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The Role of a Watchman

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God said to the prophet Ezekiel, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me” (Ezekiel 3:17 Ezekiel 3:17Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.
American King James Version×

Here is one of the most intriguing metaphors used by God in all of prophecy. It is repeated in chapter 33 for emphasis, and sets the stage for the prophet's ministry to the divided houses of Judah and Israel.

Just what was the role of a watchman to an ancient city? How does God use the role of a watchman to warn and teach? What does it mean for the work of God today as this world comes to a prophetic crossroads?

It's vital you understand the answer to these questions as events grow increasingly tense in a rapidly changing world order.

A key figure

In the ancient world of agrarian societies, large watchtowers were placed overlooking the fields. There, in the weeks the crops were ripening toward harvest, men would stand watch, guarding the fields from animals or from thieves who would make off with the crops. With the community's basic food stores at stake, the watchman's role was critical to the townspeople.

We also find several references in Scripture to a watcher mounting the city walls in times of stress to survey the scene outside the fortifications. He was situated on a spot from which he could monitor the approaches to the town. If a threat appeared, he would sound a warning and the town would shut its gates and prepare for battle.

You can also imagine the watcher standing vigil at other times, observing the daily life of the city. He could see much of the activity in the streets and markets. He knew the people, their work, their habits and their lifestyles. If his position was near the city gate, he could also observe the business of the city transacted by its officials (see Ruth 4:1-12 Ruth 4:1-12 1 Then went Boaz up to the gate, and sat him down there: and, behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spoke came by; to whom he said, Ho, such a one! turn aside, sit down here. And he turned aside, and sat down. 2 And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit you down here. And they sat down. 3 And he said to the kinsman, Naomi, that is come again out of the country of Moab, sells a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s: 4 And I thought to advertise you, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it: but if you will not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside you; and I am after you. And he said, I will redeem it. 5 Then said Boaz, What day you buy the field of the hand of Naomi, you must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance. 6 And the kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar my own inheritance: redeem you my right to yourself; for I cannot redeem it. 7 Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor: and this was a testimony in Israel. 8 Therefore the kinsman said to Boaz, Buy it for you. So he drew off his shoe. 9 And Boaz said to the elders, and to all the people, You are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi. 10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brothers, and from the gate of his place: you are witnesses this day. 11 And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into your house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do you worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem: 12 And let your house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the seed which the LORD shall give you of this young woman.
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No wonder God uses this role to illustrate the job of the prophets He sent to comment on society's behavior, as well as to deliver messages of warning and instruction.

Prophets set as watchmen

Focusing on the Old Testament prophets helps us understand the full meaning of the symbolism of a watchman. There may be more than you have noticed before.

We noted at the outset Ezekiel 3:17 Ezekiel 3:17Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.
American King James Version×
, where God told the prophet to warn Israel of its sins and His impending punishment, saying, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me.”

Notice it is God's message, not Ezekiel's message or any other prophet's message. It is always God's message delivered through the human instrument. The warning comes from God in language phrased to fit the situation and designed to bring people to repentance. Let's keep this point firmly in mind.

Continuing: “When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul” (verses 18-19).

The prophet had the duty to deliver the sobering message: Unless the citizens of Israel and Judah acknowledged their sins, turned from them, repented and began again to obey God's law, they would die in their sins. Regardless of how individuals responded to the warning, if they heard the message, the prophet had done his job and was no longer responsible. Only if the prophet did not deliver the admonition would he be judged along with the wicked.

Verses 20-21 explain another aspect. If a righteous person turned to sin, he would suffer the penalty, but the prophet would also be held liable for not giving him instruction. If the prophet gave adequate warning, instruction and positive teaching, the righteous could understand the consequences of turning from the right path. This could help motivate him to stay firm to the faith, a choice that would vindicate the prophet's work.

You get the sense here that a part of the prophet's message was showing the people how to live and maintain their faith. It was not just a strident message focused only on pointing out their problems. If the goal is to get people to turn back to the Word of God, then the message must also show the benefits of doing so. It must show the positive, better way of life God desires His people to live.

Was the message delivered?

