Try this experiment: turn in your Bible to the last page of the Book of Malachi (the last book of the Old Testament). Now, slowly turn the page. Do you know what just happened?
About 400 years of silence from God.
That’s a long time. That’s almost twice as long as the United States has existed. Or, assuming a life-span of 70 years, that would be nearly six generations. That would be like me and my family not hearing from God until my great, great, great, granddaughter comes to be.
And I get frustrated when God doesn’t answer my prayers right away!
So… why so long? And after that much silence, what did God say?
The end of the Old Testament is not a happy time for Israel. They have fallen from the glory days of David and Solomon, and they find themselves in exile as a people.
Both the exile and the silent treatment are related: they happened because Israel forgot who they were. God has seen their greed, their injustices, and their indifference.
“You say, ‘It’s too hard to serve the LORD,’ and you turn up your noses at my commands,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” (Mal 1:13 NLT)
So after the threat of punishment and exile… and actual exile… God prepares to close communication for a time. But before he gives a quadruple-tall cup of shut-up, God leaves them with some food for thought through the prophet Malachi:
““Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant—all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel.” (Mal 4:4 NLT)
It’s not just about remembering (as in I know the right things to do). It’s remembering to actually do them!
The chosen ones who are supposed to know better have not only developed spiritual amnesia, but compassion paralysis too. Since they are God’s closest representatives in that world, it must have doubly pained God to see them that way.
“Nothing profanes the name of God more than the misconduct of those whose business it is to do honor to it.” – Matthew Henry
Why would God allow his chosen people to make such a mess of their lives for 400 years? Perhaps it was because people needed to see just how bad life could be without God. Or perhaps God knew there would be some who would remain faithful, perhaps sparking a renewal of their determination to live as a chosen people. I’m not sure. All I know is 400 years is a long time!
So what did he say after 400 years of silence?
Most folks will turn the page to the book of Matthew. It is next in the order. However, the book of Mark was actually written first in history. So when I “turn the page” on 400 years of history, I turn to Mark.
“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written: “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming! Clear the road for him!’”” (Mark 1:1–3 NLT)
While God’s people may have forgotten, God has not. The messenger that comes is John the Baptist. And his message is one that calls people to turn from what they’re doing back to what they “remember.”
The interesting thing to me is that no one has to ask what they’re supposed to remember, but everyone has to ask God’s forgiveness. In other words, everyone knows… no one does.
As I examine my life, I’m better at remembering than doing too. Perhaps this Advent season, I will make it a point to turn from what I’ve been doing back to what God would have me doing.
God only knows what might happen next if everyone did the same. It might almost look like “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Mark 1:15).
How will you prepare for the Lord’s coming this season? What things are you better at remembering than doing? What can we do to get better at “doing?”