The Silent Interval of Four Hundred Years

The silence of the prophetic testimony between the close of the Old Testament and the commencement of the New, which continued over four hundred years, is very significant. Before that, all through the course of God's ancient people, notwithstanding their many sins and departures from Jehovah, sacred history faithfully gave its inspired record of them, until Malachi closed it with the saddest denunciations of their ways. And what makes this long and silent gap so remarkable, is, that the final testimony of the prophet links itself with the beginning of Luke's gospel in foretelling the coming of John the forerunner of our Lord. He said, "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me." (Mal. 3:1; Luke 1:13-17; Mark 1:2-3.) Our Lord also associated the prophets with the Baptist ― "The law and the prophets were until John." These links certainly unite the Old and New Testaments in a very remarkable way. May we learn the lessons they are intended to teach us!

Very solemn indeed is Jehovah's silence for four centuries in the history of His favoured people; especially when we consider the abounding evil which they so long pursued, as recorded by their inspired writers, notwithstanding the goodness and patience God had exercised toward them. Their sad state weighed heavily on the spirit of the prophet Malachi. He began his message to them by saying, "The burden of the word of Jehovah to Israel by Malachi," and ended it by alluding to "the great and dreadful day of Jehovah." True, he added, that Elijah would be sent before that, to "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." (Chap. 1:1; 4:5-6.) In this solemn way the Old Testament writings were closed; and we have no divinely-given annals of the Hebrew people during the following four hundred years. May we ponder its grave significance! Was it because of their many sins, that divine communications and miraculous intervention ceased? Was it on this account that prophetic inspiration was discontinued, and they were left to their own devices? Of one thing we may be well assured, that, under the circumstances, inspiration was suspended in God's wisdom and faithfulness.

On looking into Luke's gospel, which is so blessedly linked, as we have seen, with the last of Israel's prophets, we find toward the close of this gap, some turning to Jehovah and His word. Zacharias and Elizabeth were spoken of as "both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." Others, too, were, through grace, acted on by the Holy Spirit, and therefore turned to the word of Jehovah; and were so bowed by it, that they "looked for redemption in Jerusalem," and served Him day and night with fastings and prayers.

In the Jewish people, and Zacharias, who was a true descendant of Aaron, and whose lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord, we find a further recognition of Jehovah in turning to Him according to His word. We are told, that "the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense." (Luke 1:9-10.) And there appeared unto Zacharias an angel of the Lord with cheering and encouraging words as to John, as afterwards came to Mary concerning the Messiah. These facts are very significant, and accordingly the forerunner was, ere long, to be born into the world the prophet of the Highest, and to be soon followed by the birth of Messiah, the Son of the Highest. Jesus was the true Shepherd of the sheep, and to Him the porter opened; for holy men and women, taught by the Holy Spirit, and taken up with Jehovah and His interests, were, by their rejoicing and cordial welcome, like the porter opening the door. If angels heralded His coming into the world with, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men," Simeon could take the babe into his arms, and with a grateful and worshipping heart say, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." Anna also found her way into the temple at that moment, and "gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem."

Divine communications which had been suspended for such a lengthened period as four hundred years, could now be resumed according to the wisdom, and power, and goodness of God; but, as we afterward find in the New Testament scriptures, not according to the kind of ministry of olden prophets, though by the same Spirit, but according to the grace, and gifts, and qualifications they received of the Lord, who fitted and furnished them for the service to which they were called as His friends and servants.