Did Ezekiel deliver this warning message to Israel? Consider this. Ezekiel was among the captives from the nation of Judah taken to Babylon during the first siege of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. He was a contemporary of Daniel. The nation of Israel, the northern 10-tribe kingdom, had been taken away captive into Assyria and Media more than 120 years earlier.

The house of Israel was to hear the message, but their sins had already caused them to go into captivity. They had already been punished. It leaves us with the question: Is there to be a future fulfillment of this prophecy? Was it intended to go to the modern descendants of the house of Israel living in different lands at a future time?

The answer is yes! However, the explanation requires more detail than we can cover in this article. (We present it in our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy .

The question then is, when would these prophecies apply to Israel? And when would they be delivered? Ezekiel was among the Jewish captives near Babylon, and we have no indication he went to the northern tribes of Israel in his day (at that time migrating northwest from Assyria and Media) to give this message. The answer must be that God's message has a direct application to the modern descendants of these ancient people.

What will the watchman say?

Let's look closer at what a watchman is to do by bringing in what Isaiah tells us about those who would preach the gospel of peace.

The role of a watchman is not limited to speaking only about the sins and problems of the society. The watchman was also charged with proclaiming good news about salvation.

Notice this in Isaiah: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns!' Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, with their voices they shall sing together; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord brings back Zion.

“Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:7-10 Isaiah 52:7-10 7 How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him that brings good tidings, that publishes peace; that brings good tidings of good, that publishes salvation; that said to Zion, Your God reigns! 8 Your watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion. 9 Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The LORD has made bore his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
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To Jerusalem and the land of Israel God says the watchmen will hold a vigil day and night for the peace of the people. “I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.

“The Lord has sworn by His right hand and by the arm of His strength: 'Surely I will no longer give your grain as food for your enemies; and the sons of the foreigner shall not drink your new wine, for which you have labored. But those who have gathered it shall eat it, and praise the Lord; those who have brought it together shall drink it in My holy courts.'

“Go through, go through the gates! Prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway! Take out the stones, lift up a banner for the peoples! Indeed the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the world: 'Say to the daughter of Zion, “Surely your salvation is coming; behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him”'” (Isaiah 62:6-11 Isaiah 62:6-11 6 I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: you that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence, 7 And give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. 8 The LORD has sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength, Surely I will no more give your corn to be meat for your enemies; and the sons of the stranger shall not drink your wine, for the which you have labored: 9 But they that have gathered it shall eat it, and praise the LORD; and they that have brought it together shall drink it in the courts of my holiness. 10 Go through, go through the gates; prepare you the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people. 11 Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the world, Say you to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.
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Here we see the watchman role given to a group of people charged with a prayer vigil for the well-being of Israel. These people, by their presence and their prayers, seek to keep the city from suffering the ravaging effects of evil.

These passages in Isaiah paint an image of godly people who are given unique vision into the world of today and the world to come. They understand the universal application of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. They see that God will bring that Kingdom to earth and will offer salvation not just to Israel, but also to all nations. They see the reuniting of the tribes of Israel in the Promised Land as the beginning of the times of restoration of all things spoken of by Peter in Acts 3.

But they also have insight into the world at the end of this age. They see the dark gathering clouds on the world's horizon that spell the end of Satan's reign as the god of this world and author of all its evil. This leads them to mount the “walls” of society and shout a warning to any who will hear. To say: “God is sovereign. He will bring a time of judgment on the world to prove that He alone is God. All other gods erected by people to hide His truth will be destroyed.”

This message includes teaching that will show any who listen the way to personal peace. It will show the true teaching of God and the way to salvation. It is also a message of how one can choose to escape the time of judgment God will bring on the world.

