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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

When the Word of God is Silenced

Aug 23, 2020

We are in a bad place when we can no longer hear from God:

Spiritually speaking, there are some things that are just as bad, if not worse, than physical tragedies and calamities. For example, a physical famine is of course a terrible thing to go through. But from a biblical perspective, a famine for the Word of God is also terrible – and in some senses even more devastating. We read about that very thing of course in Amos 8:11:

“Look! The days are coming,”
    declares the Lord God,
“when I will send a famine throughout the land—
    not a famine of food or a thirst for water—
        but rather a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.

In my most recent reading through the book of Lamentations I came across a similar theme to what Amos spoke about. In Lam. 2:7-10 we read these words:

The Lord has scorned his altar,
    disowned his sanctuary;
he has delivered into the hand of the enemy
    the walls of her palaces;
they raised a clamor in the house of the Lord
    as on the day of festival.

The Lord determined to lay in ruins
    the wall of the daughter of Zion;
he stretched out the measuring line;
    he did not restrain his hand from destroying;
he caused rampart and wall to lament;
    they languished together.

Her gates have sunk into the ground;
    he has ruined and broken her bars;
her king and princes are among the nations;
    the law is no more,
and her prophets find
    no vision from the Lord.

The elders of the daughter of Zion
    sit on the ground in silence;
they have thrown dust on their heads
    and put on sackcloth;
the young women of Jerusalem
    have bowed their heads to the ground.

I want to highlight the last two verses especially: “the law is no more, and her prophets find no vision from the Lord. The elders of the daughter of Zion sit on the ground in silence.” The context, as the previous verses make clear – and the whole book discusses – is the Babylonian assault on Jerusalem and the razing of the temple.

Because of the continuous sin, idolatry and rebellion of God’s people, the long-promised judgment has now taken place. The temple is gone and many Israelites have been taken captive to Babylon. Those who are left behind are utterly bewildered and dismayed.

Coupled with all the physical devastation is all the spiritual devastation: the silence of God. During dark and desperate times it is God and his word that are needed the most – but now both seem to be missing. Talk about adding insult to injury. Christopher Wright offers this commentary:

When you need a word from God, you turn to those who were custodians of that word: priests, who could teach and interpret the law; prophets, who would bring a more direct word from the visions God gave them; and elders, who have the wisdom and experience to provide advice and guidance for the rest of the people. But all three groups of leaders have fallen silent in the teeth of such overwhelming disaster. And their silence is the silence of God himself. After all, God had been speaking through the law and the prophets for generations to ears that would not listen. Now they would listen in vain for any word from God at all.

Robin Parry also speaks to this:

Even the prophets did not get visions from YHWH. There is a loss of both civic (king and rulers) and religious (implicitly priests, and explicitly prophets) leadership. It is theologically interesting that the divine judgment manifests itself in divine silence. The God who speaks to his people through tôrâ and through prophet becomes quiet, and it is a deathly quiet. This judgment of silence is manifest in the book of Lamentations as a whole, in which YHWH is the one actor that the implied reader is desperate to hear speak, and thus YHWH’s lack of voice is very conspicuous. In this way Lamentations embodies the ongoing judgment by means of the words it does not contain.

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And John Mackay speaks about the false prophets who were so predominant and popular back then, instead of God’s real prophets:

Although they claimed to be spokesmen of the Lord, he had not commissioned them (Jer. 23:21-22) and they derived their messages by copying them from one another (Jer. 23:30). In the aftermath of the collapse of the city, they had nothing to say because the claims of their theology had been falsified by events, and they could not find any word of guidance or encouragement to pass on to others (cf. Ps. 74:9). Those referred to here are not figures such as Jeremiah or Ezekiel who continue to exercise genuine prophetic ministries.

One more quote about true versus false prophets can be mentioned here. Tremper Longman says this about the passage:

The prophets in the period leading up to the catastrophe were a mixed bunch. On the one hand, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others were faithful in proclaiming God’s true vision of the future. The people did not listen to them, but to the countless others (see Jer. 28) who offered false words of security. For now, the poet tells the reader, God is not giving prophetic visions in Israel, though Daniel is said to receive them in Babylon and a number of Minor prophets are dated to the postexilic period, among them Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

It does not take much imagination to offer some contemporary application of all this. In many ways it seems that God is becoming silent in the West as well, with more and more people deciding he does not exist, and/or that he should have no claims over their lives. And so many of the shepherds in the Western churches are false shepherds. False prophets seem to abound.

We have so many churches filled with people who want their ears to be tickled. They want their pastors and leaders to tell them what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. They want pleasant, sweet nothings whispered in their ears, and not the sure Word of the Lord.

They certainly do not want to hear anything about sin and repentance and the wrath of God and judgment to come. They do not want to hear about denying self, carrying your cross, and putting to death the deeds of the flesh. Instead, they want to hear all about having your best life now. They want to hear about how they can become rich, successful, happy, and loved by everyone.

