Sign on urban wall

Eye Opening Events Between the Testaments/Spiritual Meditations

One of the most beautiful biblical stories is not found in the Old Testament or the New Testament, but in the space between the two.

There are those who would call this approximately 400 years, the years of silence. There are no prophetic statements made in this period. Nothing is written as the oracles of God as revealed through the prophets. The “word of the Lord” does not appear again until the Gospels when the angel of the Lord appears unto the priest and informs him that his wife will have a child named John.

Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you are to give him the name John.  Luke 1:11

So what happened during these four hundred years? Was there silence? Were there activities? Life always goes on but was there anything significant in these years?

 I would like to tell you a story. If you went to high school or college, you may have already heard this story but it has been my experience in studying history that it is very easy to become so swallowed up by the dates, the names, and the places, that history can become as tedious as reading a phone book. For that reason, I promise not to list any dates. I will offer you few names and when I do, the information I will share with you regarding them will be skimpy by design. I do not want you to become so side-tracked with individual people, philosophies, places, and dates, that you lose the over- all picture.

Back to my goal: It is my intent and hope that this little read will allow you to hear the music. To hear the glorious music of the movement of history as it existed between the Old Testament’s ending with the promise of the anointed One to come at an appointed time [Habakkuk 2:1-4], and the New Testament’s claim that the One arrived “in the fullness of time” [Gal 4:4].

As you begin to hear the music, I hope you will bow afresh to the birth of Christ. Then I would encourage you to go back and check out the people, events, and dates. Catch the big picture and then fill in as much detail as you will. The detail can be found in numerous history books of your choosing for this period of time.

Little Israel at the Close of the Old Testament

At the close of the Old Testament, the Hebrew people were limited because the rest of the world did not understand their language. They were small in area. And they were small in numbers, made even smaller by the number of people that were taken into captivity by the Babylonians. When finally released, many of these people, who had never lived in the land surrounding Jerusalem, simply chose to live in any place where they had business contacts and could support their families. As a result, Jewish communities developed both on the north and south sides of the Mediterranean Sea, but mostly on its far East coast.

The land of Israel was located in a rather insignificant portion of the world. There was some traffic passing through on the North/South interchange but little on the East/West. Likewise, sailors of the Mediterranean had little need to go east to the dead end side of the Mediterranean. Thus, the land of the Israelis was relatively small and insignificant on the big picture scale.

One thing they did have was an unusual claim. Beginning with Abraham, and then later with Isaac and Jacob, and the prophets, they made the claim that the Holy One, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Invisible One in the visible universe, had spoken to them.

Now these people were not naive. After several generations of these ‘encounters’ they set up a way to ‘Test the Spirit’. Even though they had a trustworthy history of hearing “thus said the Lord” and it was so, they were more than aware of manipulations and other possible shenanigans. Thus, the three way test was this:

Whenever someone said “Thus said the Lord” they would pick up stones and be prepared to kill the one who would make such a statement. Then the would-be prophet would have to give a sign and the sign would have to come true. If it did not, the prophet was stoned to death. If the sign did come true, then the obligation was theirs to heed the advice or warning.

The prophets foretold that the Holy One would send someone. This someone would reveal the connection between the visible world and the invisible. His coming, they were told, would be at the appointed time. {Habakkak 2:1-4] The prophets then turn silent.

The Astonishing Spread of Greek Culture

If you were to look at a map of the Mediterranean Sea area at this time, you would see all of its coastal areas with the little area of Israel on the far east coast. But the lights of history shone on the area we know as Greece.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are Greek and would totally embrace the words of the bride’s father in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” who said, “When the rest of the world was still swinging on trees, we were writing philosophy.” There have been many great cultures of the world before and after the Greeks, but at this period in time, the father of the bride was fairly accurate.  Think of any Greek sir name you have ever heard of. With the exception of Aristotle Onassis, just about every one of them surfaced at this interlude between the testaments.

School of Athens painting

Raphael’s’ painting of the School of Athens,  portrays my thought. All of these ‘heavy thinkers’ come from this period. Raphael not only paints them, but he organizes them as well.  In the center of the painting we find the two ‘Big Boys’ in Plato and Aristotle. Their thinking can be roughly equated and separated into ‘right-wing’ and ‘left- wings’ or ‘right-brain’ and ‘left-brain’ activities.

Aristotle and Plato painting

Plato in red, with his hand up, was interested in the invisible things in life. His interest was in unity, or what the classical philosophers called “universals.” He wanted to know what holds everything together and his thinking was upward and outward. He was interested in transcendence. You beauty lovers, who may not be very interested in how it works, but are mesmerized by its beauty, would be considered followers of Plato.