In part two of this article, we will look at those who make up this godly group of “watchmen,” how they view this world and what it means for you. GN

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  • charlie1115
    Darris, I found your watchman post to be very insightful. GOD has given you discernment. My one comment would be to encourage you to look deeper. There is more to Ezekiel prophecy than you have touched on. Ezekiel’s prophecy is finding fulfillment in our day. It is also connected to other prophecies concerning the watchmen of Ephraim and to the Two witnesss and the 144,000 of Revelation. The Two branches of Judah and Ephraim. There is so much more. Seek deeper. Charles
  • dusty
    In no way is the Ezekiel Warning directed to the nations made up of the modern descendants of the Northern Kingdom. God does not consider them now as the “House of Israel” since He totally disowned them, declaring them to be not His people and saying He would not be their God (Hosea 1:9 Hosea 1:9Then said God, Call his name Loammi: for you are not my people, and I will not be your God.
    American King James Version×
    , Jeremiah 3:8 Jeremiah 3:8And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.
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    ). They are among the Gentiles as Gentiles (Hosea 8:8 Hosea 8:8Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure.
    American King James Version×
    ). And they themselves believe they are Gentiles. From the time God disowned them until Christ returns the Jews are the only ones God considers as Israel or the “House of Israel”. In v 1 of chpt 3 is the 1st time in the book of Ezekiel the term “house of Israel” is used and refers to the Jews in Babylon. Ezekiel is told to Speak to THEM in this verse and in verse 4. In verse 11 he is told to “…go NOW to your countrymen IN EXILE and Speak to THEM.” Chpt 8 is further proof that the Ezekiel warning to the House of Israel is meant for the Jews. Consider these excerpts: “…the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem… He said to me, Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel commits here… So I went in and saw, and there—every sort of creeping thin
  • dusty
    (cont from prev. post) There are 76 verses in Ezekiel containing the term, “house of Israel”. 48 refer to both Northern and Southern Kingdoms, 27 refer to Judah, and only 3 refer just to the Northern Kingdom or their descendants. Re Ezekiel 3:17-19 Ezekiel 3:17-19 17 Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. 18 When I say to the wicked, You shall surely die; and you give him not warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at your hand. 19 Yet if you warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.
    American King James Version×
    This passage is the “Ezekiel warning”. Here God sets Ezekiel as a watchman to warn the house of Israel (v 1) located in Babylonian exile (v 11). The warning was to each individual Jew of that day, those who knew the true God and His threats against them (v 18) that, unless they repented, God’s physical protection would not be restored. However, the message can also be applied to those whom God calls during the church age, and to those who have strayed from His calling, to repent lest they miss out on the future spiritual restoration of all Israel which, in the final analysis is what the book of Ezekiel is all about. This warning is repeated in 33:8-9.
  • tyler
    If you continue reading the prophets that you sited you will see that Israel is not entirely cast off as God’s people. God is faithful to keep His promises even when we are not. continue reading Ezekiel 37:17-27 Ezekiel 37:17-27 17 And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in your hand. 18 And when the children of your people shall speak to you, saying, Will you not show us what you mean by these? 19 Say to them, Thus said the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in my hand. 20 And the sticks where on you write shall be in your hand before their eyes. 21 And say to them, Thus said the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, where they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: 22 And I will make them one nation in the land on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all. 23 Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwelling places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. 24 And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. 25 And they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelled; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever. 26 Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the middle of them for ever more. 27 My tabernacle also shall be with them: yes, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
    American King James Version×
    God restores Israel and Judah into one nation again, this is not just a metaphor for a spiritual restoration. consider Hosea 1:10 Hosea 1:10Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said to them, You are not my people, there it shall be said to them, You are the sons of the living God.
    American King James Version×
    Israel is still considered God’s people and in the same place that they were cast off they will be restored. Also in Hos 14 Ephraim is restored and casts off its idols. This shows that Israel is not cast off entirely, though at this time he may not be aware of it. You are right about the universality of Ezekiel’s message, for anyone who hears it if they apply it they will see the benefits of turning from whatever sin they find themselves in if they turn away from it God is quick to forgive. consider reading the booklet mentioned in the article for an in depth discussion of the fate of the physical nation of Israel also consider Romans 11 with regards to the advantage of God casting a people off so that he may save them in the end.
  • bennett
    This gave me a revelation about my CALLING and what my duties on earth is a “PROPHET”. For many years I’d dream and have visions and is always lead to speak to people regarding Warnings of good and bad and while reading the Bible I would always fall upon this word “WATCHMEN” until i dug a little deeper to find out it’s meaning. for many years I was always lead to scripture Ezekiel 33:7 Ezekiel 33:7So you, O son of man, I have set you a watchman to the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.
    American King James Version×
    after reading a full prophecy in the bible. Thanks this article helped me alot.

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