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“…But he that takes warning shall deliver his soul.” Ezekiel 33:5
I really don’t think much about the importance or value of a watchman or tsaphah, in Hebrew. Since we don’t have kings and fortified cities any more, we’re used to just living life our way, in our time, as we like it. We don’t even need to be close knit as a community any more because we don’t have to worry about danger and being overcome in the same way. Well, some tribal areas and some countries still worry, but not most of us.
Well, it would do well for me to learn to be more observant and patient and watchful. Being in the Philippines now helps me to be alert more. Not because I’m worried about warring factions invading the city, though the people God was speaking to should have been, but because there are people here who are snatchers or “pick-pockets” mixed in with the ordinary citizens. But God is using this earthly notion that the people understood, of a watchmen set upon the wall, to teach a more heavenly, a more personal God-truth.
In the reality of Bible times, a watchman would be chosen and set upon the city wall. He would look out and peer into the distance, observing and waiting and watching closely. I can see him leaning forward to discern carefully what he was seeing. Here’s an example of what it was like from 2 Samuel 18: 24-26, “And David sat between the two gates: and the watchman went up to the roof over the gate unto the wall, and lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold a man running alone.” So, we have this watchman looking intently and making out the image of this man running alone. Now look how carefully he watched and responded, “And the watchman cried, and told the king. And the king said, ‘If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.’ And he came and drew near. And the watchman saw another man running: and the watchman called unto the porter, and said, ‘Behold another man is running alone.’ And the king said, ‘He also brings news.’ And the watchman said, ‘I think the one running in the front is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.’” Wow! The watchman was so alert that he could tell by the way a man ran, who he was!
So the job of the watchman was to watch and be the voice and action of the beginning of protection for the city. He was like a really majorly important smoke alarm. He could prevent the people from dying in their “sleep” so to speak. If he saw something suspicious or the enemy approaching with sword, he would act and blow the trumpet and alert the people so they could be prepared to fight. It was the people’s responsibility after that to act according to the warning, to rise and fight. The watchman’s job had been accomplished. He had been faithful. If the people don’t respond to his warning and are taken away, it’s no longer his fault, it is by their own decision and not his.
But then God tells a different story. If there should be a watchman who `should see the enemy coming and not warn, and not blow the trumpet, then the guilt shall be upon the watchman for the blood of the people that is shed. So what does this have to do with me?
I can’t help but listen to the words of God to Ezekiel and hear Him speaking them to all His children in the areas where they live and serve. I mean, I don’t think that we have to be prophets to understand the importance and value of what God is teaching here through Ezekiel and I don’t think He wants Ezekiel to be the only watchman on a many sided walled city. Listen and watch carefully to His words, “ So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from My mouth, you shall give them warning from Me. If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.’” (Ezekiel 33:7-9)
Ezekiel was a prophet and was responsible for watching what the Lord was doing and saying and for watching what the people were doing. He was responsible before God for telling them the truth and warning them of the danger coming that was accompanied by their unGodly choices. Am I so naive as to think that as a believer, who has knowledge of the truth and the Good News of Jesus Christ in God that I am not likewise responsible as a watchman for those around me? Why was Ezekiel a watchman? Because by His position in God as one who was given God’s words, he was responsible for sharing it with those around him. What about me? Has God given me a position in Him where He has given me His word? That doesn’t make me a prophet, but I would certainly think it compels me to be a watchman. It’s more than a compelling. I believe that God has called us to be watchmen.
But I can’t be the right kind of watchman unless I understand what my heart needs to be as a watchman. Psalm 5:3 helps me think about that. “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” In the King James version instead of expectation, it uses “will look up” and in the ESV it uses “watch.” It’s a Hebrew idiom. So I want to understand it correctly. What did the people in David’s court understand about this that I might not now, when I read it? That expectation, or looking up, or watching, is a form of that word tsaphah. Remember how it is the “idea of being fully aware of circumstances in order to gain an advantage”? To “look up” was to expect a response, to expect an answer. Here’s how it related to the times.
To come before the king with a request one would bow their head, well, not only their head, they would bow low to the floor, with their face to the floor and present their request. Only if the king said, “Look at me,” only then would you raise those eyes to his face in anticipation of his answer to you. That’s what David was talking about. And that ought to be the response of the watchman.
A watchman has come before the king. He or she has humbled themselves fully before Him. He has taken their sin and accepted their lives in service and says, “Look at me.” We raise our eyes and our lives in anticipation of seeing Him and hearing and obeying HIs answers. He gives us His answer and He gives us our position in Him. I must continually come before Him to learn what to look for, always knowing that He will invite me to look up and know. In anticipation I wait and therefore I can watch with discernment those things in life around me and around others. I can share His words with them that I might snatch them from the fire toward which they are headed. I can warn by sharing the truth He has shared with me. I can warn by sharing the love He has shared with me. I can warn by giving as He has given for me.
Ezekiel’s not the only watchman on the wall. The question is, Believer, will you be the watchman that God has called you to be? God has given us each this glorious means in Himself to rescue the perishing, to prepare others from the attack of the enemy. Will I go down with blood on my hands? Or if others are lost, will it be of their own choice and not due to my lack of warning. God, make me a watchman who cares about those I watch as much as You care.
I thought of Jonah yesterday who was sent as a watchman to Nineveh. Maybe it’s easier to love your own people. Maybe not. But I just think of God’s heart when Jonah was upset by God’s forgiveness upon his warning, and how God cared about even the little ones who didn’t know right from left yet. Or maybe that isn’t even referring to little kids. Maybe that’s referring to all the people who would be destroyed due to the evil they were choosing because no one had shared the truth that they even had a choice. Hey, if I don’t even know I have a left and a right, how can I choose? But God is the Ultimate Watchman, and He cared enough to send Jonah. If only Jonah had understood and felt the same love that God did for these people, maybe he would have been like a Paul of the New Testament. Lord, I want to be a watchman after Your own heart, like You. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that You taught others to be watchmen over me. Now it’s my turn.