1, 2. (a) Why might the exiles be alarmed? (b) Why are they in for a surprise? (c) What questions will we consider?
UNDER divine direction, Ezekiel has conveyed a number of prophecies to the exiles in Babylon by means of visible signs. The first prophecy acted out by Ezekiel contained a judgment message, the second one also, the third one too, and so on. (Ezek. 3:24-26; 4:1-7; 5:1; 12:3-6) In fact, all the prophecies that he has acted out by signs have conveyed messages of fierce judgment against the Jews.
2 Imagine, therefore, how alarmed the exiles must be when Ezekiel again takes his position in front of them, ready to act out another prophecy. ‘What devastating message will we receive this time?’ they must think. But they are in for a surprise. The prophecy that Ezekiel now begins to act out is very different. It contains, not a dark judgment, but a bright promise. (Ezek. 37:23) What message does Ezekiel convey to the exiles? What is its meaning? How does it affect God’s servants today? Let us find out.
“They Will Become One in My Hand”
3. (a) What was pictured by the stick “for Judah”? (b) Why did “the stick of Ephraim” represent the ten-tribe kingdom?
3 Jehovah instructed Ezekiel to take two sticks and to write on one “for Judah” and on the other “for Joseph, the stick of Ephraim.” (Read Ezekiel 37:15, 16.) What did these two sticks picture? The stick that was “for Judah” represented the two-tribe kingdom of Judah and Benjamin. Kings in the line of Judah had ruled the two tribes; also, the priesthood had been associated with them, for the priests served at the temple in Jerusalem. (2 Chron. 11:13, 14; 34:30) Hence, the kingdom of Judah held the Davidic line of kings as well as the Levitical priesthood. “The stick of Ephraim” represented the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. In what way was that stick associated with Ephraim? The first king of the ten-tribe kingdom was Jeroboam, from the tribe of Ephraim. In time, Ephraim became the dominant tribe in Israel. (Deut. 33:17; 1 Ki. 11:26) Note that the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel did not include Davidic kings or Levitical priests.
4. What does Ezekiel’s next action with the two sticks illustrate? (See opening picture.)
4 Ezekiel was further instructed to bring the two sticks together “so that they become just one stick.” As the exiles anxiously watched Ezekiel, they asked him: “Will you not tell us what these things mean?” He answered that the enactment illustrated what Jehovah himself would do. Regarding the two sticks, Jehovah stated: “I will make them one stick, and they will become one in my hand.”—Ezek. 37:17-19.
5. What is the meaning of what Ezekiel acted out? (See the box “The Joining of the Two Sticks.”)
5 Next, Jehovah explained the meaning of the joining together of the two sticks. (Read Ezekiel 37:21, 22.) Exiles from the two-tribe kingdom of Judah and exiles from the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel (Ephraim) would be brought to the land of Israel, where they would become “one nation.”—Jer. 30:1-3; 31:2-9; 33:7.
6. What complementary prophecies are found in Ezekiel chapter 37?
6 What amazing complementary prophecies of restoration are recorded in Ezekiel chapter 37! Jehovah will prove to be the God who restores not only life (verses 1-14) but also unity (verses 15-28). The heartening message conveyed by these two prophecies is: Death can be reversed, and so can division.
How Did Jehovah “Collect Them Together”?
7. How does the account found at 1 Chronicles 9:2, 3 confirm that “with God all things are possible”?
7 Humanly speaking, the liberation and unification of the exiles seemed totally impossible.* However, “with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26) Jehovah fulfilled his prophecy. The Babylonian captivity ended in 537 B.C.E., and thereafter, individuals of both kingdoms arrived in Jerusalem to help restore true worship. The inspired record confirms this: “Some of the descendants of Judah, of Benjamin, of Ephraim, and of Manasseh settled in Jerusalem.” (1 Chron. 9:2, 3; Ezra 6:17) Indeed, just as Jehovah had foretold, members of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel were joined, or united, with members of the two-tribe kingdom of Judah.
8. (a) What was prophesied by Isaiah? (b) What two significant aspects are found at Ezekiel 37:21?
