When God Is Silent
Between the last page of the Old Testament and the first page of the New sits about 400 years of silence.
Four. Hundred. Years.
Four hundred years without a recorded prophet. Four hundred years without a message or a story or any kind of preserved word from God. For four hundred years, we have neither record nor rumor of God speaking to His people through the prophetic word.
Where was God during all this time? Had He finally given up on His people and His promises? Was this the end of the road for Israel and for the plan of God?
Thanks to the benefit of hindsight, we know the answers to those questions—but the people who lived during that 400 year span probably didn’t. Generations came and went, each likely filled with people wondering where God was and what He was doing. During that time, the remnant of Israel was subjugated again and again—by the Greeks, by the Egyptians, by the Syrians, and by the Romans.
God, meanwhile, appears to have been silent.
* * *
If I had lived during that time, I suspect my conclusion would have felt obvious. God was done. Finished. Israel had faltered one too many times, and the world that had rejected God was on its own.
I would have been wrong, thankfully. God wasn’t done with the world at all. On the contrary, He was at work behind the scenes, shaping the world and guiding events until the time was right to set in motion the next part of His plan—a plan that He’d been working toward since before the foundation of the world. It took centuries before everything was in place, but “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
There’s a world of difference between silent and finished. In those four centuries of silence, no one knew what God was doing—in fact, all the way until the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it still wasn’t completely clear what God was doing. But He was doing something, even when no one knew it. Even when no one could see it.
Silence doesn’t mean God is standing still.
* * *
Easy lesson to learn; hard lesson to live. It’s in the moments of silence that we’re most desperate to hear God’s voice, most eager for confirmation that He’s listening to us and seeking our good.
But we don’t always get that—at least, not at the times and in the ways we want. Sometimes we cry out to God and hear nothing in response, and in those moments, it’s easy to feel deserted. Abandoned. It’s easy to wonder if God is done with us; if perhaps we’ve failed too many times for Him to still care about us. It’s easy to share in Christ’s anguish on the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Except God isn’t done with you—just like He isn’t done with Israel, either.
The Old Testament ends with a promise from God: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5). It took roughly four centuries before that promise was initially fulfilled by the ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13-15), but it happened. There was never the slightest chance of it not happening.
The New Testament likewise ends with a promise: “Surely I am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:20). Two thousand years later, we’re beginning to understand that “quickly” doesn’t mean what we thought it meant. The whole process is turning out to be longer and more involved than most of us anticipated. We’ve had to wait.
Just like those before us. Just like those before them. It’s a long chain of waiting, stretching from the present all the way back to that promise in Revelation.
“Surely I am coming quickly.”
Just not today. And probably not tomorrow, either. Or the day after that.
* * *
In fact, in two thousand years, we’ve not had a single direct word from God. No new books of the Bible. No thunderings from Mount Sinai. No prophet with a divinely commissioned, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”
Is that reason to doubt God? Is it reason to assume He’s forgotten His promises and turned His back on us?
Instinctively, we know the answer to those questions. Of course not. Of course God is still working His plan out, just like He was between the Old and the New Testaments. We wouldn’t be running this race if we believed otherwise. We understand, like our forefathers did, that God is moving the pieces into place, and that it will happen in His perfect time: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
And that’s the key. God’s people see and cling to God’s promises. Even when they’re afar off. Even when God is quiet. The reality, the inevitability of those promises is enough to sustain them through the most difficult moments of their lives, because they know that even in the silence, God is busy. He’s getting things ready for “the fullness of time.”
And when He’s ready—when He pulls back that curtain and shows us what He’s been working on this entire time—we’ll say, “Of course. Of course it had to be this way. It could never have been anything else.”
That’s at the core of faith—not that God will grant our wishes like some genie in a bottle, but that He’ll do what’s best for us, when it’s best for us, and that eventually, it will all make perfect and beautiful sense.
And so it was by faith that Abel offered “a more excellent sacrifice” (Hebrews 11:4), even though it earned him the animosity of his brother and cost him his life. It was by faith that Noah loaded up his family on the ark and watched the water submerge his entire world (Hebrews 11:7). It was by faith that Abraham “dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country” (Hebrews 11:8-9), and by faith that Sarah “received strength to conceive seed … because she judged Him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11).
Sometimes we look at faith as the ability to see the unseen, but I don’t know if that’s always the case. Sometimes—maybe often—I think faith is the ability to trust that God sees the unseen, even when we can’t. To hold onto the promises we’ve been given and trust that whatever God is doing in silence behind the curtain, it’s bringing us closer to where we need to be.
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Even when He’s quiet. Even when we can’t see what He’s doing.
For 400 years, the Jews waited for the Elijah who was to come. For 2,000 years, the Church has been waiting for the return of our Lord and Savior. And during so many dark, trying moments in our own personal lives, we find ourselves waiting for some sign that God is still there; some sign that He has a plan; some sign that He cares.
Silence doesn’t mean God is standing still. That doesn’t make it easy or comfortable or enjoyable. But it is a reason to hold onto hope and faith even when everything around us is screaming to let go.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
Until next time,
Join the Sabbath Thinkers!
Sabbath Thoughts, right to your inbox, every Friday evening!
(Unless something goes wrong.)
(Which it frequently does.)