Aristotle on the other hand, with his hand pointing down, was interested in what was visible, what he could see, and hold, and take apart. He was more interested in what is known as ‘immanence.’ Those of you who are interested in science and it’s many branches would be considered followers of Aristotle.

Not to belabor the point, but others sitting at the feet of Plato and Aristotle are: Zeno, Epicurus, Averocs, Pythagers, Aleibides, Xenophon, Aeschines, Parmenides, Socrates, Heraclitus, Diagenes, Euclid, Zoroaster, Plolemy.  You may not be familiar with all of them but you have probably heard of at least some of them.

These men changed the way people thought. By all of their questioning, they underscored the ‘individual’ rather than just one person in the ‘herd.’ As an individual, one had privileges, duties, and responsibilities. These people of Greece wanted to produce good citizens. A citizens ‘civita—civilized one’ was not to be ruled by a despot but would be able to rule themselves. Although it was many years later, Emmanuel Kant said there were four big philosophical questions:

  1.  What may I know? [epistemology]
  2.  What must I do? [ethics]
  3.  What may I hope? [eschatology]
  4.  What is man? [anthropology]

These Greek philosophers incorporated all of that.

You may be asking yourself at this time, “so what. What does this have to do with the significant events between the scriptures?” Please bear with me. The story goes on.

North of Greece, there was a ruler by the name of Phillip of Macedon. He was a warrior. He wanted to go to battle, to fight, to control. He also recognized that the people we call Greeks were not typical of humanity. They seemed more advanced than everyone else. They were more civilized, more cultured, more aware.

I have already acknowledged that there were other great cultures in the world so let me share two things that those other cultures did not possess. They did not have the number zero. You may be saying to yourself, “so what? What is the big deal with having a zero?” The Greek aquisition of the zero from the Egyptians became the basis of our economic system and our currency. Every time you handle money, move a decimal point, etc. you are indebted to the Egyptians for that magnificent zero.

Another thing other peoples did not have but borrowed from the Babylonians was counting by 12.  You are probably asking the same question:“So what?” Are you wearing a analog watch? There is a reason those numbers go from 1 to 12. You can thank the Babylonians for figuring out that system.

Anyhow, Phillip of Macedon was so impressed with the Greeks that he insisted that his son be taught by them in order to learn their ways and thinking processes.  He sent his son, Alexander, to the Academy to study with Aristotle. After absorbing a great deal from Aristotle and his new found Greek culture, and after Phillip dies, Alexander, decided it was time for him to do his own conquering.

His goal was not to destroy the world around him, but to conquer and expose these tribes or peoples of the world [nations is too strong a term] to the Greek culture.  In his path, he left the Greek language for people to learn. He left Greek food and culture. He built libraries where the people were exposed to the books of all of the philosophers previously mentioned. He constructed theaters where the questions of the philosophers were asked. Because he was opening up the minds of the people to cultures different than their own, it becomes a time when synagogues flourish and expanded westward as far as Spain and along the north African coast.

Having libraries, theaters, and synagogues may not seem like a big deal to you who have TV sets in your home or ipads, iphones, etc. but these were all channels of communication. It allowed people who were preoccupied, as we are, with providing food and shelter for their families, to learn about other people. It gave them a place  to listen and to know what others were thinking and doing. It encouraged them to think for themselves and to ask those haunting questions about what is real and what isn’t. What is important and what isn’t? Why am I here? What am I supposed to believe? In a world where everyone dies, what my I hope?

At the age of 33, Alexander the Great dies. The entire Mediterranean area is marked with his footprints and the Greek language, Greek books, Greek theaters, and synagogues are everywhere.

The Roman Takeover

With the death of Alexander, a different people began to expand. Unlike the expansion of Alexander with the desire to conquer and to spread the virtues of Greek culture, these people expanded with the idea of control, power, and money. Beginning in the area we call Rome, a series of smaller expansions turned into larger and larger expansions. They wanted to ‘annex’ all of their neighbors. Motivations often became mixed. They quickly discovered that if they could build A, and someone else could build B, together they could be A&B. Likewise, if this new ‘merger’ could build A&B, and another people  could build C, then the combined group could build A, B and C.

map of roman empire

It was the same for the opportunity to purchase from a larger area and to sell to a larger area. They would import grains that they needed and sell wines that they produced. Over the years they learned where to get what was needed. They did not have their Home Depots, Lowe’s and Wal-Marts, but they knew exactly where to get their tin and marble, silk worms and cloth, fruits and vegetables. With this knowledge and power, they became more knowledgeable and more powerful—and richer. The cast of their shadow expanded everywhere that Alexander had controlled and a great deal more.

