Lesson 37: The Ministry of Ezekiel – Part 2

Reading Preperation:
  • Ezekiel 34; 36-37
Lesson Notes:
1. Introduction to Ezekiel – Part 2
This is a continuation of our overview of the book of Ezekiel. We will examine Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones and sticks as we seek to understand their symbolic meaning. We will address his vision of the great warfare that will occur during the latter days as well as his vision of the temple to be built in Jerusalem.
Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual states,
“Some of the most remarkable visions recorded in the Old Testament are in these final chapters of Ezekiel. After Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 B.C., the prophet Ezekiel foresaw a day when Israel would be gathered and restored” (Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989, 37).
The events that will occur preparatory to Israel’s gathering and restoration will be our focus.
2. Ezekiel’s Message
You will recall from chapter 36 that Ezekiel had been deported to Babylon during the first deportation of the Jews from Jerusalem in 597 B.C. It was five years later, 592 B.C., that Ezekiel was called to be a prophet to the exiles in Babylon. Due to the prevalent belief among the exiles that their captivity was not the result of their own unrighteous, but that of their fathers, may account for the prophet’s stern voice. These three chapters contain words of rebuke, but also promises of the Lord to his covenant people who would become righteous during the latter days. It is for this reason that Ezekiel is speaking directly to us.
3. Ezekiel 34: The Good Shepherd and His Flock
Chapter 34 begins with a stern rebuke directed at the shepherds (pastors or religious leaders) of Ezekiel’s day. It may also have direct application to our day.
Ezekiel 34:2-3
2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus said the LORD God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
3 Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you [yourselves] with the wool, ye kill them that are fed; but ye feed not the flock.
The spiritual leaders who should have been caring for the temporal and spiritual needs of their flock have neglected them and instead focused upon benefiting themselves. Wherein have they been negligent?, they might ask.
Ezekiel 34:4
4 The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.
The leaders did not visit those who were sick nor intervene to assist them to get attention for their illness; they did not offer comfort to those who were in pain; neither did they try to bring back those who had been separated or lost contact altogether with the flock. In addition, rather than reaching out in kindness and patience, they acted with force and cruelty to those who were most venerable or in need!
The following words of counsel were given to those who desired to serve as spiritual leaders during the latter days. The attitude of those who would serve must be focused on others, not themselves.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:34-35
34 Behold there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and [they] aspire to the honors of men…
When the shepherd is not attentive to the needs of those under his care, their flock may become scattered or fall prey to the evils of the world. This was the result of Israel during the days of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 34:5
5 And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.
We recall the lesson found in Ezekiel 3 regarding the responsibility of the watchman.
Ezekiel 3:18-19
18 When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
19 Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
Spencer W. Kimball stated,
“You are the nurturing shepherds of our people… you will often be able to detect very early some of those members who have serious difficulties, while their challenges and problems are still small and manageable. Be conscious of the little tensions and problems you may see in families so that you can give the required attention, counsel, and love when it is most needed. An hour with a troubled boy or girl now may save him or her, and is infinitely better than the hundred of hours spent in their later lives in reclamation of a boy or girl if they have become inactive” (“Ministering to the Needs of Members” in Ensign, November, 1980, 45-46).
While Ezekiel is speaking directly to the shepherds who are negligent in performing their duty, the sheep are also responsible.
Keith P. Jackson states,
“Though the shepherds will be condemned for their abuse or neglect of the flock, the sheep themselves are also accountable. They too will be judged, and the judgment against them will not be easy” (“I will be Your God” in Studies in Scripture 4. Edited by Kent P. Jackson. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 295).
In Ezekiel 34:20, the Lord makes reference to those who are neglectful towards others as “fat cattle and lean cattle.”
Ezekiel 34:21
21 … ye have thrust with side and with shoulder and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad;
Other members in the flock/herd bear responsibility for the care and support of those who may be less fortunate and are in need of their help and assistance. When we neglect them the result may be in their feeling unwanted or devalued. We are all responsible to “feed the flock” or care for the poor and needy.
