Watchmen in the Bible were to sound warnings to ancient Israel. Sometimes they were military personnel on the city walls, but more significantly they took on the role as prophets who sounded God’s warnings to rebellious peoples.
Today the role of watchmen is to have perceptive spiritual eyes through prayer. They observe the signs of the times and convey God’s message to regathered Israel, to the church, and to secular nations. The message can be one of hope and encouragement (as in the Gospel), or one of chastening and warning of God’s coming judgement.
As with Israel’s prophets, God’s watchmen today are often burdened by what they see and they stay close to God in sustained prayer. Their role is to convey truth, despite opposition from the world and the apostate end-time church. To this end, groups of believers often collaborate as watchmen across the globe using the internet.
WATCHMEN IN THE BIBLE
Blowing the Shofar
The concept of “watchman” is found in the Old Testament in the context of “watching out” for the nation of Israel. In a military sense, watchmen were often stationed on the city walls and towers to observe those approaching before they got close. The role of a watchman also described the work of a prophet among God’s people. The watchman or prophet was appointed by God for a specific task and often directed to a specific people group e.g. the Northern Kingdom or the Southern Kingdom of Israel. Jeremiah was appointed as a prophet to Judah even before he was born (Jeremiah 1.5). Sadly, the prophet’s warnings of pending danger were often ignored.
At the end of the church age, just prior to the return of Christ, God again appoints watchmen over Israel to proclaim the Lord’s soon and glorious return to Zion. In Isaiah 52 verses 7-10 the watchmen proclaim the coming peace and sing together in joy as they see the coming redemption of Jerusalem. And in Isaiah 62 verses 6-7, watchmen over Israel appear to offer continuous prayer until God “makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth”.
Watchmen in the Church
The related call to “watch” is found in the New Testament, particularly in the gospels, and goes out to individuals and to groups of believers. As in Isaiah 52 and 62, this is “watching” in the end-time sense (Luke 21.34-36 and Matthew 25.1-13). The original Greek usually means “stay awake” or “be vigilant” in the metaphorical or spiritual sense. So in the gospels the call to watchmen and prophets is to watch world events, to pray, to listen to God, and to convey what they see and hear (both good and bad) to believers. The message could be “Wake up! Observe the signs. Jesus is coming soon. Don’t get too engrossed in world affairs”.
But the role of watchmen in today’s church goes deeper. It is related to the Hebrew word shamar, meaning “to keep watch, to preserve, to guard”. The image painted by shamar is that of a sheepfold. It refers to guarding the heart, the mind, a church, a city or even a nation from ungodly influences. When it comes to the church, a watchman’s very life and breath is intercession for the flock and to point to the right spiritual path and expose wrong paths. Just like Israel’s watchmen on the city walls, today’s prophetic watchmen guard a church from spiritual attack and keep them safe in the sheepfold. This may come in the form of prophetic discernment, prophetic preaching, prophetic teaching or urgent prayerful intercession.
We might identify three types of watchmen calls: the call to individuals, the call to groups of believers (collaboration), and the end-time or Jerusalem call.
The Individual Call
Watchmen in the Bible had a clearly define the role. They were to listen in prayer and then convey what they heard from God, despite frequent vocal opposition:
I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the tower; and I will keep watch to see what He will say to me, and what answer I will give [as His spokesman] when I am reproved (Habakkuk 2.1, AMP)
Sometimes it was a word of encouragement or comfort (as in Isaiah 51). At other times it was a warning of pending judgment if the hearers did not heed the warnings. To reiterate, the watchman’s responsibility before God was to speak what they heard. If they failed to deliver what they heard then the blood of the hearers was on the watchman’s hand:
… if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand (Ezekiel 33.6)
But if they delivered the message, then it was mission accomplished!
