Judah and Israel
15The Lord said:
16Ezekiel, son of man, get a stick and write on it, “The kingdom of Judah.” Then get another stick and write on it, “The kingdom of Israel.” 17Hold these two sticks end to end, so they look like one stick. 18And when your people ask you what this means, 19tell them that I, the Lord, will join together the stick of Israel and the stick of Judah. I will hold them in my hand, and they will become one.
20Hold these two sticks where they can be seen by everyone 21and then say:
I, the Lord God, will gather the people of Israel and bring them home from the foreign nations where they now live. 22I will make them into one nation and let them once again live in the land of Israel. Only one king will rule them, and they will never again be divided into two nations. 23They will no longer worship idols and do things that make them unacceptable to me. I will wash away their sin and make them clean, and I will protect them from everything that makes them unclean. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
24-25 Their king will always come from the family of my servant King David and will care for them like a shepherd. The people of Israel will faithfully obey my laws. They and their descendants will live in the land I gave my servant Jacob, just as their ancestors did. 26I solemnly promise to bless the people of Israel with unending peace. I will protect them and let them become a powerful nation. My temple will stand in Israel for all time, 27 and I will live among my people and be their God. 28Every nation on earth will know that my temple is in Israel and that I have chosen the Israelites to be my people.
Once again Ezekiel performs a piece of street theatre (vv 15-17; compare 4:1-5; 5:1-4; 12:1-7). In chapter 4 Ezekiel played toy soldiers; here he becomes a signwriter. Each stick may have been a wooden board coated with beeswax – a common medium for writing formal messages in the ancient Near East. The prophet acts out a promised reunification of the two nations – Israel and Judah – in their own land (vs 21,22). It is not difficult to extend the acted parable to the Christian church, which today is divided, not into two, but 45,000 denominational groupings! Surely such a broken church cannot be the will of God (John 17:20, 21), yet sadly we accept it as normal and permanent.
There are many reasons for disunity in the body of Christ. One is tribalism. We are more comfortable worshipping and working with Christians who see things exactly as we do. Another is impatience with Christians who are too slow in getting things done. Yet another is elitism – we dismiss other groups as being “unsound.”
Ezekiel’s prophecy (v 22) was only partly fulfilled. Judah returned to the land in 538 BC, but Israel didn’t. Perhaps this passage suggests that God’s people will not be fully united until the time when a new heaven and new earth are finally brought together.
However, this reading of the text in no way excuses our lack of concern for the brokenness of today’s church. The church is God’s foretaste of the new creation and followers of Jesus are called to relate to one another today as they will then.
Father God, I pray for the unity of the churches in my area. Although we worship separately and differently, show us how as Christians we can love one another and work together as we represent your kingdom on earth. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
First used in Encounter with God, April – June 2015, written by Fergus Macdonald, copyright Scripture Union. Used with kind permission.