Ezekiel offers all Israel hope for in the latter days the Lord will again gathered his sheep.
Ezekiel 34:11-13, 16
11 For thus saith the LORD God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.
12 … I [will] seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.
13 And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers and in all the inhabited places of the country.
16 I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.
Ezekiel clarifies who will be the shepherd who will care for Israel.
Ezekiel 34:23
23 And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd.
Kent P. Jackson states,
“David embodied the very essence of kingship for several reasons: (1) he was appointed by revelation from God, (2) during his reign Israel and Judah were united as one nation under one king, (3) he ruled as a powerful and popular monarch, (4) he defeated all enemies, (5) he introduced a long period of peace and prosperity, and (6) the Lord’s sanctuary was among the people of his day… The name David took on symbolic significance and was applied to Israel’s millennial King… Who will be the second David, the millennial King of Israel? The scriptures are quite clear: the Lord Jehovah, Jesus Christ” (“I Will Be Your God” in Studies in Scripture 4. Edited by Keith P. Jackson. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 296, numbers added).
This truth is further confirmed by Ezekiel himself.
Ezekiel 34:30
30 Thus shall they know that I the LORD their God am with them, and that they, even the house of Israel, are my people, said the LORD GOD
4. Ezekiel 36: A New Heart and a New Spirit
In the initial verses of Ezekiel, chapter 36, the Lord confirms to his prophet the destruction that will come upon the land of Israel. However the time will come when the land will again be prepared to receive the children of Israel.
Ezekiel 36:8 [underline added]
8 But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel; for they are at hand to come.
At that time the Lord will restore what was lost.
Ezekiel 36:12
12 Yea, I will cause men to walk upon you, even my people Israel; and they shall possess thee, and thou shalt be their inheritance, and thou shalt no more henceforth bereave (rob) them of men.
In the second portion of this chapter the Lord explains to Ezekiel why He had expelled the house of Israel from its promised lands.
Ezekiel 36:17-19
17 … when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way and by their doings…
18 Wherefore I poured my fury upon them for the blood that they had shed upon the land, and for their idols wherewith they had polluted it:
19 And I scattered them among the heathen [nations], and they were dispersed through the countries:…
In spite of their unrighteousness and having broken his commandments, the Lord, during the latter days, will gather the dispersed of Israel back to him.
Ezekiel 36:24
24 For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.
Once gathered in the land of their inheritance, they will then be cleansed through the process of repentance.
Ezekiel 36:25-27
25 … ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols…
26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
These blessing will come to Israel as she receives the restored gospel and enters into sacred covenants. Having now achieved a renewed state of righteousness coupled with a firm desire to keep all the Lord’s commandments, the Lord gives Israel this crowning promise.
Ezekiel 36:28
28 And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave unto your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.
Not since the children of Israel entered into and covenanted to keep sacred covenants with the Lord while in the Sinai desert will Israel again know true peace and happiness.
5. Ezekiel 37: Bones, Sticks, Temple and Israel
Ezekiel records two revelations with multiple meanings which the Lord uses to symbolically convey the completeness of the restoration of the house of Israel. The first revelation involves a valley full of bones and the second describes the uniting of two sticks or wax boards.
5.1. Bones
Ezekiel 37:1-6
1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones.
2 And caused me to pass by them round about; and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and lo, they were very dry.
3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.
4 Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.
5 Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live;
6 And will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
What an eventful experience Ezekiel must have had as he is transported by the spirit of the Lord to a valley where dry or aged bones are strewn about the ground. The Lord then asks him if they can be made live again? Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the bones to hear the word of the Lord. The Lord then causes sinews to connect to the bones and then they are covered with skin. Breath enters into them thereby restoring them again to live! In vision, Ezekiel views how material in which no life exists is then assembled by the power of the Lord and given all that is necessary to make a living creation.
