“Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Psalm 121:4
What’s Going On? When and Where Are We? Who’s Who?
The years between the Old Testament and the New Testament are often called “The Silent Years” because the voice of the prophets comes to an end after Malachi. If we look at the events of the Old Testament, you will remember that the people who had once lived in Israel and Judah had been scattered throughout the lands of Assyria and Babylon. Back in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, we saw the Persians gain control over the empire and allow some of the Jews to go back and resettle in and around Jerusalem. God had been speaking to His people through prophets and last week we read the last of their words when we finished the book of Malachi. There were many places that we saw the prophecies come to pass – there had been warnings that the foreign nations would overpower Israel, and they did. We also read that God would restore Jerusalem, and He did. But there were prophecies that had not been fulfilled, prophecies concerning a Savior, or Messiah, that would come from the descendants of King David that would once again lead Israel and restore her to her former glory. But it would be 400 years before that particular prophecy would be fulfilled.
When we turn the page between the Old Testament and the New Testament, four hundred years have gone by and much has changed in the land that had once been called Israel. At the end of the Old Testament, the relatively peaceful Persians were in control. But after a hundred years or so, the Greek Empire would expand and take over what had belonged to the Persians when a young warrior known as Alexander the Great would go and conquer much of the known world. The Greeks, like the Persians, were peaceful for the most part and allowed people to stay in their homes but were expected to contribute to the now enormous Greek Empire. The Greeks began to unify the new empire by requiring a common language, legal system, monetary system, architecture, education, and philosophy. You probably remember studying Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in school. The Olympic Games were established and the Greek culture permeated all of the lands that had once belonged to the Israelites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Persians. Alexandria, Egypt became the capitol of the empire and a group of scholars began to collect and translate the books of the Old Testament into what will come to be called the Septuagint, which means “seventy” because it is believed that seventy priests and scribes worked on collecting and translating what we now call The Old Testament. After Alexander died, the area was separated into four parts and Israel was once again caught in the middle. Antiochus Epiphanes IV was a particularly horrible leader and a revolt is led by Judas Maccabeus. Hanukah commemorates a rededication of the Temple after it had been desecrated.
While the Greeks were a peaceful people interested in art, philosophy, and education, they would not be able to withstand the rising Roman superpower. Julius Caesar would lead the newly established Roman army to take over all of the land that had once belonged to Greece and increase the territory to eventually include lands as far away as England, India, and China. The Romans were ruthless and the army was fierce, systematically organizing the road system that led to the expression: all roads lead back to Rome. It is this newly established Roman Empire that has Herod, a ruler over the area known as Palestine (Philistine lands), serving under the new Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, that we’ll read about next week in the book of Matthew and again when we read the book of Luke.
While the phrase “The Silent Years” is appropriately used to describe the time between the Testaments, God was actually busy preparing the world for what was about to come. The Greeks united the language system so that the stories of Jesus could easily be spread without a language barrier. The Romans created a road system that would allow the stories to reach far and wide very quickly, allowing the apostles to travel and reach people outside of their own community with the Gospel story. God may have stopped speaking through the prophets, but His work continued to prepare the world for His Son who was about to fulfill the promise to Abraham that “All the world would be blessed through Him” (Genesis 12:2-3). When we get to The Acts of the Apostles in a few weeks, we’ll see just how necessary it was that this preparation had taken place. God is always at work, even when we may think Him silent. Sometimes it just takes hindsight to understand it all.
Weekly Reading Assignment:
There is no assigned reading this week. Use the time to get caught up or just enjoy a break. Don’t forget the the Psalms are not part of the assigned reading so you might want to use this week to read through some of the Psalms. You may also do some research to read up on Alexander the Great, Hellenism, the Septuagint, Anitochus Epiphanes IV, the Maccabeans, Hanukkah, Antony and Cleopatra, and/or Julius Caesar.