watches and watchers in the Bible
In biblical times, time was divided into periods between sunset and sunrise. Each period was called a watch.
Watches of the night
The watches of the night were originally three in number.
- the first watch — “…the beginning of the night watches…” —Lamentations 2:19 NASB excerpt
- “…at the beginning of the middle watch…” —Judges 7:19 NASB excerpt
- “the morning watch” (Exodus 14:24; 1 Samuel 11:11), which extended from two o'clock to sunrise.
- “Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.” —Luke 12:38 NASB excerpt
- “…in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea” —Matthew 14:25 NASB excerpt
- “…at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them…” —Mark 6:48 NASB excerpt
They are called this because watchmen relieved each other at each of these periods. There are frequent references in Scripture to the duties of watchmen who were appointed to give notice of the approach of an enemy (2 Samuel 18:24-27; 2 Kings 9:17-20; Isaiah 21:5-9).
Watchmen were sometimes on watch-towers to guard cities or regions. The remains of various ancient watchtowers have been found in Israel.
“…from watchtower to fortified city” (2 Kings 17:9; 18:8 NASB excerpt).
Ministers or teachers are also spoken of under this title.
And I set watchmen over you, saying,
‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But they said, ‘We will not listen.’ —Jeremiah 6:17 NASB
Obey your leaders and submit to them—for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account—so that they will do this with joy and not with groaning, for this would be unprofitable for you. —Hebrews 13:17 LSB
Son of man, speak to the sons of your people and say to them, ‘If I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one man from among them and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the horn and warns the people, then someone who hears the sound of the horn but does not take warning, and a sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. He heard the sound of the horn but did not take warning; his blood will be on himself. But had he taken warning, he would have saved his life.
But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the horn and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away for his wrongdoing; but I will require his blood from the watchman’s hand.’
“Now as for you, son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth and give them a warning from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will certainly die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked about his way, that wicked person shall die for his wrongdoing, but I will require his blood from your hand.
But if you on your part warn a wicked person to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die for his wrongdoing, but you have saved your life. —Ezekiel 33:2-9 NASB
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- What are watchings in the Bible?