Commentary: Sometimes, God speaks through silence


Sometimes, God chooses to emphasize his message, through silence.

Zechariah was the father of John the Baptist. He and his wife Elizabeth had grown old and the joy they had long prayed for, a child, had seemingly passed them by. The hope of sharing their home with a new life was replaced by the silence of a house without a baby’s cry, a toddler’s footsteps or a child’s voice in play.

It was Zechariah’s turn, he was the high priest, to minister in the temple. While offering incense in the Holy of Holies, the angel Gabriel spoke to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” Gabriel explained the child was destined to become a great man of God.

His response was, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

He questioned God, and because of his unbelief and the desire for “a sign,” those were the last words he spoke for about nine months. It may have been one of the longest documented pregnant pauses in history. God was speaking through Zechariah’s silence.

God sometimes speaks through silence, because the silence... the pause... the break in cadence... emphasizes that which follows.

 It’s like the pause between a conductor tapping the baton and the first downbeat of a symphony. It’s the moment after he asks, “Will you marry me?” and before she says, “Yes.” In nature, it’s the deep darkness before dawn and the preverbal calm before the storm. These pregnant pauses capture the observant one’s attention, preparing them for what is about to follow.

In many ways, the pregnant pause of Zechariah was more than the muted mouth of one man. It personified the preceding centuries of silence by God to the cries of His people. There had not been a prophet since the days of Malachi. For centuries, God's people had cried for deliverance, the promised Messiah, and seemingly God’s answer was silence.

For centuries the background noise, while God seemed silent, was the haunting echoes of invading armies of the Greeks and Romans. Of earthquakes and storms, life giving way to death, pain, sorrow, famine and human suffering.

Did God turn a deaf ear to their cries? Was God’s silence an indication of His indifference?

No, God was simply speaking in silence so that the truth would be evident to those who were attentively waiting and listening when “in the fullness of time” it arrived.

The silence of Zechariah would be broken, not just by the joyful celebration at the birth of a son. It was a mere prelude to the earth-shattering voice of God. One that slowly rose from a silent stable on a barren patch of dirt called Bethlehem one night. A baby’s cry that would reach the farthest corners of the universe, echo throughout the heavens, but only be heard by a very few listening below.

Today, amid rampant shootings, terrorist attacks, pandemics, wars, global warning, fleeing refugees and political and economic uncertainty, many live in fear. Today, when men call good evil and evil good, there is reason for fear. The voices of God’s people are lifted in prayer, and many think God is indifferently silent, or that He slumbers or sleeps. Some have even proclaimed that God is dead.

If God seems silent, maybe it’s time to lean in and listen a closer. To grasp the extraordinary truth which follows. The message which has changed all who have claimed the promise of its meaning. For God’s message to the cries of fearful mankind for deliverance is the same today as it was two thousand years ago... “Fear not! For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!”


Charles Jones is a newspaper columnist, Baptist historian, and retired pastor.