What happened in the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew? These 400 years of silence are called the Intertestamental period– the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament. God stopped speaking to the Hebrew people through the prophets and there is no Scripture to guide us through this time in Biblical history. But there are other historical books to help us discover the significant changes the Jewish people endured.
The Old Testament tells us the story of God’s relationship with His chosen people, the Jews, and their history. God spoke to them and instructed them on how to have a relationship with Him.
The Israelites show us a pattern of obedience followed by backsliding into idol worship. Hard times would then follow, and the Israelites would repent and turn back to God.
But the cycle would return- disobedience and complaining, followed by repentance and restoration.
Book of Malachi
The last section of the Old Testament contains the books of the Minor Prophets.
(They did not name them “minor” because they have less importance. It was because of their shorter length compared to the major prophets.)
Biblical Meaning of Malachi
The very last book of the Old Testament is the book of Malachi, whose name means “my messenger.” He wrote it sometime between 440 and 400 BC.
Finally freed from their Babylonian captivity by the Persian King Cyrus, some Jews returned to their homeland; others dispersed to other nations. But the cycle of following God’s law and going their own way continued.
The Jews had settled into spiritual despair in the time of Malachi. Their homeland was just a small section of the Persian Empire, not the glorious nation foretold by the prophets. Messiah had not yet come in majesty and power.
The Jewish people doubted God’s love for them and His justice. Their hope was waning. Even the priests lost all faith, giving in to sinful ways.
Malachi comes to remind them of God’s love and commitment to them and their need for repentance and reform.
At the conclusion of Malachi, the people were falsely accusing God of injustice and justifying their sinful choices.
So Malachi speaks a final warning from God with a promise:
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees, and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” Malachi 4:4-5.
We see this promise fulfilled in the New Testament with the coming of John the Baptist; a prophet like Elijah, who tells of Christ’s coming. But in the meantime comes the end of the Old Testament and the onset of the silent years.
Why Was God Silent for 400 Years in the Bible?
God doesn’t tell us the reason for His silence in this period of time. But Malachi 2:17 may give us a clue.
“You have wearied the Lord with your words. ‘How have we wearied him?’ you ask. By saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?’”
God was weary and exhausted! He was weary of their lack of trust, their accusations of injustice, and their continued resistance to His truth.
God’s silence begins.
When does the Old Testament end? The year is about 430 BC.
Timeline of the 400 Silent Years
What happened in this period of silence between Malachi and Matthew?
Plenty! Studying the important historical events as they relate to God’s people helps us better understand what shaped their world and their lives in the New Testament.
About the time Malachi stopped writing, the world power shifted. The Medo-Persian empire (a combination of Medes and Persians) took Babylon, the world power, over.
Had the Jews been studying the book of Daniel, they would have noted he predicted this event. (Daniel 7:5.)
They replaced the common language of Hebrew with Aramaic. Also, about this time, Aristotle is born, and Plato writes his most famous book (The Republic.)
Interestingly, the Samaritans build their temple in Samaria on Mount Gerizim around this time. How did this come about?
An Israelite descendent named Sanballat living in Samaria began building the temple on Mount Gerazim. He had severed ties with the temple in Jerusalem, then married off his daughter to a man named Mannasseh- a priest in the Jerusalem temple!
Marrying a Samaritan was forbidden and Manasseh was forced out. Manasseh’s father-in-law, however, gives him the position of high priest in the temple in Samaria.
This would ensure all Sanballat’s descendants were from the priestly line of Jerusalem.
The Samaritan religion was a mix of Judaism and idol worship because of intermarriages. They rejected the books of the Old Testament prophets, honoring only the law of Moses (the first 5 books).
In 333 BC, Alexander the Great ruled over the Greek empire. He proceeds to defeat the Persian armies and Israel falls to the Greeks. Alexander, however, allows the Jews to observe their laws and even grants them exemption from taxes.
The Jewish people adopted the Greek language along with many of their customs. A group of Jews called the Hellenists were eager to bring Greek culture and thought into the Jewish nation, making some laws more liberal.
Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes
The Hellenists became a political force and became the Sadducees. They turned away from the strict interpretation of the law.
Others wanted to preserve the Mosaic law and order. They called themselves the Pharisees, meaning “one who is separated.”
They desired to follow traditions strictly and were legalistic regarding their demands for holy living.
A smaller breakaway group- the Essenes-left Jerusalem in protest over how the temple was being run. Historical scholars think the Essenes handled the production of the Dead Sea scrolls.
In 323 BC, Alexander died without heirs, so they divided his empire among his generals. One, Ptolemy, from Egypt, conquered Israel. This era was also generally peaceful for the Jews.
In 255 BC, Ptolemy commissioned translators to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, calling it the Septuagint.
In 198 BC, the Greek Seleucid empire took control of Ptolemy’s lands. They remained tolerant of the Jews until a king named Antiochus IV became ruler.
His aim was to eradicate the Jewish religion to bring cultural uniformity to his empire. He forbade key elements of Jewish practice and initiated the destruction of all copies of the Torah.
