Watchman Watch and Warn…And Make Lots of Noise

My first job out of college was to be a night watchman and to do lawn maintenance at an independent elderly care facility. It was a well-designed place with studio and one bedroom apartments n an enclosed complex where all doors openned to a main meeting and cafeteria area, There was one large front entrance that was locked at 10pm so that individuals inside would stay protected. It was a fortified community designed for elderly who still wanted to live on their own—they had kitchenettes—if individuals didn’t want to dine at the facilities cafeteria. It gave them security and support.

The night watchman would close up the main door, walk the building and make sure residents were in for the night (and kept their doors shut). They would then return to their watchman room and sit at the buzzer counter listening for calls. They could cat nap but when the loud buzzer board rang they had to pop up and attend to the buzzer. Most of the time the buzz was from the front door where a resident had to come in after a late night out and needed security clearance, or had lost a key. At other times, someone needed help opening a jar or finding a remote or more serious, needed to call 911.

I got to know the residents and it was a facility I could imagine someday living. It was amazing place for elderly to maintain their independence but stay in community and have more safety. The owners had thought out the plan well and later would became multimillionaires developing these types of facilities everywhere.

I was new to the watchman scene and soon discovered that as a man in my twenties, I had not developed the night stamina for watchman work. In college I had developed very disciplined habits of going to bed early (often by 9pm) and that gave me college success. However, I soon learned a night watchman had to develop other skills.  I had learned to sleep soundly so cat napping at a buzzer board often found me too asleep.  The buzzer had to go off several times and when I woke at a buzzer, I woke disoriented and getting my wits organized quickly was a new skill set I had not mastered. After a few missed calls and few groggy responses and difficultly keeping control over on elderly person with early signs of Alzheimer who kept wandering places, the management moved me out of watchman work.

It was good for all of us as I loved maintenance more and worked hard at that (which may be why I napped so well).

I was thinking of this watchman experience when I read about the two calls of Ezekiel in chapters 3 and 33.

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.” (3:17  NIV).

The first call to warm was associated with the need for Ezekiel to be in tuned with God, to not be asleep to His ideas. It says “eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” (v 1). The watchman’s role was associated with understanding, not being groggy to what was happening and then to tell people who may not see what is happening what was occurring.

Eating, I would later learn was part of figuring out how to stay awake at night. First, eat less during other hours and you will stay awake better. Second, chewing on carrots helps you stay awake, keep the calories from overwhelming your system and keeps you alert.

But the eating Ezekiel was engaged in was different. It was a metaphor of digesting or taking in and gaining meaning from something God was giving him. It was to internalize it.

And then, from there, it was telling others.

And these others, God warned Ezekiel, would not listen:

“You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel— not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate. But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are.” (3:5-9)

This was not foreign missions work or international evangelism, this was living at home and working at home and telling people what God had tried to tell them.

And all your good work as a watchman, would go unheeded. But interestingly, God would help Ezekiel with this transition to a tough job. He would make Ezekiel as tough as nails to handle the pressure.

“When I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ Whoever will listen let them listen, and whoever will refuse let them refuse; for they are a rebellious people.” (v 27).

This was a tough job and Ezekiel would have to be toughened-up for this difficult work.

In chapter 33, the call is renewed where the “Lord Supervisor” reviews watchman protocol: speak and warn rather they listen or not. You have to give the warnging. You have to tell the truth about what is about to happen: destruction. This time the warning is closer to the final destruction of Israel (see v 21).

However, what makes this time different is the people have gotten used to listening to Ezekiel and can even live right in the midst of the disaster fortold and NOT GET IT.

“As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” (33:30-32).

From obstinate resistence and then to apathetic listening to even eager listening but without action. It was the same process for Pharoah as he slowly hardened his heart.

There was a slow turning down of the noise coming from Ezekiel’s mouth: not because the message was changed, but the hearers became immunized against truth until, even as the city is sinking around them, they can’t notice it.


So is the life of an ethicist. Here are the similarities

Task Watchman/Prophet Ethicist
Figure out what is happening
  1. Hear a word from God
  2. Read the signs around
  1. Study values and ideals
  2. See how they are being fulfilled or violated
Tell people what you see Give a sermon or speech or do a crazy skit to show them what is happening. The prophets often had to do crazy things to get through the thick thinking of the time. Write, speak, protest, form petitions, or generally make a stink about a moral violation or practice your life so differently it is a testimony against the norm that is killing the people
Expect a response Some might change, but many may not, but you have to warn them anyway People can find other ethicists that will tell them what they want to hear. Sometimes they will immunize themselves so that hearing they will NOT hear.
Shift your warnings to match the subtle adaptation They eventually were entertained to hear Ezekiel speak and so developed an ability to talk the talk without walking the walk Ethics is a powerful tool used by some to justify evil. When philosophy gets bifurcated from emotions and practice there is likely a dulling of the moral consciences.
Expect the worse The city fell. Ezekiel knew it would. It did. The group, organization, or nation without moral sensitivity who continues to resist change will fail and fold. It is just the reality that awaits them, whether they see it our not.

I have learned from my work in giving advice, that very little of ethical wisdom will be accepted.Reformers get killed or better yet, shamed by talk they are crazy.

But, like Ezekiel, the warning still must be given. Because the reality of the warning still is happening.

It may be we have to speak by blogging, or by adapting to a odd lifestyle to keep sober and alert (see Ezekiel 4), and it will take guts–stamina and endurance and obstinate focus–to stand up against the surrounding cultural drift and speak a clear and convincing warning.

And even if they start listening, be on guard. If they are not practicing what they hear, they will just be growing dull and insensitive to the new direction.

If they don’t do what they were told in the warning, don’t be surprised. They are dull by choice.

To be forthright I see that happening in my own religious community: SDA church and even in my own place of work.

There are reformers God sends us to wake us up–for my work in higher education, this is especially true. But we resist change. It is not like the way we were trained or lived. So we resist innovative programs designed to prepare people better for the future. I have resisted them and I have been a part of innovative programs resisted by others.

I have concluded, that all those who bring reform: educational or ethical, will be persecuted and resisted.

But if you are awake to reality and see the shift, you have to speak, even if they shame you, blame you, defame you, maim you and eventually even kill you.

Its just the challenge of trying to stay awake in the night.



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