If you’ve been at the tasks of continually surveying the landscape, monitoring changes in our country, calculating family needs for the coming months or years, spending 95% of your discretionary funds on dried vegetables and wool socks, encouraging anyone close to you to heed the warnings, and wondering if it’s your last time to hear the national anthem, then you can identify with my sense of being tired with it all.
Yes, I’m tired beyond fatigue. Worse yet, when I went back to the Bible to reexamine the teaching in regard to the task of a watchman, I discovered I’ve been mistaken. I’ve not been advocating a false teaching, but in my exuberance to define the task I missed the most critical point. Walk with me up to my recent reexamination of Ezekiel chapter 33.
Watchman fatigue has been a heavy weight on my shoulders for the past two or three months. Actually, it’s been gnawing at my craw for probably a year, but it felt more like a personal failure, or perhaps it was the sinister effect of growing old. After all, anything that has life and moves forward with gusto in this world is creative and draws in new blood. Apparently I’d lost it, and as is often the case, I was the last one to catch on to what seemed like my own demise.
My wife and I have three adult children, and they’ve produced our dozen grandchildren– a quiver that brings great joy on all fronts. We raised our family in the Midwest, where they were guaranteed to be above average. Then, as empty nesters, we eventually found our way about as far to the north and west as we could go and still be in America. Most opportunities are not random, and we interestingly ended up beyond the American Redoubt. Eventually, one of our adult children and his family relocated to the same city, and we enjoy gratifying extended family times both here and on visits back to the Midwest. We are technically retired but with a lot left to do.
Although I had yet to discover the definition, I became a self-assigned watchman of world affairs in the summer of 1998, and as such I pursued keeping my family alert to the potential pitfalls that could come with the eminent turn of the century and a subtle world-wide computer glitch. The kids were gone, so we went about gathering and storing with an eye toward welcoming any of them home in the event the world became unlivable. Without much ado we let them all know of the plan, then we quietly waited for midnight 2000. We said, “Huh, that didn’t amount to much.” We didn’t despair in the least. After all, we liked creative eating and living somewhat off the grid, and we had become especially fond of trying exotic bread recipes built from home-ground grains. A few weeks later a close friend exhorted us not to come to any quick conclusions. The growing consensus was that Y2K was a dry run and the real thing was yet to come. Our response was “Okay. We’re still in.”
A few years later we found ourselves migrating from our semi-rural, somewhat off-the-grid homestead, several thousand miles away, temporarily relocating to work with families in a medium-sized church to a city of all places. Being outdoor adventurers, we could have made the change for any number of exciting reasons, but we simply felt the nudge from the Lord and wanted to be obedient. We left our stores behind, thinking we’d return in a few years and pick up where we left off. It wasn’t long before, with our ear still to the ground, that we realized we needed to get back on track with an updated pre-2000 focus. While there was still time we should look at Joseph’s Biblical example and be ready for some tough years in Egypt.
Working in a church with dozens of families and men who were committed to be Biblical providers caused me to take seriously the task of helping these men stay alert to the realities of the world. 1 Timothy 5:8, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (KJV) In my mind, providing meant three things. It meant to:
- assure my family has its basic needs met;
- teach truth; and
- protect them in a world that didn’t often have our best in mind.
The focus intensified when a dozen men started meeting weekly in my office for lunch, where for an hour we’d look at the condition of the world, search the Scriptures for God’s truth, and pray for His wisdom and direction as to how we should live. We saw how important the “Men of Issachar” were to King David and his army. In 1 Chronicles 12:32, we read about these men who understood the times and knew what to do. We also assumed they were obedient, so we regularly and humbly asked God to speak to us in our time by saying, “Lord, would you show us what to do?”
Now, nearly ten years after our move, we have several hundred additional acquaintances, 50-100 fairly good friends, and more than a few folks with whom we are very close. While I don’t consider myself fanatical with my self-assigned role as a watchman, and it’s only one of a number of my involvements, I care very much for our friends and family, and I would not hold back on information that I’d consider critical to life and our convictions. As the waters of the world continue to grow muddy, often even foul, I’ve become more discerning and strategic in approaching the subject, and I’ve learned to perceive a cold shoulder even before it is turned in my direction. Sadly, with a couple of good friends– men with whom I’ve shared mutual concerns– I have to admit we’ve drifted apart, I believe because we simply grew tired of being on the alert. Eventually it began to feel like all the reality out there, which we knew was headed our direction, had somehow just bogged us down. Our relationship didn’t survive being built solely on the assignment of a watchman.
First, in a Biblical framework, what is a “watchman”? It was years back when someone first drew my attention to Ezekiel chapter 33 and pointed out the role of one’s assignment to stand at a key observation point (on the city wall or prominent place) to warn the people of any incoming danger, or that is what we assumed from a cursory reading. There it was, and I now had a Biblical justification for keeping my eyes on world events and warning my friends and family of what was coming.
That understanding of the job may be accurate for a military sentry. There is certainly justification for America being acutely alert and to defend our land against the encroachment of our enemies. The watchman responsibility grays when our moral and spiritual enemies permeate multiple areas of our life. When a nation becomes spiritually generic, who decides or warns of the destruction ahead? In reality we haven’t kept them out, nor do we have the resolve to expel the enemy from our midst.
With God there is no gray line. He assumes of His people a deep commitment to righteousness and to honoring His name. Such a commitment necessitates a watchman with an acute capability to see any advance of the enemy from without, as well as a courageous, uncompromising oversight of His people from within. God is absolutely unwilling for His people to cohabitate with wickedness. There is more on this in a moment. Ezekiel now warns us that the greatest danger is already from within.
More recently I’ve been convicted to look again at Ezekiel 33, in light of the sword, and ask who is actually wielding the sword and why? I’m finding this passage is not simply a warning from God to put a guard on the wall to warn us of danger. As I take a new look, I see a more powerful warning here. This is God saying, “When I bring the sword (most likely weapons of serious destruction) against a land…” Clearly it is God who is wielding the sword, it will be devastating, and He is bringing it against His own people.
What is going on here? Why is God wielding the sword against His own people? It’s a gut-wrenching reality that God brings the sword of discipline and punishment against His people because there is wickedness or evil amongst us. Remember, God does not compromise; in His scheme of things, righteousness and wickedness cannot co-habitat. The line is black and white. When God’s anger is stirred, He will bring punishment and even destruction. Evil is an insidious enemy, and it resides within. We must consider ourselves warned.
A good part of the challenge we have– to see reality in America as well as in the Church– is our history as a Christian nation. Our nation was built on a desire to be free, and in that freedom God has blessed us beyond imagination. However, with that freedom has also come a susceptibility to making wrong decisions. With wrong decisions comes a slow, subtle drift toward evil.
A slow drift towards evil, while keeping one foot in the “we are a Christian nation camp,” produces the “having a form of godliness but denying its power” syndrome. (1 Tim 3:5). So, now we have a serious case of clouded vision. Clouded vision can hardly imagine that such a powerful, blessed nation could merit God’s sword of discipline coming against us. Aren’t we the Body of Jesus Christ– His Church? Are we not the good guys?