Ezekiel chapter 37 describes two sticks that became one stick. What does this mean?
Through his prophet Ezekiel, Jehovah foretold that his people would return to the Promised Land and that they would be united as one nation again. That prophecy also foretold that those who worship God during the last days would be united as one people.
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.—Ezekiel 37:15-17.
What does the term “Ephraim” mean? The tribe of Ephraim was the most prominent of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel. In fact, the first king who ruled over that kingdom, Jeroboam, was from the tribe of Ephraim. (Deuteronomy 33:13, 17; 1 Kings 11:26) That tribe descended from Ephraim, a son of Joseph. (Numbers 1:32, 33) Joseph had received a special blessing from his father, Jacob. So it was appropriate that “the stick of Ephraim” represented the ten tribes of the northern kingdom. In the year 740 before Christ, long before Ezekiel prophesied, the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and took the people captive. (2 Kings 17:6) Years later, the Babylonians defeated the Assyrians. So when Ezekiel wrote the prophecy about the two sticks, most of those Israelites were scattered throughout the Babylonian Empire.
In the year 607 before Christ, the Babylonians conquered the southern two-tribe kingdom of Judah and took the people to Babylon. They may also have taken any who remained from the northern kingdom of Israel. The kings of the southern kingdom were from the tribe of Judah. The priests also lived in Judah because they served at the temple in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 11:13, 14; 34:30) So it was fitting that the stick that was “for Judah” represented the two tribes of the southern kingdom.
When were the two sticks joined together? This happened in the year 537 before Christ, when representatives of both the southern kingdom and the northern kingdom returned to Jerusalem from exile to rebuild the temple. The nation of Israel was no longer divided. Once again, the Israelites worshipped Jehovah together. (Ezekiel 37:21, 22) This unity had also been foretold by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.—Isaiah 11:12, 13; Jeremiah 31:1, 6, 31.
What did Ezekiel’s prophecy foretell about pure worship? That Jehovah will cause all those who worship him to “become one.” (Ezekiel 37:18, 19) Has this promise come true in recent times? Yes. The prophecy began to be fulfilled in 1919. Before that, Satan had tried to divide God’s people permanently. But in 1919, they were gradually reorganized and reunited.
At that time, most of God’s people had the hope of becoming kings and priests in heaven with Jesus. (Revelation 20:6) They were like the stick for Judah. There were a few, however, who had the hope of living forever on earth. And as time went on, those with this hope increased in number. (Zechariah 8:23) They were like the stick for Joseph.
Today, both groups serve Jehovah together. And they have one King, Jesus Christ. In Ezekiel’s prophecy, he is spoken of as “my servant David.” (Ezekiel 37:24, 25) Jesus prayed to his Father about his followers: “May all [of them] be one, just as you, Father, are in union with me and I am in union with you.”* (See footnote.) (John 17:20, 21) Jesus also foretold that his little flock of anointed disciples would “become one flock” with his “other sheep.” All of them would follow “one shepherd.” (John 10:16) Just as Jesus described, all of God’s people today are united, whether they look forward to living forever in heaven or on earth!
When Jesus spoke about the sign of the last days, he gave his disciples several illustrations. It is interesting to note that he first referred to “the faithful and discreet slave,” the small group of anointed brothers who would take the lead among God’s people. (Matthew 24:45-47) Then he gave illustrations that referred to all the anointed ones. (Matthew 25:1-30) Finally he spoke about those who would support Christ’s brothers and live forever on earth. (Matthew 25:31-46) Similarly, when Ezekiel’s prophecy began to be fulfilled in our time, it applied first to those who had the hope of living in heaven. And although the ten tribes of Israel do not usually represent those who will live forever on earth, the unity described in this prophecy reminds us of the unity that exists between these ones and the anointed.