Go, Set A Watchman

Earlier this year, I read “Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee. While the book disappointed, the title stirred my curiosity. After a quick search, I discovered the inspiration for the title and went on a bit of a journey into its meaning. What follows here reflects that journey.

Watchmen of Old

Many great cities (Babylon, Jericho & Jerusalem, for example) in Bible times had walls around them for protection. Watchmen stood upon these walls and looked for signs of enemies, travelers, messengers or any unusual activity.

The Hebrew word for watchman (tsaphah) literally means to lean forward & to peer into the distance. The word implies to behold, spy out, wait for & keep the watch. Watchmen held important jobs because spotting danger from a distance gave a king and his army time to implement a plan of action and protection if necessary.

A watchman, in order to do his job well, needs to stay awake and alert. He needs to fight distractions and be very good at discerning the nature of approaching situations. No reading a book or playing games on your phone. Watchmen must pay attention.

God’s Appointed Watchmen

The spiritual truth regarding watchmen plays out in the Old Testament when God set prophets as watchman over His people.

“For thus has the Lord said to me: “Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees.” (Isaiah 21:6)

Harper Lee borrowed the phrase “Go Set A Watchman” from Isaiah because Maycomb desperately needed a “moral compass.” Without it, the people followed the ways of culture and of the flesh. The idea of a “moral compass” captures well what God intended for the watchmen He set over his people.

In the Old Testament, a watchman (also used in Ezekiel 3:17) was a “moral compass” for God’s people to help them stay obedient to His will as declared in His word and to help them resist the culture around them.

Watchmen are also identified in the New testament and given tremendous responsibility as moral compasses over God’s people.

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)

However, as with literal watchmen on the walls, what happens with the information a watchmen provides is not up to them. The receiver of the information decides what action to take (Ezekiel 33:1-9). The purpose of watchmen set in place by God is to teach, explain, expound and warn. Those who receive that instruction choose how to respond.

Believers as Watchmen

God gives every believer the task of heeding the warnings and directions given by his appointed watchmen.

“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

God also appoints ever believer as a watchmen too. A variety of Scripture get at the importance of believers as watchmen and aid to further instruct us as to the duty and purpose of the watch we are to keep. Looking at just one — 1 Peter 5:8 — provides a great deal regarding the nature and activity of this responsibility. The first part of this verse in the Amplified says…

“Be sober [well balanced and self-disciplined], be alert and cautious at all times.”

How this command gets carried out looks different from one individual to the next, but the general point is clear: Stay awake and pay attention. The motivation for doing so remains the same for every person and is found in the second part of 1 Peter 5:8.

“That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour.”

The enemy sneaks and prowls in an attempt to catch every believer unaware. He looks for the weakest moment to attack. He has restless energy that he can never satiate. We must keep watch, and we must heed the warnings of those God sets to keep watch over his flock. We must always remember the power and cunning of the enemy. We must fulfill our roles as watchmen.

DISCUSSION: How well are you heeding the watchmen (leaders) in your life? How well are you fulfilling your own role as a watchman?

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12 Replies to “Go, Set A Watchman”

  1. I've loved the metaphore/idea of watchman for ages now. Last week I preached from Psalm 130 about the watchmen and concluded that without waiting in expectation on God, we have nothing of worth to offer the city. Love your thoughts on it above!

  2. Being a parent is like being a Watchman. I must be vigilant at all times. There are dangers everywhere in all sorts of shapes and sizes. God gave me by kids and it's my responsibility to not only raise them but to teach them about God.
    Kids learn by example. I can't just tell them they need to love God, they need to see my love for God in my own life- through my actions and reactions. They need to see that God is important to me.
    My recent post The Lord’s Prayer really is Powerful!

    1. So true! Parenting is one of the greatest examples of Godly watchmen throughout time. As a parent of teenagers, it's more of a struggle than ever as my kids try to figure most things out on their own. Great point, TC!

  3. Kari,
    I really enjoyed "To Kill a Mockingbird" but I have not heard any good reviews of "Go Set a Watchman". I do like how you took the name and make a great lesson for us all.

    1. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of my all-time favorite books. "Go Set a Watchman" seems more like an early draft of TKM that was scrapped for good reason. Though curiosity got the best of me, I can look back and say that I wish I hadn't read GSW. But God turned even this for good and helped me see the importance of watchmen in my life and of being a watchman. For that, GSW was worth reading.

  4. Great points and I like that you bring out that watchmen have no control over what happens after they report. That's what being submitted to leaders and submitted to God is all about. We share what we see and trust God with the results. Of course, some carry this to extreme degrees and perpetrate spiritual or emotional abuse, but that's no reason not to find the truth in submission and being a watchman. Thanks Kari–very thoughtful post as always!

    1. Thanks Jason. You're right, there will be extremes and abuses. But scripture is clear on the concept of watchmen and submission. We can set the example for others to follow.Enter text right here!

  5. This was awesome and well timed for me. It has further sparked questions I have been asking about the role of prophetic in our culture and what defines prophets or prophetic words in this culture biblically. I don’t hear anyone speaking balanced about such things. thank you for contributing your voice.

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