Stick of Judah and Stick of Ephraim (or Joseph) - Ezekiel 37
(Why isn’t this account also in BOM?)
The book Why I Believe by LDS writer Joseph Edward Clark, 1952, pp. 69-70, explains the LDS teaching concerning Ezekiel 37.
Clark writes: “The Holy Bible has for several centuries been the world’s most important book.” He explains that the people written about in the Book of Mormon (BOM) who came to the New World about 600 B.C. were from the tribes of Ephraim and Mannassah. Clark continues,
“Now, if the Book of Mormon is a divinely inspired record of the children of Israel we would expect to find some mention of it, or some statement relative to it in the Bible. And behold, the Bible does contain declarations pertinent to the Book of Mormon, as we shall see. The Lord, speaking through His Prophet Ezekiel said:
“’Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, for Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions: And join them one to another into one stick .... And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these? Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand. And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes.’ (Ezek.37:16-20)
“Thus spoke the Lord through His Prophet Ezekiel. (In early Church times books were composed of writings on long strips of papyrus or other material, which was rolled on sticks and sometimes referred to as scrolls, but in the time of Ezekiel a book was called a ‘stick,’ probably because the material upon which it was written was rolled up on a stick..)
“The above quoted passage from Ezekiel is of great significance to the Latter-day Saints, because the prophet Joseph Smith declared the ‘stick of Judah’ is the Holy Bible and the ‘stick of Ephraim’ the Book of Mormon. To all other churches the passage is of no significance, but remains a spiritual mystery [cf. pp. 66-68, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, 1975 ed.] ....
“.... the majority of the Latter-day Saints are descendants of the tribe of Ephraim - a son of Joseph who had been sold by his brethren into Egypt.
“Now since the majority of the members of the church represent Ephraim; since the stick of Judah (Bible) and stick of Ephraim (Book of Mormon) are, and according to Ezekiel, were to be with each other ‘in the hands of Ephraim,’ we have a literal fulfillment of the second paragraph of the passage quoted above. Joseph Smith was the first man with the inspiration to identify the ‘stick of Ephraim.’” - pp. 69-70.
Clark’s statement that “books” were called “sticks” in the time of Ezekiel, “probably because the material upon which it was written was rolled up on a stick” - is clearly and totally false!
In the first place, as Clark correctly points out, the writing throughout the time of the Bible writers was done on scrolls (or rolls) of material (often parchment, animal skin, papyrus, etc.) rolled up on sticks. However, for the longer scroll (such as would be required for either the Bible or the BOM):
“[it] was wound around two sticks, one at each end, and was read by moving the paper from one roll to the other [or one stick to the other]” - Today’s Dictionary of the Bible, p. 554.
“Among the Hebrews books were generally rolled up like our maps, or if very long they were rolled from both ends, forming two rolls (Luke 4:17-20). Thus they were arranged when the writing was on flexible materials; but if the writing was on tablets of wood or brass or lead, then the several tablets were bound together by rings through which a rod was passed.” Easton’s Bible Dictionary.
It obviously would not be practical to have only one stick for a scroll of any real length.
So, if “books” had really been called “sticks,” there would have been two sticks to represent one scroll or “book”! Therefore, Ezekiel would have talked of the two “sticks” of the Bible and the two “sticks” of the BOM. And the four “sticks” would have been joined together to make two “sticks.”
But we don’t really need to be concerned with such an odd metaphor for scrolls or “books” anyway. If we search the Bible (and the BOM), we will find that “stick” is never used for “scrolls” or “books,” either literally or figuratively!
Clark’s statement that “books” were called “sticks” in the time of Ezekiel was entirely made up out of wishful thinking and has absolutely no basis in fact.
The truth is, writings in those days (and throughout the Bible) were called “writings,” “scrolls,” or “rolls” (and translated “books” 87 times in the King James Version and in Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version).
Here are all the uses of “stick” (in addition to Ezekiel 37) found in the KJV (and the Inspired Version) as listed in Young’s Analytical Concordance: Numbers 15:32, 33; 1 Kings 17:10, 12; 2 Kings 6:6; Lamentations 4:3; Acts 28:3 - Not once is “stick” used (either literally or figuratively) to mean “books”!
We can also see that “scroll” is used at Is. 34:4 and Rev. 6:14. “Roll” is used at Is. 8:1; Jer. 36:14; and Ezekiel 3:1, 2, 3. And “book” is used at Ex. 17:14; Deut. 17:18; Josh. 1:8; 1 Sam. 10:25; Is. 30:8; Jer. 36:2; Ezekiel 2:9; and 80 other scriptures.
