What is the meaning of the joining together of the two sticks described in Ezekiel chapter 37?
Jehovah gave Ezekiel a message of hope promising the unification of the nation of Israel after its being restored to the Promised Land. That message also foretells the unification of God’s people that started to take place during the last days.
Jehovah told his prophet Ezekiel to write on two sticks. He was to write on one stick, “For Judah and for the people of Israel who are with him,” and on the other one, “For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and all the house of Israel who are with him.” The two sticks were to become “just one stick” in Ezekiel’s hand.—Ezek. 37:15-17.
What is represented by the term “Ephraim”? The first king of the northern ten-tribe kingdom, Jeroboam, was from the tribe of Ephraim, which had become the dominant tribe. (Deut. 33:13, 17; 1 Ki. 11:26) This tribe came from Joseph’s son Ephraim. (Num. 1:32, 33) Joseph had received a special blessing from his father, Jacob. Therefore, it was appropriate that the stick representing the ten-tribe kingdom be called “the stick of Ephraim.” By the time Ezekiel recorded the prophecy about the two sticks, the northern kingdom of Israel had long since been taken captive by the Assyrians in 740 B.C.E. (2 Ki. 17:6) Thus, the majority of those Israelites were by that time scattered throughout the Babylonian Empire, which had supplanted the Assyrian Empire.
In 607 B.C.E., the southern two-tribe kingdom and perhaps any remaining ones from the northern kingdom were taken into exile in Babylon. The kings in the line of Judah had ruled these two tribes, and the priesthood was associated with them, for the priests served at the temple in Jerusalem. (2 Chron. 11:13, 14; 34:30) So it was fitting that the two-tribe kingdom would be represented by the stick that was “for Judah.”
When were these two symbolic sticks joined together? It was when the Israelites returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple in 537 B.C.E. Representatives of both the two-tribe kingdom and the ten-tribe kingdom returned together from exile. No longer was there a division between the sons of Israel. (Ezek. 37:21, 22) Once again, the Israelites worshipped Jehovah unitedly. This reconciliation had also been foretold by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.—Isa. 11:12, 13; Jer. 31:1, 6, 31.
What important truth about pure worship is highlighted by this prophecy? This: Jehovah will cause his worshippers to “become one.” (Ezek. 37:18, 19) Has this promise of unity come true in our time? Yes. Initially, the prophecy began to be fulfilled in 1919 when God’s people were gradually reorganized and reunited. Satan’s attempts to divide them permanently had been thwarted.
At that time, the majority of those reunited had the hope of becoming kings and priests in heaven with Jesus. (Rev. 20:6) Symbolically, they were like the stick for Judah. However, as time progressed, more and more of those with an earthly hope started to join themselves to these spiritual Jews. (Zech. 8:23) They were like the stick for Joseph, and they did not have the hope of ruling with Christ.
Unitedly, both groups serve together today as Jehovah’s people under one King, Jesus Christ, who is spoken of prophetically as “my servant David.” (Ezek. 37:24, 25) Jesus prayed that all his followers would ‘be one, just as his Father is in union with him and he is in union with his Father.’* (John 17:20, 21) Jesus also foretold that his little flock of anointed followers would “become one flock” with his “other sheep.” All of them would be under “one shepherd.” (John 10:16) How well Jesus’ words describe the spiritual unity of Jehovah’s people today no matter what hope they have for the future!
It is interesting to note the progression that Jesus used when he told the illustrations that became part of the sign of his presence. First, he referred to “the faithful and discreet slave,” the small group of anointed brothers who would take the lead. (Matt. 24:45-47) Then, he gave illustrations that applied primarily to all those with a heavenly hope. (Matt. 25:1-30) Finally, he spoke of those with an earthly hope who would support Christ’s brothers. (Matt. 25:31-46) Similarly, the modern-day fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy points first to what would happen to those with a heavenly hope. Although the ten-tribe kingdom does not usually picture those with the earthly hope, the unification described in this prophecy does remind us of the unity that exists between those with an earthly hope and those with a heavenly hope.