That They May Be One

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah, and the people of Israel associated with him’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ 17 And join them one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. 18 And when your people say to you, ‘Will you not tell us what you mean by these?’ 19 say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand. 20 When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, 21 then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. 22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

24 “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. 25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” Ezekiel 37:15-28 ESV

For generations, Israel had been a divided nation. During the reign of King Solomon, God had announced His intention to divide the kingdom in two as a result of Solomon’s promotion of idolatry in the land. The wealthy and wise king had made the mistake of marrying many foreign princesses who brought their false gods with them into the marriage. As a result, Solomon ended up embracing these pagan deities and he erected shrines and altars to them all over the kingdom of Israel. But God was not pleased.

The Lord was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the Lord’s command. So now the Lord said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. And even so, I will not take away the entire kingdom; I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.” – 1 Kings 11:9-13 NLT

The result of this divine division of the kingdom was two separate nations. Solomon’s son would rule over the southern kingdom of Judah in the south, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The northern kingdom would maintain the name of Israel and consist of the other ten tribes. This separation would last for centuries, leaving the once-unified tribes in a state of open animosity and competition with one another. The ten northern tribes, under the leadership of a long line of ungodly kings, would stand opposed to the two southern tribes. While there would be short periods of peace between the two nations, their relationship would be marked by both physical and spiritual warfare. While the southern kingdom would continue its worship of Yahweh in the temple in Jerusalem, the northern kingdom would establish a separate religious system with its own gods and places of worship. The two nations would remain divided all the way up to the day when the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C.

More than a century later, in 586 B.C., the southern kingdom would fall to the Babylonians. This tragic event is what Ezekiel has been prophesying about throughout his book. And at this point in the narrative, it has taken place. Jerusalem has fallen to Nebuchadnezzar’s forces and the city and its glorious temple have been destroyed. Yet, God has been communicating through Ezekiel His plans to redeem and restore His scattered people. He has promised to return them to the land one day and, more importantly, to radically alter their hearts so that they might finally serve Him faithfully.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

Ezekiel was to deliver this wonderful message of redemption and restoration to the former citizens of Jerusalem who were living as exiles in Babylon. His audience would have been up entirely of Jews from the southern kingdom of Judah, and they would have been thrilled to hear that God had plans to return them to their homeland. Yet God wanted them to know that His gracious offer of restoration was for all His chosen people, not just the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. He intended to restore that which had been divided because of Solomon’s sin, and He commanded Ezekiel to communicate this plan through yet another visual demonstration.

“Son of man, take a piece of wood and carve on it these words: ‘This represents Judah and its allied tribes.’ Then take another piece and carve these words on it: ‘This represents Ephraim and the northern tribes of Israel.’ Now hold them together in your hand as if they were one piece of wood. – Ezekiel 37:16-17 NLT

God’s instructions seem to indicate that Ezekiel was to place the two pieces of wood end to end, holding them together with his hand. This act would demonstrate that what God had once divided would be reunited and held together by His sovereign hand. He would rejoin the 12 tribes, forming them into a unified whole; a single house under the rule of one king and all serving the one true God.

I will make them one piece of wood in my hand.” – Ezekiel 37:19 NLT

“I will unify them into one nation on the mountains of Israel. One king will rule them all; no longer will they be divided into two nations or into two kingdoms.” – Ezekiel 37:22 NLT

In this message, God declares that He will reunite the nation of Israel and place over them one king.

“My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and be careful to keep my decrees.” – Ezekiel 37:24 NLT

But David would have been long dead by this point. How does God intend to fulfill this seemingly impossible promise? The answer lies in another promise God made to King David.

“‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do. But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your sight. Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’” – 2 Samuel 7:11-16 NLT

Solomon was the initial fulfillment of God’s promise, but his reign did not end well, and his kingdom ended up divided. But God states to Ezekiel that the day is coming when the kingdom will be reunified and another “son of David” will sit on the throne in Jerusalem. The prophet, Jeremiah, reveals how this reestablishment of the Davidic line will come about.

“The day will come, says the Lord, when I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them.

“In those days and at that time
    I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line.
    He will do what is just and right throughout the land.
In that day Judah will be saved,
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
And this will be its name:
    ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’

For this is what the Lord says: David will have a descendant sitting on the throne of Israel forever. – Jeremiah 33:14-17 NLT

That “descendant from King David’s line” will be none other than Jesus Christ, the rightful heir to David’s throne. The genealogies of Jesus recorded in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, establish Him as a descendant of King David. The apostle Paul confirms Jesus’ royal heritage when he writes, “In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4 NLT).

For the Jewish exiles in Babylon, the thought of another king like David would have been exhilarating news. He represented Israel’s glory days. It was under his reign that the nation enjoyed its greatest period of expansion and global dominance. So, God assures them that the good old days are about to return.

“…my servant David will be their prince forever. And I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give them their land and increase their numbers, and I will put my Temple among them forever.” – Ezekiel 37:25-26 NLT

Jesus, the Son of David and the Messiah of Israel, will return to earth one day and conquer all the enemies of Israel, establishing His kingdom in Jerusalem and ruling over the world for 1,000 years. This millennial kingdom will feature a reunified Israel, a restored temple, and an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity as King Jesus rules the earth in perfect righteousness, meting out justice from His royal throne.

But the millennial reign of Christ will eventually end and be replaced by the eternal state. The apostle John describes this epic end times event in his book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:1-5 NLT

It is this final event to which God alludes. There is a final phase to God’s great redemptive plan and it will involve His chosen people. But in His final kingdom, people from every tribe, nation, and tongue will be united as one, sharing a common faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of David and the King of kings and Lord of lords.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.