But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law. ~ Galatians 4:4

At the close of the book of Malachi in the Old Testament (c 435 B.C.) the nation of Israel is back again in the land of *Palestine (see reference in links below) after the Babylonian captivity, but they are under the domination of the great world power of that day, Persia and the Medo-Persian empire. In Jerusalem, the temple had been restored, although it was a much smaller building than the one that Solomon had built and decorated in such marvelous glory.

But the royal line of David had fallen on evil days. The people knew who the rightful successor to David was, and in the book of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, his name is given to us. It was Zerubbabel, the royal prince, yet there was no king on the throne of Israel, they were a puppet nation, under the dominion of Persia. Nevertheless, although they were beset with weakness and formalism as the prophets have shown us, the people were united. There were no political schisms or factions among them, nor were they divided into groups or parties.

The bright light of salvation...

The bright light of salvation…

During this period the people of Israel were split into three major parties. Two of them, the Pharisees and Sadducees, were much more prominent than the third. The smaller group, the Essenes, could hardly be designated as a party. In 1948 however (a date coincidentally, when the United Nations also declared Israel as a sovereign nation once again after 3000 years) the Essenes came into great prominence in our time and took on new significance because they had stowed away some documents in caves overlooking the Dead Sea. Documents which were brought to light again through the accidental discovery by an Arab shepherd boy and which we now recognize as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

So what happened in these four hundred so-called “silent” years after the last of the inspired prophets spoke and the first of the New Testament writers began to write? There is a word in Paul’s letter to the Galatians that says, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” (Gal. 4:4) In other words, the time of our Lord’s birth was God’s appointed hour, the moment for which God had long been preparing. Some of the exciting preparations took place during this time of “silence” however, and you will comprehend your New Testament study much better if you understand something of the historic events during the time between the two Testaments.

After Malachi had ceased his prophesying and the canon of the Old Testament closed (ie the time for the number of the books in the Old Testament was fulfilled and the inspired prophets ceased to speak), God allowed a period of time for the teachings of the Old Testament to penetrate throughout the world. During this time, he rearranged the scenes of history, much as a theater stage crew will rearrange the stage sets during a performance after the curtain has fallen, and when the curtain rises again there is an entirely new setting.

Medo-Persian Empire .. Dec 2015

In approximately 435 B.C., when the prophet Malachi ceased his writing, the center of world power began to shift from the East to the West. Until this time in history, Babylon had been the major world power, but this was soon overtaken by the Medo-Persian empire, as you will likely remember from your ancient history lessons. This shift had been predicted by the prophet Daniel, who said that there would rise up a bear who was higher on one side than the other, signifying the division between Media and Persia, with the Persians the predominant nation. (Dan. 7:5).

At the height of the Persian power there arose in the country of Macedonia (which we now know as Greece) north of the Black Sea, a man by the name of Philip of Macedon, who became a leader in his own country. He united the islands of Greece and became their ruler. His son was destined to become one of the great world leaders of all time, Alexander the Great. In 330 B.C. a tremendous battle between the Persians and the Greeks entirely altered the course of history. During that battle, Alexander, as a young man only twenty years of age, led the armies of Greece to victory over the Persians and completely demolished the power of Persia. The center of world power then shifted farther west into Greece, and the Grecian empire was born.

A year after that historic battle, Alexander the Great led his armies down into the Syrian world towards Egypt. On the way, he planned to lay siege to the city of Jerusalem, but as the victorious armies of the Greeks approached the city, word was brought to the Jews in Jerusalem that the armies were on their way. The high priest at that time, who was a godly old man by the name of Jaddua (who, by the way, is mentioned in the Bible in the book of Nehemiah) took the sacred writings of Daniel the prophet and, accompanied by a host of other priests dressed in white garments, went forth and met Alexander some distance outside the city.

Gates of Vienna...

According to the historical record of Josephus, the Jewish historian, we learn that Alexander left his army and hurried out to meet this body of priests. When he met them, he told the high priest that he had had a vision the night before in which God had shown him an old man, robed in a white garment, who would reveal to him something of great significance to himself; accordingly, the high priest then opened the prophecies of Daniel and read them to Alexander. In the prophecies, Alexander was able to see the predictions that he would become that notable goat with the horn in his forehead, who would come from the West and smash the power of Medo-Persia and conquer the world. He was so overwhelmed by the accuracy of this prophecy and the fact that it spoke about him, that he promised that he would save Jerusalem from siege, and sent the high priest back with honors.

Alexander died in 323 B.C. at the age of thirty-three. He had drunk himself to death in the prime of his life, grieved because he had no more worlds to conquer. After his death, his empire was torn with dissension, because he had left no heir, since his son had been murdered in an earlier campaign. There was no one to inherit the empire of Alexander, but over the ensuing years, the four generals that had led Alexander’s armies divided his empire between them. Two of them are particularly noteworthy for this study, the first being Ptolemy, who gained Egypt and the northern African countries; the second being Seleucus, who gained Syria, to the north of Palestine. During this period Palestine was annexed by Egypt, and suffered greatly at the hands of Ptolemy. In fact, for the next one hundred years, Palestine was caught in the meat-grinder of the unending conflicts between Syria to the north and Egypt to the south.

You have been found wanting...

You have been found wanting…

If you have read the prophecies of Daniel, you will recall that Daniel was able, by inspiration, to give a very accurate and detailed account of the highlights of these years of conflict between the king of the North (Syria) and the king of the South (Egypt). The eleventh chapter of Daniel gives us a most amazingly accurate account of that which has long since been fulfilled. Should your curiosity be such to see just how accurate the prophecy is, I suggest you compare that chapter of Daniel with the historical record of what actually occurred during that time. H. A. Ironside’s little book, The 400 Silent Years gathers that up in minute detail.

During this time Grecian influence was becoming strong in Palestine. A party arose among the Jews called the Hellenists, who were very eager to bring Grecian culture and thought into the nation and to liberalize some of the Jewish laws. This forced a split into two major parties. There were those who were strong Hebrew nationalists, who desired to preserve everything according to the Mosaic order. They resisted all the foreign influences that were coming in to disrupt the old Jewish customs. This party became known as the Pharisees, which means “to separate.” They were the separationists who insisted on preserving traditions. They grew stronger and stronger, becoming more legalistic and rigid in their requirements, until they became the target for some of the most scorching words our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ ever spoke. They had become religious hypocrites, keeping the outward form of the law, but completely violating its spirit.

To be continued next week in Part Two…

And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him. ~ Genesis 12:7


Sources: 400 Years Of God’s Silence; and personal archives.

*Despite all the Islamic rhetoric about Palestine to the contrary, the word “Palestine” was used as long ago as 680 B.C. by Isaiah when he declared: “Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: Howl, O gate; cry, O city; thou, whole Palestina, art dissolved: (Isaiah 14: 29, 31) and is also mentioned in Joel 3:4 and in Exodus 15:14 … Palestine has been the home of Israel since God declared it and endowed it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants.

Face of Jesus by Richard Hook

Soli Deo Gloria!