He set up idols in the temple at Jerusalem, forced himself into the Holy of Holies, and destroyed the scrolls of the law. Antiochus sacrificed pigs on the altar, presumably to the Greek god Zeus. (He claimed to be Zeus incarnate!)
Antiochus plundered the Jerusalem temple and carried off artifacts to help finance his campaigns. He murdered many innocent Jews, banned circumcision, burned Scriptures, and punished those who disobeyed his laws.
While some Jews went along with Antiochus’ plan, others revolted under the leadership of the Maccabees, a priestly family of Jews. They led a successful rebellion and took control of Judea.
They founded the Hasmonean dynasty with their sons, who ruled as priests from 167 to 63 BC. The Jews commemorated the victory by establishing the festival of Hanukkah, which is still celebrated today.
All was not peaceful, however. They frequently had to defend themselves against attacks in the coming years.
As the Roman Empire rose to power, a Roman general named Pompey came and invaded Jerusalem in 63 BC. He captured the city, which signaled the end of the Hasmonean Dynasty.
Roman rule begins.
There was a brief blip of a siege of Jerusalem by the Parthians (an Iranian empire) in 40 BC. They wished to rid Jerusalem of the Roman appointed governor, Herod, but he had already fled the city.
Roman general Marc Antony brought Herod back and drove out the Parthians. Herod became the ruler of the now Roman province of Judea.
He was the ruler of Judea at the time of the birth of Jesus (sometime between 6-4 BC.) It was King Herod who ordered the massacre of the innocent baby boys in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16.)
Significance of 400 Years in the Bible
It’s interesting to note the 400-year silent period is the same length of time the people of Israel were in captivity in Egypt. God foretold this event to Abraham.
Bible Verse about 400 Years
God made a covenant to Abraham in the book of Genesis and promises him a son. As Abraham fell into a deep sleep, the Lord came to him and said,
“Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.”
Why 400+ years in Egypt?
●For one thing, He wanted them to wait to enter the Promised Land. The Amorites who lived there worshiped other gods. They were an evil, sinful, and wicked people.
God had a timeline for the removal of the Amorites. These 400 years were exactly the right time for God to prepare His people and to bring glory to Himself.
●The Israelites did not intermarry with Egyptians or participate in their worship- the Egyptians considered them unclean. This gave the Israelites time to become a strong nation and grow in numbers.
The total number of males who went to Egypt were seventy. (Genesis 46:27) This nation would grow to over two million as they spent their 400 years in captivity!
●God provided many miracles and showed His wisdom and power in those years in Egypt-
Pharoah’s daughter saved Moses from death as an infant. He rose to power in Pharoah’s palace and later left his sheep tending job to rise as the leader of the Israelites.
The great miracle of the parting of the Red Sea happened as the people fled Egypt.
“At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt.”
Why 400 Years of Silence?
●The 400 years of intertestamental silence were again, exactly the time God wanted to fulfill prophecy. The prophet Daniel tells of prophecies that were fulfilled.
●God used this time to show His protection and what happens when His people go astray. Unfortunately, they did not use this time to study God’s Word, seek Him in worship and prayer, or to prepare for the coming Messiah.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians also gives us a clue as to God’s timing:
“But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law.” Galatians 4:4-5a.
●The Jews had waited centuries for their Messiah, and God’s timing was perfect.
Jesus Was Silent
It’s interesting to note that Jesus also used silence in response to the false testimony aimed at Him in Mark 14:60-61:
“Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.”
He similarly was also silent before Pilate. (Matthew 27:14.)
This fulfills a prophecy in Isaiah 53:7-
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
God Was Silent
Studying the time God was silent gives us a much better understanding of the lives and history of the Jewish people. It helps explain their mindset as we pick up their story in the New Testament.
Josephus, a Roman-Jewish historian and military leader, recorded many of these historic events in Jewish history.
There is also a collection of Apocryphal books (a collection of books by Jewish writers) written during this silent time. It is not Scripture but is useful to understand the history of the times.
There is a copious amount of confirmed archaeological evidence to give us information of what happened during these 400 years.
When God speaks again in the beginning of the New Testament, He fulfills His promise of sending Elijah- the appearance of John the Baptist. He was preparing the way for His Son’s ministry to begin.
When God is Silent, He is Working
God works all things in His timing and for His purpose. We are now living in days we could also call the silence of God.
It has been a long time; almost 2000 years (they wrote the last books of the Bible prior to 70-100 AD) since we have heard God’s voice. Maybe God has said all He needs to say.
How are we using this silent time to study the Word of the Lord and carry out His wishes?
The Jews were feeling hopeless at the end of Malachi and abandoned their faith. We certainly see hopelessness in our world today. People need to know Jesus Christ before He returns, but how long will that be?
Some feel we are in the end times now, but only our Heavenly Father knows the timeline of His history. One thing we can be sure of- just as He showed His glory and might for His good purposes, He will do it again.
How are you preparing?
All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.
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