They are just as much not hearing the true and living God as the ancient Israelites. They are just as much living with silence as were people back in Jeremiah’s day. And it shows big time in the sorts of lives they are living. They seem to be indistinguishable from any non-Christian. They think, talk, act and even dress just like all the pagans around them.

We have books like Jeremiah and Lamentations to warn us about all these things. But of course most of these folks would never bother to read such books. ‘Oh, they are so negative and depressing. I only want happy, uplifting and fun stuff to read and think about.’ These folks have silenced God. It is just as Amos warned about so long ago: ‘I will send a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.’

That is a frightening prospect indeed. Lord have mercy on your people.

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8 Responses to When the Word of God is Silenced

  • We are in dire times. Wake up church.

  • Self proclaimed Pastors and church leaders have not spoken truth to the people for many years. Refer to Ezekiel 34:1-8 and tell me if you have ever met a Pastor of this description. So many intellectual sermons but seldom if ever about the day to day issues that concern people.

    Even as one of the the “Dones”, I am still concerned that the church management is no where near as vocal in opening places of worship as the AFL is in reopening football. Have not even offered proposals of how it could be done. What about if your normal church size was 300 and you divided that up into seven individual person to person meetings during the week.

  • Hi Bill, thank you for “cranking up” the rhetoric in your latest warning article. I remember over 40 years ago whilst completing my lay preacher’s course, the Book of Amos was required first year reading. Even 40 years ago as I considered the social evils prevalent in Melbourne at that time, reading the opening chapters of Amos sent shivers down my spine. In theory, if we could “quiz” Amos on his current opinion of the Australian Church scene, what would he say? What would be his verdict? Would the “Bowl of Summer Fruits” (Amos 8:1-2) be mentioned in his response? My prayer at this time Bill, is that The Holy Spirit will directly apply your articles to the hearts of those who need to read them, before it’s too late. Bless you abundantly, Kel.

  • Yes, I agree there seems to be a silence from God as we haven’t repented as a nation(s) and many of those in leading positions haven’t been thinking of God at all so why should He say anything. However, I may be wrong but things are happening that I feel God is behind eg last week Channel 10 axed Tim Bailey the weatherman that I thought was a Christian, and also Kerrie-Anne Kennerly who, a few months ago, spoke out about abuse and rapes of indigenous children only to be called a racist by another panel commentator Yumi Stynes. So I thought ‘how unfair’ but tonight on Channel 10 news their own ‘Masked Singer Production shut down after coronavirus outbreak on Melbourne set’ – ‘Revenge is mine sayeth the Lord’.
    California has been hit by terrible bushfires supposed to have been lighted by lightning strikes with 6 people dead and homes destroyed but this morning I read that the ‘California Governor signed Anti-Israel Ethnic Studies Bill into Law.’
    I remember back in June 2011 New York legalized Same-Sex Marriage – it was on the news, however, the next thing I heard about New York was a year later in October 2012 when it was hit by the deadliest, most destructive and strongest hurricane (Sandy) ever to hit the city. One cannot say every disaster is from God as innocent people get killed but I do believe God takes His hand of protection off situations to get our attention.

  • Thank you Bill for your thoughtful and timely articles. The prophet I think of is Jesus Himself when he said “as in the days of Noah so will it also be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man” and He spoke of the beginning of sorrows which will be the birth pangs of the bringing of God’s kingdom to earth. The Beast system is being set up but Jesus said he would keep those who believe in Him from the tribulation and his followers are not appointed to wrath.

  • I see something similar today in some other Christians who speak of great revival or awakening but not if the NATIONAL repentance only the church repenting and even then only of America’s sins not her own. Anyone speaking of judgment is poopood or shouted down as people don’t want to her that just good words about a new outpouring of the holy spirit and a global revival and a explosion in the Christian numbers (though they don’t seen to be dominionist the talk is sounding like we’ll take over the world). I personally have been hearing “revival is just around the corner” for nearly 40 years. Where is this corner??? Judgment will come and the church will be bewildered because no one prepared them for it. They might even say why didn’t God warn us/ tell us. Well he did but if didn’t listen he is not to blame that you were taken by surprise.

    God doesn’t stay where he isn’t wanted and too many churches have made it clear they don’t want the God of the bible bible a god of their own invention – a kinder gentler god who is cool with them as is and doesn’t ask anything of them. Even these churches wanting revival don’t want the pain first God is long suffering but even he will eventually leave you if you refuse to listen to him. Just as the resurrection couldn’t happen without the cross revival will NOT happen without judgment. There is a time during rebellion when if we listen to God we can get back to him without the pain that time is short and for us that time has come and gone.

    I remember how Jesus scolded the Jews for not knowing the time of their visitation and I have thought the same will be true of the church for the second coming.

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