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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Watchman, what of the night?

“Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night.”—Isa. 21:11, 12, Authorized Version.

THE world is passing through a “night”! It is now approaching the darkest period of this figurative night. What will be the look of things when the morning dawns remains to be seen. What is disturbing mankind more and more is the worsening of the state of human affairs in every aspect of life. World history times this as beginning with the first world war. Politicians, religious clergymen, social leaders and economists may think they see some rays of dawn and may try to spark up good cheer. But there is no solid reason to be optimistic about the tottering system of things.

The coming of this “night” was seen decades in advance. The available records of the past century prove that. The dawning of the brightest “day” in all human history was also foreseen. It was called to public notice by word of mouth and printed page.

A magazine that now has a circulation of millions of copies each issue, in scores of languages, bears witness to that fact. When its first issue appeared in July of 1879 the magazine was entitled “Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.” That first issue contained eight pages, and its page size was greater than that of the magazine today. It had a timely mission to fulfill. This was hinted at in that its title contained the meaningful words “Watch Tower.” Fittingly, then, at the masthead under the title there appeared the significant quotation from the most ancient book on earth. It read: “Watchman, What of the Night?” “The Morning Cometh.” Those words were quoted from the Holy Bible, from the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 21, verses 11, 12, according to the King James or Authorized Version. In Bible times a watchman was associated with a watchtower on the wall of a fortified city. This elevated position provided a fine lookout. The publishers of the magazine purposed to serve as a watchman class. By means of the columns of the magazine, the publishers endeavored to answer the question, “Watchman, what of the night?” That challenging question continued to appear on the first page of the magazine down to its issue of December 15, 1938.

When the Watch Tower magazine first appeared on July 1, 1879, with a modest printing of 6,000 copies, the world stage was taking on a portentous appearance. The Franco-German War of 1870 had been fought, and the second German Reich or Empire had emerged. An arms race was due to develop between the British Empire and the rival German Empire. In 1878 the Berlin Congress of Nations had been held for settling the Eastern Question that involved the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire between European empires, particularly Britain and Russia. Consequential future hostilities between nations threatened!

It was indeed a time for looking into the prophecies of the Bible to see whether they had anything at all to say about the meaning of world events and their outcome. Appropriately, on January 1, 1895, the Watch Tower magazine changed its front-cover design to show a corner watchtower at the edge of a raging sea. Also, at the bottom of the page under this new design, the magazine displayed the following words based on Luke 21:25-31 (AV) in italic letters: “Upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves (the restless, discontented) roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear and for looking forward to the things coming upon the earth (society); for the powers of the heavens (ecclesiasticism) shall be shaken. . . . When ye see these things come to pass, then know that the Kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Look up, lift up your heads, rejoice, for your redemption draweth nigh.—Luke 21:25-28-31.”

The Spanish-American War followed in 1898 with losses to the Spanish Empire. In 1899 came the Boer War in South Africa, with gains for the British Empire. The international arms race speeded up. When the aeroplane was invented, it allowed for warfare in the skies. By then, too, successful forms of submarines had been invented and used in warfare. Thus the 20th century promised to be an exciting time for the “watchman” class to report on to anxious inquirers. Especially so, since the “watchman” class expected the “times of the Gentiles” to end in autumn of 1914.—Luke 21:24, AV.


The inquiry in Isaiah 21:11, addressed to the “watchman,” finds itself couched in a setting breathing war. The context that follows reads: “The pronouncement against the desert plain: In the forest in the desert plain you will spend the night, O caravans of men of Dedan. To meet the thirsty one bring water. O you inhabitants of the land of Tema, confront the one fleeing away with bread for him. For because of the swords they have fled away, because of the drawn sword, and because of the bent bow and because of the heaviness of the war. For this is what Jehovah has said to me: ‘Within yet a year, according to the years of a hired laborer, all the glory of Kedar must even come to its end. And the ones remaining over of the number of bowmen, the mighty men of the sons of Kedar, will become few, for
Jehovah himself, the God of Israel, has spoken it.’”—Isa. 21:13-17.

Likewise, the “pronouncement” that precedes the exchange of words between the inquirer and the watchman breathes of warfare. So there is reason for concern on the part of the inquirer. Where is the inquirer located? Evidently in the path of a world conqueror. Isaiah 21:11 reads: “The pronouncement against Dumah: To me there is one calling out from Seir: “Watchman, what about the night? Watchman, what about the night?’”

