Isaiah 56:10-12 Part 2 - The Who What Why What of Watchmen

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The Messiah in Isaiah Bible Study

Isaiah 56:10-12 Part 2 - The Who What Why What of Watchmen

by I Gordon


We looked last time at the 'Who, What, Why, What of Watchman'... Well, we got through the Who & What. The 'why what' is still to come and will be the basis of this study. So just as a quick recap, in the first study we looked at the first two questions. Namely:

1. Who were the watchman? We saw that the Hebrew word for watchman is 'tsaphah' which has the meaning  'to lean forward, to peer into the distance; by implication means to observe, behold, spy out, wait for, keep the watch.' 
Historically they were appointed to stand, watch and guard upon the walls of the city. We mentioned that the great cities in the days of old had walls around them for protection. For example in the Bible we read of the walls surrounding Jericho, Babylon and Jerusalem. Upon those walls, often in a watch tower, were the Watchmen whose job it was, well, to watch! We saw last time that while leaders in particular have been given a responsibility to watch over the flock (Heb 13:17) everyone is told in the New Testament to watch for all are vulnerable and open to attack.

2. What were they watching for? Again, we saw that the watchman looked for any messengers and most importantly any sign of the enemy! They watched for signs of unusual activity. In like manner, 1 Peter 5:8 says  'Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.'  Specifically we talked about watching what the Bible calls 'the exposed places' - Just as when Nehemiah was building the wall of Jerusalem and the enemy still tried to exploit the gaps, so we have areas of weakness (exposed places) which our enemy tries to exploit. Your weakness is not necessarily mine, nor mine yours. But be watchful over your particular exposed places.

Ok...right! two questions down, two to go! Still to come is the 'Why' and the 'What'...

1. Why did they watch? 2. What were they longing for?

Why did the watchmen watch?

Well, good question. They watched on behalf of the people, to protect them, did they not? They weren't just there for the views, evening breeze or sunsets to die for. The watchmen were there for the sake of others. A hugely important role! That's what makes the passage in Isaiah 56:10-12 that we started in so sad. It was saying that Israel's watchmen were just in it for themselves. The ones who were meant to be leaders and shepherds, were not only blind and mute (not the ideal candidates for watchmen as we saw), but were also more interested in whatever pleasures the day could bring for their own gain rather than actually looking out for the sake of others.

So what about the N.T? Does it tell us to watch out for others? Or is it just about me, myself and I? We'll answer that by thinking a little about one of the illustrations that the New Testament uses concerning the Church. There are two prominent metaphors for the Church in the New Testament which begin with the letter 'B'. Any takers? Could be great rewards on offer!  [1]  Ok, no takers. Here you go:

Bride - The first is of course the Bride. This emphasises the 'Divine Romance' between Jesus and His people.  Eph 5:25 'Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.' 

Body - The second is the body of the Lord. This emphasises the unity and co-dependence of God's people. This is the one that I want to focus on in regard to 'watching'. So think about your own body for a second. Who among you doesn't keep watch over your own body? When any small issue arises you notice it straight away right? Any little new scratch or suspicious freckle...'Mmmm... what's that doing there then aye? How did you get there?' A slight little new pain or irritation... 'Ello ello... what's going on here then? Something is not quite right'. Even if you can't see it you soon find it. It could be a little lump in the middle of your back... doesn't take long. You'll notice it!  [2] 

The Bible says that we are a 'Body'... the body of Christ. There is no part of Christ's body that is not unimportant and we are to look and watch out for one another.

Philippians 2:1-4 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, (2) make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. (3)  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; (4) do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  

Here is a scripture that emphasises the importance of 'others' in the body. Notice how it tells us to think of others as more important than ourselves! Now this is not what the 'World' tells you to do. Not in this age anyway. It tells you to 'look after number one', to 'esteem and love yourself' first and foremost. What a load of rubbish this 'spirit of the age' is!  [3]  But to be fair even in Paul's day it was hard to find those who sought out the interests of others instead of themselves. That is why, further on in this same chapter of Philippians, Paul wrote:

Philippians 2:19-21 But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit  who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus 

Our natural tendency is to look after our own interests and welfare. The challenge is to instead look out for Christ's interest. And what is His interest? People! Especially his body of believers! The watchmen of old watched and stayed alert on behalf of others. We must do the same. That brings us to the final question which makes this looking out for others even more important.

The last question - What did the watchmen long for?

Psa_130:6 My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.  

