3 March 2017Ezekiel 37:15-23
“I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their GOD.” (vv. 22-23)
Psalm: Psalm 118:10-18
Ezekiel received this vision during a time of exile in Babylon. The nation of Israel had long been divided into two parts; the northern part (Israel) had long since been defeated and overthrown, but more recently the southern (Judah) had also been occupied by the Babylonians, and many of her people taken into exile. But Ezekiel's words of comfort were that there would come a time when God would end the exile and restore the holy nation.
Israel was the name given by God to Jacob, son of Isaac (Genesis 32:28). It means 'one who strives with God', and became the name of the nation descended from him. That nation was divided into 12 tribes, and each was eventually allocated its portion of the promised land. These tribes each bore the name of one of Jacob's sons, with the exception of Ephraim and Manasseh, who were his grandsons through Joseph. Following the division into two kingdoms, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin belonged to the southern kingdom of Judah, and the other ten to the northern kingdom of Israel. These ten tribes became known as the 'lost tribes'. Levi, being the tribe of the priesthood, had no specific allocation of land and tends not to be included in the twelve.
The symbolism of the sticks, then, spoke powerfully of the promised restoration and reunification of the people of God. Not only would the people of Judah (including the 'other Israelites' belonging there - verse 16) return to their land, but the lost tribes would be restored and there would be one kingdom once more, with one king, just as in the glory days of David and Solomon. The reference to Joseph and Ephraim (verses 16, 19) appeared because Ephraim was often, poetically, used as an alternative name for the northern kingdom. Ephraim was the younger, but favoured, son of Joseph, the favoured son of Jacob/Israel (Genesis 48:19-20), and so was, in a sense, Jacob/Israel's heir.
The passage ends with a promise that the time of punishment and exile would end, and the covenant be renewed.
- Why do you think this passage has been chosen for Lent?
- How do you think you might read this passage if you were a refugee? How (or where) can you hear the hopes, dreams and stories of refugees today?