8 Some 200 years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had prophesied about what would happen to Israel and Judah after their captivity. He foretold that Jehovah would begin to gather “the dispersed ones of Israel” and “the scattered ones of Judah from the four corners of the earth,” including “out of Assyria.” (Isa. 11:12, 13, 16) And indeed, as Jehovah had foretold, he took “the Israelites from among the nations.” (Ezek. 37:21) Note two significant aspects: At this point, Jehovah no longer referred to the exiles as “Judah” and “Ephraim” but as “the Israelites”—one group. Further, the Israelites were described as coming, not from one nation, Babylon, but from several nations—in fact, “from every direction.”
9. How did Jehovah help the returned exiles to become united?
9 After the exiles’ return to Israel, how did Jehovah help them to become united? He provided Israel with spiritual shepherds, such as Zerubbabel, High Priest Joshua, Ezra, and Nehemiah. God also raised up the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. All these faithful men exerted themselves in encouraging the nation to follow God’s instructions. (Neh. 8:2, 3) In addition, Jehovah protected the nation of Israel by defeating conspiracies plotted by the enemies of God’s people.—Esther 9:24, 25; Zech. 4:6.
10. Satan eventually succeeded in doing what?
10 Nevertheless, despite all the loving provisions of Jehovah, most Israelites failed to adhere to pure worship. Their actions are recorded in the Bible books that were written after the return of the exiles. (Ezra 9:1-3; Neh. 13:1, 2, 15) In fact, within a century after their return, the Israelites deviated so far from pure worship that Jehovah had to urge them: “Return to me.” (Mal. 3:7) By the time Jesus came to earth, the Jewish religion was divided into several sects that were led by unfaithful shepherds. (Matt. 16:6; Mark 7:5-8) Satan had succeeded in preventing any achievement of full unity. Even so, Jehovah’s prophecy of unification would without fail come true. How?
“My Servant David Will Be Their King”
11. (a) What did Jehovah reveal about his unification prophecy? (b) What did Satan again try to do after his ouster from heaven?
11 Read Ezekiel 37:24. Jehovah revealed that his unification prophecy would see its complete fulfillment among his people only after his “servant David,” Jesus, would begin to rule as King, which happened in 1914.* (2 Sam. 7:16; Luke 1:32) By that time, natural Israel had been replaced by spiritual Israel, the anointed. (Jer. 31:33; Gal. 3:29) Satan, especially after his ouster from heaven, again set out to destroy the unity of God’s people. (Rev. 12:7-10) For instance, after Brother Russell’s death in 1916, Satan saw an opportunity to cause division among the anointed by means of the actions of apostates. Before long, however, those apostates left the organization. Satan also succeeded in having the brothers who were taking the lead at the time thrown into prison, but even that did not bring an end to Jehovah’s people. The anointed brothers who remained faithful to Jehovah maintained their unity.
12. Why have Satan’s efforts to divide spiritual Israel failed?
12 Hence, contrary to what had happened to natural Israel, spiritual Israel withstood Satan’s divisive schemes. Why have Satan’s efforts failed? Because the anointed have done their best to adhere to Jehovah’s standards. As a result, they have had the protection of their King, Jesus Christ, who is continuing his conquest against Satan.—Rev. 6:2.
Jehovah Will Cause His Worshippers to “Become One”
13. What important truth does the prophecy about the unification of the two sticks teach us?
13 What significance does the prophecy of the unification of the two sticks have in our time? Keep in mind that the point of the prophecy was to illustrate how two groups would become united. Above all, the prophecy highlights that this unity is brought about by Jehovah. So, what important truth about pure worship does this prophetic illustration of the joining of the two sticks highlight? Put simply, this: Jehovah himself will cause his worshippers to “become one.”—Ezek. 37:19.
14. Since 1919, how has the prophecy of the joining of the sticks seen its greater fulfillment?
14 Since 1919, after God’s people had been spiritually cleansed and had begun to enter a spiritual paradise, the prophecy of the joining of the sticks began to see its greater fulfillment. At that time, the majority of those brought together in unity had the hope of becoming kings and priests in heaven. (Rev. 20:6) Symbolically, these anointed ones were like the stick “for Judah”—a nation that included Davidic kings and Levitical priests. However, as time went on, these spiritual Jews were joined by more and more of those with an earthly hope. Such ones were like “the stick of Ephraim”—a nation that did not include Davidic kings and Levitical priests. Together, both groups serve unitedly as Jehovah’s people under their one King, Jesus Christ.—Ezek. 37:24.