When the Psalmist wants to compare his longing and waiting for the Lord, what does he find in real life that can compare to such a longing and waiting? Well, the watchman waiting for the morning that's what! The watchman would yearn for the morning. And fair enough too! That was when their shift was over and their rest would come. You see the night was a hard time to be a watchman. It was harder to see the sneak attacks of the enemy so you had to stay extra alert. Plus the night can be a long time as anyone who has had sleep difficulties can attest to! The eyes get heavy so it was hard to stay alert and awake and not let your guard down.  [4] 

'What were the watchman longing for' you ask? 'The dawn of the new day' I reply. In like manner the Bible says we are 'sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night of the darkness.' So we too are looking for the dawn of the new day spiritually speaking. That is the day of the Lord's return and the establishment of His kingdom upon earth ruling from Jerusalem. That is the day we long for and the day that we look for. The darker it gets, the more difficult it gets. So the question is - 'how far through the night are we?' Let's look at a related scripture in Isaiah that asks this very thing:

So tell me - How far gone is the night?

Isa 21:11 The oracle concerning Edom. One keeps calling to me from Seir, "Watchman, how far gone is the night? Watchman, how far gone is the night?" The watchman says, "Morning comes but also night..." 

How far gone is the night? How much longer will the darkness last? When will the new day dawn? In the natural you all know the saying 'it is darkest before the dawn'. That actually may not be true as a scientific fact, but it is often true spiritually speaking and will be true leading up to the return of Jesus Christ. How far gone is the night? How dark will it get? How long will this last for? Interesting questions and these are of course, interesting times! Economically we have gone from the crash of 2008 where banks and finance companies went under, to today where entire nations are going bankrupt!  [5]  Of course, just because there is worldwide financial instability doesn't mean that Jesus is about to return. But it is interesting, when thinking about the question 'how far gone is the night' that this world seems to be 'out of whack' on so many levels. The world is out of whack politically, morally, economically, environmentally, socially and even medically  [6]  . It is not just one thing. It is unsustainable on so many levels.  [7]  Watchman, how far gone is the night? The Bible doesn't tell us when exactly the dawn of the new day and the return of Jesus will come but it does give us signs to look for and often repeats the command to WATCH! And even more so as we see the day approaching!

1Pe 4:7 But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.  

Why watch unto prayer? Because it will be harder in the last days, you want to be found as a faithful servant. You really do. It got hard for Israel's watchman as it got darker and the night dragged on. But they had to stay alert!

Jesus' command concerning His return 

Mark 13:28-37 Now  learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.  I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.  It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.  Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back  --whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!' "  [8]  

When is the dawning of the new day? No one knows... only God. BUT look at verse 28 which says that we should still know the times and seasons that we live in. Let me put what Jesus said into my own little context. At home I have a weeping Mulberry tree. It looked like an old man on his last legs for much of the winter but when I saw those leaves arrive in spring I knew that it's nearly mulberry time. Which is a good time! (If I can somehow outwit the birds.) Jesus said that we understand what is about to come in these natural events so, in like manner Jesus said we should be able to interpret the signs of the times spiritually. You should be able to see what the Bible says the last days leading up to the return of Jesus will be like and realise that these events are at hand.

And what is the command from Jesus concerning this? WATCH! Stay alert spiritually. Don't drift. Don't nod off. And remember that your watching is not just for yourself. Who knows... you could be the person that God asks to warn and help someone else. We started off talking about the fact that we watch not just for ourselves but that we should look out for others as well. Tying this in, it is fair to say that this will become all the more important as the return of Jesus approaches. Remember the saying - 'it is darkest before the dawn'. We long for the dawning of the new day when all things shall be put right but the Bible warns of turbulent days leading up to it.  [9]  People will need your help!


We may not be watchmen in the Old Testament sense but we all have to watch and stay alert spiritually. So what have we seen? Well, we should...

  • Watch for the work of the enemy
  • Watch over our own weaknesses (the exposed places)
  • Watch out for others and even more so as times get harder (as we approach the events of the last days foretold in the Bible.)
  • Watch for the dawn of the new day.

The question in Isaiah was 'Watchman, how far gone is the night?' He replied that both morning and night are coming. For the one who truly knows the Lord the most glorious new morning will dawn. We look forward with great hope and expectation to that day. And yet, at the same time, there is a night coming. May we all be found alert and watching!

[1] ↩  Or, more likely, there's not. Talk about 'the church' and most people thinking of that 'B' word 'building'. That's because many think of the church as a place and not a people. But the real two metaphors for the church starting with 'B' are of course 'Bride' and 'Body' (not brick and building!)

[2] ↩  I've got a tiny little prickle or thorn that got under my skin on my little finger. The smallest little splinter in my smallest little finger. And it just makes the slightest little rise... but I keep noticing it! You see, we are very very good at keeping watch over our own body! Surely it can't just be me. Well maybe it is... But I don't think so! If something goes out of line then we want to sort it out straight away. We are very alert when it comes to our own physical body. But how alert are you to others in the body of Christ that need attention? How watchful are you concerning others that may be putting themselves in a 'slippery place' - a place easily exploited by the enemy?

