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Dec 03, 2023

The Silence & Speech of God

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Advent 2023--The Contrasts of Christmas

Keywords: god, word, silence, communication, speech, languages


This message looks at how the Advent story contrasts the silence of God and His speaking to us, why God may go silent with us, what to do with that and how we can cultivate a life that is responsive to and welcoming the speaking of God.


The Silence and Speech of God

Advent 2023—Contrasts of Christmas

December 3, 2023


TY for sabbatical. 

As you can see (pics), we’re just about ready to invite everyone over for a housewarming!

I’m delighted to be back in time for our 2023 Advent series:  The Contrasts of Christmas. 

Noticing contrasts—one of the helpful tools in studying God’s word for noticing what God is wanting us to see and grow in.

The Advent story has many different contrasts:

  • Light & darkness
  • Men and women
  • Young and old
  • Rich and poor
  • Good and evil
  • Angels and demons
  • Jews and Gentiles
  • Silence and speech

It is the last one I am drawn to focus on today.


Story:  about 10 days ago, Sandy and I were trying to get through Wyoming as fast as possible. We had a window between a Thanksgiving night storm that had dumped a few inches of snow-now-turned-ice on Highway 25 from Colorado Springs to Montana before another storm dumped nearly a foot on the roads.  It’s actually rather exhilarating to be skating along at 65 mph…on shear ice… in the middle of nowhere…hour after hour. Needless to say, we’re glad to be with you today! 

            Anyway, it was about hour 3, when I was a little bored looking at nothing but snow and ice (punctuated by occasional herds of Black Angus cattle) that I decided to flip on the radio. I stumbled across a program where the host was talking about how human language is one of the evidences for divine creation of mankind. 

The host was citing various professors of linguistics around the world about how the human capacity for and reality about languages is one of the primary things that sets us apart…light years apart…from the rest of the animal kingdom.  A few of the statistics I remember were…

  • The average 5-year old has a vocabulary of about 10,000 words…and will learn about 38,000 more words by age 20 (45-55,000 total). (Sorry, but if you are middle-aged or older, you’ve most likely stopped learning and using new words.)
  • Compare that with our “nearest genetic” mammals like chimps, gorillas and dolphins. Any idea how many words the smartest can recognize over a lifetime?  150…no matter how old they are!  And they can’t put them together in any kind of meaningful sentences.
  • Every one of the 7,000+ known human languages is complex. They all have grammar and syntax (patterns governing the formation of meaningful sentences and phrases—subject, nouns, verbs, and the order in which they occur in a language). There are no real “simple” human languages.  And every average human being, no matter what culture or race or part of the world, is born with the capacity to learn to arrange their tens of thousands of words into complex sentences. 
  • Evolutionarily there is little-to-NO evidence that language evolved from prehistoric grunting to name-calling to disconnected words or “simple” sentences to Shakespear (estimated vocab of 65k!). Every language ever recorded, while they may have used different types of alphabets and pictures to record them, indicates that human communication has always and universally been very complex, highly developed and present worldwide.  That is a HUGE argument against evolutionary development of humans. 

That is also fascinating given the fact that the God of the Bible, in whose image we are told we are created, is presented as a Being, one of whose primary characteristic is communication

  • In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” (Gen 1:1). Chapter 1 goes on another 11 times to tell us what God created when he simply spoke.  “And God said….” 
  • The fact that the Bible presents a Trinitarian God to us—1 God in 3 persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—would lead to the natural conclusion that communication among God himself is fundamental and primary characteristic of His nature. The Father isn’t just mumbling to himself …or we might have been created “in His image” as people who just develop our own individual languages and spend our lives mumbling to ourselves.  (Wives, don’t embarrass your husbands right now by looking at them!)  Three distinct persons (the Godhead) are one in nature and being but because they are distinct persons, communicate with each other with meaningful and undoubtedly complex words, syntax and concepts. 
  • When we come to the opening words of John’s Gospel, is it any wonder that the Holy Spirit prompted John to pen these words: John 1:1-5--In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  God chooses a name for himself—"the Word”—to tell us that the coming of Jesus to earth is all about God’s heart and ability to communicate through language, through words, through speech.

