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 told 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 after their captivity. 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 until 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.
- Clarkes Commentary, vol 4, pp. 524–525.
- Keil and Delitzsch, vol. 9, pp. 318–321.
- The ArtScroll Ezekiel Commentary, pp. 572–573, 575
- Ibid.; Everyman’s Talmud, by Avraham Cohen, pp. 354-355