"watchman what of the night?"


I am not sure how the conversation started, but somehow some of us more ‘mature’ lecturers got onto the subject of what it was like working on the wards at night when we first trained (a good few years ago). It brought to mind an incident over 25yrs ago now, that occurred when working on nights at a hospital earmarked for closure. My ward lay some distance from the rest of the hospital and as was his custom the Nursing Officer made one visit each night to check everything was alright. Nobody was quite sure when he was due to come so the three of us on the ward were awake and alert. Now I will add at this point that the ward was a rehabilitation unit, very quiet, most patients had left and only about 5 or 6 remained on the ward. There was little to do at night apart from routine paperwork and being available should a problem arise.

Well, one particular night the Nursing Officer made his customary visit and once he had gone, as was our custom, one remained awake on ‘watch’ whilst the other two fell asleep. Each hour we swapped over, each taking turns to ‘snooze’. Well this particular night the ‘watchman’ decided to sit down (fatal) by the door and fell fast asleep. It had to be this night! Having little to do himself, the Nursing Officer decided to come back for a bit of company. Arriving in pouring rain he rushed through the door to be confronted by the sound of loud snoring! Walking past the sleeping watchman he quietly came up the corridor and after opening the door and seeing two other sleeping beauties, banged it shut as he entered the room, a big grin on his face as the sleepers shot wide awake!

Yes I was asleep, but had done my ‘watch’ and kept awake. Yes we got ‘ticked off’ – mainly for not having the kettle on! The watchman got told off by us all and not allowed to forget for weeks that he had fallen asleep! The ward normally only used to have one member of staff at night, with another moving between wards at intervals over night. Because the hospital was closing there was a surplus of staff at night, hence why three were on the ward. But one should have kept awake to keep watch and our ‘watchman’ had failed in his duty!

Now, thinking back over this incident brought to mind the prophet Ezekiel, whose life and work make a fascinating study, with many personal lessons for us to learn.

Ezekiel was given a scroll to eat (Ezek 2:8-10; 3:1-4) symbolic of the Word of God. He was commissioned as a watchman over Israel, “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.” Ezek 3:17 Now the word ‘watchman’ comes from the Hebrew word ‘TSAPHAH’. This word has a prime root meaning of to lean forward, to peer into the distance, to observe, await, wait for, and keep watch as a watchman.

Now the practical aspect of being a watchman was to take up position on the city wall. From this vantage point he could see all the surrounding land. The watchman’s duty was to shout out and warn the people of impending danger. He was responsible for the safety of the city, thus he had to be vigilant and on constant watch. There were different shifts of watchman to cover both day and night. Ezekiel as watchman for the house of Israel had to maintain a constant watch for spiritual danger.

Israel were surrounded by many dangers both physical and moral in the land of their captivity and were completely surrounded by paganism. They had great need of a watchman. It was the watchman’s duty to utter the words of God to warn the people of the impending dangers that would lead to unfaithfulness, particularly so in view of Israel’s history of backsliding. Failure for Ezekiel to give warning or failure of the people to listen would mean the death of the people. However failure to warn would mean Ezekiel’s condemnation. Ezek Ch. 3 gives some idea of the great responsibility placed upon Ezekiel as a watchman:

“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: “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. Ezek 3:17-18

If a city was warned of impending danger, yet failed to heed the watchman’s warning, then their blood was on their on own head. So with Ezekiel, if a sinner was warned and did not heed the warning then he would perish, but note “Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your soul”. Ezek 3:19

We also have an equal responsibility in our day and age to warn the generation in which we live of the impending doom coming upon it. Ezekiel was warned “When I say to the wicked, O wicked man you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked man from his way, he shall die in his iniquity”. The judgements of God will come upon this world whether we warn or we do not warn – “But his blood I will require at your hand.”

We must heed the warning and be careful how we act as watchmen, building and acting upon the knowledge that has been given us. Paul writes “for no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1Cor 3:11-15.

If the gospel message is not preached in sincerity, how can warning be taken. But if we act as faithful watchmen to our generation then we will “deliver our soul”. This acting as watchmen applies equally as much to our brethren and sisters for James writes:

“Brethren if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:20

And Daniel records:

“Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars for ever and ever.” Dan 12:3

The greatest example of course, as in all things, is Jesus who is ‘watchman’ over the ecclesia’s, he walks as we read in Revelation among the candlesticks. It is imperative that we consider diligently what he warns in his letters to the seven ecclesia’s, for Paul warns “See that you do not refuse him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from him who speaks from heaven.” Heb 12:25 We must heed the voice of our ‘watchman’ or else our blood will be upon our own heads.

Now we also have an individual responsibility, for all have been commissioned as watchmen by Christ himself. Jesus warned us to watch and to prepare ourselves for his return, yet we know not the hour of his coming.

We have been given a great and grave responsibility to proclaim the gospel message, to warn of judgement to come and to speak of the way to salvation. We have a responsibility to “Preach the word”, to “be ready in season and out of season”, to “convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” Ezekiel was a living example to Israel, so our lives should be living examples to those around us.

So let us not fall asleep as did the ward ‘watchman’ that night with the result that the unexpected caught him out. If we are faithful watchmen, then we will be delivered from the wrath to come. God is not willing that any should perish of the household of faith, but that all come to repentance. But how can they, if we do not act as faithful watchmen to ourselves and to the household of faith.

Now the word translated watchman, had a meaning of to ‘peer into the distance’. We look into the distance, looking ahead, looking to the approaching light of the day of God’s Kingdom and return of our Lord. May that day soon come!

Andy Peel