Episode 38. October 16, 2016. As I record this episode, the winds and rain of Typhoon Karen are upon us here in Manila. Perhaps a fitting time for this week’s topic: Being a watchman to warn of impending danger.
In response to the rebellion of Jehoiakim of Judah in 601 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian ruler, besieged Jerusalem. In 597, Jehoiakim’s successor, Jehoiachin, surrendered and Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah to be king and deported Jehoiachin and the royal family, along with 3000 members of the upper class, along with Ezekiel to Babylon. Ezekiel’s ministry took place in the context of the exile. He was a contemporary of Jeremiah and Lehi and a priest from the tribe of Levi. He settled in Tell-Abib near Chobin in Babylonia, and seems to have spent the rest of his life there. Today one can find the tomb of Ezekiel in modern day southern Iraq. It is estimated that Ezekial died in 570 BC at the age of 52.
Much of Ezekiel’s ministry centered on issues concerning the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in 586 BC. He spent much of his time telling the exiles that they should not expect a quick return to their homeland, but rather they should focus on living in exile in obedience to God.
So with that as a background, I want to start by reading 4 verses from the 3rd chapter of Ezekiel that talks about Ezekiel’s call as a watchman over the House of Israel. I am hopeful we can all learn something from these verses about what it means to be a watchman, or for that matter, a watchwoman.
These verses are found in the third chapter of Ezekiel, verses 17-20.
“Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.”
In other words, we are to hear the word of the Lord and give warning both to the wicked and the righteous. When we do this, our souls are delivered regardless of the actions of those we warn. If we do not, the Lord warns, then the Lord will hold us responsible. This is consistent with Jacob’s words in Jacob 1:19 that I talked about in episode 36 where it says that he and his brother would be answering the sins of the people upon their own heads if they did not teach them the word of God with all diligence.
So what is required to be a valiant watchman or watchwoman? Ezekiel mentions three things:
- Surveillance of the surrounding country from a watchtower. We must be actively looking. A blind watchman (spiritually speaking) is of little use.
- Early identification of any hostile force invading the land. We have to be able to recognize the enemy and see his approach.
- To warn the citizens of the invasion. We must be able and willing to sound the warning. A watchman who cannot blow the trumpet is no watchman at all.
There is a powerful parable found in section 101 of the Doctrine and Covenants that helps us understand this concept of a watchman even more. Here is a brief summary of the parable: A loving nobleman had 12 olive trees that he wanted to protect so he instructed his servants to guard them. To do so, they built a hedge to protect against any intrusion and they were also to build a tower where a watchman could keep watch for the enemy. However, the servants, in the process of performing their work, became slothful and decided that building a tower was too much work and therefore they discounted the instructions from the nobleman, and fell asleep. While they were thus sleeping, the enemy came and destroyed the olive trees (see D&C 101:44-62).
In a BYU devotional address on June 5, 2007, Elder Earl C. Tingey spoke about this parable and explained what he believed each of the 8 key components represented.
- The nobleman is Jesus Christ.
- The choice land is where we live right now. It is our ward and it is our stake.
- The twelve olive trees represent individuals and families in our ward or stake. Each family is precious, growing, living.
- There was a watchman to stand on the tower. Elder Tingey says this represents not only the prophets and apostles, but local priesthood leaders as well.
- The servants are the members of the church
- The tower is the symbolic point of elevation. It represents revelation, the prophets, scriptures and most importantly the Temple. All of these things help us to see more clearly things as they really are.
- The hedge represents the standards of the church such as we find in the “For Strength of Youth” pamphlet.
- The enemy is Satan with all of his tools: Pornography, deceit, discouragement, fear, envy and lust….to name a few.
So what do we need to do to be better watchmen and watchwomen? My guess is that many listening today are already beginning to have whisperings of the spirit in regards to things you should do.
May I suggest just three things?
- Spend more time in spiritual preparation so that we might live our lives on this symbolic point of elevation. The higher we climb, the more we will see. Study the scriptures more thoroughly, study the conference talks more consistently and be in the temple more frequently. In March 2009, Elder Robert D. Hales spoke about the importance of higher ground. Here is what he said: “To seek spiritual high ground is to rise above the world and the temptation and follow our Savior.” He went on to say that “Good friends keep us on high ground. Good friends strengthen us and help us to live the commandments when we are with them. True friends will not make us choose between the Lord’s ways and their ways.” He then asked, “How do we get to the high ground and stay there?” And then his answer, “First we must desire and seek to always be faithful in gospel teachings, commandments, and covenants. We must seek the blessings, which come from such obedience. We do this by cultivating an atmosphere in which the Spirit can always abide with us. Once on high ground, we stay there through obedience to the commandments, study, and prayer, living principles of provident living and self-reliance, preparing for and honoring Temple covenants, and building strong marriages and families.”
- Spend more time effectively teaching and warning those for whom we have stewardship as well as our non-member friends and neighbors. This starts with our own family and especially our children. Each of us has others we are responsible for watching over as well. Families we home teach or sisters you have been asked to visit teach. We have made covenants to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Are we doing enough in this regard? In reference to our non-member friends and neighbors, in 1998 Elder Eyring suggested three ways we can warn them. He said, “Love always comes first. A single act of kindness will seldom be enough. The Lord described the love we must feel, and that those we invite must recognize in us, with words like these: “Charity suffereth long,” and it ‘beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things’. Second, we will need to be better examples of what we invite others to do. The third thing we must do better is to invite with testimony. Love and example will open the way. But we still have to open our mouths and bear testimony.” Love, Example, Testimony. A good way to remember this is by the word LET. L-E-T. And the scripture in Matthew that starts with the words “Let your light so shine…”
- Keep our covenants, live the standards of the church and teach our families to live them too. I hope you have your own For Strength of Youth pamphlet and that along with the other standards in the booklet; modesty, inappropriate media and music are never an issue in our homes. In April 2004 in another address, Elder Earl C. Tingey spoke about the importance of church standards. “Unfortunately, we are seeing the removal of traditional standards of morality and behavior in today’s world. The vernacular of today is “anything goes.” The world views time-honored standards as old-fashioned or out-of-date. We belong to a church where adhering to standards is expected. Things that have always been wrong in the past are still wrong today. The Church does not modify standards of morality by adapting to changing customs or to the mores of the societies in which we live.” He continued, “The Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation that establishes how we may know today which voices to listen to—what standards to follow. In this revelation, our time, or generation, was referred to as a time when men would “see an overflowing scourge” and “a desolating sickness [would] cover the land.” The Lord then gave the standard of safety that will protect faithful followers. He said, “But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved.”
We live in a time when the tsunamis of sin, the hurricanes hopelessness and the floods of falsehood are swirling all around us. We must be the watchmen and the watchwomen for those we love. We must be on higher ground so that we can see what is happening and then we must warn and protect those in our circles.
I want to end today, by going back to the book of Ezekiel. This time I will reference four verses in the 33rd chapter. The verses are 3, 4, 7 and 9. It is obvious that this concept is very important to the Lord, because it is extremely similar to the verses I quoted earlier from Chapter 3. I think it bears repeating here as well with these slightly different words. Here is what they say: “If when he (meaning the watchman) seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.” May we all deliver our own souls!
We all have the responsibility to be watchmen and watchwomen. May we each make it our priority to get to higher ground, see with our spiritual eyes what is happening, and then warn those around us. It is what is expected of a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is what is expected of us.