In the ancient world, towers were built to protect crops, roads, and cities. They were used both domestically to watch over a landowner’s fields and militarily in the defense of a city. Watchmen stood in towers, armed and ready to sound the alarm if enemies threatened their territory. The more towers a city had, the stronger it was thought to be (see Ps 48:12-14). The tower at the center of a city would have also served as a storehouse.
Towers were constant visual reminders that someone was watching out for citizen’s safety as they went about their work. They evoked in people feelings of security, and people could flee to them when danger came.
Protection and Safety
Most mentions of towers in the Bible refer to a literal tower, but they were also used figuratively as a symbol for protection and provision. God is our tower, as evidenced by verses such as these: “You have been my refuge, a tower of strength against the enemy” (Ps 61:3) and “The name of the LORD is a strong tower. A righteous person runs to it and is safe” (Prov 18:10). The original hearers of these verses would have had an immediate mental picture of safety and security. God protects us against the dangers of the world and the attacks of Satan, and those who take refuge in him have nothing to fear.
In his search for comparisons to highlight the features of the woman he loves, the writer of Song of Solomon admits that her neck reminds him of “David’s beautifully-designed tower” (4:4) and “an ivory tower” (7:4). Her nose even bears a lovely resemblance to “a Lebanese tower facing Damascus” (7:4). She is clearly not offended by these architectural comparisons and describes herself in 8:10 as “a wall, and my breasts are like towers.” There is more than visual similarity going on here, since the tower conveys the idea of completion, care, design, and even peace. When Solomon’s lover accepts the tower-like compliments, she adds, “So he considers me to be one who has found peace” (8:10).
A tower is used in the book of Luke as a symbol of careful planning: “Suppose you want to build a tower. You would first sit down and figure out what it costs. Then you would see if you have enough money to finish it” (14:28). Jesus was using it to illustrate the importance of counting the cost of discipleship. We should not build our lives on the rock of Christ without first being sure we are willing to give him our all.
Occasionally towers are used in the Bible as an image of arrogance. In Isaiah 2:12-18 God judges against “all who are arrogant and conceited . . .against every high tower” (vv 12, 15). The Tower of Babel (Gen 11) is probably the most memorable instance of a tower being associated with inappropriate human pride. A similar incident is the parable Jesus told about the man who built bigger and bigger barns rather than sharing with those in need (Luke 12:16-21). The man’s foolish greed did not pay off in the end.
If a strong tower elicits feelings of security, falling towers would have been terrifying. We are told that on the day of judgment “towers will fall (Isa 30:25). This happened numerous times in ancient history, including in the city of Tyre in Ezekiel 26 and with the tower of Siloam in Luke 13. People who have placed their trust in anything other than the strong tower, God himself, will be helpless when the day of trouble comes. We can take great comfort in being able to look up to a tower in our lives that will never fall. God is our ever-present security, just like towers in the ancient world served as constant reminders that someone was watching over the city.
The name of the LORD is a strong tower. A righteous person runs to it and is safe.
(THE A TO Z GUIDE TO BIBLE SIGNS & SYMBOLS Understanding Their Meaning and Significance Pg246)