Any student of the prophets knows that they had a tough row to hoe, as we would say in Idaho.
(This is the fifth part of a series where Thomas Smith takes a closer look at six prophets from the Old Testament, God’s messengers. Missed the previous posts? Click here to catch up!)
A Watchman for God’s People
The prophets’ audiences often rejected them, even tried to kill them. When we reach the prophet Ezekiel, Judah has been exiled to Babylon. Our prophet was among the shamed and shaken survivors in the first wave of 597 BC. You would think that the consequences of their own covenant infidelity would have humbled the people, making them pliable to God’s call to repentance and return, but that wasn’t broadly the case (Ezekiel 2:1-7).
Listen to Ezekiel’s job description:
“But the house of Israel will not listen to you; for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel are of a hard forehead and of a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. Like adamant harder than flint have I made your forehead; fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”Ezekiel 3:7-9
This is probably where the phrase “hard head” comes from.
Would you take the job? Thankfully, Ezekiel, himself a priest, had the heart of a shepherd and takes on the great task. Another title given to Ezekiel was to be 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.”Ezekiel 3:17
This role of Ezekiel is repeated again in Ezekiel 33. What was the role and responsibilities of an ancient watchman?
Watchmen Yesterday and Today
Most biblical cities had great watch towers from which you could see enemies on the distant horizon or thieves in your valuable harvest fields. Once he assessed the threat or problem, the watchman would then quickly warn his city, often by blowing a ram’s horn.
As an exile with his people in Babylon, Ezekiel never ascended an actual watchtower; instead God would give him a targeted warning or message to share with his people. To not share God’s word would bring judgment upon the watchman himself (Ezekiel 3:18-19). Vigilance and a listening heart were essential for Ezekiel. The watchman wasn’t always the bearer of bad news, he also encouraged the people to covenant faithfulness and shared the possibility of restoration and a future of hope and healing.
Consider Isaiah’s language:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion.”Isaiah 52:7-8
When I consider our world today, I am so grateful we have not been left without watchers on the wall. Like Ezekiel of old, many have answered the call. Our holy father Pope Francis, courageous bishops, priests and consecrated women and men, and faithful laity make up our modern day watchers for the Church. They warn us of potential dangers, call us to repentance, cultivate hope, and invite us to nourish an ever-deepening covenant relationship with the Lord.
Will you take a few moments today to thank the Lord for our faithful and vigilant watchers, and to intercede for their protection, vigilance, and courage? Let us also look for those ways, like Ezekiel, that we can warn others in our circle of influence of the many spiritual dangers around us. And finally, as watchers, let us joyfully proclaim the Good News of God to those around us.
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Thomas Smith is the co-author of Wisdom: God’s Vision for Life, Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come and The Prophets: Messengers of God’s Mercy. He is an international presenter for The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Bringing a wealth of experience and insight on the Word of God to audiences across the U.S., Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker. Thomas Smith has taught as an adjunct professor at the St. Francis School of Theology in Denver, and is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School. He lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho and writes for his website www.gen215.org.
This article was first posted on The Great Adventure Blog, Ascension Blog’s former home, October 14, 2014. To learn more about The Great Adventure Bible study click below.
Featured image by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel (c. 1508-1512) sourced from Wikimedia Commons