Watchmen Ignored; Prophets Rejected

We sure do need watchmen, even though they are unwanted:

Because natural disasters can always break out, we have in place various early warning systems to alert us to possible dangers and catastrophes such as tornados, avalanches, earthquakes or tsunamis. If these systems work well and provide sufficient advanced warning, and if people take heed of these warnings and take appropriate steps to avoid impending disaster, then they are wonderful tools indeed.

But both components need to be working effectively: the warning systems need to detect coming emergencies and do so beforehand; and the people must listen and act upon such alerts. You can have all the best systems in place, but if folks refuse to listen to them, or take them seriously, then they are all rather useless.

It is just the same in the spiritual realm. God has his early warning devices in place. They are called prophets and watchmen. We read all about them in the Old Testament. And we can think of modern-day examples of them as well: Christian warriors such as Leonard Ravenhill and A. W. Tozer.

But just as in the physical world when the alerts can go unheeded, so too in the spiritual world: prophets can speak, preach, and warn – but they can be ignored and rejected. The watchmen can be spurned and reviled. Since I am once again reading through the book of Jeremiah, I see this so very often. Let me feature just some of these passages from the opening chapters of the book:

Jeremiah 2:29-30 “Why do you contend with me?
    You have all transgressed against me,
declares the Lord.
In vain have I struck your children;
    they took no correction;
your own sword devoured your prophets
    like a ravening lion.

Jeremiah 4:19-22 My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
    Oh the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
    I cannot keep silent,
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
    the alarm of war.
Crash follows hard on crash;
    the whole land is laid waste.
Suddenly my tents are laid waste,
    my curtains in a moment.
How long must I see the standard
    and hear the sound of the trumpet?
“For my people are foolish;
    they know me not;
they are stupid children;
    they have no understanding.
They are ‘wise’—in doing evil!
    But how to do good they know not.”

Jeremiah 6:10 To whom shall I speak and give warning,
    that they may hear?
Behold, their ears are uncircumcised,
    they cannot listen;
behold, the word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn;
    they take no pleasure in it.

Jeremiah 6:16-19 Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
I set watchmen over you, saying,
    ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’
But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’
Therefore hear, O nations,
    and know, O congregation, what will happen to them.
Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people,
    the fruit of their devices,
because they have not paid attention to my words;
    and as for my law, they have rejected it.

Jeremiah 7:24-27 But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers. So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you.

Jeremiah 8:12 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.

Contemporary application

Wow. Those verses are worth reading again – and deeply meditating on. As mentioned, they are not just texts that are only relevant for Old Testament times. We always need such prophetic voices. Both church and nation need to hear these sorts of warnings today.

But sadly watchmen and prophets get the same treatment now as they did thousands of years ago: they are spurned, rejected, ignored, and laughed at. The only prophets the people love to listen to are the false prophets. They are always popular and well received.

True watchmen on the wall however will find very few avid listeners and keen followers. I do know a little bit about this, since it seems I do have a watchman on the wall sort of ministry – a prophetic type of calling. I of course make no claim to being divinely inspired and infallible in my pronouncements. The Old Testament prophets and watchmen certainly were – but I am in an altogether different category in this regard.

We all can learn from what Jeremiah wrote about and experienced. There is present day application that can be found here. To help in his process, let me finish with some quotes from two commentators. First, Michael Brown looks at Jer. 4 and discusses the heart of the prophet:

For Jeremiah the pain is unbearable. Long before the judgment comes, he already experiences its reality in prophetic vision….

 

There is no grief like that of the prophets. Heschel notes that they were often compelled to proclaim the opposite of what their hearts desired: “Indeed, this was a part of the complexity of the prophet’s inner existence. He was a person overwhelmed by sympathy for God and sympathy for man. Standing before the people he pleaded for God; standing before God he pleaded for his people. The prediction of doom was contrary to his own feelings.” Speaking of Jeremiah, Heschel writes: “The tension of being caught, heart and soul, in two opposing currents of violent emotion, was more than a human being could bear.” It is therefore completely understandable that Jeremiah can hardly find words to describe his agony. He is in the throes of terrible labor, with his heart ready to burst out of his skin.

