As I was recently reading the Bible in one hand, and considering current Israeli reality on the “other hand,” I came upon verses about a watchman. And suddenly I realized the obvious – the modern IDF watchmen in Israel are the thousands of young soldiers who work in military intelligence – most of them donning green berets.
In the days of the Bible, Israel had no remote SIGINT (electronic signals intelligence gathering) to monitor the threats from Gaza, Damascus and beyond. Therefore the kings of Judah set up a series of mountaintop outpost lookout stations manned by watchmen on the lookout for enemy armies approaching. One such lookout tower was recently discovered and excavated by modern day IDF paratroopers, roughly between Jerusalem and Gaza, with a clear line of sight to both areas. The watchman stood ready to light a beacon fire signaling danger. Visual signals in ancient Israel were augmented by “runners” carrying battle messages to headquarters (2 Samuel 18).
When the watchmen were located within earshot, a shofar/trumpet blast provided the warning signal to prepare for battle. The shofar in the days of the prophets, was a traumatic sound. Therefore Amos wrote:
“If a ram’s horn sounds an alarm in a city, will the people not tremble?!” (Amos 3:6, and see Joel 2:1)
Feel the immediacy of the warning signal of the trumpet… Jeremiah, under imminent threat of a merciless Babylonian conquest had already viscerally experienced the calamity:
“My innards, my innards! I am anguished at the core of my being. My heart is pounding in me. I cannot keep silent, for I have heard the sound of the shofar; My soul, the trumpet-blast of war.” (Jeremiah 4:19)
Today’s military version of the ram’s horn is the wail of the warning siren which also has traumatic overtones for all Israelis. This is especially true for those living next to the Gaza Strip who have run to their bomb shelters hundreds of times under rocket fire.
Today’s watchmen are as likely to be watching a computer screen or listening to intercepted communications in Arabic or Persian, as they are to be peering across a border fence with binoculars.
How many countries have designed and launched reconnaissance satellites? Israel recently launched its newest satellite (“Ofek 13”) to watch Iran and other enemies from high above and discover what they are trying to do before it’s too late. Tiny Israel is one of only 11 countries that have produced their own rocket and satellite systems. The first was “Ofek 1” in 1988. Israel’s satellites are in “low earth orbit.” Each one circles the globe once every hour and a half, at a height of roughly 500 kilometers. By now, Israel’s growing satellite network can provide all-weather sensing as well as discern objects as small as a briefcase.
With our backs against the wall, the IDF has no other option but to invest heavily in these watchman capabilities. Sometimes the intel even overflows to help Israel’s allies. For example, the large IDF intel unit 8200 foiled the plot to blow up an airplane flying from Australia to Abu Dhabi. Israel’s intelligence units are known for grabbing up many of the country’s 18-year-old “whiz kids” fresh out of high school. Unit 8200 and associated cyber units harness these young, creative “digital native” minds to pull Israeli capabilities forward in the newest of battlefronts. Due to the highly classified nature of the Israeli intelligence work, only general descriptions and blurred photos can be published.
Today’s watchmen also come in the form of devoted young IDF watchwomen who watch their computer screens. They are called “lookouts” – in Hebrew “tazpitaniot.” They remotely monitor video cameras and additional technology tools, on the borders and in other “hot spots.”
Maintaining the IDF edge in sophistication in all these “watchman” areas is critical to saving lives from terrorist attacks every day. But the fancy remote technology is not enough. A whole new “Combat Watchman” Corps with khaki-colored berets, was inaugurated by the IDF in 2000 for collecting visual information on the battlefield and rapidly transferring it to other forces. Their tools include camouflage, binoculars and quadcopter drones. Even with all of today’s cyber/internet/electronics efforts, the Israeli army still experiences the increasing need for watchmen to physically be on the scene to create observational networks.
What threat was the prophet to watch for?
In Ezekiel 33 the prophet received a divine message referencing the watchman paradigm that was chillingly familiar to the Israelites – living in those perilous times of Assyrian and Babylonian invasions.
The sobering passage in Ezekiel stated that he was to be a watchman – warning the people, but warning them of what?
One might naturally assume that Ezekiel was being warned to be on the watch for idolatrous pagan armies, or idolatry in general, or for evil spiritual forces, temptations, sin and the like.
But no. Here in the Hebrew scriptures we have this counterintuitive, mind-bending message:
“…Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and warn them of Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood…” (Ezekiel 33:7-8)
It was a mandate to soberly warn and implore: “Avoid impending divine judgment by changing your ways.” It’s reminiscent of what a rabbi from Nazareth once said:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear the One who is able to destroy both soul and body…”
This Ezekiel watchman passage is joined by the one in Isaiah 62. “I have set watchmen on your walls O Jerusalem…” Come to think of it, a large, international project is underway to connect millions over the internet, to the Isaiah 62 prayer mandate for Israel.
Who can possibly be mandated to give such stern warnings, flowing from a heart motive of mercy?
Who are today’s watchmen and watchwomen?
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