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God’s Word for You

1 Chronicles 9:23-27 Keep watch

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, November 8, 2023

23 So they and their descendants were in charge of guarding the gates of the LORD’s house, when the house was still a tent. 24 The gatekeepers were positioned on the four sides: east, west, north, and south. 25 Their brothers who were in their villages were to take turns coming in to be with them for a seven-day shift. 26 So four chief gatekeepers, who were Levites, were given a trusted office. They were in charge of the rooms and the treasuries in God’s house. 27 They were posted around God’s house through the night, because that duty was assigned to them, and their duty was to open it every morning.

The tent of the tabernacle had four sides. Its dimensions did not change over the centuries. North and south curtain-walls were a hundred cubits long (about 150 feet), and east and west curtain-walls were fifty cubits long (about 75 feet). The guards were posted outside these curtain-walls to be sure that no one entered who was not supposed to enter. Samuel the prophet was instrumental in beginning this process of posting guards; he himself had entered into the temple service as a boy, and he had even, as a boy, opened the doors of the tabernacle for people to enter in for worship (1 Samuel 3:15).

Here we have a good example of the Levites taking turns to come to wherever the tabernacle was set up for their service. Notice that in verse 25, there is a seven-day shift. The night watches were overseen by a man who was probably called something like “the (chief) man of the tabernacle” in Samuel’s time, but became “the man of the temple mount” after Solomon’s temple was built. In the New Testament, this official is called “the captain of the temple guard” (Acts 4:1, 5:24,26). These men were concerned with the temple grounds only and not the guard of the city, so the captain of the guard who arrested Jeremiah was not a temple guard captain, but a city guard captain posted near the Benjamin gate (Jeremiah 37:12,15). Each guard was really a squad of ten men. In the temple, twenty-one positions were occupied, but in the tabernacle we have only the four positions named, corresponding to the four compass-points.

The guard captain made rounds during the night. “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night” (Luke 12:38). A sleeping guard might be struck, or his clothes might be set on fire (“Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed,” Revelation 16:15). The guards were awake all night and there was constant activity, because there were many preparations that took place during the night. Lots were cast for many different things, baths were taken, cleaning was done in general. All of this meant that it was probably a rarity for anyone to be caught sleeping who was supposed to be on duty, but the warnings were added to show how important the posting was. The Rabbis used language that Jesus picked up and applied for eternal reasons. For a Levitical teacher would say (according to the Mishnah): “Sometimes the captain of the guard came at the rooster-crow, sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later. He came and knocked and they opened to him” (Tamid 1:1). But what Jesus said applies to every Christian: “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:35-37). Our watch is of course with regard to our faith in Christ, and our vigil for his second coming. But most of us will be in our graves, the shift of our watch having come to its peaceful conclusion. “No one should be saddened by death because there is peril and hardship in living, but peace in dying and salvation in rising again” (St. Cyprian).

Let us be clear and certain about the way we apply such a passage as this one. It is right and proper to see concealed in the Old Testament what is revealed in the New, and therefore we look at the work of these watchmen with an ear tuned to the words of our Savior about watchfulness as to his own return, so that we will never be tempted to say with the unbelievers, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (2 Peter 3:4). We know that our Savior will indeed return when no one expects: “I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (Revelation 3:3). And Paul says the same thing: “You know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

At the same time, it would be right to see the law here proclaimed in the instructions of the commands about the keeping of the tabernacle as the holy place of worship, and we should rejoice that Samuel, David, and the priests and Levites were obedient in this, unlike so many of the wicked kings like Ahaz who “shut the doors of the Lord’s temple and set up altars at every street corner in Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 28:24). Following this, we also see the Lord’s continuing gospel message in the days of the tabernacle to send the Savior—which is what all of the temple and tabernacle sacrifices and services prefigured and pointed ahead to.

But we also elevate the labor of these gatekeepers in the way that God himself surely did when he received their service, done in faith, as righteous for the sake of Christ whom they longed to see. And therefore their watching was the same as our watching and waiting for Christ. They longed for his second coming as well as his first coming, while we are blessed to live after the one coming and before the other. Therefore it is still better to wait for the coming of Christ for judgment in the true fear of God every day, each hour and moment.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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