Study 8 WATCHMAN, WHAT IS LEFT OF THE NIGHT?
GREAT QUESTIONS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: Isaiah 21:11-12)
In biblical times, when great cities were contained within high stone walls, it was customary to appoint watchmen who were stationed in special towers on the walls of the cities. Their task was to raise the alarm if an enemy approached. Look up 2 Samuel 13:34; 18:24-27; 2 Kings 9:17; 2 Chronicles 20:24; Nehemiah 4:9; 7:3; Isaiah 62:6; Jeremiah 31:6. In chapter 21, Isaiah is assuming the role of an eastern watchman. Evidently the night is very dark and suddenly he hears footsteps approaching. To his relief it is not an enemy, but a friend who enquires how things are going, and he makes a careful reply. To see the relevance of these words for ourselves we need to recognise at once that they have to do with the unfolding of God’s prophetic programme, today and in the future. They have something solemn to say to us about events that will take place soon on the earth, and about the destiny of believers and unbelievers.
1. THE QUESTION THAT IS ASKED
Twice in verse 11 the question is asked, “Watchman, what is left of the night?” This repetition marks its urgency and the concern of the one who speaks. There is a note of anxiety as the questioner is asking, ‘How long will it be before morning comes?’ From this repeated question we learn two things:-
- 1. It is now the world’s night-time. Many people, of course, are benefiting from what is called our affluent society; many can say, ‘We’ve never had it so good!’ – and yet everywhere there is a deepening moral and spiritual darkness. Sin is rampant, selfishness abounds, man is greedy, and everywhere we hear of war, of want and of – night. In this 21st chapter of Isaiah there are three ‘burdens’ referred to:- (1) The Burden of Babylon (verses 1-10), and the word “Babylon” means CHAOS. (2) The Burden of Dumah (or Edom) (verses 11-12), and this word means TENSION; and (3) The Burden of Arabia (verses 13-17), and this word means SUSPICION, or contention. How aptly these three words describe the prevailing condition in the world today! – look up Luke 21:26. We are living in the dark, and it will get darker yet.
- 2. Christians are (to be) the Lord’s watchmen. As Christians we are His disciples to live for Him (John 15:8); His servants to labour for Him (Titus 1:1); His stewards to trade for Him (1 Corinthians 4:2); and His ambassadors to represent Him (2 Corinthians 5:20); but we are also to be His watchmen. We, as children of the light, are set in this dark world, and what is our task? To warn of danger ahead. This is the watchman’s special duty. He must be deeply concerned for the safety of souls – look up and compare Acts 20:20,26,27,31; and Colossians 1:28 with Ezekiel 33:7-9.
The world in which we live is spiritually and morally dark, and it will get darker. Our task as Christians, as children of the light, is to warn men and women of the increasing darkness and of the judgment if they do not find salvation in Jesus Christ.
2. THE REPLY THAT IS GIVEN
“Morning is coming, but also the night” is the reply in verse 12. This seems a strange answer; why did the watchman say “…but also the night?” In the light of prophecy the answer is this: for the Christian the morning is coming; for the unbeliever the night of judgment is coming. If you are a believer in our Lord Jesus Christ your prospect is the coming of the dawn; if you are an unbeliever your prospect is the dark night of judgment. The “morning” speaks of the coming again of Jesus Christ (Revelation 22:16). Thank God we shall not experience the darkness of sin, of war, of want, forever. Look up Psalm 30:5.
- 1. The morning speaks of the certainty of His coming. Morning always follows night. The burden of biblical prophecy is the glorious truth of the certain return of the Lord Jesus.
- 2. The morning speaks of the nearness of His coming. Sometimes the night seems long, but relatively speaking the morning is always near, and so is the coming of Christ – look up Romans 13:12 and compare James 5:7.
- 3. The morning speaks of the pure joy of His coming. See Malachi 4:2. What a relief it is when, after a long night of trial and difficulty, the morning comes!
With these thoughts in mind, look up and compare John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. But how solemn to realise that it is not only the morning that is coming, but also “the night”! – unutterable joy for the Christian but indescribable sorrow, suffering and despair for the unbeliever. Night in scripture always means calamity (Job 35:10; Micah 3:6), and compare John 13:30 with 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9. The Lord Jesus may return today, tonight, tomorrow…Will you be ready to meet Him when He comes?
3. THE APPEAL THAT IS MADE
“If you would ask, then ask; and come back…” is the appeal in verse 12. These words surely indicate that we are to preach the gospel to the unconverted and plead with them to come to Christ.
This is the appeal that we, as the Lord’s watchmen, are to make to people who are still in darkness and in the shadow of death. These words indicate what they must do to be ready when Jesus comes, ready to welcome Him and to escape the judgment that must fall upon the ungodly and the unbelieving.
What will it mean for you when Jesus comes – morning or night? – light or darkness? – deliverance or despair?