TIP: When you pick up a book and read it from where you last left off, say chapter 10, you want to recall all that’s happened previously otherwise chapter 10 won’t make any sense. You don’t begin reading a book at chapter 10! But you don’t need to recall everything – you only need to recall the things pertinent to chapter 10. So, recalling context for a bible passage doesn’t require spewing out every fact you know about the book so far, but to recall the bits that will shed light on the section you are looking at. That’s why we start with context and choose to talk about the bits we do.
Abraham had a son named Isaac who, in turn, had a son named Jacob. Jacob came to be known as Israel, therefore, Jacob and Israel are the same man. Jacob/Israel had twelve sons (and a daughter) who later made up the twelve tribes of Israel. So, the nation of Israel consisted of twelve regions. See Genesis 35:23-26 for a list of the twelve sons including who their mothers were. It might help if you draw up a family tree.
While David served to rule as king over all of Israel, David’s grandson, Rehoboam, created a division in the kingdom which resulted, under God’s sovereignty, in two kingdoms: the Southern Kingdom and the Northern Kingdom.
The Southern Kingdom contained two tribes: Judah and Benjamin.
The Northern Kingdom contained the other ten tribes including Joseph whose son was Ephraim. (Small confusion: the twelve sons included Levi and Joseph but the land division excluded Levi, since his was the priestly line and was given no land – Joseph had no land named after him but his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, were given land each. So there are 12 sons and 12 land divisions but Levi and Joseph are substituted with Manasseh and Ephraim.)
The Southern Kingdom was known as Judah and followed the kingly line of David while the Northern Kingdom was known as Israel and followed the kingly line of Jeroboam, an Ephraimite (1 Kings 11:26).
The Northern Kingdom (Israel) was destroyed and scattered in 722BC. The Southern Kingdom (Judah) went into exile in 586BC and this is who Ezekiel is speaking to.
Ezekiel 25 and 33 marked the day that the Southern Kingdom with the Temple was destroyed by Babylon.
I see that this is a lot of info to digest but it makes the reading of Ezekiel 37:15-28 much easier to understand. Judah and Joseph became heads over two divided kingdoms. But they were both brothers under Israel.
- Verses 15-17 – A visual prophecy
- Verses 18-23 – The visual prophecy explained
- Verses 24-28 – One King and One Temple!
“Take a stick of wood…” Earlier in Ezekiel, the prophet was instructed to perform various tasks which would be a sign to the people he prophesied to. They were all for the warnings against Israel and their idolatry. Now, the prophet is asked to make a sign which is for the blessing of Israel. As an exercise to get people in your group talking, you might ask for a list of things Ezekiel has previously been asked to do.
“Belonging to Judah/Belonging to Joseph…” See the context for the explanation of how this refers to the Southern Kingdom and the Northern Kingdom respectively.
“to Ephraim…” again, see the context above.
“…and all the Israelites associated with him…” In both cases, both sticks ultimately represent two halves of the one kingdom: Israel! Whether Northern or Southern, all have family ties back to Israel (Jacob).
“Join them together…” The conclusion of Ezekiel’s demonstration is for the two sticks to become one stick. The visual prophecy is pretty straight forward: there will no longer be two kingdoms but one. The rest of the passage will amplify this simple message by expanding on the implications.
The first few verses here, 18-20, are straight forward. Given the context above, I see nothing to add to these verses.
“I will…” Firstly notice who will make this happen: The Sovereign LORD. Simple point worth making.
“…take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone.” Both sticks are a representative of Israel as a whole. Both the North and the South have been taken one way or another – by being scattered abroad, by taken captive in exile in Babylon, by a very small remnant fleeing from attack. But God will see them as two kingdoms no more!
“…back into their own land…” This brings back the covenant made by God to Abraham which included both a great nation and a promised land. God is not changing his mind but remembering his covenant.
“…one nation…one king…never divided…” Verse 22 is the key verse I suppose. Taking up the heart of what will happen as well as the key to the unity – they will be under one king. Verses 24-28 will take up this further.
“…I will save them from all their sinful backsliding and I will cleanse them. They will be my people and I will be their God.” This is a wonderful promise but raises the question of how God will do it. These are exactly what went wrong with Israel to begin with. They backslid and became mixed with the other nations and defiled by their practices. They let go of the covenant relationship and committed adultery with other so-called gods. How will God prevent this from happening again?
“My servant David will be king over them…” Without declaring that Judah was right, God sets straight that the kingdom that he had established was David’s. So, the heir to the throne is in the line of David and not Jeroboam. But more importantly, we are told that David will be the king. Now, since he has been dead for hundreds of years, what could this mean? It is to do with the promise to Judah (Genesis 49) and to David (2 Samuel 7) that there will be a forever king on the throne. When he comes, the throne will never be taken away from him. It is impossible for the kingdom to divide once the true Davidic king comes. His name is Jesus (Philippians 2).
