The Fourth Watch

Are these crazy times, or what? With a bit of self-talk, I actually enjoy careening roller coaster rides (mostly when they're over). But the plunging ride Wall Street and the global financial markets have taken us on these last few days as the result of America's credit rating being cut--no amusement park fun at all. With the nation's retirement funds on the line, the innocuous bromides the talking heads are dispensing are small comfort: "sit tight," "be patient," "don't panic." Especially when one market analyst this week had the temerity to describe this ride as "America's final plunge" (

Crazy times these are. "London's burning" is now more than a nursery rhyme. And Syria's burning, too. And summer vacation isn't even over yet.

Welcome to the Fourth Watch--a new blog in print and online ( --a running, weekly commentary on the times that are fast becoming the fourth watch of history.

For centuries the ancient Jews divided their nights into three watches. But with the ascendency of Rome, by New Testament times Jews had adopted the Roman four-watch night: first watch (6 - 9 p.m., called "evening"); second watch (9 p.m. - midnight, called "midnight"); third watch (midnight - 3 a.m., called "cock-crowing"); and fourth watch (3 a.m. - 6 a.m., called "morning" --see Mark 13:35 for all four). The fourth watch was the last watch before the break of day, the darkest hour of the night before the dawn.

And not surprisingly it was the watch Jesus mastered. "Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them walking on the sea" (Matthew 14:25). But are you surprised? Wouldn't the blackest hour of the night belong to the God "who knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him" (Daniel 2:22)?

So how dark is the night you're traversing these days? Darker than your physician understands? Darker than your closest friends will ever know? As stormy and dark and uncertain as this civilization's economic fourth watch? No matter how dark life has become, one terse line from the Gospel story declares that in the blackest watch of all, Christ walks the dark and the storm. No shadows, no storm, no night so dark but that he hurries to you, too. You do not walk alone. "In the darkest hour [the fourth watch], Jesus will be our light....In every condition of trial, we may have the consolation of his presence" (RH 4-15-1884).

Which makes William Whiting's prayer the right prayer for a university on the eve of a new year and a civilization in the fourth watch of the night, doesn't it?


O Christ, whose voice the waters heard

And hushed their raging at Thy word

Who walkedst on the foaming deep

And calm amidst the rage didst sleep

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee...


A prayer for the Fourth Watch. Amen.