“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.” — Ezekiel 37:22
In 2019, the world marked the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Recently I read the account of a man who took part in that historic event, which precipitated the reuniting of East and West Germany.
Achim Merlo recounted, “As a German youngster, I became invested in the idea of contributing to unify the country. . . . At a certain point, I decided to leave home and move to Berlin to take part in the protests, which were happening in the western part. My grandmother had served as a frontline nurse during the war, in what was then a very different Berlin. She was particularly proud of the idea of a reunification of Germany, so she blessed my journey. I took with me a hammer and a big screwdriver from home that I used as a chisel to break chips out of the wall in the following days. With thousands of other young people gathering there in Berlin, I became what was nicknamed at the time a Mauerspechte — a wall woodpecker.”1
Merlo explained that people on both sides of the wall had longed for freedom and unity. Political changes in Eastern Europe and civil unrest in Germany had put pressure on the East German government to loosen regulations for travel to West Germany. On November 9, 1989, an East German official mistakenly announced that the government would permit travel across the border, “effective immediately.” The intent was for would-be travelers to apply for exit visas, but the announcement was interpreted as a decision to open the Berlin Wall that very evening.
When huge crowds gathered and demanded entrance into West Berlin, the border guards let them through. That weekend, more than two million people from East Berlin flooded into West Berlin to join in a celebration that was, according to one journalist, “the greatest street party in the history of the world.” People used hammers and picks to knock away chunks of the wall, and then cranes and bulldozers began pulling down section after section. After the demolishing of the wall, the final barrier to reunification was removed when a treaty went into effect on October 3, 1990, and East and West Germany became one nation again.
In today’s text, the prophet Ezekiel foretold another day of national reunification. At God’s instruction, he took two sticks representing the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and Southern Kingdom (Judah). Though the two nations had been separated for many years and unification seemed an impossibility, Ezekiel was instructed to join the two sticks together in his hand. The meaning was clear: one day the nation that had been divided since the time of Rehoboam would be reunified — they would be one people who would have a single king.
Our God is still in the unification business — not only of nations, but of individuals. Just as God offered hope to Israel and Judah, He offers hope today to individuals who are separated from Him by sin. He is still in the business of bringing peace and uniting individuals with Himself.
It does not matter how long people have been in a sinful condition. It does not matter if their situation looks hopeless to others. If they will turn to God in repentance and faith, they can have an assurance that God has touched their hearts and restored what seemed irrevocably destroyed. And if they stay true to Him, that assurance will carry them through every hard place and trial until they are united with Him for all eternity.
By the time of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, recorded in the first part of chapter 37, the nation of Israel had been divided for nearly 350 years. Jerusalem had fallen and the Temple was destroyed, seemingly indicating the end of the nation. However, in this second part of chapter 37, God commanded Ezekiel to give an object lesson illustrating the restoration of the nation in the future.
Through the symbolic joining together of two sticks, God promised not only the restoration of the Southern Kingdom that had recently fallen, but the reunification of the whole nation in their promised land, with a faithful king, and the Lord himself in the sanctuary as the center of their worship. He told Ezekiel that this would be a witness to all nations that He is God. Furthermore, He gave the assurance that the people would never again be driven from the land, and that His sanctuary would “be in the midst of them for evermore” (verse 28).
At God’s instruction, Ezekiel took two sticks, writing Judah on one of the sticks, and on the other Ephraim, representing Israel. (The tribe of Ephraim was the largest tribe of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and several times in the Old Testament, the Northern Kingdom was referred to as Ephraim.) The prophet was instructed to join the two sticks together to “make them one stick” in his hand (verse 19), symbolizing the reuniting of the two kingdoms.
In verse 25, a key provision God promised for restored Israel was the leadership of “my servant David.” Rather than the literal return of King David, this is commonly understood to be a Biblical example of typology — the presenting of a person and/or event as a “type” or foreshadowing of a future person or event. This was a familiar pattern in Jewish thought of that era. The Greeks of that day would observe events and ask, “Why?” Jews, on the other hand, would more likely wonder, “What pattern does this fit?” or “Where have I seen this before?” So the recipients of Ezekiel’s message would have understood that when God promised, “My servant David shall be their prince for ever,” David was merely a type or shadow of the coming Prince. Another common rabbinic view has been that this ruler will be a descendant of David.
The covenant of peace that God promised in verse 26 was in stark contrast to what Israel had endured for centuries. Shalom, the word translated peace, indicated not only the absence of conflict, but also alluded to tranquility, safety, well-being, health, contentment, success, comfort, and wholeness. Given Israel’s history and their overthrow in Ezekiel’s era, this was a magnificent offer, and one that no doubt brought hope to the prophet’s listeners.
IV. The consolation of Israel
A. Prophecies of Israel’s restoration
5. The regathering of the nation
c. The point of the two sticks (37:15-28)
(1) The reunion of Judah and Israel (37:15-23)
(2) The restoration of the Davidic throne (37:24-28)
Just as God promised to reunite and restore the nation of Israel, He promises to restore sinners if they will turn to Him in repentance.
1. Yasmine Hung, “1989 in World History: An Interview,” The Graduate Press (November 9, 2019), https://www.thegraduatepress.org/2019/11/09/1989-a-retrospective.