“They Will Be My People”
15. How are the prophetic statements found at Ezekiel 37:26, 27 being fulfilled today?
15 Ezekiel’s prophecy itself suggests that many individuals would be moved to join the anointed in pure worship. Jehovah stated about his people: “I will . . . make them many” and, “my tent will be over them.” (Ezek. 37:26, 27; ftn.) These statements bring to mind what was prophesied to the apostle John some 700 years after Ezekiel’s time, namely, that “the One seated on the throne [would] spread his tent” over “a great crowd.” (Rev. 7:9, 15) Today, the anointed and the great crowd dwell as one nation, God’s people, under his protective tent.
16. What prophecy did Zechariah give regarding the unification of spiritual Israel with those having an earthly hope?
16 The unification of spiritual Jews with those having an earthly hope was also prophesied by Zechariah, himself a returned exile. He stated that “ten men out of . . . the nations” would “take firm hold of the robe of a Jew” and say: “We want to go with you, for we have heard that God is with you people.” (Zech. 8:23) The description “a Jew” refers, not to an individual person, but to a group of people, “you people,” today represented by the anointed remnant, or spiritual Jews. (Rom. 2:28, 29) The “ten men” represent those with an earthly hope. They “take firm hold of” the anointed and “go with” them. (Isa. 2:2, 3; Matt. 25:40) The expressions “take firm hold” and “go with you” highlight the complete unification of these two groups.
17. How did Jesus describe the unity we enjoy today?
17 It may have been Ezekiel’s unification prophecy that Jesus had in mind when he described himself as a shepherd under whose direction his sheep (the anointed) and the “other sheep” (those with an earthly hope) would become “one flock.” (John 10:16; Ezek. 34:23; 37:24, 25) How well these words of Jesus and those of the ancient prophets describe the amazing spiritual unity that we enjoy today, no matter what future hope we may have! While false religion has splintered into countless groups, we experience the miracle of unity.
“My Sanctuary Is in Their Midst Forever”
18. As indicated at Ezekiel 37:28, why is it of vital importance that God’s people be “no part of the world”?
18 The final words of Ezekiel’s unification prophecy highlight what ensures that our unity will never be broken. (Read Ezekiel 37:28.) Jehovah’s people are united because his sanctuary, or pure worship, is “in their midst.” And his sanctuary remains among them as long as they keep themselves sanctified, or set apart from Satan’s world. (1 Cor. 6:11; Rev. 7:14) Jesus stressed the importance of being no part of the world. In a heartfelt prayer in behalf of his disciples, he said: “Holy Father, watch over them . . . so that they may be one . . . They are no part of the world . . . Sanctify them by means of the truth.” (John 17:11, 16, 17) Note how Jesus connects being “one” with being “no part of the world.”
19. (a) How do we prove that we are “imitators of God”? (b) During the last evening before his death, Jesus emphasized what important truth about unity?
19 This is the only recorded instance in which Jesus addressed God as “Holy Father.” Jehovah is absolutely pure and upright. Jehovah commanded ancient Israel: “You must be holy, because I am holy.” (Lev. 11:45) As “imitators of God,” we want to obey that command in all our conduct. (Eph. 5:1; 1 Pet. 1:14, 15) When referring to humans, “holy” means “set apart.” Jesus thus emphasized during the last evening before his death that his disciples would remain united as long as they kept themselves separate from this world and its divisiveness.
“Watch Over Them Because of the Wicked One”
20, 21. (a) What deepens our trust in Jehovah’s protection? (b) What is your resolve?
20 The outstanding unity clearly evident earth wide among Jehovah’s Witnesses today proves that Jehovah answered Jesus’ petition: “Watch over them because of the wicked one.” (Read John 17:14, 15.) Indeed, it deepens our trust in God’s protection to see that Satan has failed to destroy the unity of God’s people. In Ezekiel’s prophecy, Jehovah stated that the two sticks became one in his hand. So Jehovah himself has miraculously united his people under his protective hand—beyond the reach of Satan.
21 What, then, should be our resolve? To continue to work hard to do our share in contributing to the precious unity we now enjoy. In what important way can each one of us do so? By regularly engaging in pure worship at Jehovah’s spiritual temple. What such worship involves will be considered in the following chapters.
Some two centuries before Ezekiel received this prophecy, the inhabitants of the ten-tribe kingdom (“the stick of Ephraim”) were carried off as exiles by the Assyrians.—2 Ki. 17:23.
This prophecy is discussed in detail in Chapter 8 of this publication.