Waiting Like a Watchman

The Andy Griffith Show received a lot of airtime in my house when I was growing up. To this day, I can quote lines and remember episodes that I haven’t seen for twenty years. One episode in particular involved an elderly security guard at the ironically named Mayberry Security Bank. Fans of the show will probably recall Asa, snoozing in his chair with a broken gun and shamefully slow reflexes. Deputy Barney Fife recognizes Asa’s many shortcomings as a watchman and takes steps to help Mayberry Security Bank live up to its name. As you can imagine, comedy ensues. 

My apologies to anyone in the security profession, because I’m afraid that old Asa has forever etched himself in my head as my mental picture of night watchmen. I do know, however, that this image is inaccurate. Security guards must possess trained senses of perception, quick reflexes, and a keen ability to stay awake and alert for hours during the night. Undoubtedly the psalmist had professionals like these in mind when he wrote the critical center verse of Psalm 130: 

I wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning—more than watchmen for the morning. (Psalm 130:6)

Verse 6 is critical for at least two reasons. First, the writer repeats the key line. Repetition from a master writer is always intentional and worth noticing. Second, he puts it in the middle of his chiasm, a literary form reminiscent of an X (or, its namesake, the Greek letter chi). The beginning and end match, the two lines on either side of the middle match, and the middle forms the crux of the piece. 

In Psalm 130, the chiasm works like this: 

vv. 1–4: Repentance and Forgiveness (individual)
           v. 5 Waiting and Hoping (individual)
                     v. 6 Waiting like a watchman
            v. 7 Waiting and hoping (corporate)
            v. 8 Repentance/Forgiveness (corporate)

This psalm contains some wonderful pictures of God’s forgiveness and redemption, but we cannot miss the significance of the middle verse. We must understand what it means to wait like a watchman. 

The Work Is Done; Rest Awaits

A night watchman eagerly awaits the dawn, first, because it marks the end of his work. His vigilance will come to an end, and he’ll be able to let his guard down. He’ll greet his replacements, update them on any happenings throughout the night, and leave the building, officially off the clock and ready for some shut-eye. No doubt in the middle of his shift, when the caffeine buzz starts to wear off and his feet are tired from standing and walking, he thinks about the end of his shift. He can’t wait for the morning and the end of his work. 

As followers of Christ, waiting like a watchman presupposes working like that watchman. I don’t mean that we should busy ourselves trying to manipulate every number in Revelation into the exact date of Christ’s return—that’s a Trojan horse that our enemy would love to send into our camp. Instead, we need to be busy fighting sin (Rom. 6:11), keeping a sharp eye out for the subtle Serpent (Gen. 3:1; 1 Pet. 5:8), and warning others who will not stand when the Lord takes an accounting of iniquities (Psalm 130:3). The Master has called us to arduous work, from which we should long to rest. 

However, I must confess that as a “watchman” for the Lord’s coming, I am much more like Asa at the Mayberry Bank than like a Beefeater in front of Buckingham Palace. Sure, I’m “on the clock” waiting for the Lord to return, but I’m often lazy about it. I don’t look forward to the morning when my work will end because I’m comfortable right here snoozing in my chair. And I’m too busy entertaining myself instead of holding vigil to even notice the time. 

My heart isn’t set on the sun rising because I’m just having too much fun as it is. Fighting sin sounds like something I should start doing tomorrow; watching out for the Devil and his sneaky tricks is something pastors should be doing, not me. And warning other people? I’ll do it when the time is right. The truth is, I’m much more like the lazy servant who buried his master’s money and earned his wrath than one of the servants who did his work faithfully in the master’s absence (Matt. 25:14–30). 

How about you? 

Darkness Lifts, the Danger Is Past

The old adage, “Nothing good happens after midnight,” explains why night watchmen have such an important job. While some thieves have the audacity to commit a robbery in broad daylight, often burglary takes place at night, under the cover of darkness and while most of the world sleeps. Overnight security guards in the psalmist’s day had to recognize that they alone stood between a criminal and his desired end. Another reason watchmen no doubt await the morning with great anticipation is that the dawn spells the end of the most likely time for a thief or kidnapper to strike—the end of danger. 

Allow me to switch the metaphor for a moment. Imagine that someone you love is gravely ill, and the doctor tells you that if that person lives through the night, their chances of survival will increase dramatically. That night you wait by your loved one’s side, barely closing your eyes, willing their lungs to keep breathing and their heart to keep beating. Why the vigil this night? You’ve never done it before. You wait and watch and forfeit sleep because you know the grave danger this person is in. Like the watchman, you wait for the morning as you’ve never waited before. 

One reason that I fail to wait for the Lord with the same fervor as the nightwatchman is that I ignore the danger that the darkness holds. I know that the enemy lurks in the darkness for me, my family, and my neighbors; yet I often live as if he wouldn’t dare attack us. I know that temptation awaits me around every corner, yet I don’t pray as Jesus did, “Lord, lead me not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13). Souls all around me perish every day without the hope of eternal life while I go about my business as if this life is all there is. Often, I simply choose to ignore the danger. 

Any security guard who waited through the night like I do would quickly find himself unemployed. He would fail to make hourly rounds, binge-watch old reruns of Seinfeld instead of checking the security cameras, and accidentally leave the doors unlocked or his keys lying unguarded on the desk. This type of guard dreads the morning and the arrival of his boss to work. 

Do you ignore the danger or keep vigil because of it? 

A Cry from the Depths

Psalm 130 is a cry from “the depths” (v. 1). The psalmist, mired in the cares, afflictions, and sins of the world, yearns for the day when his Lord would set everything right. He recognizes that he cannot fight sin on his own (v. 2) and puts his hope squarely in God and His Word (v. 4). He models for us how to wait like a watchman. We must recognize the dangers, cling to the Word, and stay alert. 

We hope in the morning of our Master’s return when the work will be over and the danger past.

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About the Author

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson lives in a small Minnesota town with her husband, son and daughter, and ridiculous black dog. She enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and coaching basketball. You can read more of her musings about God's Word at biblestudynerd.com.

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