AN OBJECTION LESSON AND SEVEN TRUTHS
This passage serves as a transition, or hinge, between the prophesies of hope in chapters 34 through 37 and the prophesies of a new sanctuary in chapters 40-48 which will be established after the final defeat of evil in chapters 38 through 39. In this passage, God instructed Ezekiel to present an object lesson, then teach 7 future events that God revealed.
The Object Lesson
God (Yahweh) instructed Ezekiel to take two sticks and join them together. On the first stick, Ezekiel was to write “Judah and the people of Israel associated with him”. 1 Kings told us that God vowed to take most of the kingdom from Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, because Solomon turned from the LORD to worship the idols of his wives. (1 Kings 11:9-13) Because of the LORD’s love for David, he left the tribe of Judah in the hands of Rehoboam. The ten northern tribes, referred to from that point on as Israel, were given by God to Jeroboam. (1 KIngs 11:29-32). The tribe of Benjamin is the one not mentioned. Benjamin stayed loyal to the king of Judah. When Judah was conquered by the Babylonians and went into exile, Benjamin went with them. Mordecai, for example, is from the tribe of Benjamin in Persia after the fall of the Babylonian Empire and after the return of at least some of the Jews to Canaan. (Esther 2:5-6)
So, when the Lord said “Judah and the people associated with him”, Benjamin was included. The tribe of Levi was also included, at least in part, because of their service in the temple in Jerusalem, the capitol of Judah. There may also have been people from the other tribes who left Israel and come to live in Judah either out of loyalty to the house of David or to have access to the temple.
On the 2nd stick, Ezekiel was to write “for Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the hose of Israel associated with him”. (37:16) Ephraim was one of the tribes which tore away from Rehoboam and associated with Jeroboam in the northern kingdom. It is located north of Judah and Benjamin, right in the center of the country. It was a powerful tribe and the whole northern kingdom came to be identified with Ephraim. The whole northern kingdom went into exile after Assyria conquered it. The tribes were re-located and no one can trace them today.
After writing on the two sticks, Ezekiel was told by God to join them together so that they became one stick.
(37:17) That is the object lesson.
What Does This Mean?
God anticipated that, when the exiles saw Ezekiel do this, they would ask what it means. It is also a nice literary device to bridge between the object lesson and the explanation.
The question is also well founded. Israel, the northern kingdom, had gone into exile 150 years before. They did not maintain their identity as Jews and members of tribes. So, why was God even mentioning them?
Truth 1. God will reunite the tribes of Israel into one nation. (37:19, 22) This is an interesting claim, since the ten tribes were dispersed and “lost”. But, looking back to chapter 36 and the dry bones, this might indicate that it happens when God gives the Holy Spirit and creates a new people for himself out of Jews and Gentiles, the church. If so, then the reference to the one nation is symbolic of the people God will create for himself under Christ. That seems to fit the pattern from earlier in chapter 37, the revival of the dry bones. And it seems to fit the rest of the truths God reveals in this chapter.
Truth 2. God will bring them to their own land (21,22). Again we may see a partial fulfillment of this when the Jews return to Judah from Persia under Ezra and Nehemiah. But, also again, that cannot be the complete fulfillment, because it does not fit with the other truths God reveals in this passage, the establishment of David as king and shepherd dwelling with them forever. The same applies to the re-establishment of Israel in 1947. There is no Davidic king.
Truth 3. The people of God will be holy. (22, 24b) God said they will not defile themselves anymore with idols, detestable things or any other transgressions. The Jews seem to have avoided idol worship when they returned to Judah. But they had many other problems, leading to threats of judgment from Malachi, John the Baptist and Jesus. And they were destroyed again by the Romans in a very similar way to the destruction by the Babylonians. But, when salvation came through Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was given to believers, they were given the ability to live holy lives. Yes, they still sin. But, conversion marks the beginning of a journey of increasing sanctification. That is what is meant by 36:27: “And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” It is the same with Jeremiah’s words “I will put my law within them and i will write it on their hearts”. (Jeremiah 31:5) He said this in the context of the new covenant the Lord would make with his people.
