Although our cities and towns no longer have watchmen, I think we can understand their function and the need for them in days of the past. The watchman was the person who stood ‘watch’, looking for the enemy or anything that might threaten the settlement of people, especially while they were sleeping. We might call them a ‘lookout’. We find a good description of a watchman in the book of Ezekiel.
“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: “When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head. Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.”’”(Ezekiel 33:1-6 NIV)
A watchman was to warn the people of danger. If he did his job and the people listened, they would be able to get to safety. If they heard the warning and ignored it then when they were captured or conquered it wasn’t the fault of the watchman – he did what he was supposed to do. But if he saw danger coming and did not sound a warning then the watchman would be responsible for the death of the people and would be held accountable.
“‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked person, you will surely die,” and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.’” (Ezekiel 33:7-9)
Ezekiel was a watchman for God’s people but not someone to warn them of a physical attack that might be coming. Ezekiel was to be their spiritual watchman. He was to watch how they were living and persuade them to change if their lives were characterised by sin.
This was serious: if he did not try to warn them to change then he would be held responsible. Both the wicked and Ezekiel would be punished by God. If he did warn them and they refused to listen at least he would do what God wanted him to do. He would be saved while they would die in their sin because they refused to listen to God’s word.
Is there not an application for us as God’s people today? Although we have congregational leaders who watch over us, as a shepherd does the sheep, there is an extent to which we must watch out for each other. Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi to be humble and “value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). The anonymous writer of Hebrews reminds us to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).
We, too, are to be watchman, warning those who are in danger from sin and encouraging each other as we live for Jesus. May we be faithful watchmen.
Image by Momentmal from Pixabay.com
Readings for next week: Ezekiel 29-36