Yes, the Bible writers called their writings “scrolls,” “rolls,” or “books” but never “sticks”! - (Remember, too, that the BOM was never on a scroll, with or without sticks, but was supposed to have been engraved on metal plates.) - We can also see what Ezekiel calls God’s word when he uses figurative language by reading Ezekiel 2:7-3:10 where God explains that Ezekiel is to deliver His word to Israel.
The context of Ezekiel 2:7-3:10 clearly shows that Ezekiel is to take the words of God and deliver them to Israel. He symbolizes this by a roll (or a “scroll” - RSV) of a book (not by “sticks”) with writing on both sides - Ezek. 2:9-10. Ezekiel clearly uses “scroll” or “roll” even when he figuratively represents the words and commands of God that are passed down to men.
But to return to the “sticks” of Ezekiel 37: The central theme of Ezekiel 34-37 is the regathering of people (whether a figurative or literal regathering isn’t the point of this discussion) who had fallen from God’s proper worship and became a disunited scattered people.
In 1 Kings chapters 11 and 12 it is recorded that the single nation or kingdom of the 12 tribes of Israel divided into two separate kingdoms. This division persisted until finally both kingdoms were destroyed by Gentile nations and their people taken away into captivity.
The two tribes of the southern kingdom, Judah and Benjamin, (and the small number of individuals from the other 10 tribes that remained among them) were commonly designated as “Judah” while the 10-tribe northern kingdom (including a small number of residents from the other two tribes) was designated variously as “Joseph,” “Ephraim,” or the “kingdom of Israel” (but never “Manasseh”).
Today’s Dictionary of the Bible identifies the southern kingdom as the “Kingdom of JUDAH” - p. 362, Bethany House, 1982. The same reference book says:
“The name Joseph denotes ... the kingdom of Israel [the 10 northern tribes] in Ezekiel 37:16, 19; Amos 5:6 [& 5:15; also Zech. 10:6]” - p. 358.
The reference book Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 526, shows that
“As the dominant tribe of the northern kingdom, Ephraim came to stand for the entire 10-tribe kingdom.”
In addition to the scriptures just noted, see how “Judah” and “Ephraim” are used at Is. 11:11-13 (also 2 Nephi 21:11-13). They apply (as in Ezekiel’s “stick” prophecy) to the two kingdoms which Isaiah also shows are to be reunited (whether literally or figuratively). Also see 2 Chron. 25:5, 7 for another instance of “Judah” and “Ephraim.” And see Ps. 78:67-68 and Zechariah for further instances.
The uses of “Joseph,” “Ephraim,” and “Judah,” then, have always been perfectly clear to all knowledgeable Bible students. Therefore, when these terms were used in Ezekiel 37, no deep thought or mystical interpretations were necessary, then or now.
The understanding of the common usage of these terms and the clear context of Ezek. 37 made the intended meaning obvious then and now. Please read all of Ezekiel 37. Just like the “bones” coming together in verse 7 (and explained in verse 11) the joining of the two “sticks” (one “stick” obviously representing the southern kingdom of Judah, the other representing the northern kingdom of Israel - which together represent all tribes of God’s people) clearly shows that the people of God who fell from his favor would one day be united as one nation again. (Whether you interpret this to mean the literal restoration of Israel, including some individuals from all tribes, after the release from Babylonian captivity in the 6th century B.C. or the figurative unity of spiritual “Israel” under the one kingdom of God and Jesus in the last days is not the question of this discussion.)
To be absolutely sure there could be no mistake in the symbolism of the two “sticks” analogy, the rest of God’s statement at Ezekiel 37:21, 22 explains it in very plain, straightforward language:
“And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided any more at all.”
For Clark to say, “To all other churches the passage is of no significance but remains a spiritual mystery” is completely false. And Clark’s emphasis of the significance of Joseph Smith’s being the first man “with the inspiration to identify the ‘stick of Ephraim’” is completely true, but the significance is to the detriment of his position as a prophet of God!
I doubt if there is any Christian-professing organization today (except the LDS, of course) which doesn’t see Ezekiel 37 exactly as it is: The prophesied gathering of Israelites into one nation. - See Ezekiel 37 in Today’s English Version; Living Bible; footnote for Ezek. 37:19 in The NIV Study Bible; footnote for Ezek. 37:15-28 in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 1977; footnote for Ezek. 37:15-22 in The New American Bible, St. Joseph ed., 1970.
Notice how God phrases it at Ezekiel 37:19 -
“I will take the stick of Joseph .. and will put them with him ... and make them one stick ...”
Obviously God is speaking figuratively of people as becoming united (“one ‘stick’”) not books being united! - Examine 37:19 carefully! This, along with the careful analysis of all of Ezekiel 37, makes the proper understanding unmistakable.