The writer of Hebrews starts that book off in the N.T. with these words:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

So, let’s come back to Advent and this “Christmas-contrast”.  What’s the contrast when it comes to God’s silence and God’s speech?

Bible scholars talk about the “400 Years of Silence” between the last prophet, Malachi, and the next “speaking” of God in Scripture of the N.T.  There was a gap of roughly 400 years (unless you include the Apocryphal books) where God went rather silent.  Then, with the coming of Jesus, all kinds of communication breaks forth from God.  God begins speaking directly to people in the person of Jesus…and most of them didn’t like it any better than when God spoke through the prophets.  Just as they had rejected the prophets, they rejected Jesus. 

But God kept speaking—through the Apostles, through the N.T. Scriptures, through the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said in John 16:13But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”  God’s nature is to communicate. 

Yet God also uses silence…just as we do in human interactions. Silence can communicate a whole lot of things, right?  About us and about our relationships.

  • Just this week I was talking with someone about depression. Early on I learned that when I get depressed, it was easy for me to say things that I really didn’t believe in my saner moments.  I learned that I could say really hurtful things to others that I would then, when I wasn’t depressed, regret.  So silence became a way of keeping me from sinning against others or wounding them.  And my silence was a way of signaling to those closest to me that things were not well with me. 
  • Silence can also communicate, usually powerfully, that something is wrong in a relationship. Spouses, is it usually a good sign when your beloved ‘goes silent’?   It usually means you’ve done something hurtful…or they are tired of talking about something that isn’t changing…or someone is angry…or, occasionally, that things are good and nothing further really needs to be said. 
    • Ill: There is a vast difference between Sandy and I driving for miles without saying anything because we just enjoy each other’s presence…and driving for 5 minutes without saying anything after I’ve spoken harshly or crossly to her.

While speech in good relationships is usually the norm, silence can communicate volumes too.  I think God was probably still speaking to individuals during those 400 years of national silence with Israel until the advent of Christ. 

APP:  Just as God may stop moving and showing up in a local church if we stop listening to His voice, so He stopped revealing His presence and stopped speaking through prophets to the nation of Israel. 

            Four-hundred years is a long time to not hear God’s authoritative voice.  Just what was going on with the nation during that time?

This 400 years of silence refers to the time between the Old Testament and New Testament, during which, so far as we know, God did not speak authoritatively to the nation—no Scripture was written during that time. It began with the warning that closed the Old Testament in Malachi 4:5-6: “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".  It ended with the coming of John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner.

At the time of Malachi’s warning, about 430 B.C., the Jews had returned to Israel from the Babylonian captivity (as mostly merchants, not shepherds). The Medo-Persian Empire still ruled Israel, and the temple had been rebuilt. Both the Law and the priesthood of Aaron’s line had been restored, and the Jews had given up their worship of idols. Nevertheless, Malachi’s warning was not without cause. The Jewish people were mistreating their wives, marrying pagans and not tithing, and the priests were neglecting the temple and not teaching the people the ways of God. In short, the Jews were not honoring God.

In 333 B.C., Israel fell to the Greeks, and in 323 B.C. it fell to the Egyptians. The Jews generally were treated well throughout those reigns, and they adopted the Greek language and many of the Greek customs and manners, and in Egypt the Old Testament was translated into Greek. That translation, the Septuagint, came into widespread use (and is quoted frequently in the New Testament).

Jewish law and the priesthood remained more or less intact until Antiochus the Great of Syria captured Israel in 204 B.C. He and his successor, Antiochus Epiphanes, persecuted the Jews and sold the priesthood, and in 171 B.C. Epiphanes desecrated the Holy of Holies. This desecration resulted in an uprising by Judas Maccabeus of the priestly line of Aaron, and in 165 B.C. the Jews recaptured Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. However, fighting continued between the Jews and the Syrians until the Romans gained control of Israel in 65 B.C., at which time Pompey walked into the Holy of Holies, once again shocking and embittering the Jews.

In 47 B.C., Caesar installed Antipater, a descendant of Esau, as procurator of Judea, and Antipater subsequently appointed his two sons as kings over Galilee and Judea.

As the New Testament opens, Antipater’s son, Herod the Great, a descendant of Esau, was king, and the priesthood was politically motivated and not of the line of Aaron. Politics also resulted in the development of two major factions known as the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Think of them as 2 major political parties. 