Image of Jeremiah, Lamentations (The NIV Application Commentary)
Jeremiah, Lamentations (The NIV Application Commentary) by Dearman, J. Andrew (Author) Amazon logo

Second, J. Andrew Dearman looks at Jer. 4-6 and says the following about how we might appropriate all this for today:

Jeremiah’s words raise the question of prophetic activity on the part of the church and by individual Christians who seek to follow the Lord. (1) Prophetic activity is in obedience to the revealed word of God. Jeremiah’s “call” in chapter 1 sets the power of God’s spoken message at the center of the prophet’s work. In 5:14 Jeremiah’s words of judgment are like fire that consumes wood. Prophetic activity brings the word of the Lord to bear on circumstances and reveals God’s assessment of them. A contemporary application of Jeremiah’s words means first of all that Christians have assessed a situation in light of God’s standards of judgment. This is not an easy task; prophetic activity is easily misunderstood, and it may expect to get a prophet’s reward (Matt. 5:11–12). So it was for Jeremiah, as other texts will make clear. The depiction of Jeremiah as a “tester of metals” (6:27–30) underscores prophetic activity as the refining of character and motives, as a means of exposing God’s truth among differing options, and as a way to weigh and assess the value of human commitments.

 

(2) Jeremiah’s dialogue with the Lord (4:10; 5:4) implies that a prophetic response to sin is active. The prophet seeks the Lord’s leading so that sinfulness is not just named for what it is and judgment is not simply announced for what it is, but a prophet searches for ways to end the evil activity and its evil consequences.

 

(3) Prophetic activity is prayerful engagement with God about the nature and purpose of judgment. So it was with Jeremiah, and so it must be for the church. One may denounce evil and march for justice and the amelioration of societal ills; but unless one also prays that God’s temporal judgments become a means to discipline and to transform evildoers, denunciation and marching are not prophetic activities according to Jeremiah’s example.

In one sense we all can share in the prophetic task today. We can seek to get God’s heart on what is happening in the church and the world and seek to speak into those situations with biblical truth. But it will be a painful and often thankless task.

When we grieve over what God grieves over, and when we let our hearts be broken with what breaks the heart of God, that is no easy path. And when we try to share our concerns with those who need to hear God’s words, we will likely be rejected, treated with contempt, laughed at, and told to get lost.

The role of the watchman is not something I would wish on anyone. Yet some are called to just that very task – that very crucial ministry. At the very least, we should pray for those whom God has called to perform this important role. These folks certainly need all the prayers that they can get.

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17 Replies to “Watchmen Ignored; Prophets Rejected”

  1. The church has one job today, and it not playing OT prophet, ’cause the messiah has come, which was the whole OT project. It is “make disciples”.

    If there is any prophetic work today it is to keep the church focused on its mission, understanding the work of the ‘prince of this world’ is always against it, and to boldly proclaim the word of salvation. Not much of that today, I note. We are, as a church, either hiding from meaningful proclamation, or hopping on the prince of this world’s train to nowhere.

    I don’t mean shout out John 3;16: meaningless to almost everyone and devoid of context for all. Rather, follow Paul. Put the world in its context and point to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.

    When I think of context, I think of how Francis Schaeffer and CS Lewis conducted their critiques.

    That’s how its done.

  2. Thanks David. The OT prophets of course in many ways spoke of the coming Messiah. But that is certainly not all they did. Indeed, the main part – the major part – of their ministry was to share God’s truth with people, and quite often to warn the people. They warned both Israel and the nations of who God is and what he expects of them. That included plenty of words of coming judgment if they did not turn things around.

    That is exactly what the church today should also be doing. Of course we are to share the gospel – but we equally are commended to be salt and light, and to share biblical truth both to church and nation. So I certainly see an going need for ‘watchmen on the wall’ sorts of ministries today. And that does NOT mean we are ‘playing OT prophet’. Indeed, since this is what God has clearly called me to do, I best keep on doing it – whether others approve or not! And given that I have all of the books by Schaeffer and Lewis, and have quoted them hundreds of times here, I do know a bit about their approach as well!

  3. It is hard. Decades of telling the people soothing lies “sweet nothings” have made warning people even harder. No-one want to hear bad news but we used to know that is part of life and you have to take the good AND the bad to be better. I tell people America has reached the point judgment must come to wake up the church and bring NEEDED punishment. But people insist God wouldn’t do that. Either he doesn’t judge nations just individuals or we have a better covenant than Israel so he won’t destroy us like he did them or it is revival not judgment that God is going to do, I always say revival AFTER judgment but the feel judgment would not be necessary just repentance and boom a sweeping revival, but if things so far have NOT brought the repentance need for revival nothing short of Godly judgment will.

    Truth is often unwelcome dangerous speech. Truth often hurts, is often painful because truth strikes at pride and truth is unchanging it doesn’t evolve, it doesn’t progress, it isn’t subject to majority opinion or changing social standards. Truth is, was, and will be. Truth endures. For this truth, and truth tellers, are hated.

    Throughout history we have seen groups in nations who think that, something terrible in the past, could never happen here and in all cases it does. Now it is our turn.

    “Pride goeth before destruction a haughty spirit before a fall”.

    Truth is rejected by both the above!

    But God will reward those who speak truth no matter the cost. You may feel like you’re speaking to a brick wall but God hear every word of the faithful and accounts them in his ledger. May our treasure chests in heaven be overflowing with rewards when we get there!

