The Watchman's Taruah

Our first stop in the United States this past summer was in Oregon, where we were invited to a conference called "Love for Israel", with the main theme being "The Watchman". As we were examining the scriptures to use for our breakout session, YHVH led us to Habakkuk 2:1-2: "I will stand on my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to [literally "in"] me, and what I will answer when I am reproved. Then YHVH answered me and said: 'Write the vision and make it plain on tablets that he who reads it may run".

The watchman comes up with this statement against the backdrop of Chapter One, where we find him observing what is taking place in his own backyard, with hostility, iniquity, wickedness, strife, contention, lawlessness, and perverted justice being commonplace (see vs 1-4). But instead of attending to his task, the bewildered watchman lodges his complaint before YHVH, who apparently is not being moved by this evil. However, YHVH is about to address His messenger's grievance, but will do so in an unexpected manner. Thus He proceeds to declare: "Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days-- You would not believe if you were told" (1:5).

YHVH then goes on to describe in detail the astonishing phenomenon to which He had just alluded, that is, the "Chaldeans" whom He had been raising up. In today's geopolitical terms the land of the Chaldeans is the heartland of Islam. Here is how YHVH depicts this people group: "… fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs. They are dreaded and feared. Their justice and authority originate with themselves. All of them come for violence ("hamas"). They collect captives like sand. They mock at kings, and rulers are a laughing matter to them. They laugh at every fortress… (1:6-10). Responding to this prediction, the prophet/watchmen intones: "You, O YHVH, have appointed them to judge; and You, O Rock, have established them to correct…" (v. 12b). The watchman is now gaining understanding how the Judge of Israel will be dealing with His people who have strayed from His ways.

These "Chaldeans" are portrayed as hunters who are laying nets in order to capture their pray: "They take up all of them with a hook, They catch them in their net, and gather them in their dragnet. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they sacrifice to their net, and burn incense to their dragnet…Will they therefore empty their net and continually slay nations without sparing?" (1:15-17 emphasis mine). The Hebrew word for "net" here is "cherem", being the very word that is used in Malachi 4:6: "And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children [Heb. – "sons"], and the hearts of the children [Heb. – "sons"] to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a "cherem" [generally translated "curse"].

Interestingly, the watchman, as he is described in Chapter Two verses 1-2 is watching to hear what YHVH would speak ("into him", as mentioned above). How does one watch to hear? Obviously YHVH is putting his messenger through a season of training. To be well prepared for his task he needs to become one with the vision. In fact, he is also being reproved, so that he would become the very "proof" of this vision (similarly, "proof" is also embedded within the Hebrew noun used here for "reproof"). Therefore when time comes for passing on the message, there will be an impartation, or infusion, of the vision. The vision will be so clear, that there will be no guessing as to what is being seen and heard. What's more, in the injunction of making the message "plain on tablets" (2:2) is a hidden reference to the Torah, as if YHVH is responding to the prophet's earlier complaint, "the Torah is ignored" (1:4). "Making plain" is "ba'er", which is used only in Deuteronomy 1:5 and 27:8, in both cases in relationship to Moses expounding on the Torah. The verb b.e.r. shares its root with the noun "be'er", which is a "well". Thus, the elucidated words of the Torah are likened to deep and thirst-quenching water. Additionally, the watchman is told to inscribe these Torah-based words on "lu'chot", tablets, the very same word used for the tablets that Moses brought down from the Mountain, as well as for the "tablets of the heart" (ref. Is. 30:8; Jer.17:1). Could these references to Torah also have something to do with the above-mentioned Malachi 4:4, where YHVH charges His people to remember the Torah of Moses and its commands and warns of the consequences of turning away from them?

Once the watchman is fully prepared to pass on the vision, "the one who reads it may run" (2:2b) with a good cause, because he is to issue a warning to YHVH's people, to turn from their evil and wicked ways. Hence they are described as"… the proud one, his soul is not right within him…Furthermore, wine betrays the haughty man, so that he does not stay at home. He enlarges his appetite like Sheol, and he is like death, never satisfied. He also gathers to himself all nations and collects to himself all peoples. Will not all of these take up a taunt-song against him, even mockery and insinuations against him, and say, 'Woe to him who increases what is not his-- For how long-- and makes himself rich with loans?' Will not your creditors rise up suddenly, and those who collect from you awaken? Indeed, you will become plunder for them. Because you have looted many nations, all the remainder of the peoples will loot you-- Because of human bloodshed and violence done to the land, to the town and all its inhabitants. Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house to put his nest on high to be delivered from the hand of calamity! You have devised a shameful thing for your house by cutting off many peoples; so you are sinning against yourself" (Hab. 2:5-10). This text is quite descriptive of what have been standard practices within the Judeo-Christian nations. The prophet Jeremiah warns that YHVH will first send the fishers, and then the hunters (ref. Jeremiah 16:16), which is once again a reference to Islam, as both Ishmael and Esau were hunters.

Will Ephraim, who has been dubbed "a watchman with my Elohim, a prophet;" (Hosea 9:8), pick up the mantle and follow through? Or will he be "a snare of a fowler in all his ways, [with] hatred in the house of his Elohim" (cont. Hos. 8)? Will he be the watchman/guard on Mount Ephraim who calls out, "let us go to Zion to YHVH our Elohim" (Jer. 31:6)? Or will he be likened to the "blind watchmen" and the "dumb dogs" who are "greedy" and "not satisfied" (Is. 56:10,11), much like those who were described above in Habbakuk 2:6,8,9 and 10?

At the Portland conference Ezekiel 33:7 was used as a launching pad: "Son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me". These words are couched in the following solemn context: "Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them: 'When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet [shofar] and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet [shofar] and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet [shofar], but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet [shofar] , and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand" (Ezekiel 33:2-6).

On this Yom Teruah may the watchmen attend to their task and stand on the ramparts with the silver trumpets and shofars and blow a clear and distinct call to repentance (Daniel 9: 4-19; Nehemiah 1: 5-11; Nehemiah 9: 5-38)!

With a very sobering Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same'ach,
September 18, 2009, Ephraim Frank, Israel

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