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An Exegetical Look at Ezekiel 37:15ff

(Evaluating a Mormon View)

Dr. J. E. Rosscup

I. The Problem

            Is the popular Mormon view acceptable, that the two sticks refer to the Book of Mormon (Stick of Joseph) and the Bible (Stick of Judah)? The view is that the sticks have parchment rolled around them containing books. For the Mormon view cf. LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, (pp. 67-68), and other sources in the next paragraph.

         Mormons point in their Book of Mormon to II Nephi 29:6-14 to help prove their view. That passage argues that God not only gave one book to the nation of Jews, but another book to other nations. [But even here, it sounds like not two books, but the Bible (v. 10) and many other books (v. 11) by various prophets (v. 12), and men are to be judged out of those books]. Mormons believe that the two “sticks” (to them the two “books”) were joined in the early days of Mormonism (1840’s). So they became one book “in the hands of Ephraim” (Ezek. 37:19). They believe that the men who long ago engraved the plates of the Book of Mormon were in the line of Ephraim and Manasseh (Alma 10:3, Book of Mormon). So the Book of Mormon is the Book of Ephraim (cf. E. A. Smith, Restoration: A Study in Prophecy, a Mormon source, (p. 165); cf. also J. E. Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith,(p. 276); Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon. One can see a Mormon’s rejection of this Mormon view and an assertion of the correct view of Ezekiel 37:15ff.

         In Heber C. Snell, “Roundtable: The Bible in the Church,” in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring, 1967), pp. 61-62. Mormons similarly hold that Isaiah 29:11-14 by its “book that is sealed” refers to the future Book of Mormon as “a marvelous work and a wonder.” Mormons claim, as Richards shows, that Isaiah 29:11-12 was realized when Joseph Smith received and translated golden plates to write the Book of Mormon. For a refutation of such Mormon contentions, cf. Marvin W. Cowan, Mormon Claims Answered, (36-38); David A. Reed and John R. Farkas, Mormons Answered Verse by Verse, (58-59); Bill McKeever, Answering Mormons’ Questions, (68-69).

II. Views on Ezekiel 37:15ff.

          A. Mormon View (above)

         B. Widespread View of Most Scholars. God shows Ezekiel in a vision in which the prophet is to use two sticks he combines together the future joining of Israel and Judah into a union again as part of the blessing in the Messianic Kingdom. Cf. commentaries on Ezekiel by Ralph Alexander, Daniel Block, Paul Enns, C. L. Feinberg, etc.; and cf. The MacArthur Study Bible notes at 37:15ff.

III. The Preferred View (II., B. above).

         This appears correct due to the following hermeneutical supports

         A. Near Context (many observations).

                  1. v. 12. God promises to bring people of Israel back into their ancient land to inherit it in a day of national blessing. In Ezekiel 37, two portions state this, first vv. 1-14 with the key in v. 12 precisely stating Israel’s return, second in vv. 15ff with key verses such as 21-22 agreeing with v. 12.

                  2. v. 14. Again the claim is clear and definite.

                  3. v. 15. Observe “For Judah and for the children of Israel . . . .”

                  4. v. 18. In the context, Ezekiel’s audience, watching his dramatic action, asks him to “show us what you mean by these.” Then Ezekiel gives the direct answer, involving Israel and Judah which the people know about, not the Book of Mormon and the Bible which they do not know about.

                  5. vv. 21-22. The “two nations . . . two kingdoms” in view are Israel and Judah as in 35:10. In v. 22, the idea is not two scrolls, but two groups of Israeli people that God makes into one unified people, together in “the land,” denoting Palestine as earlier in Ezekiel’s context (cf. the land that Babylonians remove Israelites from in chaps. 1-24, the land distinct from lands of neighboring nations in chaps. 25-32, the land where Jerusalem receives devastation by Babylonian invaders in chap. 33, the landfrom which Israelites are scattered as sheep in chap. 34, the land which God judged but which He later will bless with kingdom welfare in chap. 36, etc.).

         In the Messianic day, one king will be over the two parts of Israel, which are no longer “two nations” but one, “neither shall they be divide into two kingdoms any more.”

        B. Wider Context (again, many statements)

                  1. Ezekiel 28:25-26. God pledges to restore Israel to its land, and it has to be Palestine since it is “their own land which I gave to My servant Jacob” (v. 25).

                  2. 34:11ff. God as a Shepherd will search for and regather His people, as a shepherd seeks out his sheep, and bringss them back “to their own land . . .on the mountains of Israel” (v. 13).

                  3. 36:1-15. God promises that “mountains of Israel” formerly devastated will be blessed as He populates them again, even blesses hills, rivers and valleys (v. 6) and restores cities (v. 10).

                  4. 36:1