The Romans were in it for the long term and their expansion needed to be managed. Although the Greek language continued around the Great Sea, these people spoke Latin and it was an essential ingredient in the management of the government, commerce, and military control.  Many construction projects, including a huge network of roads leading to Rome, were built with Latn as the working language.  Thus, three languages existed throughout the land: Native tongues, Greek, and Latin.

As part of the management, and building on the Greek’s concept of citizenship, with privileges, rights, and obligations, the Romans built a system of law. The Roman citizens were accountable to and protected by the law. This is where it becomes interesting. Not everyone in the Roman Empire was a Roman citizen. The people of the City of Rome were,  but the rest of empire was a different story.

It is not my intent to romanticize the Roman expansion with all of its warfare.  It was often a bloody war with deaths throughout the lands. But it was not always that way.  So valuable was the “Roman Citizen” title that much of the land was conquered, not by force but with a bribe. Sometimes soldiers would simply surround the town and make a deal with the movers and shakers (the influential) of the city. “Don’t fight with us, just join us. If you do, we will make you Roman citizens.” There was generally about a 10% limit on the number of people allowed to do this in any city.

Especially for the merchants, the Roman citizenship classification was a “Golden Ticket” in the world of commerce. It meant that one could travel throughout the empire and still be protected by Roman law. Thus the merchant was free to sell his wares anywhere. He could even sell someone else’s wares as a sales representative. This was a time when merchants from different lands could be found throughout the empire and their buying and selling made commerce work.

It was also the time when signage came into being. Before people traveled a great deal, the shops of the village did not need a sign that said “Butcher”, “Baker” or “Candle-Stick-Maker”. One simply knew where to buy their shoes, get a hair-cut, or purchase cloth. With all of the strangers in town, signage was needed.

In Alexandria, a city named for Alexander, it was decided to build the biggest and the best library in the world. They wanted a copy of every book written. This was especially interesting and important to the Jewish communities. The synagogues around the Mediterranean did not speak Hebrew. That was lost to them. They spoke Greek. They requested of the library in Alexandria that the Old Testament scrolls  be translated into Greek. The library then contacted the Jews in Jerusalem and made their request known. The Jewish authorities appointed six Hebrew scholars from each of the 12 tribes. They did all of the translation work and this highly significant Old Testament translation is known as the Septuagint and you may see it written simply as LXX for the 70 translators who did the work. This Old Testament was then shared with the synagogues around the great sea.

Are you getting a glimpse of how the world had changed? Looking at the same map, with its libraries, theaters, and synagogues spread around the sea, note again the land of the Hebrews. It is still in the same location, but now it is more than a dead end of the Mediteranean cul-de-sac. Rather, it is in the middle of the significant commercial trade routes between north and south. Given the nature of the mountain, one has to travel through a narrow pass known as Megiddo. The New Testament speaks of Armageddon and notes that whoever controls this pass controls the world. As sand travels through an hour glass at its narrowest point, so too the land travelers must go through here.

We have arrived at that point in time when the entire area is tied together with language, with roads, with commerce, with communication centers with the theaters, libraries, and synagogues. It order for it to function so that trade is not interrupted, where money and supplies continue to flow freely, where prosperity can continue to be a hope and dream, there has to be peace in the land. There is always war and rumors of war, but turf battles interrupt business. All of these diverse cultures, though united in language, and dependent on commerce and law, were free and encouraged to maintain their own culture as long as they kept the peace.

Encouraging peace, and successfully keeping the peace, was a Roman accomplishment that became known as the PAX ROMANA.

It is Time for the Extraordinary

Let us now turn our attention to the New Testament. It is not my intent to offer NT lessons, but merely to connect a few of the dots. Let us begin with the birth of Christ.

  • When the entire area of in this part of the world was with one tongue [Greek]
  • When the ground work had been laid where people knew they were individuals, with rights and obligations,
  • When the major questions of the world were being asked,
  • When theaters and libraries flourished,.
  • When synagogues were numerous and the old testament scrolls were being translated into Greek,
  • When merchants and scholars possessed Roman Citizenship that allowed them to travel anywhere in the empire and still be protected by law,
  • When peace was plentiful, and the rule of the land,
  • When this little land of Israel became the gateway connecting North and South,

Then and only then did God send an angel to a young girl named Mary and say to her:

The time has come. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35.