According to the Bible we can expect modern-day watchmen or prophets:
In the last days, says God, I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy … (Acts 2.17)
Of course, the words of a true watchman or prophet won’t predict “new truths” and will not conflict with scripture. But, like Old Testament watchmen, they can give warnings to the hearers. Some might see prominent individuals like Billy Graham, David Wilkerson, Lance Lambert, John Hagee or David Hathaway as modern-day watchmen giving sinful mankind warnings from God. On the other hand, every believer can be a watchman when they are moved by a call of the Holy Spirit. Note that hearing from God implies one-to-one communion with Him (as in Habakkuk), often spending hours at a time in prayer and listening for God’s words.
God warned the people of Israel to beware of false watchmen:
His watchmen are blind, they are all ignorant; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber … they are shepherds who cannot understand; they all look to their own way … (Isaiah 56.10-11)
This applies today. Sometimes a modern-day watchman or prophet is called to convey God’s warning, but instead behaves like a “dumb dog”. He or she doesn’t “bark”. It is similar to Jesus’ metaphor on salt and light. Jesus said His followers should be both salt and light to the outside world (Mark 9.50). Salt kills germs in an open wound (and hurts in the process) and so protects life. So the message of the need for repentance in a sin-sick world hurts and the watchman may refrain from giving it. Similar the message of forthcoming judgement on a rebellious nation is hard to give in a “politically incorrect” world. Nevertheless, God’s word stands and should be given by a true watchman:
The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. (Jeremiah 18.7-8)
Summary so Far
The task of a modern-day watchman invariably has the goal of being salt and light in an unbelieving world. The watchman should challenge wrong laws, wrong morality, wrong church teaching, wrong leaders – and so on – through prayer and strategic intervention. Although salt hurts it also heals and preserves, but if a watchman fails to challenge society he or she is like “worthless salt”.
The Corporate Call
The task of a watchman is wide-ranging and time-consuming and individuals often cannot do their task alone. There needs to a “gathering together” followed by corporate action. As the Hebrew watchmen said:
The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, gather to us there. Our God will fight for us. (Nehemiah 4.19-20)
Living in an increasingly hostile world, even communities of believers can feel isolated from others of similar mind. So, where possible, the Bible encourages watchmen to encourage each other:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10.24-25)
Corporate Watchmen from the Past
Herrnhut 1727: By the beginning of 1727 the community of Herrnhut, Germany (about three hundred people) was racked by dissension and bickering. So a group of believers covenanted to pray and labour for revival. The result: August 13, 1727 in Herrnhut was a day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Exactly what happened none of the participants could fully describe:
A great hunger after the Word of God took possession of us. They left the house of God that noon hardly knowing whether they belonged to earth or had already gone to Heaven … it was ‘a sense of the nearness of Christ’ bestowed, in a single moment, upon all the members that were present.
Following that experience, the Moravian Community of Herrnhut commenced a round-the-clock “prayer watch” that continued non-stop for over a hundred years. Since then, for over five centuries, the Moravian Church has proclaimed the gospel in all parts of the world. Its influence has far exceeded its numbers as it has cooperated with Christians on every continent.
Summary: The Moravians of the 1700’s were a community of believers that observed a great need in society i.e. they ‘watched’, and sought the LORD together. Today they cooperate with other “watchmen” around the world.
Hebrides 1949: The Hebridean Revival of 1949 illustrates how God can bless corporate Christian action. At the time the Island of Lewis was much like any other part of England. The town of Stornoway had emptying pews as church attendance waned and pubs thrived. It is claimed that not a single young man or young woman went to the church. Rather, sin abounded and darkness prevailed.
Then, two groups of believers desperate for revival and repentance began to seek God. Some men who lived in Barvas began meeting in a barn to pray and seek the LORD. Like the people of Herrnhut, they entered into a solemn covenant with God, to take upon themselves the burden for revival for the community, to humble themselves, and to prevail in prayer until revival came! Around the same time two old women were appalled at the state of their parish and made revival a special matter of prayer. Like the Herrnhut experience, the results of such corporate prayer were astonishing! More at Hebridean Revival-1 and Hebridean Revival-2.
