It was 6pm and my hair was still plastered to my forehead from sweating in the cloudless, 101 degrees day. I felt sticky and stinky because this was the second day camping on our family’s stay at Zion National Park in Utah this past June. We had spent the day hiking on wooded trails, under and around waterfalls, and even in the Virgin River up to our knees. When rays of light came through crevices in the formations, I couldn’t help but be in awe.
We signed up to take a ranger-led, evening tour of parts of Zion that were a little off the regular visitor paths. When the mini bus started moving, the ranger standing beside the driver welcomed us and began telling some interesting facts about Zion that most visitors might not know unless they take this tour.
As we rode along this road in Zion, the sun had started to sink behind the massive rocks and cast light on different places making it look beautiful in a new way from earlier that afternoon. That evening for a couple of hours, there was so much to absorb. We learned about some geology over the past thousands of years, the history of the park, and the reason for its name. The ranger said the founders of this area gave it the name Zion meaning fortification (to make strong) and portrays the views of being raised up as a monument.
The word “Zion” originated from the Hebrew language and was first used in the Bible. Zion was the name of the hill used for Jerusalem as a place of worship. In 2 Samuel 5, the tribes of Israel, led by their new leader, David, defeated the Jebusites and captured the fortress in Jerusalem. It was named the City of David because he had become King of Israel by God’s favor. The fortress – named Zion – became known as the monumental place where the Spirit of God dwelt. It was holy ground. Not only that, it was also the name of heaven found in the New Testament.
I understand why this place, nestled in the plateaus of Utah, was given its name. To me, it did feel like being in the presence of a mighty God, to be hidden in the depths of this land for a few days to enjoy God’s beauty and peace. On this trip, we tried to stay unplugged as much as possible from social media and TV, yet we still learned about two major things: what took place in Charleston, SC and the Supreme Court decision. It was heartbreaking to see others’ hearts broken and see how part of our country’s foundation was uprooted.
While there, this so perfectly became my cry out to God in heartache, yet at the same time, the perfect peace that only God gives and promises. Scripture I had recently read before our trip flooded my mind while I was surrounded by those natural sculptures.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 51:11 ESV
Oh how I’m ready for that promise to be fulfilled. I’m going to be honest here. It’s not easy for me to share thoughts I so deeply hide. But I’m going to try. The past year I’ve felt more and more a sense of unsettled change in our country and the world. Natural and spiritual. Sooner than later.
And I’m not the only one. Now be honest. Do you?
There’s so much chatter about a major turn of events in our country lately in the news and social media. Not only in those arenas, but even more importantly, I’ve heard many church leaders, from small towns to big cities around the world, giving warnings with reference to Biblical Scripture that nations who turn their back on God will crumble, and that many will fall away at the end of the age.
There is a remnant listening and seeking the Lord’s mercy for our country.
There is a remnant listening and seeking the Lord’s mercy for our country.
That evening, we got back to our campsite and settled down for the night in our tent. For the first time ever in our camping experiences, we took the rain cover off the top of our tent so we could see the stars and moon above casting shadows on the mountains surrounding us on both sides. It was a beautiful sight to see.
As the family fell asleep, and I couldn’t fall asleep, I laid there outside hearing crickets sing me a song. Here I was in a national park, but Zion became a sanctuary and I felt close to God. I’ve read these words from Ann Voskamp: Nature may let us feel close to God — but only knowing the nature of God’s Word, lets us actually know God.
Wanting to know more of the nature of God’s Word, I pulled my phone out to find Scripture about Zion. (I’m so thankful for internet access in national parks because unless it was a hotel, those are about the only places we had it while on the road). I clicked on the Word and typed “Zion” in the search space.
The word Zion occurs over 150 times in the Bible and it’s described both as the city of David, which was Jerusalem, and the city of God. In the New Testament, the word Zion expands and is seen as a chosen and precious cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6), and in Revelations 14, Zion is God’s spiritual Kingdom. Heaven.
The light wind began swirling through the canyon valley and our tent, accompanied by God’s Spirit, joining me in our place of refuge for the night and these words came alive.
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” Isaiah 52:7-10 ESV
Even though that Scripture was written in reference to Jerusalem then, the Bible is God-breathed and alive to teach, rebuke, correct, and train us today, too. It was for them to live by then just as much as it is for Christ followers to live by, now.
