My year-long journey through the Bible now leads us to a 400-year period between the Prophets and the New Testament called the Intertestamental Period. I’m deviating from using The MANual for this post since my New Living Testament (NLT) Life Application Bible does a great job explaining this time period.
So first, here’s a brief refresher of the Old Testament to help us understand the need for a new covenant with God described in the New Testament.
About the Old Testament
As you read in some prior posts during this journey, the Christian Bible’s Old Testament is broken down into four main sections:
- The Books of Moses (5 books from Genesis through Deuteronomy),
- The History of Israel (12 books from Joshua through Esther)
- The Books of Poetry (5 books from Job through the Song of Solomon), and
- The Prophets (17 books but read below for more).
The books of the Prophets complete the Old Testament. My post with an Introduction to The Prophets indicated that these books are usually among the least popular to read. Yet there is much we can learn from those books.
Subsequent posts with lessons from the Major Prophets (here, here, and here) explain that those four books are longer books that begin the period of warnings of the ancient people’s disregard for God’s law, empty religious practices, and love for the world more than loving God. The Introduction to The Minor Prophets and following posts (here and here) describe the twelve shorter books that are no less important than those of the major prophets. The twelve continue the constant condemnations and call the people of Israel back to faithfulness to their covenant with God. In each case, they foretell some really good news of the coming Messiah and the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Like the Israelites, we are just as hard-hearted, greedy, lacking in concern for the poor. We abuse God’s creation and mistreat people. But we also live under the same conditions of God’s judgment and ramifications for our decisions to disobey His commands. This leads to the need for the New Testament that tells the stories of Jesus, the servant Savior; not the warrior king the Israelites wanted.
So why are there Old and New Testaments? Let’s first understand the differences between the various religious texts, then understand the 400 years of apparent silence by God.
Different Bibles; Same God?
Some people like to say, “We all worship the same god/God.” But the various religions of the world have different ideas as to who God is and what people believe –or do not believe, about a higher power.
According to this website, there are several types of sacred writings used by the world’s six largest religions: the Bible (Christianity), Tanakh (Judaism), Qur’an (Islam), Gita (Hinduism), Guru Granth Sahib (Sikhism), Tripitaka (Buddhism).
I’m no theologian or Bible scholar so for purposes of this post, I am limiting the explanation to the differences between the Bible used by Christians and the “Hebrew Bible” used by Jews since both connect us to Jesus, but in different ways. I also grew up Catholic but am now Presbyterian, a Protestant denomination, which uses a slightly different Bible.
The Difference between Christian and Hebrew Bibles
The first difference between the Christian Bible and the Hebrew Scriptures is the number of books. The Hebrew Bible (also called the Tanakh from the Hebrew names of its three books: Torah + Nevi’im + Khetuvim) contains 24 books that end with a single collection about all the Prophets. It’s the sacred text Jesus learned as a child and he frequently quoted as an adult.
The Christian Bible’s Old Testament has more books than the Tanakh. The longer canon (from the Greek κανών, meaning “rule” or “measuring stick” to denote the list of books considered as authoritative scripture by a particular religious community) accepted from the beginning by the early Church has 57 OT books. This was the OT used by Orthodox Christians, whereas the Roman Catholic OT contains 46 books. The Protestant OT includes exactly the same information but is organized into 39 books. For example, the Hebrew Bible has one book of Samuel, while the Protestant Bible has I and II Samuel—the same book, but divided into two parts. Protestants didn’t just take out books; they used a different standard of what to include in the Bible after the Reformation by Martin Luther in 1517.
The main difference though between the Jewish and Christian Bibles is the addition of a New Testament (NT). While their OTs are different, the Catholic and Protestant Bibles both have the same 27 NT books that describe the stories of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Most Jews regard Jesus only as a great teacher and not a prophet, the messiah, or the son of God. Most importantly, Christians believe Jesus died and rose again as an atonement (reparation/replacement) for our sins so we can live free of guilt and serve others as Jesus did.