Truth 4. God will save his people from their sins. (37:23b) He will save them from their backslidings and will cleanse them. Being “saved” is at the heart of salvation terminology. Those who are away from God are lost. Those whom God has brought to himself are saved. John 3:17 says “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”. An angel told Joseph “...you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”. (Matthew 1:21) Paul wrote “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to dave sinners, of whom I am the foremost”. (1 Timothy 1:15)
God also cleanses sinners of the stain of sin. Ephesians 5:25-27 says “...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
Part of salvation is coming into a relationship with God through Christ. God, in verse 23, says these these new people will be his people and he will be their God. He also said “I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them.” (26)
Believers are in a new covenant with God. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of this. Jesus said “this cup is the new covenant in my blood.” (1 Corinthians 11:25) The New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant, as the book of Hebrews explained. It is the new covenant God proclaimed through Jeremiah: Behold the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah...I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God and they shall be my people”. (Jeremiah 31:31-33) Hebrews 13:20-21 says “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Revelation shows us that when God makes all things new, he will continue in covenant with believers for eternity. In John’s vision, God said “The one who conquers will have this heritage (the water of life) and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:7) This is an individual application of God’s promise that they will be his people and he will be their God.
Truth 5. They shall dwell in the land forever. (25) This clearly did not apply to the return from exile, for the Jews did not live in the land forever. The Romans ran them out of Judah. The Arabs later ran them out again. They were out until 1947. Additionally, the dwelling in the land is tied to the reign of Davidic prince, whom we know to be Jesus, the Messiah. There has been no king in Israel since the exile, excepting a period under the Macabees. Interestingly, Jesus made no mention of a return to the land for the Jews. Indeed he took the words of Psalm 37:11 “the meek will inherit the land” and expanded it in Matthew 5:5 to “blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” So, while there may have been a partial fulfillment of this word from God in the return from exile, the greater fulfillment, and I think the true picture, is that God would give the church the world to conquer for the kingdom of Christ, and that in eternity believers, old covenant and new covenant, would live forever on the new earth or new Jerusalem.
Truth 6. God’s people will have a king and shepherd. This person will be of the line of David. He came to be known as the Messiah, or anointed one. Therefore, the very first verse of Matthew says “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Christ=Messiah=Anointed One), the son of David...” Every Jew knew the Messiah would be a king in the line of David. Matthew had to prove that lineage first before he could go on to other proofs, or no Jew would read or listen to his gospel. The Wise Men who came to Herod looked for the baby who was the “king of the Jews”. (Matthew 2:2) I think they got that from the book of Daniel. Daniel had a vision of one like a son of man to whom was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that would be an everlasting kingdom that would not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14) Revelation 22:3 completes the picture by showing us that, in the New Jerusalem or new earth, “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it...”. Jesus will reign forever over his people.
Truth 7. God will dwell in the midst of his people forever. God said “my dwelling place shall be with them” and “my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore”. This is tabernacle and temple language. Again, this cannot refer to the return from exile. It took the Jews years to build the 2nd Jewish temple. It was destroyed in 70 A.D. and has never been rebuilt. For 20 centuries, God has not dwelt in Judah or Israel. But, God did come to dwell in his people, the believers in Christ. John applied this concept to Jesus while he was on earth with the disciples. He said “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. (John 1:14) It literally says he “pitched his tent”, a reference to the tabernacle.
Jesus made clear that the temple became his body. He said “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) John explained “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21)
Jesus told the Samaritan woman, in response to her statement that the Samaritans and Jews disagreed on which temple was proper for worship, that “...the hours is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father...But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the father in spirit and truth.... (John 4:21-23) Here you see that no physical temple is indicated. Here you also see the fulfillment of God’s word that Judah and Ephraim will be one. The Samaritans lived where the northern kingdom once was. In Jesus, the differences between the Samaritans and Jews are destroyed, just as Ephesians 2:14-21 tells us the differences between Jews and all Gentiles are destroyed. In Christ, people of all nations are united.
Stephen pointed out that God does not dwell in houses made by hands. (Acts 7:48) Paul repeatedly taught that the church was the temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says “Do you not know you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you...For God’s temple is holy and you are that temple.” In Ephesians, Paul wrote to Gentile believers: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:21-22)
Once God comes to dwell in and among believers through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, he never leaves. It truly is forever. Again this is shown in Revelation’s account of the new earth. Revelation 21:22 says there is no temple in the new earth, for the Father and Son are there, dwelling in the midst of believers, and are the temple. (Revelation 21:22) As Ezekiel said, “my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore”.