophet before Christ and his purpose was to tell people that God was going to do something entirely unique through his cousin Jesus. His birth was just a small prelude to what would be the real start of the New Testament: The Birth of Jesus Christ. He was born at just the right time as all of God’s plans are always on time.
There was an earlier time when God also came on the scene miraculously to begin the story of redemption, it occurs in Genesis chapter 12. From Genesis 3-11 we basically see what happens to mankind when he is left on his own. This was a time of progress for humans, yet a downward spiral of destruction as far as morality is concerned. Suddenly, out of nowhere, God calls upon Abraham and tells him that he has something special planned in order to allow man to come out of his dreary situation. God was going to do something special with not just the family of Abraham, but with all of the world’s nations. His road to redemption began to be laid down.
Regarding God’s plans breaking through the silence and calling Abraham, Christopher J. H. Wright, in The Mission of God’s People writes: “The greatest human civilizations cannot solve the deepest human problems. God’s mission of blessing the nations has to be a radical new start. It requires a break, a radical departure from the story so far, not merely an evolutionary development from it.”
In our times today, it may appear that God is silent, which has led many to question whether God is really at work in this world. Again we find ourselves surrounded by a quest for power, knowledge, and money, not to mention war. To this God says: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23, ESV).
Do you know this God that came to earth as a human?
He may seem silent now, but he is at work and can be heard and known by reading the Bible.
He will once again show up miraculously and all eyes will be on him once again.
Questions to consider:
Do you see God as entirely in control of human history?
In what other ways did God use the events of the time between the Testaments to prepare the scene for the birth of Jesus?
For further reading:
An article by Dr. W. E. Ekstrand
An article by Wayne Barber called “Breaking the Silence”