- - - -
We can also see that, according to Ezek. 37:19, the stick of Joseph (“the BOM”?) is already in the hand of Ephraim before it is joined together with the stick of Judah (“the Bible”?).
The LDS Church, in an attempt to make use of this verse, declares that “the majority of the Latter-day Saints are descendants of the tribe of Ephraim.” (see pp. 843-#26, & 845-#32 in D&C Commentary, 1957 ed.)
This is entirely unfounded and insupportable! There is absolutely no evidence that the majority (or even a significant minority) of Non-Jewish Europeans or Americans (Mormons or not) have descended from any of the tribes of Israel (let alone the single tribe of Ephraim).
In fact, Joseph Smith’s teachings indicate the so-called “lost” 10 tribes (which include the tribe of Ephraim) are still off in some unknown, isolated location in the far north (see Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, pp. 843, 844) - Therefore, modern Europeans and Americans are not their descendants.
Smith was obviously wrong in this fanciful interpretation, but the LDS Church is stuck with it nevertheless. The Bible makes it very clear that the Israelites would be scattered among all the nations.
“And the LORD shall scatter thee among all the people, from one end of the earth even unto the other” - Deut. 28:64, compare Deut. 4:27. “Ephraim is smitten.... My God will cast them away ... they shall be wanderers among the nations.” - Hosea 9:16, 17.
“But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations” - Zechariah 7:14, cf. Luke 21:24.
And when the Israelites “return,” they will return, not from some hidden place “in the North” but, from all the nations.
“Then the LORD thy God... will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.” - Deut. 30:3.
Even if, somehow, some Mormons actually were descendants of the “lost tribes,” only a tiny percentage of them could be of the tribe of Ephraim. Any LDS congregation that actually had a few of these “descendants” would be much more likely to have descendants of the other eleven tribes than of Ephraim alone! And because of time and loss of all records there is no way to tell which tribe, if any, a Mormon (or anyone else) has descended from!
Even those people who allegedly made the record which became the Book of Mormon were supposed to have been of the tribe of Manasseh not Ephraim (Alma 10:3). Not only that, but those who Joseph Smith said made the BOM record in the New World (the Nephites) completely died out, and the Lamanites (also of the tribe of Mannaseh) became today’s American Indians. These descendants of Manasseh, then, some of whom are Mormons today, also cannot be the “Ephraim” of Ezekiel 37:19.
Impossible as it is, though, let’s assume that, somehow, most Mormons are descendants of Ephraim. How, then, is Ezekiel 37:19 fulfilled according to LDS interpretation? If “Ephraim” means those who became LDS members (even though the Church teaches that the tribe of Ephraim is tucked away somewhere in the far North today), then they must have already had (according to their interpretation of Ezek. 37:19) the BOM (the “stick of Joseph”) in their hands when they received the Bible for the first time! But, as everyone knows, the ancestors of most Mormons today were Americans and Europeans who had the Bible (“stick of Judah”) many centuries before they received the “stick of Joseph”!
And, of course, even Joseph Smith’s ancient BOM people always had the “stick of Judah.” They even brought it (written on brass plates) over to the New World (according to the BOM itself) about 600 B.C.! The writing of the record that became the BOM didn’t even begin until about this time and wasn’t completed until after 400 A.D. And the actual Book of Mormon itself wasn’t completed until 1830 A.D. “Ephraim” had the “stick of Judah” for at least 2400 years before it had the “stick of Joseph” also put into its hands even according to LDS interpretation! Therefore Ezekiel 37:19 actually proves the impossibility of the “sticks” being books interpretation!
Notice how God also identifies the “sticks” even before his clear explanation at Ezekiel 37:21, 22. While still using figurative language he says: “For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for...” (37:16). The “stick of Ephraim” is set off by commas here, showing that it is an appositive of Joseph. That means the “stick of Ephraim” identifies, or is the same as, Joseph, not a “book”! Other respected translations make it even clearer: “For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and ...” - RSV and NRSV; “This stick represents all the other tribes of Israel.” – LB, also see GNB; Reader’s Digest Bible;
Finally, and most importantly, as noted earlier, notice who interprets the figurative two sticks for us already: God Himself says at Ezek. 37:18-22 -
“And when your people say to you [Ezekiel], ‘Will you not show us what you mean by these [two sticks]?’ say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (which is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him; and I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand. When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, then say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and I will gather them from all sides, and bring them to their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms.” - RSV. (Compare Joseph Smith’s very own virtually identical “inspired” translation of this scripture: The Holy Scriptures - Inspired Version by Joseph Smith Jr., Herald Publishing House, Independence Missouri, 1974 ed.)
What should we think about any “Prophet” who presumes to “correct” God’s own explanation of the figurative “two sticks”?