Theme Editorial

The Present Need for Watchmen

Stan Cox

Ezekiel 3:17

"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 ... was appointed a watcher over the exiled nation of Israel, and was in this capacity to continue the work of the earlier prophets, especially that of Jeremiah, with whom he in several ways associates himself in his prophecies; to preach to his contemporaries the judgment and salvation of God, in order to convert them to the Lord their God."

Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 9 (Ezekiel & Daniel), page 2

Ezekiel, as a prophet of God and preacher of righteousness, lived and served his God in the darkest of days of the kingdom of Israel. The people were in exile, chafing under Babylonian rule, and looking for relief. There were false prophets in the land who were willing to tickle the ears of a desperate people. Jeremiah recorded the people's unwillingness to listen to the message of God's prophets in Jeremiah 29:19, "because they have not heeded My words, says the LORD, which I sent to them by My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; neither would you heed, says the LORD." He then pronounced God's judgment against the false prophets in verses 20-23, "Therefore hear the word of the LORD, all you of the captivity, whom I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who prophesy a lie to you in My name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall slay them before your eyes. And because of them a curse shall be taken up by all the captivity of Judah who are in Babylon, saying, 'The LORD make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire'; because they have done disgraceful things in Israel, have committed adultery with their neighbors' wives, and have spoken lying words in My name, which I have not commanded them. Indeed I know, and am a witness, says the LORD."

It is in this context that Jehovah sent the prophet Ezekiel to be a watchman over the house of Israel. In Ezekiel 33:7-9, God instructed Ezekiel in the work of a watchman, saying, "So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you shall surely die!' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. 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." Note the following components of the text:

  1. The watchman was issued a "word" from the mouth of God.
  2. The watchman was to use that word to "warn" the chosen of God.
  3. The danger to be warned of was "iniquity."
  4. The message was, "O wicked man, you shall surely die!"
  5. The purpose of the message was to bring the wicked man to repentance, "to turn from his way."
  6. Failing to fulfill his responsibility would make the watchman culpable for the sins of the wicked man, "his blood I will require at your hand."
  7. Warning was the sole responsibility of the watchman, he was not responsible for the actions taken by the wicked man, "you have delivered your soul."

The use of the watchman ever has been the Lord's method as he seeks to bring man to repentance and a right relationship. This was true during the days of the patriarchs, in the appointment of Moses as lawgiver to Israel, in the time of the judges of Israel, and during the reign of kings in Israel as God called prophets to preach to the people judgment and deliverance. It is the preaching of the Word of God which brings about repentance, and delivers souls from the bondage of sin and death. Men have been given the charge to warn, and the people ever have had the obligation to heed their voice. When they have refused, God's judgment has been the result. When they heeded the voice of God, he has blessed them.

That pattern in no way changed in the New Testament. God used watchmen in the first century to warn spiritual Israel, and admonish those caught in sin. John the Baptist was given a word by God, preaching "Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:2). The ultimate example of this is the sending of our Lord himself to establish his covenant, as described by the Hebrew writer, "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;" (Hebrews 1:1-2). After the Lord left the earth, he sent the Comforter (the Holy Spirit), to guide the Apostles into "all truth" (cf. John 16:13). It was part of God's divine plan in establishing his kingdom to equip the saints with watchmen. Their purpose, as always, was to instruct and admonish with a word "given" by the Lord. Note the following passage from Ephesians 4:

Ephesians 4:11-16

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ -- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love."

The same components which characterized the work of Ezekiel the prophet as a watchman of Israel is seen in the offices the Lord established in the church.

  1. Watchmen in the church are given a "word" from the mouth of God. (vs. 15, "speaking the truth in love").
  2. Watchmen in the church are to use that "word" to warn the elect of God. (cf. the work of an evangelist, 2 Timothy 4:2).
  3. The danger facing the church even today is "iniquity" (vs. 16, especially, in this context, false doctrine and sophistry).
  4. Watchmen in the church are to preach the message "O wicked man, you shall surely die!" (cf. Acts 8:20-23; Gal. 5:19-21; 2 John 9-11; Rev. 2:5; etc.)
  5. The purpose of the message is to bring the wicked man to repentance. (James 5:19-20; 2 Cor. 2:6-11).
  6. Failing to fulfill his responsibility makes a watchman in the church culpable for the sins of the wicked man. (cf. the elders responsibility, Hebrews 13:17, "... as those who must give account").
  7. Warning is the sole responsibility of the watchman in the church, he is not responsible for the actions taken by the wicked man. (1 Tim. 1:18-20; Rev. 3:1-6)

The purpose of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers is to equip the saints so that we will not be "tossed to and fro" and "carried about with every wind of doctrine." This is accomplished by "speaking the truth in love." In effect, the Lord has given his "Word", and the "warning of the people" will supply what is needed to cause "growth of the body."

