28 And now I say unto you that the time shall come that the salvation of the Lord shall be declared to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
29 Yea, Lord, thy watchmen shall lift up their voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.
A watchman is a person who is responsible to look out for the welfare of others. In particular, watchmen need to remain alert, identify approaching dangers accurately, and warn people quickly and clearly so that they have time to take defensive action.
Nearly every reference to watchmen in the Old Testament relates to this responsibility for the safety of others. For example, Ezekiel teaches us about the role of prophets by comparing them with watchmen. He describes the responsibilities of watchmen and of their listeners when an army attacks a city (Ezekiel 33:1-9, Ezekiel 3:17-21). Similarly, in section 101 of the Doctrine and Covenants, there is an extensive parable in which watchmen are reproved for failing to take appropriate precautions in protecting a vineyard and finding themselves unprepared when the enemy attacks (D&C 101:43-62).
With this context, the verse Abinadi quotes in the passage above (Isaiah 52:8) is ironic. Watchmen don’t sing. If they make any noise at all, it is to raise an alarm, not to rejoice. Watchmen from different cities or nations don’t “see eye to eye.” It’s their job to watch for the enemy and to view actions by other groups of people with suspicion. But as Abinadi explains in the passage above, this prophecy refers to a future time in which there are no more threats. When the gospel has been preached throughout the world and Zion has been established again, there will be peace. Like the image of a lion and a lamb laying side by side (Isaiah 11:6-9), the image of watchmen singing together symbolizes a time of peace, when walls can come down and people can live without fear.
It’s worth noting that Abinadi’s audience (King Noah and his priests) were failing in their duty as watchmen over their people. As spiritual leaders, they were conspicuously breaking God’s commandments and encouraging others to do the same (Mosiah 12:29). As government leaders, they had dramatically underestimated the threat from the Lamanite nation which surrounded them as well as the risk of insurrection due to their oppressive policies (Mosiah 11:12-19, Mosiah 19:2-12).
These leaders could not resolve these issues by simply lowering their defenses. The defenses could only be lowered as the danger was reduced, and the danger would only be reduced as individuals lived gospel principles more fully. In the words of President Dallin H. Oaks:
The blessings of the gospel are universal, and so is the formula for peace: keep the commandments of God. War and conflict are the result of wickedness; peace is the product of righteousness….
We cannot have peace among nations without achieving general righteousness among the people who comprise them….
If citizens do not have a basic goodness to govern their actions toward one another, we can never achieve peace in the world. One nation’s greed, hatred, or desire for power over another is simply a reflection of the greeds, hatreds, and selfish desires of individuals within that nation (“World Peace,” General Conference, April 1990).
Today, I will remember that durable peace only comes as a by-product of individual goodness. I will do what I can to be peaceful in my interactions with others and to teach principles which will help others to achieve peace in their lives, families, and communities.
Thanks Paul – another great post. Reminds me of that old saying, “public morality cannot exist without private virtue” [or something to that effect].
Aaron E. Roome 704-699-6099