With Christmas right around the corner, it can be easy to jump right to the conclusion of singing about the great joy that has come to the world as we look at the lights and the festivities around us. And it is true—there is great joy to be found in knowing that the Savior of the world has come to save us from the great catastrophe of sin. What we can’t forget though, is the journey that it took to get there. The journey from the Old to the New Testament didn’t happen overnight. Instead, it took hundreds of years to go from one point to another.
From the end of Malachi to Matthew is equivalent to 400 years. To put it in perspective, America has not even been around for 300 years. Imagine trying to hold onto a promise for that long!
Often, we find ourselves trying to hold onto God’s promises, but we don’t have the patience to allow God to do what He needs to do. A time period of 400 years is definitely long enough to completely give up hope. Generations would have come and gone, Israelites holding onto the hope of Christ without seeing any of the results. It would seem that their faith would have been all but diminished.
But then Jesus came.
God fulfilled His promise, perhaps not in the timing that they would have wanted or expected, but He stayed true to His Word.
This time frame is merely a reflection of the Israelites’ freedom gained from 400 years of captivity in Egypt. God had said to Abraham that his descendants would experience this time period of slavery, but that they would be freed. Still, holding onto the promise that freedom was coming must have been much harder than any of them expected.
Genesis 15:13-16 is when God first gives Abraham (who was still Abram at the time) this word:
“The He said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will live as strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years…In the fourth generation, your descendants will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.'”
What a hard thing that had to be for Abraham to hear. His descendants would spend hundreds of years in captivity before they would fully walk in the inheritance that God had for them as His chosen people. And yet, even in this very hard thing to hear, God still fulfilled His promise. God was still working things out during the hard season of the Israelites’ lives. How do we know this? Because the Lord told Abraham “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” Before God would allow one thing to take place, another had to be completed. He has designed life to be a journey, a process that we must go through.
The Israelites saw their day of freedom. And while they still had a trek through the wilderness for 40 years, God was faithful to deliver them, just as He said He would.
In the same way, when the time was right, God fulfilled His promise once again, to bring the Messiah to the world. However, this promise was also fulfilled after another 400 years of silence. Yet, in this silence, God was still working. Empires rose and fell, the Greek language dominated, and Rome became a global power. It would seem that the most desperate hour had come for a Messiah; and so, He did.
In Malachi 3, the people are once again promised the coming of the messenger who would prepare the way (John the Baptist) for the Lord to come, and then the Lord would follow.
“I will send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. He is coming, says the LORD of Hosts,” (Mal. 3:1).
The 400 years of silence did not negate the promised Messiah. They were used to set the right circumstances in motion to create the scene in which the Savior could come in the perfect timing for His birth, life and death that would bring eternal hope to the entire world. While Jesus came to the world much differently than what was thought—to a virgin teenage girl and her fiancé in a stable—it does not change the fact that He came in God’s way, in God’s plan and timing.
So this Christmas, if you’re in the middle of trying to hold onto a promise, wondering where the promised breakthrough is, remember that God is still faithful even when things take longer than we expected.
Abby Trivett is a marketing copywriter and coordinator for Charisma Media.