We live in exciting times since several biblical prophecies have been fulfilled in our era, particularly with reference to the re-establishment of Israel as a nation on May 14th, 1948. The prophecy of the two sticks become one; representing the unified whole house of Israel, should be considered in its immediate historical context, where we are now and how and these events will culminate.
A few hundred years before Ezekiel was captive in Babylon, King David wanted to build the Lord a temple to dwell in. He dwelt in a house made of cedar whilst the ark of God dwelt inside tent curtains. Although his intentions were honourable, the Lord appointed his son Solomon to complete the task. Nonetheless the Lord made a covenant with David “And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).
It was ironic that Solomon should build a magnificent temple and yet following his death in 931BC the kingdom would be divided. Since the northern kingdom had been taken by the Assyrians in 722BC and the southern kingdom was in Babylonian exile in 586BC, this prophecy about the two kingdoms again becoming one and never ever again becoming divided, would have provided immense comfort and assurance of the Lord’s plans for his countrymen as a people and for their future.
This is a separate vision from the valley of the dry bones that immediately precedes it. However this action sermon coincides with much of Ezekiel 36 and Ezekiel 37:1-14 since there is a regathering of the Jewish people to their land before the Lord sanctifies and unifies it prior to the temple being established and Messiah reigning in Jerusalem.
Ezekiel was instructed to take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel, his companions’ and take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel and his companions.’ He was then to join the two sticks together so they became one stick in his hand. ‘His companions’ most likely refers to Levi and Benjamin for Judah and the rest of the ten tribes for Ephraim respectively[i]. When his people asked what was meant by his actions, he would respond with the Lord’s explanation in Ezekiel 37:19-28.
The enquiring mind will ponder why Ezekiel here and in other places completed a series of action sermons. A teacher might reason that by using a graphic illustration people would remember something important. Unger thought that the symbolism would serve to provoke enquiry from his people[ii]. Interestingly some of the more graphic visions, (the valley of the dry bones is a classic example) and action sermons contained with Ezekiel, are remembered by individuals, even if other key details are not so readily remembered.
This vision sheds light on other prophecies concerning the future of Israel and Judah. Hosea stated that the children of Israel and the children of Judah would be gathered together and would appoint for themselves one head (Hosea 1:11). Zechariah spoke of a time when the Lord would strengthen the house of Judah and the house of Joseph and bring them back. The Lord would show mercy and they will be as though He had not cast them aside (Zechariah 10:6). There was clearly a future for both kingdoms but the question was how?
The Already and Not Yet
As foretold in Ezekiel 37:21 the children of Israel that have been scattered, have and are returning to Israel. Even as I write, Israel is preparing to possibly evacuate 75,000 Ukrainian Jews due to the threat of Russian invasion. Without jumping the gun, the events and nations involved in the conflict in Ezekiel 38-39 are potentially nearer than we might think. Israel re-established as a nation on May 14th, 1948, was a major sign which is essential to set up the conditions for the other prophesied events to take place.
Israel shall have one king over them all and they shall no longer be two nations and neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms again (Ezekiel 37:22). No longer will there be a defilement with idols or detestable things and the Lord will cleanse them. Much of Israel is secular or involved in false gods or isms currently. It is therefore obvious that this great sanctifying work is yet future and this concurs again with Ezekiel 36:1-37:14 concerning a physical regathering of the Jewish people to the land of Israel before they are made holy unto the Lord.
David is described as being a king over them (Ezekiel 37:24) and they will have one shepherd and will walk in the Lord’s judgements and statutes and do them. Similarly a believer is to be a doer not just a hearer of the word of God since if we merely hear we are deceiving ourselves (James 1:22). David is also described as being their prince forever in Ezekiel 37:25 and because of those references and similar verses contained in Ezekiel 34:23-24 commentators are divided on whether ‘David’ refers to David the former king of Israel or David’s greater Son who is Messiah.
Since the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7:1-16 has ultimate fulfilment through Messiah and David himself prophesied of the Messiah’s reign concerning his reign and priesthood in Psalm 110:1-7 and the very first verse of the Brit Hadasha (New Testament) commences with “The book of the genealogy of the Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David” (Matthew 1:1), I believe that the references here in Ezekiel 37 most probably refer to Jesus the Messiah.
Great encouragement is given in that the whole house of Israel shall dwell in the land promised to Jacob, where their fathers dwelt and where they will dwell and their children’s children shall also dwell forever. When all is said in done this means that those of Ezekiel’s day and our time and those to come can be certain that the Lord keeps His promises and we can trust Him in entirety.
If that were not enough the Lord promises a covenant of peace with them in the form of an everlasting covenant. Jerusalem means ‘the city of peace’ though for centuries it has been the city of conflict, but when Messiah comes it will truly be the city of peace. This covenant refers to the new covenant mentioned in Jeremiah 31:31-37 though MacArthur helpfully adds that these promises bring together the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12, the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7 and the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31.[iii]
At the beginning of this article attention was centred on David and his desire to build a temple for the Lord. At the end of this unit mention is made of a tabernacle which will be in their midst forevermore (Ezekiel 37:26-28 and of which precise dimensions are given in Ezekiel 40-43). Clearly this temple is still future.
The Blessing for the Believer Today
Some of the eschatological events mentioned above may happen soon or possibly not so soon. The recognition that Messiah is coming and these events are happening will hopefully cause non-believers to seek the Lord and trust in Messiah. Others will note that the future promises give real hope yet might ask what is the significance for today? Nonetheless, this passage fits perfectly with Ephesians 2:11-21 concerning the unity of all believers in Messiah. Gentile believers in Messiah were formerly aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise having no hope and without the Lord and were once far off but have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. The blood of Messiah has made atonement for sins and peace with God.
Jesus the Messiah is our peace. He has made in Himself one people and broken the middle wall of separation and created in Himself one new man from the two, making shalom. This is a lasting peace, the real shalom that only Messiah can bring. For the believer, their bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19) which means that everything we do has value and we should honour the Lord in each aspect of our lives and avoid Greek thinking which partitions life into spiritual activity and the ordinary. Jewish and Gentile believers of which Jesus the Messiah is the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22) are united in whom the whole building fits together into a holy temple in the Lord. The believer therefore is being built together with other believers, both Jewish and Gentile ones for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
[i] George Williams Williams’ Complete Bible Commentary (Kregel, 1994; Grand Rapids), p607
[ii] Merrill Unger Ungers’ Commentary on the Old Testament (AMG Publishers, 2002; Chattanooga), p1575
[iii] John MacArthur The MacArthur Study Bible (Crossway, 2010; Wheaton), p1175