Ezekiel 37:14–28, The vision of the two sticks (trees). The second vision Ezekiel records in chapter 37 involves YHVH commanding him to take two sticks (or trees) and writing upon one stick “for Judah and for the children of Israel and his companions [i.e., those who have knit themselves together with or joined to the tribe of Judah],” and upon the other stick, write “for Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel and his companions.” Ezekiel was to then join the two sticks together so that they would become one stick (or tree) in his hand (verses 15–17).
How were these two nations, which separated from each other some three thousand years ago, to be rejoined into one nation? That has been the subject of much debate between both Jewish and Christian commentators for years. Some modern historical revisionists view this prophecy as having been fulfilled when the Jews returned to the land of Israel in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah after their Babylonian captivity ended. But this interpretation leaves some unanswered questions. The book of Ezra, which chronicles the return of a remnant of Jews from Babylon to the land of Israel, lists the numbers and tribes of those who returned. All the tribes listed were originally from Jerusalem and Judah and were from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (Ezra 2:1; 4:1; 10:9), and there is no mention made that any of the ten northern Israelite tribes joined the Jews in resettling the land of Israel. So far as the returning Jews were concerned, it is likely that they considered their northern brothers lost and assimilated among their Assyrian captors and that only they were left of all the twelve tribes to resettle the Promised Land. If this were so, this may explain why they considered themselves to be “all Israel” (Ezra 2:70; 6:17), since they considered themselves to be the representative remnant of all the twelve tribes, even though their numbers did not consist of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Furthermore, how do those who teach that the prophecy of the two sticks has already been fulfilled explain how anytime in Israel’s past history the two sticks became one nation, and how the once scattered twelve tribes of Israel were regathered from the nations of the world, and how all were resettled in their own land (Ezek 37:21)? Whenever in the past did all the twelve tribes of Israel completely disassociate themselves from the pollution and defilement of paganism and start serving Elohim in perfect righteousness (Ezek 37:23)? Moreover, has David ever been resurrected from the grave to rule over the regathered and reunited Israel as this prophecy declares will happen (Ezek 37:24–25)? After all, the Scriptures tells us that David is dead and buried to this day (Acts 2:29), and awaits the resurrection of the saints at the second coming of Yeshua.
Ezekiel 37:23 also clearly states that, once reunited, the Israelites—the twelve tribes of Israel, will be obeying YHVH’s Torah commandments—something that the majority of Jews, with the exception, perhaps, a few of the Orthodox—have failed to do to this day. Even then, if all the Jews (who the Jewish sages believe to be descendants of the southern kingdom of Judah) were assiduously following the Torah, this does not address who the other tribes are, nor how they are fulfilling this prophecy regarding Torah obedience.
Finally, if this prophecy were already fulfilled, then we also have to explain how YHVH has formulated his everlasting covenant of peace with the regathered and reunited Israel and how he has set his sanctuary or tabernacle in the midst of them forevermore (Ezek 37:26–28).
Has this prophecy already been fulfilled? The biblical evidence above would indicate not. Christian commentator, Adam Clarke commenting on this prophecy agrees. He writes that though some out of the northern ten tribes did rejoin themselves to Judah, yet no whole tribe ever returned to that kingdom, and that united they never had a king over them from that day till now. Keil and Delitzsch view this prophecy as not having been fulfilled at some time in ancient Israel’s past, but as one spanning the whole future of the people of Elohim—even to eternity culminating with the New Jerusalem. These Christian commentators view these prophecies of Ezekiel to be parallel to those of Moses (Deut 32:36–43), Obadiah (verse 17), Joel (3:5), Micah (4:1; 10:21), Isaiah (4:3; 10:21; 11:9), Jeremiah (30:3), and in many other places, all of which prophesy a literal return of the people of Israel to the literal land of Israel in line with the promises of YHVH. And the fulfillment of these prophecies corresponds with the rule of Yeshua the Messiah not only over his people Israel, but over the whole earth. Christian scholars are not alone in seeing the two-stick prophecy of Ezekiel as having a future fulfillment.
The Orthodox rabbinic commentators similarly believe that the uniting of the divided kingdoms of Israel is a future Messianic era (millennial) event. We must admit that the ancient Jewish sages were in disagreement as to whether all the twelve tribes would actually return to take their rightful place along side the Jews of the tribe of Judah, or whether, over the years, enough members of the twelve tribes had assimilated into and joined with Judah to constitute a quorum representing all the twelve tribes. Some Jewish sages took the position that Judah represented all Israel, and that the ten northern tribes would not return, while other Jewish sages viewed in a literal sense the biblical prophecies concerning the regathering and reunification of Israel. This debate continued for some time and is recorded in the Jewish writings of the Mishnah, the Tosefta and into the Talmud where it was settled in favor of a literal return of all twelve tribes from the nations to where they had been scattered.
What do the Jewish sages say about this prophecy? Do the Jewish sages of the common era believe that they are the only ones to fulfill the Ezekiel 37, two-sticks prophecy? What do they teach about this subject?
According Ibn Ezra,
Many nations will descend from him [Abraham] (i.e., the word מלא [melo], fullness, connotes abundance, the phrase meaning: And his seed will become the abundance of the nation [Neter; Karnei Or].) (The ArtScrollBereishis/Genesis Commentary p. 2121 on Gen 48:19). (The ArtScroll Bereishis/Genesis Commentary p. 2121 on Gen 48:19).
