23 January 2014Ezekiel 37:15-23
“Mortal, take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah, and the Israelites associated with it’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with it’; and join them together into one stick, so that they may become one in your hand.” (vv. 16-17)
The first half of Ezekiel 37 - the vision of the dry bones - inspired the well-known spiritual 'Dem bones'; it would be interesting to know whether the symbolic action with the two sticks in the second half has also inspired a song! The vision pictured the restoration of a people without hope; the symbolic action is about the reunion of two kingdoms.
The kingdom that had been one under Kings Saul, David, and Solomon was divided into two following the death of Solomon in 924 BC (see 1 Kings 12). The northern kingdom was destroyed in 722 BC. In 597 BC the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in the southern kingdom and Ezekiel was deported to Babylon; Jerusalem was destroyed a decade later.
The symbolic action, joining the two sticks to make them one (presumably end to end), was thought to help bring about the actual event. Those who witness the action ask for an explanation and the prophet announces what God is about to do. The two kingdoms are to be reunited, have one king, and never again be divided (verse 22); they shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions (verse 23a); God will save them from all their apostasies in which they have fallen and will cleanse them (verse 23b).
In 2009, today's passage (with the addition of verse 24a) was included in a service for all ages during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. That year the resources drew on the experience of the churches in Korea where there was also (and still is) a context of division between North and South. Last autumn, the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches met in Busan in South Korea and the political division of the Korean peninsula was a prominent feature.
- What actions might be symbolic of what you believe God is doing or is about to do? Would they prompt people you know to ask for an explanation? How would you offer such an explanation?
- What would you say to someone who said it is inappropriate to apply this part of Ezekiel's prophecy to the disunity of the Church?
- Thinking of other parts of the world where nations have been divided, in which ones might Christians be inspired by this story of Ezekiel? Are there others in which they might ignore, challenge, or even reject this story? How would you discern the will of God in these different situations?