Pentecost Ignites the Good News

God the Giver

Let us now take a quick look at Pentecost. Christians look at Pentecost as the time when God gave his Holy Spirit and a time when those gathered were speaking in tongues. To the Jewish community, which represented the people who were attending this regular service of worship, Pentecost was a time to celebrate God’s “giving”. People receive, but it is the Lord who “gives”. How does the Lord give? The Lord gives in three specific ways

  1. The Lord gives through His harvest. Human kind may plant and water and work, but it is the Lord who gives of the harvest. It is all the Lord’s creation. I have come to the persuasion that if one properly understands the term “creation” one understands the rest. If one fails to properly understand “creation” then one does not understand the rest of the scriptures.
  2. The Lord gives through His law. It is the gift of the law that leads to prosperity. It is the law that forms the type of person we are. It is the law that points to the direction we need to go.
  3. The Lord gives “as in the book of Ruth”.

Without going into it, the book of Ruth is a great story. It never tells the reader what to do, what to say, nor what to believe. It shows you what the Lord does and how He does it. The workings of the Lord are such an “easy yoke”, such a mature and smooth wine, so kind and gracious, that His workings become revealed after events and generally not before or during. Whenever you smack your forehead and say in amazement, “look how that all came together!” you will understand.

The Old Testament used the term “HESED” throughout the Scriptures to indicate the “Loving Kindness of the Lord”

These are the three characteristics of the Lord that are being worshipped when the worshippers are gathered together in Acts 2. They are worshipping the Lord—the GIVER.

Tongues of Fire

Now, consider the people who are at this service.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment because each one heard them speaking in his own language. [Remember, they all knew Greek so there was no need for them to hear in their native tongue]. Utterly amazed they asked, “Are not all these men, who are speaking, Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; resident of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Tonus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the part of Libra near Cyrene, visitors from Rome [both Jews and Jewish converts], Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues! Acts 2:5

Jewish merchants from around the Sea are in the major trading center of Jerusalem when they hear the story of the resurrected Christ from Peter and when the Holy Spirit is another gift, given by the Giver, who they have come to celebrate and worship.

These merchants were all passing through on business but eventually they journey home. When they get to wherever their homes are, their wife and children meet him at the door and say, “Daddy, what did you bring me? How was your trip? What did you learn?” When the time is right, perhaps after dinner, he shares with them his story and his experiences at the Jewish Pentecost Service. The wife will eventually ask, “What will our Rabbi say to all of this?”

I image the Rabbi asking him to remain quiet awhile until the Rabbi himself can examine the scriptures. Rabbis seek counsel from other Rabbis and a Rabbi in Cappadocia can readily contact [via Roman snail mail] any Rabbi throughout the empire. So he does. And when he does, he soon learns that the story he heard from the merchant in his synagogue is the same story other Rabbi’s are hearing from the merchants in their own. Pretty soon, the Jewish community is spreading the gospel of Christ throughout the Roman Empire.

And the questions! Oh, the questions!!! All of the rabbi’s have them and they need to ask for help. The news quickly spreads that the rabbinic scholar in Jerusalem, originally from Tarsus, has gone from trying to kill the Christ followers to becoming one. He even changed his name from the Hebrew Saul to the Greek Paul. So, they write to him. When he writes back, his letters become circulated from synagogue to synagogue. He even travels to a number of these places, since as a Roman Citizen, he is free to travel the Roman Empire and to be protected by Roman law.

Conclusion

It is my hope that this little story has helped you connect some of the dots. During these 400 years of silence, it may not seem that anything significant happened, but as you can now tell, one of the ways the Lord works is “as in the book of Ruth” where the truth sneaks up on you.

Regarding your celebration of Christmas, my prayer continues to be that you will be able to bow afresh to the Christ child and all of the events that had to happen before he came. If He had arrived a few hundred years earlier, no one would have known about it. It would have been an isolated event amongst a far away people. If it had happened a few hundred years later, everyone was embroiled in war.

In happened, as foretold, in the fullness of time.

In your personal life, you too will discover periods of silence. You too have had and will have your years of silence. When you do, smile. He who gives the harvest, and gives the law, and “as in the book of Ruth” gives silently, graciously, easily, and smoothly. It is done with such purity that the movement of the spirit is generally seen in hind-sight. Remember, Robinson Caruso only had to see one footprint in the sand before he knew, he was not alone.

Written by my friend Dr. Frank Leeds III

guitarist in front of Christymas tree playing Solitary Angel as Christmas gift

My Christmas Music Gift to You | Spiritual Meditations

Free New Christmas Song

The song pictures the behind-the-scenes activities surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ and the role of a solitary angel. It will touch your heart and remind you of the significance of the holiday.

My husband wrote and recorded the music linked below. He is the guitarist and vocalist on the recording.

Merry Christmas to you, your family and friends. May God bless you all in the coming year.

Solitary Angel by Bob Blanford

Events Surrounding the Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,  and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

Luke 2:1-21