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Watchmen On Zion's Walls

Watchman is an Old Testament word. The New Testament spiritual equivalent, overseer, may be detected in Isaiah 56:9,10.

It seems there were always watchmen on the walls of ancient cities. There are two most dramatic references to these in Isaiah 21. The first was Isaiah's prophetic vision of the night of Belshazzar's feast, so tersely summarized in verse 5. By the word of the Lord a watchman was set on Babylon's wall, instructed to declare what he saw. Day after day he watched from his tower till at last he saw the advance of troops of Median horsemen. He cried out: "Babylon is fallen";, and "in that night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom" (Daniel 5:30,31). He received it from the hand of the Lord.

Again, in verses 11,12, in the burden of Dumah (probably Idumea) one called to the watchman on sentry duty on the wall of Seir (probably Edom), "Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?" What time is it, or, what is left of the night? But the watchman's response was enigmatic, then silence, in keeping with the meaning of Dumah, silence. "The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: turn ye, come". Edom's future was dark with the judgements of God (Ezekiel 35) and the watchman on the wall saw only gloom ahead for an unrepentant people.

There are three Hebrew words translated watchman. One of these means to peer into the distance; the other two mean to protect or guard. So the function of the watchman was to look intently outward and ahead with a view

to protecting and guarding the people within the city. There were always watchmen on Zion's walls, as evidenced, for example in 2 Samuel 18:24-26, Isaiah 52:8 etc. Not only so, but God set watchmen within the city among His people as, for example, in Jeremiah 6:17. These watchmen were described by Isaiah as God's shepherds keeping watch among His flock (56:10,11).

But in Isaiah's day the watchmen-shepherds were "blind, they are all without knowledge; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber .. these are shepherds that cannot understand: they have all turned to their own way, each one to his gain, from every quarter". Little wonder the nation was so completely immersed in sin, so totally away in heart from the Lord. The watchmen-shepherds had no understanding of their responsibilities. They only thought of themselves and not of the well-being of the flock. They could not "bark" and thus warn, for they dozed away in their sloth while moral and spiritual declension swept through the nation and carried it to the point of "no remedy". Yet in it all, the people had to bear the punishment of their own sin.

But even in the land of their captivity the divine principle still held good, for God appointed Ezekiel as His watchman there (Ezekiel 3:17). His terms of reference were clear. It was his responsibility to warn the chastened nation on the appearance of any departure from the Lord or His Word. If he saw the danger and remained silent he would be held responsible by the Lord. If he did warn and no one heeded he was exonerated and the people held responsible. "Thou hast delivered thy soul". The whole principle of the responsibility of the watchman was elaborated later in most solemn detail in Ezekiel 33:1-9.

Watchmen on Zion's walls - with what sense of expectancy we cast our minds forward to the fulfilment of Isaiah 62:6-9 and consider the watchmen on Zion's walls in preparation for the day of Messiah's glorious reign. "... they shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that are the LORD's remembrancers, take ye no rest, and give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth". Pattern watchmen indeed!

We now consider briefly how this relates to our day. The watchmen in the New Testament churches were clearly the overseers, the Greek word being episkopos, from epi, over, and skopeo, to look or watch. They were the watchmen on the walls, whose responsibility was to guard the spiritual well-being of the people of God in their churches. The word to the disciples in Hebrews 13:17 was, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief: for this were unprofitable for you".

The word translated watch in this verse means literally 'to be sleepless (from agreuo, to chase, and hupnos, sleep)" and "is used metaphorically, to be watchful". Contemplated here were the New Testament watchmen overseers who indeed "took no rest"; men who "had a knowledge of the times" and were carefully observant of the tactics of the adversary outside, and of any signs of departure from the word of the Lord among the people inside; men who looked also to the future and detected in the shape of things to come what might adversely affect the holy nation under their care. Here were men who would avoid the sin of Israel's watchmen-shepherds, who for their own selfish ends loved to lie down drowsily dreaming, men who failed to "bark" in the face of impending danger, who failed to warn because their dulled minds had become insensible to evil.

It is all a powerful reminder for both the watchmen-overseers and the people of God watched over today. The Holy Spirit uses the illustration of watchmen who are watchful to the point of sleeplessness in their anxiety for those under their care. He envisages overseers who are able to discern the adverse impact on the saints of the devices of the evil one, as he walks round the churches seeking where he may intrude and devour. The tactics vary from saint to saint. The spectrum of temptation is broad and menacing. But watchful overseers are responsible to warn and not to remain silent.

Or it may be that within the church the watchmen overseers can see worldliness creeping into the lives of individual saints; or a failing interest producing apathy; or a faith which is faltering under temptation; or some practices being proposed which would mar the unity of the holy nation. Whatever form it takes it is a menacing danger from outside or inside the walls and again the watchmen elders must speak out, privately in some cases, publicly in others, and warn the people of God.

Or again, the future may hold dangers which are evident to observant watchmen. The increasing all-round collapse of moral standards is insidious to even the best conditioned disciple; nor have the saints an immunity against the deeply heretical statements made by certain national church leaders. Further, the spirit abroad today of reaction against the established principles of law and government can subconsciously affect the mind of a disciple who would normally recognize rule in God's house.

Another matter for the watchmen and those watched over is the fact that in 1980 the "Decade of Evangelism", sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance, was launched. Its purpose is to spread over ten years a determined effort to evangelize on an ecumenical basis, a basis which would embrace denominations with whose views on certain fundamental aspects of the Faith we could not possibly concur. The people of God, in common with certain other groups of

Christians, feel scripturally unable to identify with this spreading movement. Yet with this warning to the saints must also come a strong encouragement to evangelize on as broad a basis as we can within the kingdom of God. Whatever it is, when the watchmen on the walls foresee danger for the spiritual lives of the separated people of God, they must speak out in plain words of clear scriptural guidance. If not, they will be held accountable by the Chief Shepherd at His coming.

But with the saints themselves lies a deep responsibility to respond to the counsel, the warnings of their watchmen elders, for their spiritual safety. It is on their behalf that the elders watch and speak. The day of accountability by these elders to the Chief Shepherd is fast approaching. It will be the time of His Judgement Seat. And if they give verbal account with grief (and this assumes their own faithfulness in having given warning) then it will be unprofitable for the saints involved. Truly it will be well for the elders and those under their care if the relationship between Paul and the Thessalonians will be true of them in that Day: "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye, before our Lord Jesus at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy" (1 Thess. 2:19,20).