Watchman! What of the Night?

Isaiah 21:11‑12  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Here and there in Scripture we find different minds brought into contact with the same moral perplexity. For instance, the prosperity of the wicked; and we see the different way in which this perplexity was dealt with.
Jeremiah took it at once to God, as a thing too hard for himself. This was dealing rightly and religiously with it. (See Jer. 12)
David was overwhelmed by it, and spoke impatiently under it. His soul, however, was sweetly restored at the last. (See Psa. 73)
Ecclesiastes contemplates the wicked taking advantage of God's long-suffering, or delay, in judging the works of iniquity, leaving man still to prosper in his wickedness. (See 8:11.)
Malachi speaks of a generation who exceed even this, challenging the God of judgment because of this same thing, the prosperity of the wicked. (See 2:27; 3:14, 15.)
These are instances of what I mean; the same moral perplexity differently dealt with by different minds. But this last case from Malachi shows exceeding wickedness. Judgment is scoffed at, the thought of it, as it were, ridiculed, because evil-doers were still prospering -and this naturally introduces us to a meditation on Isa. 21:11,1211The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? 12The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come. (Isaiah 21:11‑12).
Dumah or Idumea, the land of Esau, was the land of the profane one, the man of the world, the infidel. The voice of the scorner is heard in that land: it challenges one of God's watchmen, asking, " What of the night?"
This tells us, that that watchman had been already talking of the night. And this evidences his faithfulness to his commission; for a part of our testimony, under the Spirit, is to " the night"- the present night-time of man's world, or the coming solemn, dark, night-time of God's judgments. The very challenge of the profane Edomite, I say, evidences that the watchmen had been faithful, that he both understood and discharged his ministry. Prophets and apostles largely tell us of " the night." They speak abundantly of judgment preceding and introducing the kingdom or the age of glory; and the watchman here challenged had been in their company, in " the goodly fellowship of the prophets." And he is not one who has to recall his words. Having already spoken of the night, be still speaks of it; for in answer to the challenge he says, " the morning cometh and also the night." He can talk of " the morning," it is true, but he will not refuse to tell of " the night " also, however the thought of it may be scorned. Glory in the time of the Lord's presence, or in the morning of His appearing, will come; but the dark, solemn season of judgment must go before it, as all the prophets witness.
This is the watchman's faithfulness. He maintains his testimony to " the night," though telling of " the morning" likewise. He declares that judgment is coming, as well as the kingdom in its glory. But there must be grace as well as faithfulness in the watchman's ministry; he therefore has a word for the scorner's conscience. It could not satisfy him to tell of the terrors of judgment without some seasonable word of warning, some " seeking to persuade men," as the apostle says. (2 Cor. 5:1111Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. (2 Corinthians 5:11).) Accordingly he adds here, in answer to the Edomite's challenge, " If ye will inquire, inquire ye; return, come." He warns the scoffer to be of another mind: and if he inquire at all, to inquire in a due spirit, a spirit of repentance; to " return" from his mocking of God's servant and his testimony, and to " come " in a believing, worshipping mind to lay his question before the Lord.
All this constitutes something beautiful. This combination of faithfulness and grace gives us a fine sample, though so short and small, of the ministry of all watchmen under the Spirit of God. He insists on the truth of God, and will not qualify it, but seeks likewise to press it on the acceptance of the conscience of sinners.
Now, 2 Peter 3 is called to mind by this short, impressive oracle on Dumah in Isa. 21 For in that chapter we listen to the voice of a scoffer again, and again get the answer of the Spirit of God.
The scoffer challenges the promise of the Lord's coining. And this evidences that such a promise had been part of the previous testimony-just, as I was observing, the challenge of the Edomite in Isa. 21 evidenced that the watchman had been already talking of the night. And the scoffer here would make good his challenge by a fair piece of reasoning, as it is judged to be. " Where is the promise of his coming?" he tauntingly asks; and then he says, " For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." They dispute with the mystery of the Lord's coming on the authority of the general course of nature, and of national events; and all this is in the spirit of "Watchman, what of the night?"
The apostle answers. He lets this scorner know, that things from the beginning of the creation (as the scorner himself had spoken) had taken their course, not by mere force of cause and effect, and established laws and analogies, but that all, in successive ages, had depended on divine good pleasure or the word of God; that by that word, the heavens were of old and the earth also; that by the same word the flood had come; and that by the same word we have now another heaven and earth which waits its doom by fire at the pleasure of the same word of God.
This is a fine answer from this New Testament Watchman to the Edomite of his day. And having done this, he turns to give exhortations to the saints, on the ground of coming judgment and coming glory; that is, on the ground of " the night" and " the morning" of the prophet. And he would fain have them "grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior," and hold to their steadfastness of faith., and hope in the midst of the reasonings of the scoffers. And, further, he would have them able to interpret the delay of this coming which the scoffers were rebuking, and resolve it into the most blessed and gracious of all purposes, " the salvation of God."
I do indeed read this chapter from Peter as a fine New Testament scripture in connection with the oracle of Isaiah over the land of Edom. The scoffer of the last days of Christendom is found in company with the profane Edomite in the days of the kings of Israel. And I ask, is not the present, among other characters which it bears, a day of Edomite profaneness and scorning, and a day when the Lord's watchmen, like Isaiah and like Peter, should know what to do and how to answer? Surely this is so. Who can mistake it? Present times are full of meaning. Political revolutions and christian activities are giving them a character which is far out of the common.
In the Lord's dealings with the it has always been "the night" and " the morning"-the morning of glory or the day of the kingdom, and the night of judgment clearing the way and cleansing the scene.
In. Noah's time this was so-the judgment by the deluge went forth and did its work, and then the new world shone out. The sword of Joshua judged the nations of Canaan, and then the land was divided among the tribes, and the glory seated itself there._ David's victories cleared the way for the throne of Solomon. And so with the world or the earth now. Night is in the prospect, the Apocalyptic night-the judgments, whether under seals, trumpets, or vials, which the Apocalypse discloses. And morning is likewise in the prospect, the Apocalyptic morning-the kingdom where the saints shall live and reign with Christ a thousand years; and the bride in her beauty shall descend, having the glory in her. So that if any inquire, " What of the night?" as far as the future of the earth is concerned, the answer still is," The morning cometh and also the night."