The Watchman

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” — John 5:24

A long time ago in a lifetime that now seems very far away, I was in the Army. During Basic Training I learned, among many other things, to stay alert on guard duty. One night my buddy and I had a two-hour shift guarding a storage facility, and in the silence of the night it would have been easy to settle down on the ground and fall asleep; if we failed the only ones in peril would be us. But our Drill Sergeant’s warnings were ringing in our ears, so we spent the entire time on our feet walking the perimeter and peering into the dark for signs of approaching threats. The only potential threat was our Drill Sergeant. We both feared him, and yet were desperate to obey him.

As we turn to Hosea chapter 9 we find the Israelites celebrating what they call the Feast of Tabernacles, or rather, their version of the feast merged with pagan harvest rituals. They are partying when Hosea walks in and rains on their parade with his pronouncement of judgment. “Rejoice not, O Israel!” (9:1)

It didn’t matter to God that they kept the name of his feast if they abandoned the original intent: to truly worship him with hearts of gratitude for the gracious gifts he continued to give. So he sent Hosea to warn them to turn from their evil. Their response, however, was not repentance but mockery, saying “The prophet is a fool; the man of the spirit is mad” (9;7). They neither feared the Lord nor were they interested in pleasing him. So Hosea tells them their sin is the reason God sent him: the same sin which causes them to mock and hate him:

because of your great iniquity
and great hatred.
The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God;
yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways,
and hatred in the house of his God.— Hosea 9:7-8

God’s righteous response to their corruption will be to “remember their iniquity [and] punish their sins” (9:9).

While the righteousness of God’s judgement rings out from the page, we must remember that it is only his mercy and steadfast lovingkindness that have stayed his hand and prevented him from destroying them. Though their deeds were evil, in faithfulness to his covenant, the LORD continued to send his prophets to Israel as watchmen.

The job of a watchman was to stand guard and watch for danger, and if needed, to sound the alarm when danger approached so the people would be ready to meet it. The military watchmen in Hosea’s day watched out for the approach of enemy armies. For these watchmen to fail in their duties was to put the whole city in imminent peril. God’s prophets watched for his coming judgement. Hosea is sounding the alarm with increasing urgency as he sees judgement drawing near, in mercy calling Israel to repent lest they be destroyed.

Hosea was not the first, nor would he be the last prophet sent by God to warn his people to turn from their sin. For “even when God sent his own Son, the Lord Jesus, in all the beauty of his character and all the grace of his loving ministry, when the message of judgement was given, the people responded by nailing him to a cross.”[1]

And yet, the cross was the gracious means by which the richness of God’s mercy and the greatness of his love would be poured out upon all who are made alive through faith in Christ. Through the blindness of their sin, the Jews of Jesus’ day rejected the urgency of his calls to repentance. Instead of heeding his alarm and embracing his message of mercy, they hurled insults at him, and plotted his death. Therefore, God poured out the full fury of his wrath—but not upon the crowds who called for his Son to be crucified. His wrath fell upon Jesus: the Son of God and the true Israel; our Redeemer. At the cross the horror of sin and the uncompromising righteousness of God meet in his covenantal conspiracy to save sinners.

Be Encouraged

With outstretched arms and nail-scarred hands, Jesus continues to call sinners to repentance. This is the message of the Bible, and it is Hosea’s message in chapter 9. Do you hear the urgency of Hosea’s cry? “The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it. . . . [God] will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins” (9:7, 9). Do you hear the urgency of Jesus’ cry? “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

Beloved, if you are not entrusting yourself to Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and eternal salvation— flee to him even now. If you are in Christ— with whom do you need to share his merciful call to repentance?

Pray With Me

Father, your mercies are so rich and beautiful, and yet I often take them for granted. Keep me alert for my own sinful ways which make a mockery of your mercy. Cause me to see the peril of despising your gifts. Renew in me the joy of my salvation and awaken within me the gratitude and love to serve you more faithfully and to share the glad tidings of your mercy with others.

[1] Richard D. Phillips, The Days of Punishment, sermon preached on Hosea 9:1-9, at Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC, 9/1/2019,

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