When God Went Silent
With all that as background, what happened during that 400 year period between the writings of the Old and New Testament?
The years of silence began when God delivered His final message through the prophets and essentially “paused” His further communications. This is known by some as the “Silent Years.” It was a span where no new prophets were raised and God revealed nothing new to his people. God wanted to
Hear the warning by the prophet Malachi about 430 B.C, that closes the Old Testament:
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).
Recall from earlier posts that the Assyrians took the northern kingdom of Israel captive. The southern kingdom of Judah later went into captivity in Babylon. All this occurred while the prophets warned the people over and over.
The royal line of David was broken. The rightful successor to King David given in the books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, was Zerubbabel, the royal prince. However, that prophecy went unfulfilled as Zerubbabel either returned to Babylon and hid after finishing the Temple, or the Persians executed him fearing a Jewish uprising.
At the time of Malachi’s warning, the Jews had returned to Israel from the Babylonian captivity and rebuilt the temple. The Law was restored and the Jews had given up their worship of idols. However, they quickly began mistreating their wives, marrying pagans, and not tithing. The priests were neglecting the temple and not teaching the people the ways of God. In short, the Jews were not honoring God in the way He desired.
400 Long Years
This 400-year period divides into six historical divisions: the Persian Era (536-336 B.C.), the Greek Era (336-323 B.C.), the Egyptian Era (323-198 B.C.), the Syrian Era (198-165 B.C.), the Maccabean Era (165-63 B.C.), and the Roman Era (63-4 B.C.).
The empire of Rome has risen from the west from the Mediterranean to North Africa and into Europe. Its ruler in Palestine, a cruel and self-serving king named Herod, sits enthroned over the Jews.
The Jews settled into an era under Roman authority and looked to a new array of various teachers of religious laws. This included the Pharisees, who claimed authority for their interpretation of Jewish Laws, and the Sadducees, who represented the priestly privileges established in the days of Solomon. Above all these authorities sits a governing body called the Sanhedrins, the high council that functions something like a Supreme Court.
Most noticeable was the lack of a single divine spokesperson. Anyone who claimed to be a prophet was proven to be an imposter. For more than 400 years, the heavens seemed closed to Israel as they heard nothing from God. Mankind’s futile attempts to deal with political power and changing religious beliefs produced very little. Israel was in a kind of spiritual bondage that was worse than ever. The rise of various parties and movements all seemed to have failed. The stage of history was dark. The situation was indeed desperate.
God Breaks His Silence
There was no king on the throne of Israel and it was a puppet nation, under Roman domination. The Jews are now unwilling subjects of the Roman empire. The people had freedom of worship but with limited authority to oversee their own affairs so they longed for more. They read the prophecies on the Tanakh about the promised Messiah; the king and warrior who would destroy their enemies and restore their nation.
But the world receives the unexpected at just the right time. A different Messiah. Someone predicted. The One who would give us a choice of a better life.
God Buddy Focus
The Intertestamental Period came to an end once God broke 400 years of silence with the announcements of the Good News of the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.
When we feel that God goes silent in our lives today, we can wrongly assume God must have forgotten about us. Suddenly, we take matters into our own hands. We walk away from God and the church in the process.
But, God is always at work in the silence. Waiting ultimately reminds us Who is in control and Who prepares us for what’s next.
The study of all Scripture will teach us important lessons for the entire Christian life and why we should follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament warns us but the New Testament encourages us.
This week, get together with some God Buddies to discuss:
- Your favorite Old Testament passages and why they are important to your faith journey.
- Which book of the Bible do you want to better understand? Find someone who can help you get to know it better.
- If you are new to The Bible, read the book “Making Sense of The Bible” by Adam Hamilton. It one of the best reads for any stage of desire for Bible knowledge.
My next post will provide an introduction to the Gospels and the messages to the early church.