The Lord now gives to Ezekiel an explanation to what he symbolically has observed.
Ezekiel 37:11-14
11 Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off from our parts.
12 Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the LORD GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.
13 And ye shall know that I am the LORD, whom I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves.
14 And shall put my spirit in you and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoke it, and performed it, saith the LORD.
Sidney B. Sperry states,
“It will be seen from this passage [Ezekiel 37:11-14] that the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead (cf. Isaiah 26:19) is invoked to symbolize the restoration of Israel’s exiles to their own land. The exiles are represented–so it seems to me–as having lost hope (their bones are dried up) of ever living again as a nation. But the Lord shows them that they can be restored through His mighty power even as the dead will be raised in the resurrection. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body is assumed” (The Voice of Israel’s Prophets. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952, 225-226).
Old Testament student manual adds,
“The symbolic meaning of this prophecy as it relates to the gathering of Israel is apparent: The bones represent Israel in its lost and scattered state; the graves indicate where Israel is as well as its condition of spiritual death. The spirit or ruach in Hebrew (Ezekiel 37:9), means the new spirit of righteousness the people will have when they have been resurrected, that is, restored from their fallen state. The source of this new life will be the Holy Ghost” (Old Testament student manual 1 Kings—Malachi. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981, Second Edition, 283).
Kent P. Jackson states,
“Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones announced to ancient and modern Israel that their scattering would not be forever. The Lord would bring them out of their graves, assemble their scattered parts, give them life and reestablish them in their own land (Ezekiel 37:12-14). The image of the resurrection in this passage shows that though the house of Israel were dead, it would be restored again–to life and to an renewed covenant with God” (“The Lord is There” in Studies in Scripture 4. Edited by Kent P. Jackson. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 301).
5.2. Sticks
The second vision that Ezekiel receives involves “sticks.”
Ezekiel 37:15-17
15 The word of the LORD came again unto me saying,
16 Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon, 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:
17 And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.
When people will ask Ezekiel for an explanation of his vision the Lord offers the following clarification.
Ezekiel 37:19, 21-22
19 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.
21 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 on every side, and bring them into their own land:
22 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 into two kingdoms any more at all:
There are basically two explanations for the meaning of Ezekiel’s second vision and they focus upon the interpretation of the word, “sticks”.
Sidney B. Sperry states,
“… What is the meaning of these ‘sticks’ and what is their significance? Most commentators simply believe that each piece of wood represents one of the two kingdoms, either Judah or Israel (Ephraim), which are to be bound together or united under the Lord’s direction. This act symbolizes the reunion of Ephraim and Judah into one kingdom… However, the Latter-day Saints insist that such an interpretation is by no means complete or accurate. They agree that the two ‘sticks’ which become one in Ezekiel’s hands, symbolize a union of some kind, but believe that they do not necessarily refer to the union of the two kingdoms concerned. What they do believe is that each of the sticks represent a scripture, a significant piece of writing. The Bible represents the scripture of Judah. [The Book of Mormon] represent the stick of Ephraim. The Nephite scripture is the record of the descendants upon this continent of Joseph who was sold into Egypt… Just as Judah and Ephraim are to become one nation ‘upon the mountains of Israel’ (37:22), so will the scriptures of these nations ‘be one’ in the Lord’s hand ‘before their eyes’ (37:19, 26). Therefore the Bible and Book of Mormon will become spiritual instruments in the instruction of the united kingdoms… ” (The Voice of Israel’s Prophets. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952, 226-227).
Keith A. Meservy observed,
“The discovery in 1953 of these writing boards from biblical Calah in Mesopotamia altered the thinking of scholars about how Middle Eastern cultures made records. Wooden tablets filled with wax represent the “earliest known form of ancient book” and help us understand an important prophecy of Ezekiel foretelling the uniting of the Bible and the Book of Mormon” (“Ezekiel’s Sticks and the Gathering of Israel” in Ensign, February, 1987, 4).
