What were Israel's 400 years of silence?
"The 400 Years of Silence" is the name given to the period of time between the last of the Old Testament prophets and the arrival of Jesus in the New Testament. It began with Malachi's prediction of Elijah's return (Malachi 4:5-6) circa 430 BC and ended with its metaphorical fulfillment: the coming of John the Baptist circa 6—4 BC.
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Despite the lack of Scripture detailing this period, a great deal happened. Malachi set the stage: many Jews had returned from the Medo-Persian Empire and rebuilt the temple, experiencing a moderate level of revival under the influence of Ezra. But they still did not live as God had instructed them. Israelite men mistreated their wives, married women who did not follow the Lord, and refused to honor God with their giving. Meanwhile, the priests neglected the temple and their responsibility to teach God's laws.
The Jewish homeland was taken over from the Persians by the Greek Empire in 332 BC followed by the Egyptian occupation in 312 BC. The Greek language came into common usage during this time, inspiring the translation of the Old Testament into Greek (known as the Septuagint).
The Jews continued to practice the Law of Moses and the temple rituals until Syria overtook Jerusalem in 204 BC. In 171 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Holy of Holies (the most sacred part of the temple). The Jews, led by the Maccabee brothers, revolted and retook control of Jerusalem in 165 BC. The Roman Empire conquered Israel by 63 BC, and continued to reign throughout the events of the New Testament.
Interestingly, many of the events during the 400 silent years fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. Of great significance were the prophecies of Daniel that spoke of coming empires that closely resembled those of the Greek and Roman Empires that took over the land of Israel (Daniel 7, 9). Several apocryphal books were written during this time. Some, like 1 and 2 Maccabees, can be read as more-or-less accurate historical accounts, while others are false teachings or fairy tales. None of them were worthy of being called Scripture by Jewish scholars.
While these 400 years of silence revealed no new biblical revelation, they clearly included many significant historical events. These included many changes in the rule of the land of Israel as well as the necessary preparations for the coming of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. As Galatians 4:4-5 says, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons."
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