    Knowing I am not alone helps me as I hope it helps you.

  4. The issue as I see it is that there are so many ‘prophets’ (mostly false) around. Partly because there is no temporal penalty for being wrong. When the penalty for speaking falsely about God is not met with death, they can get away with a lot and also direct their ‘prophecies’ in a more lucrative direction.

    Unfortunately, the only way to prove if a prophet is real is if what they say comes true. Unless it happens within the lifetime of the hearers there is no way of them proving it true or false.

    I suppose as Christians, we have the canon with all the prophets and the end of all things included. It is hard to think of anything topping that.

    It would be interesting to have a clear and true understanding of the events in the book of Revelation though.

  5. Thanks Troy. As I said quite clearly in my piece: “I of course make no claim to being divinely inspired and infallible in my pronouncements. The Old Testament prophets and watchmen certainly were – but I am in an altogether different category in this regard.”

    And many who have a watchman on the wall type of ministry today would feel exactly the same way. So we are NOT claiming any sort of inerrant inspiration here. Those who might be doing this would be another matter, and I was not speaking of such folks in my article.

  6. My apologies Bill, if I was unclear in my comments. I certainly do not put you in the same boat as false prophets. Your watchman ministry is honest and timely.

    I have no visions of extra biblical inerrancy for watchmen, prophets or pastors and so on and certainly not for myself.

    It can certainly be frustrating and perplexing at times when the heavens seem as brass, a clear word from God is not forthcoming and truth seems hidden from view.

  7. Yes thanks Troy, no probs. And sure, there are plenty of folks who go around today claiming to be prophets and who say all sorts of nonsense. They are certainly a real problem. As always, we need biblical balance here, and we must take care not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Thanks again for your thoughts. Bless you.

  8. Hi Troy Hartley I have seen several examples on internet groups I used to be a part of long ago and the biggest problem regarding false prophets is they have plenty of enablers and apologists. “Well it is filtered through this sinful flesh so sometimes thing are misheard.” Or “sometimes satan runs interference”. Problems God never had in the Bible.

    As long as there are enablers who excuse false prophecies false prophets will be with us. Not saying they have to be 100% accurate but when they keep racking up misses one has a duty to call them out. Saying we prayed and God relented occasionally will happen but not every time. When biblical illiteracy abounds and gullibility is high people will be deceived by anyone who has a charismatic personality and says I have dreamed or the Lord spoke to me. But perhaps with the church letting things get so bad perhaps we, the church in general, deserve them.

  9. Thank you Bill. I too, am a watchman. I hadn’t thought of myself as such until I read your article. I have been telling many people of late, that until our nation (USA) repents and comes humbly together in prayer, calling out to God for mercy, we must expect God’s wrath and judgement.

    I am met with scorn. Even with those in my family who call me judgemental and self-righteous for saying something rather obvious and scriptural.

    This article spoke directly to me as I have been living with these exact emotions and contrary feelings as are described. It gives me strength to know that I am not alone. God bless you and your watchman ministry. I read you often. And pray for you and your country even more.

    Christ is King

  10. Thanks for the encouragement, Bill.

    I think Ephesians 4:11-13 provide some extra context for the role of the prophetic (amongst others) in the church today – to equip the saints for works of ministry and build up the body of Christ until He returns.

    Also, I think the reference to Jeremiah 8:15 should read as 8:12.

  11. The times do seem to be grim, Bill, but I’m sure there are numerous “watchmen on the walls” within the Body of Christ. There are many prominent ones like Dr Brown, and there are those who are operating at ground level within individual churches, as well as prophetic parachurch ministries which pass on their wisdom in the prophetic to others, activating the church as well as bringing greater maturity to the emerging prophetic ministry.

    I think the most important foundational understanding of NT prophecy is found in 1 Cor. 14:3, “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (NKJV).

    In other words, prophecy is meant to build up the hearer in their faith, strengthening their foundation, giving them confidence through encouragement that what is being prophesied is God’s work, therefore it’s good and worthy of the effort.

    Comfort is not, however, what we moderns would imagine when we hear that word. It is not, “there, there, everything will be OK”. I recall reading a book by Nicky Cruz, of “The Cross and the Switchblade” fame, where he noted the fact that the Old English word for comfort had the meaning “to push towards battle”. In fact, there’s a scene on the Bayeux Tapestry of King Harold of England “comforting” his troops at the point of his lance!

    So we could think of Mel Gibson in “Braveheart” addressing his troops, or the scene in “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” when King Theoden does the same. This is what I believe Paul meant by “comfort”.

    And I think it fits well with your image of “the watchman on the walls”. It is the comfort which tells us our cause is just, our foe’s defeat is assured, and our King is invincible.

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