The Sadducees favored the liberal attitudes and practices of the Greeks. They held to only the Torah as regards religion but like most aristocrats they did not think God should have any part in governing the nation.

The Pharisees were conservative zealots who, with the help of the scribes, developed religious law to the point where the concerns and care of people were essentially meaningless.

Additionally, synagogues, new places of worship and social activity, had sprouted up all over the country, and religious and civil matters were governed by the lesser and the greater Sanhedrins, the greater Sanhedrin being comprised of a chief priest and seventy other members that handed out justice, sometimes by 39 lashes as would be inflicted upon Jesus.

[Found at https://www.gotquestions.org/400-years-of-silence.html on 12.1.2023]

            So, back to the silence of God towards His people during this period.  Why do you think God went silent during that period before initiating THE clearest communication with the whole world in the coming of Christ?  Let me suggest a couple of reasons.

  1. When God’s people persistently stop listening to Him, God consistently stops speaking.

The Jewish people had, by-in-large, stopped listening to God’s prophets.  God had sent the northern tribes of Israel into captivity under the Assyrians in 720 B.C. (after 20 years of war with Assyria). 

2 Kings 17:15–17 describes the many ways in which Israel sinned against the Lord, leading to His judgment upon the land: “They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them. And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.”   

For hundreds of years, God had been calling His people to turn from their idolatry, their spiritual adultery, their indifference to His commands and calls. 

APP:  There comes a point where further speaking just brings further hardness of heart.  “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecc. 3:7).  Parents know this when their teenaged children repeatedly refuse to listen to their rules.  Spouses know this when their pleas go unheeded and a spouse continues to do severe damage to their marriage and family.  All of this know that even in some friendships that become toxic, there comes a time to withdraw and go silent.  Continued speaking just brings greater hardness and allows the damage to continue. 

God in Jesus Christ himself had this to say about those even in his day who continued to hear the words but not want to obey the message when He said in Matthew 13:  12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

The silence of God is sometimes a symptom of a much deeper issue—our need to honestly, immediately and completely obey the Word of the Lord.  That is probably the first place we should consider whenever we feel like God’s Spirit has stopped speaking to us.  “Lord, am I doing anything that is grieving You…or failing to do something you’ve asked me to do?”  Then wait and be quiet…listen.  That waiting my be for a few minutes, a few hours, a few days or a few weeks. 

      There is a fascinating story in Jeremiah 42 that sheds more light on God’s silences.  Jeremiah has been telling the Southern Kingdom of Judah to repent of their idolatry, their spiritual prostitution, the sacrificing of their children to false gods, essentially their failure to love and serve the Living God. 

At one point, when Babylon is threatening to overrun them, the leaders of Judah come to Jeremiah and ask him to seek the Lord for a message from God about what they are supposed to do in the face of this threat.  Should they flee to Egypt or stay put?  Then they promise that they will obey whatever it is God says, whether they like it or not.  Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.” 

All is well that sounds well, right?  In the end, they don’t like the instruction from God to just stay in the land and let the Babylonians rule over them.  Their wisdom says it would be better to flee to Egypt and seek protection from the very people from whom God had delivered them centuries before.  So they force Jeremiah to go with them…and, as predicted, Egypt is eventually overrun by the Babylonians too and they are killed and enslaved far more than if they had followed God’s command to stay put in Judah. 

But here is the interesting note in Jeremiah 42:7 about Jeremiah asking God what His message is.  Jeremiah was a righteous prophet.  He obeyed God even when nobody was listening to his message.  He communicated God’s messages even when he knew he would be horribly mistreated for doing so.  Here God goes silent with his prophet for 10 days!   “Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.”  God stayed silent with the man he loved for 10 days before He gave him the message he needed.  Why?

  • What was happening to Jeremiah’s relationship with God during those 10 days? (Prayer, waiting on God, possibly fasting, listening to God, reading His word?)  Here is one of the chief reasons God goes silent at times with his obedient children:  God wants us to sink our roots deeper into life with Him.  He knows the challenges are going to get harder.  He knows we are going to need to know when we have heard from Him. 
  • And I’m sure that the Jewish officials pretending to want a word from the Lord had to know deep down that after waiting for 10 days, Jeremiah wasn’t just popping off with his own message and ideas…even though that’s what they accused him of doing when the message came.