Corporate Watchmen Today
Today there are communities who follow Jesus and adhere strictly to biblical teaching. Examples are small house churches, large free-churches that have left the liberal institutionalized church, professional Christian organisations that fight for justice for others, and Messianic Jewish congregations who have left traditional Judaism. Metaphorically speaking, these communities could be seen as the Philadelphia Church of Revelation 3 since they “keep the word” and are not swayed by cultural norms. They tend to be proactive in challenging wrong laws and beliefs in society, and fighting for truth. They also look to the soon return of Christ. Although they may not be directly called by God (like the Hebrew prophets) they operate as modern-day watchmen.
Here are a few of the corporate watchmen across the globe:
The End-time or Jerusalem Call
About the time of the end, a body of men will be raised up who will turn their attention to the Prophecies, and insist upon their literal interpretation, in the midst of much clamor and opposition [Isaac Newton]
At the close of this age (the so-called “Church Age”) the end-time watchmen are charged with several roles:
A Message to the Church
Watchmen observe the signs pointing to the soon return of Christ, and so encourage believers to be ready:
Therefore, be on the alert [be prepared and ready], for you do not know the day nor the hour [when the Son of Man will come] (Mat 25.13, AMP)
Look, I will come as unexpectedly as a thief! Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep their clothing ready so they will not have to walk around naked and ashamed. (Rev 16.15)
So end-time watchmen give a warning to believers who are absorbed with worldly things rather than with matters of the Kingdom. The watchman’s task is not to make believers afraid, but to show them how they can be victorious, if they get ready and take action. Watchmen look out into the darkness to see what evil is coming and what God is doing (either in a Gentile nation or in the nation of Israel). The watchman should then communicate what they see to their leaders who convey the message to their sheep. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice and will respond to them. They may also recognise the voice of the watchman. More ….
The Importance of Jerusalem
End-time watchmen also “watch over Jerusalem“:
On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed and stationed watchmen (prophets), who will never keep silent day or night; you who profess the Lord, take no rest for yourselves, and give Him no rest [from your prayers] until He establishes Jerusalem and makes her a praise on the earth. (Isaiah 62:6-7, AMP)
Remember that it is God who appoints or calls such people; true watchmen operate not by the will of man but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They are called at a time when the people of Israel are called out of the nations and back to their land promised under the Abrahamic Covenant – the time of aliyah or ‘going-up’ to Zion.
“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.” (Isaiah 52.8)
A Difficult Message: How should these watchmen operate? The world is generally hostile to Israel, as seen for instance in the BDS movement, the disproportionate number of UN Resolutions against Israel, and the Replacement Theology of the institutionalized church. Also, the vast majority of religious Jews in Jerusalem do not accept Christ as their ‘Messiah’ and are hostile to the message of salvation.
Nevertheless, these watchmen observe the fulfilling of prophecy and are charged with proclaiming both warning and hope to the nation of Israel. They are also charged with praying for the “peace of Jerusalem”:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper who love you [holy city]. (Psalm 122.6, AMP)
Old Jerusalem, wikicommons
Note that those who do this are blessed themselves (as in Genesis 12.3)! But what does it mean to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”? The name itself probably means “City of Peace”. Jesus Himself loved the city, but wept over it since it rejected Him. In verses 8 and 9 the Psalmist gives two reasons for desiring the peace of Jerusalem: for the sake of believers there, and because in the Kingdom age it is the dwelling place of the LORD. Ultimately then, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to pray for the kind of peace that only God can bring — the peace which, when it comes, will produce the end to wars and strife:
“they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain”, says the Lord. (Isa 65.25)
This is the only lasting peace, the peace of Jesus the Messiah, a right relationship between God and all humanity. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to pray for that which God wants most of all to bestow upon it – Himself. Implicit in this prayer is the salvation of God’s people, Israel (the vast majority of whom still reject Christ as their Messiah). This prayer will be answered in full at the very end of the age as a remnant of Israel recognize Jesus as their true Messiah:
And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. (Zech 12.10)