[3] ↩  J Vernon McGee comments well on Phil 2:3 saying - '  "Others" is the key to this passage. It is the Christian faith which first made that word others important. Why did Christ come from heaven's glory to this earth? It was for others. Why should we carry the gospel? For others. To think of others rather than ourselves is having the mind of Christ.' 

[4] ↩  Ever tried to stay up all night on purpose? At University we thought it was a good idea one night to watch four videos in a row through the night. Probably just another one of my friend Brett's poorly thought out schemes that all involved would live to regret I'm afraid. 1St video - Great. 2nd video - Pretty good. We can do this. Third video... I'm so tired. I so want to be in bed. 4th - After 5 minutes 'just let the meteor hit earth and destroy the planet and everyone on it... please, please! End it all!' It is not easy concentrating right through the night. Thus as we longed for bed that night, so the watchman of old would long for the dawn of the new day when their 'shift' was over. Somewhere hidden deep in there is a spiritual application. Maybe.

[5] ↩  At the time of giving this message in church the talk had been focused on Italy which they say 'is too big to fail' but also 'too big to save' - That is, they can't let it fail as it will be a domino effect for other countries worldwide - but it is also too big to save because of the amount of debt in question.
 'Italy's total debt expected to hit Û1.9 trillion by the end of this year, Italy's total debt is 2.7 times larger than the combined debt of Greece, Ireland and Portugal' 

These financial tsunamis have a huge bearing socially as well - the frequently quoted saying of trend forecaster Gerald Celente is true 'when people have nothing left to lose, they lose it.' We see protests all around the world. It started in the Arab world and now they are spreading through the Western world. What happens if the mostly peaceful protests so far in the western world aren't listened to? What happens when further 'austerity' measures are brought into these countries that already have youth unemployment above 50% like in Spain?

[6] ↩  On the one hand, medically speaking, there is an amazing amount of research going on into the cause and cure of disease, with some great discoveries made. And yet, on the other, there are so many new chemicals and toxins that we are creating and polluting this planet with that destroy our quality of life and lead to even more dependence upon all types of drugs to survive. A series of studies came out in the 2000's showing the impact even upon the fruit and vegetables that we eat. In 2001  'the Journal of Complimentary Medicine pointed out that US and UK Government statistics show a decline in trace minerals of up to 76% in fruit and vegetables over the period 1940 to 1991.'  I guess all I'm trying to point out is that the stress and distress coming upon those that live on planet earth is from a wide range of sources. It's financial. It's moral. It's environmental. It's medical. It is stress and breakdown within our schools, in our families and in our governments. How far gone is the night? How dark will it get? Interesting questions!

[7] ↩  One example of how out of whack things are financially... Consider the following website 

where you can enter your salary (or any figure) and see how long it took a man called John Paulson (a hedge fund manager) to earn your salary. This man makes bets on currencies and assets whether they will go up or down. In 2009 he made 13.8 million dollars. Per day. Let's say you worked all year for 20,000 - he earned that in 2.1 minutes. Let's say you earned 100,000 - that's a whopping 10.7 minutes of his time. In 2009 he got $555,900 per hour. Traders like this LIKE there to be instability in the financial world. That is where they make the most money!

[8] ↩   A seven-year-old boy had been pestering his father for a watch, but his father was not about to give him one. After he had asked for about the twentieth time, his father said, 'My boy, that's all I want to hear about that watch. Do not bring it up again!' At supper that night, each member of the family shared a Scripture verse at the table. When it was time for the boy to read his verse. After finding the verse that he wanted to read, he finally smirked and read 'The verse I have chosen today is Mark 13:37, 'What I say to you, I say to everyone, 'Watch!''" 

I have a sneaky suspicion that story is not really true. And I have some serious doubts that Jesus had wrist watches in mind when he said 'Watch'. But remember the question from Isaiah was 'Watchman - how far gone is the night?' Jesus said emphatically that no one knows the day nor the hour of His return. Not even old Harold Camping whose sure thing dates of May 21st and Oct 21st 2011 led many astray. We don't know the day but we can (and should) watch the signs and know the general time in which we live.

[9] ↩  Concerning the current events, trend forecaster Gerald Celente (mentioned earlier) says: 'We're looking at a parallel to the 1929 Stock Market crash - Crash of 29, Great depression, currency wars, trade war, leading to World war. Now the crash of 08, the great recession, currency wars, trade wars... ' and he says it always leads to a military war.