So, how can that relate to us? For me, the part that has kept me awake at night, and even makes my heart beat hard and faster when I read it, is the word “WATCHMEN”.
“I have stationed watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem. Day and night, they never stop calling out. You, too, must not rest or grow silent; keep reminding the Lord to watch over Jerusalem.” Isaiah 62:6
To watch over us here.
When Scripture was written, the watchmen were given the job to watch over Zion and to see if an enemy was approaching or they would foresee a messenger arriving in the distance with the good news that the King was coming proclaiming victory. When the people heard this message, they would rejoice! Even though that was how the protection operation worked back then, it’s also intended to point all of us to the spiritual Truth.
There were some people in the Bible who were also called “watchmen” because they vigilantly kept their eyes and mind open to see how things were unfolding around them by the wisdom, instructions, and revelation given to them by God’s Spirit. In turn, they told the people what God told them to do. Whether it was to take heed, or warn, or repent. Watchmen are to warn those who are spiritually in danger.
Watchmen, who looked out to protect their people from harm, were ordinary people, in an ordinary sense. The ordinary sense of how it’s natural for each of them, and us, wanting to live life fully. They had fears and joys and passion for their community to live good lives. They had a responsibility to respect and to protect others. They had hearts to save others and be saved themselves from the enemy and to be able to rejoice victory with the King.
I believe the Scripture those prophets wrote is for us to read what God intends for us to take heed.
God gives each of us spiritual gifts. Some have the gift of faith, encouragement, giving, hospitality, or leadership. Others have the gift of teaching, evangelism, wisdom, or prophecy. Is prophecy one that’s overlooked these days? I think there continues to be prophets of God today. Why would there not be since it is in Scripture? I also consider that some who have the gift of prophecy are also called watchmen. Even though everyone doesn’t have that spiritual gift, I feel that each of us, as Christ followers, have the instruction to be watchful.
We are to be watchful and alert because of injustice, brokenness, and the waywardness from a strong foundation. We are simply to be watchful because the Spirit tells us to be. Most essentially, in order to be watchful – us ordinary people in the extraordinary sense – are to be knowledgeable of Scripture. Words in the Book are instructions that give heed of what can happen when we, as nations and people, don’t obey God and repent. Yet they also give us promises of redemption, grace and hope only through Christ.
I’m not gifted in prophecy, but I am given the gift of Truth through God’s Word. You are too. We all are. The Bible isn’t a relaxing, summer-at-the-pool type of book to read and then put on the shelf to collect dust. It needs to be opened every day and be taken seriously.
Lying there eyes wide open, seeing the blanket of stars over the Zion mountains, these words appeared on my screen.
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Isaiah 2:3-5
That’s what I long to see. That’s how I’m ready for all of us to live. Where nations are not against nations. Where we will no longer have wars on the streets and wars in our hearts. Where there’s repentance and redemption, and more peoples’ lives saved by the grace of God. Where we’ll watch and see the King bringing us the good news of final victory for eternity.
I finally drift to sleep, even though I felt burdened about this world these days. But the hope in God’s Word I read in the Bible that night rested my soul. That June night, both burden and hope, made me feel all kinds of emotions – and still do. But this is what I’m going to do. I’m choosing to cling to the promise of victory in eternity in the place of Zion with our King. Where it’s going to be peace and joy on the earth!
After packing up our tent and mini-van the next morning, we headed out of the park to get on the highway to venture off to our next destination. As the sun was cresting over the hills, we wove around them, taking last views of their magnificence.
We read out loud,
All will stand in awe to praise You. Praise will sweep through Zion, the Sacred City, O God. Solemn vows uttered to You will now be performed. You hear us pray in words and silence; all humanity comes into Your presence. Injustice overwhelms me! But You forgive our sins, restoring as only You can. You invite us near, drawing us into Your courts—what an honor and a privilege! We feast until we’re full on the goodness of Your house, Your sacred temple made manifest. Psalm 65:1-4 (Voice)
I challenge myself, and you, to be the watchful where we intentionally be alert and prepared. To look for our King’s arrival and help protect our people from the Enemy by speaking Truth about the love and salvation of Christ. And let us “be the watchmen who lift our voice and sing for joy.” (Isaiah 52:8)