The name of the place against which the pronouncement is aimed is called Dumah, a name that means “Silence.” Evidently the name is prophetic, predicting that the place is to become marked by silence. The name does not necessarily mean that the silence due to desolation and death already reigns there. Dumah’s location is indicated by the fact that the call to the watchman comes from Seir, the land of Seir. This land is associated with Idumea, the country of Edom. This may account for it that the Greek Septuagint Version speaks of Idumea instead of Dumah. Edom was the nickname that was given to Esau, the older twin brother of Jacob. The people of the land of Edom opposed the nation of Jacob, or the nation of Israel.

Jacob’s older twin brother was called Esau, which means “hairy,” because he was hairy at birth. The name Seir means “hairy or shaggy,” but the land of that name was not so called because of Esau. His descendants took over the land of Seir by conquering the original inhabitants. Esau, or Edom, is notorious for having been willing to sell the birthright of a firstborn son to Jacob. Jehovah, the God of Jacob, recognized the sale and conferred the divine blessing upon the purchaser, Jacob. For this reason Jacob became hated by Esau. Little cause for amazement, then, that, when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E., Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, gave way to glee over the terrible calamity upon their brother nation, Israel. This national disaster, together with the carrying of the surviving Israelites into Babylonia, took place in the century after Isaiah’s prophecy about the watchman.

Where, though, is the location of the watchman to whom the inquirer in the Edomite land of Seir directs his inquiry? The prophecy concerning the inquirer and the watchman was given by Isaiah, and he found himself in the yet free land of Israel. So the source of the watchman’s answer lay in the land of Israel, regardless of where the Israelites came to find themselves at the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. At the time of the giving of the prophecy Isaiah represented the watchman appointed at God’s command to give the correct answer to the inquiry. Isaiah and his children had the divine approbation. Very appropriately, then, Isaiah pictured the “watchman” class of today, the remnant of spiritual Israelites who have the heavenly inheritance. These are the ones who have been enlightened with regard to the darksome world situation today.

In 1879 C.E., the editor of the Watch Tower magazine and his associates were fully dedicated, baptized Christians. They offered themselves to serve as a watchman group in behalf of their spirit-anointed Christian brothers. All of these together made up a larger “watchman” class. They could not dodge the then arising question, “Watchman, what of the night?” The only trustworthy answer that they could give was that which God’s inspired Word put into the mouth of the watchman of old. This was, in effect, “The morning cometh, and also the night.” (Isa. 21:12, AV) Ah, yes, according to the outlook given by Jehovah God a brighter period, “the morning,” had to come. This would usher in the millennium, or thousand years, of the reign of Jehovah’s Messiah, his glorified Son Jesus. But before that there had to come “the night” of world distress!

Doubtless, because of the promised “morning” that was to usher in the millennial reign of Christ, the series of Studies in the Scriptures that the editor of the Watch Tower began to publish in 1886 was called “Millennial Dawn.” And under that title were quoted the words of Proverbs 4:18, AV: “The Path of the Just is as the Shining Light, Which Shineth More and More Unto the Perfect Day.” But it was “the night” over which the inquirer in the land of Seir was so concerned. In the days of the prophet Isaiah any darkness of “the night” that rested upon the Edomite land of Seir was due to thicken. This would be the case as that land came under the domination of a new world conqueror, one favoring, not the Edomites of Mount Seir, but, rather, the brother nation of Israel.

Today, more than a century after the Watch Tower magazine first appeared, worldly people who are groping for the light continue to raise the pressing question, “What about the night?” The only one that has the valid answer to that question is the “watchman” class. This class has not been at a loss for the right answer, the Bible answer. It has welcomed all further inquiry, just as in Isaiah’s prophecy the watchman went on to say: “If you people would inquire, inquire. Come again!”—Isa. 21:12.

To that end the Watch Tower magazine has continued to be published until now. Just as a literal watchman has to keep awake all the time at his guard post, so the Watch Tower magazine has kept awake and has not missed an issue since its first issue in July of 1879. This has been true despite the worldwide persecution upon the “watchman” class during World Wars I and II. It has reported on the progress of “the night,” not being afraid to announce that it will reach its darkest point in “the war of the great day of God the Almighty” at what Bible prophecy calls Har–Magedon. Thus the anointed “watchman” class keeps on fulfilling its commission to “proclaim . . . the day of vengeance on the part of our God.”—Rev. 16:14-16; Isa. 61:1, 2.

- July 1, 1980 Watchtower, WTB&TS