The Silence of God
by Lawrence W. Hilliard

"When far from Thee, I die while yet in life;
But if I cling to Thee I live, though I should die."—Judah Halevi

Our contemporary society is bombarded by every conceivable opinion, troglodyllic thought, valueless interviews and arrogant stupidity. We have come to believe that there is no absolute foci of truth, just an admixture resulting from different perspectives. Within this glossanthrax culture the proliferation of "God talk" permeates every facet of the media and banal speech. God’s name is as readily referenced as the next hyped film or sports celebrity. Millions sit comfortably in pews listening to a pragmatic isegetic present God’s Word as an adjunct to the current prevailing pop ideas and then return home with smiles on their faces rather than tears of sorrow, for they have not heard from God. The palaver that emanates from pulpits is inane babble with the superimposed moniker "God spoke to me", "God has a word for you." This supercilious mendacity has devalued what God has said under the detritus of turgid verbosity. The most frequently utilized word in our lexicon is God and the most misunderstood is God. The inundation of "God talk" has dulled our hearing and distorted our capacity to understand any word from the Lord. The prophet Jeremiah militantly proclaimed to a somnambulant nation, "The prophets are prophesying falsehood in my name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own mind." "Thus says the Lord of Hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those despise Me, ‘The Lord has said, "You will have peace, and as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, they say, ‘Calamity will not come upon you.’" (Jer. 14:14, 23:16-17). The false prophets had anesthesitized the conscience of the nation by the incessant, verbal pain suppressant of imaginative dreams and seductive promises of God’s blessing. The rot at the core of the heart was left undisturbed and unrevealed to devour the people and nation. The palliative words of the renegade prophets had benumbed the mind and heart from the terrifying prospect of God’s imminent judgment. The nation of Israel had yielded itself to vain illusions, they were seduced to confiding in the empty lies of men. "… the false prophet always brings a message that quiets the conscience and gives it a delusive peace." "Man’s word lulls and weakens the conscience; God’s word rouses and strengthens it and crushes within the heart everything that is evil." (R. Payne Smith, Dean of Canterbury, 1871-1888, Commentary on Jeremiah).

"God has decreed ten grievous famines to take place in the world, to punish the inhabitants of the earth, before the coming of Messiah the King." "...the tenth is yet to come, and it is not a famine of bread or of water, but of hearing the word of prophecy from the mouth of the Lord; and even now this famine is grievous in the land of Israel."
—Targum on Ruth 1:1

Could it be that the sound of a falling leaf can now drown out the voice of God to us? For a generation that has refused to obey the word of the Lord, such a dilemma lies before us. "Behold, days are coming" declares the Lord God. "When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord. And people will stagger from sea to sea, and from the North even to the East; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it." (Amos 8:11-12). The incessant warnings through the prophets were cast aside by the nation of Israel and the righteous retribution that ensued was Divine silence. The nation of Israel in its distress longed for one word of God, but none was heard. "The bitterness of the time of punishment is increased by the fact that the Lord will then withdraw His word from them, the light of His revelation. They who will not hear His word, as proclaimed by the prophets, will then cherish the greatest longing for it. Such hunger and thirst will be awakened by the distress and affliction that will come upon them." (C. F. Kiel, Notes on Amos 8:11-12). To all corners of the globe will men seek for an enlightened Word of God, but none will be heard. They will not find what they had previously rejected. "They will go with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord, but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn from them." (Hosea 5:6). The silence of God is devastating to the hard of heart and dull of hearing. "…His voice has become alien to our minds, to our hearts, to our souls. We have learned to listen to every ‘I’ except the ‘I’ of God. The man of our time may proudly declare: ‘Nothing animal is alien to me but everything divine is.’ (Abraham Heschel, A Philosophy of Judaism, p. 168-169).