“…they will live in the land of Jacob…” Remember that it is no longer two kingdoms called North and South but one kingdom now – the whole land of Israel.
“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant.” God promises peace that is eternal. Jesus will be the king and peace will be the flavour of the kingdom.
“…and I will put my sanctuary among them forever…” Now, if this promise were literal, then we would find King David being the king – risen from the dead and seated on his throne. We would also see the Temple or sanctuary of God rebuilt and forever remaining. Neither of these things have come to pass in a literal sense. But the purpose of the sanctuary was to illustrate that God is dwelling with his people. Therefore he says, “My dwelling place will be with them…” Ezekiel 10 described the withdrawal of God from the Temple to show his disgust with the people of the promise. Now he promises eternal peace, with an eternal king ruling the one kingdom forever. And in this kingdom, God himself will dwell with the people. And there will be no end to this promise.
God promises to reverse the many years of idolatry and rebellion by recovering his people into one nation with one king and the return of the sanctuary with God dwelling there forever. God will gather his people from everywhere to be the holy people of Israel.
New Testament Perspective
Now, in 2015, Jews are scattered all over the world, Israel is a war zone, no king is seated on any throne in Israel, the Temple is torn down and peace is quite unlikely in any age. But there is one man who is descended from David (Matthew 1) who is called Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), God With Us (Matthew 1:22), and who John spoke of as “the Word become flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
When Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God he said that it is here (Mark 1:15) and called people to repent. He spoke with a Samaritan woman from the northern region of Israel and said, “Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” In saying this, Jesus declared that no mountain or building will be the sanctuary of God but that every true believer will know the presence of God. The fulfilment of Ezekiel 37:15-28 is not to be found north, south, east or west of here but with the Spirit of God dwelling in us. This was the promise of Ezekiel 37:14. This is how God will cease the backsliding and rebellion. It will not be the kingdom of God based on human descent but by the Spirit. See Paul’s words on this in Romans 9! “…it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.”
The promise goes beyond the nation of Israel and into the whole earth. Anyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved. The people of God will be one people with one King and one eternal destiny which is called ‘peace’.
- Ezekiel 37:15-28 is a key passage used by the Mormon church (Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints) to show that the book of Mormon is also part of God’s word. They say that one of the sticks represents the scriptures of Judah and the other stick represents the scripture of Ephraim and those Israelites who ventured to America. By telling Ezekiel to perform this prophecy, he is letting us all know that these two scriptures are part of the one word of God. Do you think they have a good argument? Which makes more sense: that the sticks represent two books or two kingdoms? One lesson from this passage is that the true people of God will come together because of the one king, one shepherd, one promise. The Mormon church does not represent this kingdom. Their church claims to be part of the Christian faith but their teaching discredits them. One commentator on Ezekiel, Iain Duguid writes, “We are not to welcome all professing Christians indiscriminately, as if what you believe was a matter of small importance. Instead, the New Testament teaches us that we are to refuse to have anything to do with those who teach false doctrine (2 John 10-11).”
- Jesus and the believer as the Temple. John 1:14 tells us that God became flesh and dwelled among us. It says that God “tabernacled” among us. Jesus compared himself to the Temple when he told the Jews to tear down the Temple and he would rebuild it in three days. We know that he was referring to himself (John 2:19). Jesus was transitioning our thinking away from bricks and mortar and to himself as the very place where God dwells since he himself is God. Believers are said to be the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) because the Spirit has made us alive in Christ. As we read through the book of John later this year, we will hear Jesus promise the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell within the believer. This all points to the incredible closeness between God and his saved people. Our backsliding and rebellion can indeed be stopped because God is working in us to be his new creation (Ephesians 2:8-10). We don’t need to worry about what is going on in any particular place in the world as if God will recreate something special there because God is recreating something tremendous right here in our hearts.
- Jesus as our King. This is where our unity is found and where division flees away. When the true body of Christ looks to the head, then we can be united and get busy building one another up in Christ! We don’t find unity in common language or social backgrounds. Not in personal likes or hopes to make a better world. No, our unity comes when we call on the name of Jesus as King. Is Jesus your King? Do you salute him, listen to him, talk wisely about him, share the good news about him, rejoice with others who also call him their LORD. Every small obstacle is laid flat when we stand together to call Jesus the King. Our opinion on matters is not what is king – Jesus is King. Our connections with people is not what defines us as a people – King Jesus calls you to live in peace with him. The activities we do at church do not make us the people of God – Jesus is our King who saved us to gather as the people of God and worship him in Spirit and in truth. Knowing how to serve Jesus and how to know him in truth is the only way to inherit eternal life.
Prayer for the week
Father of all creation, we give you thanks and praise for your promises to all mankind – that in Jesus Christ your Son, we can know and find peace. Please teach us to live in peace and unity with each other in the church because we call on the name of Jesus to be saved. Thank you that Jesus is our peace, our saviour, our shepherd and the very presence of God. Teach us to love and obey you, through your word, by your Spirit and through your Son. Amen.