By Jackie Weber
The intertestamental period. Those years between the close of the book of Malachi and the opening of Matthew are sometimes called the 400 Years of Silence. Why? Because it seemed to the Jewish people that God had stopped speaking. No prophets. No kings. No inspired priestly scribes. Just silence.
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.
What about Elijah?
And the day of the LORD?
Are You still there?
To be sure, a lot was happening. These were the years of Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander the Great. The known world of the Jews was Hellenized. Greek culture and language dominated, and synagogues became the norm as houses of worship. But 400 years was a long time for the people of Yahweh (if He still claimed them?) to not hear from Him. There were no new sacred writings, and the people were again dispersed and under the oppression of foreign rule. Spiritual darkness.
Have you ever felt that way? As a shepherd of those in your church, your business, or your community, have you ever felt that you needed to hear from God and no matter how often or how loud you cried out for help, or direction, or information God would not answer? Did you wonder if you had done something terribly wrong? Or if He was giving you the ‘silent treatment’ out of anger or disappointment? Did you consider whether you mattered to Him at all, or worse, if He was even listening?
Kenner Gotzman, the pastor of our small church in Southern Oregon, wrestles with these questions. Yes, a pastor. In a recent moment of vulnerability, he shared from the pulpit his personal struggle with God’s apparent absence in seasons of his life.
Kenner told us of a time when he confessed this struggle to his spiritual director, who responded by asking him to recall a relationship in his life in which he felt completely safe. What followed was Kenner describing times he spent with his dad, growing up on their family farm. Sometimes, the two of them would run errands but take the long way home. They would stop at the Minute Market, grab a Dr. Pepper and a pepperoni stick (it was their thing), and then drive the long road back without talking. Complete relational safety.
Kenner’s spiritual director helped him understand that the gift of Presence is incredibly powerful in times of hardship. There was safety in the silence.
He went on to ask us to consider how God chose to interact with Job. We know Job’s story. Throughout his ordeal for 37 chapters, God said nothing. In fact in Job 30:20, Job says of God, “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me.” For 37 chapters, God simply gave Job His Presence.
What if this is exactly what Job needed? In the silence, Job was able to voice his questions, his frustrations, and his doubts. He could be utterly himself, stripped bare without pretense.
Of course God did eventually answer Job, not in the way that perhaps Job or we would have expected, but He did respond. And that was not the end of Job’s story.
And God did speak after the 400 years of silence – in the birth of His Son. In those years of silence He was preparing for the ultimate act of redemption for His people. In this act, He would accomplish the Kingdom work that would allow His children to fully enter into His Presence for all eternity. As Kenner pointed out, the silent years were not an absence of God’s care but rather a vital part of His redemptive plan.
Dear under-shepherd, the Shepherd’s silence in our most difficult leadership moments does not imply His absence. We can trust Him to give us, and be for us, exactly what we need when we need it, even if what we truly need are long periods of quiet. Even if what we think we need is not what He’s offering.
If you are in a period of waiting on God, sitting in the silence, remember this does not mean God is not working. He may be preparing a redemptive work in your life. Be encouraged to embrace patience and trust as you wait, and do not forget in the dark what He has spoken in the light.
“I am the Good Shepherd.”
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
“I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”