"God is not simply available once and for all, to be found whenever man so ever desires. There is an alternative to God’s presence, namely His absence. God may withdraw and detach Himself from history. Receiving the Word of God is a wonder that does not always come to pass."
—Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, p. 211

The great fear of the nation of Israel was the silence of God. When God’s Word is incessantly rejected and sublimated a nation can enter into a period of God‘s silence. A period when God will withhold enlightenment of his Word, mute the prophetic voice and remove teaching in the land. The Old Testament portrays no greater fear than the prospect of God’s silence. "To Thee, O Lord, I call; my Rock, do not be death to me, lest if Thou be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit." (Ps. 28:1). "Thou hast seen it, O Lord, do not keep silent; O Lord, do not be far from me." (Ps. 35:22). "O God, do not remain quiet; do not be silent and, O God, do not be still." (Ps. 83:1). "Then they will cry out to the Lord, but He will not answer them. Instead, He will hide His face from them at that time, because they have practiced evil deeds." (Micah 3:4). The Psalmist feared that any state of disfavor with God would render him as one who had descended into the pit of death and forgetfulness to God. Were God to become unresponsive to the cries for preservation and deliverance, in essence, redemption, all would be lost. We would be left all alone, with the façade of our self-sufficiency stripped away to cower in naked impotence. What a terrifying prospect! "… If Thou, were to look at my sad state without taking an interest or without concerning Thyself with it, then my life would have no more meaning and I would be as one whose path on this earth is nothing but a steady progress toward the grave." (Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Hirsch Psalms, p. 201). The dreadful reality that God is unresponsive to our cries would render our lives as hopelessly lost as the condemned in hell. Although living, we would be as dead. "… but if He continues thus to keep silence, then he who confides in Him will become like those who are going down, or are gone down to the pit." (F. Delitzsch, Notes on Psalms 28:1). The silence of God is not an empty threat posed by the prophets to engender a concomitant response of repentance. The voice of John the Baptist broke a 450-year silence that had ensued from the close of the Book of Malachi to the birth of the Messiah. During this period the prophetic voice was silent and only a remnant of the House of David from the Tribe of Judah were enlightened to keep the Messianic hope alive of a coming Redeemer. "Although the revelation of Messianic promise reaches from Moses--indeed from Abraham, perhaps even from Adam (Gen. 3:15) to Malachi, yet from the time of Malachi to John the Baptist, God raised or sent no inspired prophet. Yahweh chose to bring prophetic inspiration to a halt..." (C. H. Henry, Vol. 4, God, Revelation and Authority, p. 594). The ministry of Jesus was inaugurated in a region shrouded in the darkness of ignorance, superstition and spiritual bondage. His authoritative voice of revelation would reverberate in a land that had known the silence of God for over 450 years (see Isa. 9:2, Matt. 4:15-16).

"Yet for the self-revealing God, silence remains always a sovereign option."
—C. H. Henry

We are living in a transitional stage in history where the word of man has subordinated the Word of God in our culture. The pronouncements and promises from President Barack Obama carry more significance for millions of Americans than the declared Word of God. "I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above the world. He’s sort of God." (Evan Thomas, Newsweek Editor, MSNBC interview, 6/5/09). The Presidential fiats from a political cultic matrix are conditioning the nation for a future day where the word of one man will captivate the world. "There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes, yet is not washed from his filthiness. There is a kind, O how lofty are his eyes! And his eyelids are raised in arrogance." (Prov. 30:12-13). The fear that God may choose not to respond to my cry is uniquely an inducement to listen and obey the voice of the Almighty, not to become dull of hearing due to insolent rebellion (Isa. 6:10-11, Zech. 7:11-12, II Tim. 4:3-4, Heb. 5:11). Without an apprehension of a "Day of God’s silence" we presume upon God, considering Him devoid of holiness and righteous justice who will automatically respond to us at the mention of His name. Such self-deception belittles the High and Holy One who has spoken so often in the past but we no longer remember a single warning (II Chron. 36:15-16, Jer. 7:23-29, 25:4-9, 32:31-33, Rom. 2:4-5). "We used to hear the voice of God; in pleading and command, in judgment and forgiveness; but now, because we have for too long turned away and shut our ear, that voice has become almost totally inaudible. How hopeless! But if we once were men, or even once knew men, who heard the living God and spoke to Him, perhaps there is yet a thread of hope: perhaps, for God is merciful; we, for whom He has become dead because we have become dead to Him, may yet be revived sufficiently to find His living presence once again." (Rabbi Herschel J. Matt, The Condition of Jewish Belief, p. 153-154). May we listen and obey God’s timeless Word alerting the nations, "O land, land, land, hear the word of the Lord!" (Jer. 22:29).

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