Just Google “Go set a watchman” and what comes up relates to the recent release of the novel of the same name by now elderly Harper Lee [born 1926 in Monroeville, AL]. Lee’s novel was originally written in the mid-1950’s, but just published last month. Much conversation and speculation preceded its publication. And since its release there has been a fair amount of disappointment registered about the author’s character development of Atticus Finch. But it is the title of her novel that is of special interest to us in this article.
Although unknown to many, regular Bible readers of the Old Testament Scriptures were already quite familiar with the wording, “Go set a watchman”. That phrase in fact is located in Isaiah 21:6 and reads like this from the King James Version:
“For thus hath the Lord said to me: ‘Go, set a watchman, Let him declare what he seeth.’”
Obviously, the expression under consideration lies within a larger Biblical context — it doesn’t just stand alone. And we want to give some thought, however brief, to the context in which it appears before branching off from there.
Isaiah 21:1-10, in which our verse and phrase appear, is a section of Scripture dealing with the coming collapse of the nation of Babylon. In other words, this is a prophecy that “God would destroy pagan Babylon” [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol.6, p.133]. Now it is helpful to remind ourselves that this enemy of Israel, Babylon, would take the Southern kingdom of Judah into captivity in stages beginning in 606 B.C. And that Jerusalem itself would be destroyed in 586 B.C. Yet, the vision of Isaiah in chapter twenty-one is also clear that Babylon would eventually fall. And that fall we know from history would take place at the hands of the Medo-Persians led by Cyrus in 539 B.C. So, as this section reveals, Isaiah hears a word from the Lord, “Go, set a watchman” (vs. 6). That watchman is duly appointed, does his job, and finally is able to accurately report, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen!” (Isaiah 21:9).
The word of the Lord is indeed always right and the need for a watchman then and now should be apparent to all. But such is not always the case. There is usually a small element in the church who don’t see the necessity for the ready watchman among us. However, we would invite any among us so tragically in denial to consider the following passages of Holy Scripture that emphasize the need for watchfulness on the part of the individual and the local church:
- Matthew 26:41 – “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation…”
- Acts 20:31 – “Therefore watch, and remember…”
- 1 Corinthians 16:13 – “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith…”
- 2 Timothy 4:5 – “But watch thou in all things…”
- Hebrews 13:17 – “For they watch for your souls…”
- Revelation 3:2 – “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain…”
The simplicity and straight- forwardness of Scripture is a marvel to the mind. Let us today, whether preacher, eldership, or congregation, heed the call of the Lord in His word and “Go, set a watchman.” And having done this with warnings or rewards may we accurately declare what we see.