R. Avraham b. HaRambam somewhat similarly states,
The expression denotes abundant profligacy to a point that they will have to inhabit lands of other nations it is an allusion to Ephraim’s expansive territory. (Ibid.)
On the same passage in Genesis 48, the Radak declares,
This refers to the Exile when the lands of others will be filled with his scattered descendants … See also Hos. 7:8: “Ephraim shall be mingled among the nations.” (Ibid.)
The ArtScroll Bereishis/Genesis Commentary continues,
“What kind of blessing was this prediction that one day [Jacob’s] descendants—the Ten Tribes—would be scattered among the nations? R. Munk explains: while it is true that the dispersion was caused by the unfaithfulness and sinfulness of Ephraim’s descendants (Hos. 7:8ff), Jacob’s blessing was not in vain for “they will return to God” and will have their share in the world to come ([Talmud] Sanhedrin 110b). And R. Eliezer adds: ‘Even the darkness in which the Ten Tribes were lost will one day become as radiant as the day’ (according to the version of Avos d’Rabbi Nosson 36). And in the perspective of history, did not these exiled children of the Patriarchs enlighten the nations among whom they were scattered? They did so by teaching their conquerors the fundamental ideas of the knowledge and love of God, ideals they had never forsaken. Hence they too have a messianic vocation and their Messiah the … Messiah son of Joseph (Succah 52a), also called Messiah son of Ephraim (Targum Yonasan on Exodus 40:11), will play an essential role in humanity’s redemption, for he will be the precursor of the … Messiah Son of David … (pp. 2121-2122).
In the Encyclopedia Judaica, in an article entitled “Tribes, Lost Ten” we read the following (written by: Executive Committee of the Editorial Board, Joseph Jacobs),
According to the Bible, Tiglath-pileser (II Kgs. xv. 29) or Shalmaneser (ib. xvii. 6, xviii. 11), after the defeat of Israel, transported the majority of the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and Habor, on the stream of Gozan, and in the towns of Media. In their stead a mixed multitude was transported to the plains and mountains of Israel. As a large number of prophecies relate to the return of “Israel” to the Holy Land, Believers in the literal inspiration of the Scriptures have always labored under a difficulty in regard to the continued existence of the tribes of Israel, with the exception of those of Judah and Levi (or Benjamin), which returned with Ezra and Nehemiah. If the Ten Tribes have disappeared, the literal fulfillment of the prophecies would be impossible; if they have not disappeared, obviously they must exist under a different name. The numerous attempts at identification that have been made constitute some of the most remarkable curiosities of literature.
In the Apocrypha it is presumed that the ten tribes still exist as tribes. Thus Tobit is stated to be of the tribe of Naphtali, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs assume their continuous existence. In the Fourth Book of Ezra (xiii 39-45) it is declared that the Ten Tribes were carried by Hosea, king in the time of Shalmaneser, to the Euphrates, at the narrow passages of the river, whence they went on for a journey of a year and a half to a place called Arzareth. Schiller-Szinessy pointed out that “Arzareth” is merely a contraction of “ere aretz,” the “other land” into which YHVH says He “will cast them [the people] as this day”; see Deut xxix. 27, which verse is referred by R. Akiba to the Lost Ten Tribes (Sanh. x. 4; comp. “Journal of Philology,” iii. 114).
The ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash in regards to Deuteronomy 32:26 which says, “I said, I would scatter them into the corners …” (KJV) comments,
This refers to the exile of the Ten Tribes, who were scattered to an unknown place where they have never been heard from again (p. 1105).
On the phrase of the same verse, “I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men …” the same Chumash states, “This is a reference to the exile of Judah and Benjamin, the Davidic kingdom from which today’s known Jews are descended.” It goes on to say that though nations would seek to destroy Israel entirely YHVH would never allow Israel to become extinct or disappear. Israel’s perpetual existence is constant reminder of YHVH’s plan and eventually Israel will thrive and fulfill YHVH’s intention for it” (pp. 1105-1106).
S.R. Hirsch in his commentary on the Pentateuch on the same verse translates the phrase, “I would scatter them into the corners …” as, “I would relegate them into a corner … ” and then says that the Hebrew here refers to the “extreme end of a surface, the side or corner …” He, too, relates this fate to the ten tribes who would be scattered “to some distant corner of the world, where, left entirely to themselves, they could mature towards serious reflection and ultimate return to Me, …” (The Pentateuch/Deuteronomy, p. 650).
In conclusion, it is hopefully clear from this study that the two-sticks prophecy of Ezekiel 37 is yet to be fulfilled. This is obvious from the passage itself, since many of the events it predicts are yet to occur, and this has been the interpretation of the leading Jewish sages over the millennia.
Whoever the house of Ephraim and his companions may be (and the Scriptures says that YHVH knows who they are) they will be regathered to the land of their inheritance in the last days, and reunited with their brother, Judah. As a single national entity, they will then be ruled by an obviously resurrected King David (Ezek 37:24–25), and YHVH will make a new covenant with them and YHVH’s tabernacle or dwelling place will be with them (37:26–28). It should be obvious that these events have yet to occur.
Furthermore, we know from the Book of Revelation that eventually the heavenly New Jerusalem will descend to this earth and will become the habitation of the resurrected and glorified saints of YHVH-Yeshua. It is clear that the twelve tribes of Israel and all their grafted-in companions will be regathered at this time, for the only way into that city will be through twelve gates named after the twelve tribes of Israel. There is no “Gentile Gate” (Rev 21:12). So to which tribe of Israel do you belong?