It’s been several weeks of caution and seclusion. Our churches are livestreamed, our fellowship times are in digital halls, and our Bible studies are framed by computer or phone screens. There is a new normal that is still unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and we don’t know how long this altered existence will last.
Scripture is full of exhortations about waiting on the Lord (Is. 25:9; Ps. 37:7; Lam. 3:26), having patience (Gal. 5:22; Col. 1:11; Jm. 5:7), and God’s care in the midst of hard times (2 Sam. 22:31; Ps. 36:7, 46:1, 62:8). But there is one page of the Bible that I’m finding unconventionally encouraging in these unconventional times. Unfortunately, if you use an electronic version of the Bible, you probably won’t notice it. Go grab a physical copy of the God’s Word and turn to Malachi 4. Now, turn the page.
It’s blank, isn’t it? There’s a blank page, followed by a page introducing the New Testament. That blank page represents over 400 years of silence, uncertainty, and waiting.
If you’re still holding a copy of the Bible, your left hand is holding around 1,500 years of covenant history. I say “covenant” history because the Bible is full of covenants that God makes with his people. Throughout that history, God kept his covenant to preserve and bless his people, even though his people disobeyed the covenant conditions. The Old Testament is an ongoing story of how God committed to his people, his people disobeying, God reestablishing the covenant, and sending covenant messengers (aka prophets) to remind his people of the terms of the covenant. There are robust themes of God’s faithfulness despite his people’s sin, as well as God’s patience and love for his people in the face of war, natural disasters, plagues, crime, and so much more. God was always present with his people, evident through his actual, symbolic, or representative presence.
And then Malachi ends.
And we get a blank page.
For 400 years, we have no biblical record. The prophets stopped prophesying. The covenant breakers had no more reminders to return to God. Promises were waiting to be fulfilled with no sign of future fulfillment. There is epic silence, with no end in sight.
Now it’s easy for us to flip the page and feel the weight of the New Testament in our right hands. We know that Jesus came, fulfilled the covenant perfectly on behalf of covenant breakers, and will unite us to himself someday. But what is a quick page turn in our Bibles was 400 years of waiting. During those 400 years, Alexander the Great conquered most of the Ancient Near East. His empire split. There was war, conquering, control issues, culture changes, plunder, idol worship, and revolt. There was internal strife, alienation, and oppressive leadership.
In preparation for that time, God repeatedly reminded his people to remember (Ex. 13:3; Num. 15:40; Deut. 8; Josh. 1:13). Remember what God had done. Remember how God had saved them from slavery. Remember how God led them in the wilderness. Remember how God provided for their needs. Remember the covenant God made with their forefathers. In this new time of silence from God, the Israelites had no choice but to look back to the promises God made and remember what is true, not only in the face of a stomach-churning empire meltdown, but in a new sort of silence from God that they had never experienced before.
The good news is that the Church today does not have silence from God. We have the full body of Scripture, the very Word of God recorded for us. We know that God speaks to us through the preaching of his Word, and he reaffirms his covenant-keeping love to us in his sacraments. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is sanctifying us by faith every single day. The benefits of being this side of the covenant are astounding! We have resources and hope that transcend anything the Old or New Testament saints had. Our remembering, then, looks different from theirs. We aren’t looking back to God’s promises and waiting for their fulfillment. We look back to see how God perfectly fulfilled his promises and will continue to complete the work he began (Phil. 1:6), even in this time of global pandemic.
So, what can we learn from the blank page in Scripture?
- Silence does not equal inactivity. God is always at work, even in times of unending wait. Even when our world has been ravished by sin and disease. Even when our stability, routine, and sense of control are thrown out the window. Even when we don’t know when normal will return, or what the new normal will even look like. God is always at work.
- God preserves his people during hardship. We may have a blank page in our Bibles, but that page was not blank in God’s eyes. We have saints who have gone before us in tremendous times of silence, inconvenience, and the world crumbling around them. Amidst all of this turmoil, God continued to keep covenant with his people, he continued to be faithful to his promises, and he continued his sovereign plan to preserve a holy line of saints that would lead to the Messiah’s birth. God’s people were not spared from times of unrest, suffering, and sacrifice, but they were preserved and sanctified with acute intentionality and for distinct purposes. The same is true for us!
- We don’t have to leave our pages blank. It’s tempting to think of this season as one we’d rather forget. But consider—what would the Psalms be without the laments? Or Job without his anguish? Or Nehemiah and Ezra without challenges and persistence? Instead of leaving our pages blank, we can choose to keep a record of our laments to God, our meditation on his promises, what loving our neighbors looks like these days, and whatever else that helps us internalize the fact that God has not left us. What is the story of God’s faithfulness during this unimaginable season that you will tell future generations (Deut. 4:9; Josh. 4:22; Ps. 145:11-13)?
This is a frustrating season. Amidst loneliness and isolation, shifting routines, cabin fever, death tolls rising, loved ones in need, social media overflow, and international panic, remember the blank page in Scripture. God’s silence was no indicator of inactivity. He is a covenant-keeping King who knows what he’s doing. We can trust him.
About the Author:
Sherrene DeLong(MATS, Westminster Seminary California) is working on a PhD in higher education at Azusa Pacific University. She is a contributor to All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church and has written a chapter titled “A Hospitality of Words” in the forthcoming second edition of Heal Us Emmanuel. She lives in Virginia with her husband and son, and they attend Christ Church PCA in Arlington.