When God Broke the Silence
Sometimes silence is a welcome friend. Sometimes it can be deafening because of what it conveys, such as disapproval. With the final verse of the book of Malachi, the Hebrew Scriptures ended; and from then on, God was silent.
Gone were the prophets and the prophetic utterances, visions, and dreams that had informed the nation. For 400 years, not a single word from the Lord went out to His people. God was still there, of course, and still very much involved in watching over and protecting His chosen nation. But after the tremendous interaction that had been the norm throughout Israel’s history, God’s silence became deafening.
Four hundred years is a long time. If we were to go back that far, we would be in 1612—the days of Pocahontas and Sir Walter Raleigh—and the year after first printing of the King James Version of the Bible.
Thankfully, God did not remain silent forever. One day an angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias the priest in the Temple in Jerusalem (Lk. 1:11–12). He and his wife, Elizabeth, “were both righteous before God” (v. 6) but had no children because Elizabeth was barren. They were both “well advanced in years” (v. 7).
While serving in his priestly division of Abijah (v. 5), Zacharias’s lot fell to burn incense (v. 9). King David had set up 24 divisions of priests before his death (1 Chr. 24:1–18). The division of Abijah was eighth in order for service and was named for its leader. Each division served twice a year for one week. Zacharias was chosen by lot to offer the incense.
According to a commentator, “Because of the large number of priests, this would be the only time in Zechariah’s [Zacharias’s] life when he was allowed to perform this task.”1
Suddenly, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense” (Lk. 1:11). Zacharias became terrified, but the angel comforted him: “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (v. 13).
For the first recorded time in 400 years, God interacted with humanity, and He used one of His angelic messengers to do so. The angel told Zacharias about his future son:
For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him [the Messiah] in the spirit and power of Elijah, “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (vv. 15–17).
The messenger was “Gabriel who stands in the presence of God” (v. 19). A few months later, Gabriel went to Mary, a virgin in Nazareth, and told her she would bear a Son through the power of the Holy Spirit and that her Son would receive “the throne of His father David” (v. 32) and “reign over the house of Jacob forever” (v. 33).
Zacharias struggled with the message and questioned it. Consequently, he became mute and did not speak again until his son was born. Asked what the infant should be called, Zacharias wrote, “‘His name is John.’ So they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God” (vv. 63–64).
Zacharias’s son came to be known as John the Baptist. With his preaching, the 400 silent years ended. God had visited His people and was preparing them for their Messiah.
- John A. Martin, “Luke,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 2, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), Logos Bible Software.