This brings us to, I think, the second great reason God goes silent, especially with even his obedient children:

  1. The silences of God are sometimes designed to create a greater hunger in us to actually hear from God.
  • “The dark night of the soul.”
  • Why revival tarries.

Amos 8:11ff

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
    but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
    and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
    but they will not find it.

13 “In that day “the lovely young women and strong young men
    will faint because of thirst.
14 Those who swear by the sin of Samaria—
    who say, ‘As surely as your god lives, Dan,’
    or, ‘As surely as the god of Beersheba lives’—
    they will fall, never to rise again.”

But let’s conclude today with thinking about the wonderful side of God’s communication:  that He does, in fact, love to speak, to fellowship with and to commune with those who love to walk and live with Him. 

            To these 400 years of pent-up longing by true believers to hear from God and experience His presence, God begins speaking.  He begins sending angels, his celestial messengers, to simple, poor, humble, faithful senior saints like Zechariah & Elizabeth, to young simple, poor, humble and faithful young adults like Mary & Joseph.  The Spirit speaks months later to octogenarian Anna and old Simeon in the Temple when Jesus is brought in to be dedicated as a baby.  Decades later God starts speaking through John the Baptist with such conviction that people’s spiritual hunger drives them into the wilderness to hear John and to repent of their sins.  And then, like the mighty crescendo in a beautiful symphony, for over 3 years God in the person of Jesus speaks in the clearest revelation possible to thousands of people who both listen and don’t listen.  In these last days, [God] has spoken to us by His Son…”

            The norm for those who long to worship and obey God is to hear Him speaking. 

Let me end with 3 suggestions as to HOW God likes to speak most frequently with His receptive, obedient children.   (3-Ws—Word, Wait, Worship)

  1. In His WORD.  We don’t need more revelation from God if we are ignoring the revelation he’s already given.  This is why this Book is what we must cling to even if it costs us losing everything else.  This Book has the words of life.  This book will save us from sin’s disasters.  This book will give us life and godliness through the knowledge of Christ.  [Quote from Justin Peters, itinerant preacher from Sandpoint/ Kootenai, ID—If you want to hear God speak, read the Bible.  If you want to hear Him speak audibly, read it out loud.]  APP:  as we come to the close of this year, if you make one New Year’s resolution, resolve to read and obey God’s Word every day this next year…EVERY day!
  2. When we WAIT on the Lord: time and again, everything from wisdom to strength is promised to those who “wait for the Lord.” (Ps. 27:14; 37:7; 38:15; 40:1; 119:166; 130:6; Is. 30:18;

Isaiah 26:8"Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.”

Even Jeremiah, in the pit of despair, wrote in Lamentations 3: 25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;  26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Repeatedly, those who failed to wait on the Lord lost kingdoms, lost blessings and lost promises.  But those who learned to wait gained the presence and power of God in amazing ways (Job, Jeremiah, Samuel, David, Daniel, Ezekiel, Paul, the 120 in the Upper Room, etc.) 

We are such an impatient culture.  We have impatience bread into us. 

  • 60 second stop lights drive me crazy!
  • Adds that make me wait for the rest of the program or to read an article on-line drive me crazy!

We’re not a people known for waiting patiently. 

What does waiting on God look like? 

  • Prayer…and listening for the Holy Spirit.
  • Waiting
  • Trusting God even when you don’t see Him moving or acting or responding.
  • Affirming our faith in God when circumstances call us to abandon our faith.
    1. Zechariah (Luke 1)
    2. The Early Church—120 in Jerusalem; the church at Antioch >> sent Paul and Barnabas as missionaries; being filled by the H.S. by speaking to each other through songs and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19)

If, over the next year, you and I were to devote ourselves to these 3 spiritual practices of reading & obeying God’s WORD daily, WAITING daily on God through prayer and listening, and WORSHIPPING God wholeheartedly with His people as often as we can, I am completely convinced that we will be a people who are hearing from God.  Our God will not be silent with us for long.  We will discover the contrast of God’s silence and His speaking deepens and renews our souls day after day.