Let it be understood that in calling for watchmen in the church today we do not in any way usurp the Old Testament office of Prophet. We understand that certain men were given a prophetic calling, a "word from God" in those times, for the special purpose of bringing the people to repentance. No one in the church today would claim the authority or office of a prophet. Partial prophecy has ceased (cf. 1 Cor. 13). Neither do we advocate any man taking on the office of an Apostle. These men had a special work, a special calling, and had special qualifications and authority given to them by Christ. No man today has those qualifications, work or calling. However, the call to warn the "wicked man" is not the sole purview of the prophet or apostle. As has been amply demonstrated, evangelists and elders, among others, are given the call to warn the wicked.

We are to follow the example of Paul. "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). Elders are to "... take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). Preachers are to "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2). Christians are to "... on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh" (Jude 22-23).

Attitudes Toward Watchmen

All Christians are to serve as watchmen among God's people. We all have the obligation to look out for our brother in Christ (cf. James 5:19-20). We do not all have the same office and authority, "... some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers ...", but we do have the mandate to "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).

It is understood and accepted that not all have the same abilities, even within a particular work. For example, not all evangelists are able to engage in public debate. Some preachers may excel in this, and give themselves to it as a part of their work. Others may be talented writers, and use their abilities to edify the brethren. Others may hold many meetings each year, building up Christians wherever they travel. Some have given themselves to foreign evangelism, while others may spend their entire life in a single state in the Union. Some preachers may labor with small works their entire lives, while others preach to large congregations, with their unique challenges. Some men may be very eloquent, while others are blunt. Some may be fully supported in their work, while others "make tents." As long as they are heeding the admonition of Paul to "Convince, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching", there is room in the kingdom for them.

Obadiah and Elijah

This principle can be well illustrated by looking at two prophets of old. Obadiah and Elijah. Note the following observations derived from a reading of 1 Kings 18.

  1. Obadiah was a faithful servant of God. He had hidden and fed 100 prophets during Jezebel's slaughter of the prophets. He said to Elijah, "I your servant have feared the Lord from my youth" (vs. 12).
  2. However, Obadiah was able to live as a servant of the most despicable king Israel ever produced. "Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in t he sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him" (1 Kings 16:30). To be able not only to resist evil, but also to be active in righteous works in that atmosphere is laudable.
  3. Elijah also was a faithful servant of God, and in fact was on a mission from God to confront the king (vs. 1).
  4. Despite reservations, when Elijah enlisted Obadiah's aid in carrying out the Lord's work, Obadiah did as he was asked, putting himself at great risk (vs. 16). Note the importance of this fact. Obadiah was supportive of Elijah's work!
  5. Ahab falsely accused Elijah of causing strife. Notice their exchange, "Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, 'Is that you, O troubler of Israel?' And he answered, 'I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and have followed the Baals'" (1 Kings 18:17-18). In reality, Ahab was the one at fault. This distinction is always important. The one causing strife among God's people is the sinner, not the one who convicts the sinner.

The parallels with our day are obvious:

  1. We have men who are faithfully and dutifully serving their God. They may be toiling in obscurity, but they are nevertheless accomplishing much good for their master.
  2. We have men who are at the forefront of battles being fought. They are diligently and militantly defending the truth of God against false doctrines. There is much troubling the "house of Israel" in our time, and their mouths will not be stopped in defending God's people.
  3. The tactics of false teachers have not changed. As always, they attack the defender of truth. They mimic Ahab in their claims that it is the watchman that is troubling Israel. It is not the watchman, but the agents of leaven that are responsible for the unrest and strife among God's people!

What is distressing is the attitude of some who would style themselves as "Obadiahs." I am amazed at the frequency with which false teachers are defended. We hear, "I don't agree with his doctrine, but he is sincere and not worthy of censure despite his teaching." Those who would expose and admonish these teachers are roundly criticized, having their "spirit", "motivation", and "tactics" questioned. In contrast remember that Obadiah supported Elijah!

We owe so much to the watchmen of God:

These watchmen will be heard. Criticism regarding their character, motivation and tactics will not still their voice. They are men of righteousness motivated by a love of truth and a protective love for the people of God. Their mission and work is righteous, and criticisms from others will only embolden them in their efforts to serve their Lord.

But, is it not time for the Lord's "Obadiahs" to stand and be heard? Is it not time to hold up their hands in their battle against the false teacher? To pray for their success? To let all know that we stand with them, and laud them in their battle with the enemy? To encourage them? Truly we need watchmen in our time, and we need good brethren to stand with them in their mission of righteousness. Will you be an "Obadiah" to the "Elijahs" and "Ezekiels" of our day?

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