While the book Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee was disappointing for me, the title stirred my curiosity. The inspiration for the title provides an interesting foray into the Bible and gives new insight for our lives today.
Watchmen of Old
Many great cities (e.g., Babylon, Jericho, Jerusalem, etc.) 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 and to peer into the distance. The word implies to behold, spy out, wait for, and 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 every believer as a watchman too. Many verses 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 tells us a great deal regarding the nature and activity of this responsibility. The first part of 1 Peter 5:8 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.