In August, 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation in which the Lord addressed the purpose of the mission of the angel Moroni.
Doctrine and Covenants 27:5
5 … Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fullness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim;
Kent P. Jackson states,
“Ezekiel’s visionary stick of Joseph in Ephraim’s hand thus represents Joseph’s scriptural record, the Book of Mormon. It follows therefore that Judah’s stick represents the scriptural record of Judah, the Bible” (“The Lord is There” in Studies in Scripture 4. Edited by Kent P. Jackson. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 303).
Kent P. Jackson clarifies,
“The central message of Ezekiel Chapter 37:21-27, is the restoration of the house of Israel… it includes the gathering of the dispersed of Israel (Ezekiel 37:21), their reestablishment in promised lands; (Ezekiel 37:21-22, 25), the restoration of their status as a worthy covenant people before the Lord (Ezekiel 37:23-24, 26-28), and the restoration of the Lord himself to his rightful position as Israel’s divine king (Ezekiel 37:22, 24-25)” (“The Lord Is There” in Studies in Scripture 4. Edited by Kent P. Jackson. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 303).
Given the central message of Ezekiel is the restoration of the house of Israel, we might then ask, “How then does the combining of the two sticks relate to this important event?
JST, Genesis 50:31 [emphasis added]
31 Wherefore the fruit of thy loins [Joseph of Egypt] shall write, and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together unto the confounding of false doctrines, and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to a knowledge of their fathers in the latter days; and also to the knowledge of the covenants, saith the Lord.
The coming together of the two records is a crucial event in bringing about the restoration of the house of Israel. Indeed, it is an essential ingredient in the Lord’s latter-day work, for the gospel witness provided by these two scriptural records will confound false doctrine, lay down contentions, establish peace between the two estranged halves of the house of Israel and bring them to a knowledge of God’s covenants. Ezekiel’s view of the bringing together of the two records, the sticks of Joseph and Judah, is the very symbol of the restoration of Israel.
5.3. Sanctuary/ Temple
In the latter verses of Ezekiel 37, we read about a holy sanctuary or temple that will be part of the great reunification of Israel.
Ezekiel 37:26-28
26 Moreover I will make a covenant of peache with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.
27 My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
28 And the heathen shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the mist of them for evermore.
In Ezekiel 40-48, he gives a detailed vision of what the great temple in Jerusalem would be like.
Joseph Fielding Smith states,
“Ezekiel predicted the building of a temple in Jerusalem which will be used for ordinance work after the gather of Israel from their long dispersion and when they are cleansed from their transgressions” (Doctrines of Salvation 2. Compiled by Bruce R. McConkie. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955, 244).
5.4. Israel
Israel is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the vast majority of whose members belong, by birth or by adoption, to the chief northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh [Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph. Joseph Smith was of Ephraim]. The prophesied reunification of the two groups will come when the descendants of Judah accepts the covenants of the gospel of Jesus Christ and join with their brothers and sisters of Israel in the Lord’s Church. The Lord again affirms (Ezekiel 37:27), “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
6. Conclusions
How blessed we are to live in the latter days when the gospel has been restored in its fullness. We have been given the “stick of Joseph”, the Book of Mormon, to assist us in teaching the gospel to other brothers and sisters, even those of the tribe of Judah. In vision, Ezekiel saw our day and gave us a warning to be “good shepherds” and to perform our responsibility to others. We must become a Zion people if we are to obtain the blessings the Lord had for his children.
The Lord is at the helm in the affairs of men and will bring again his people Israel to their lands of promise and cleanse iniquity from their midst. He will protect Israel from her enemies and punish the wicked and a great and magnificent temple will be built upon mount Moriah in the holy city of Jerusalem for the tribe of Judah. How blessed we are to have the “stick of Judah”, to help us to prepare. Will we learn from the words of Ezekiel and reflect upon his message to us or will we ignore them? Just as in the past, our very salvation depends on how we respond to words of a prophet.