Could Ezekiel 37:15-20 have a dual fulfillment in the Book of Mormon?

by Luke Wayne

The historic position of the LDS church is that the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph in Ezekiel 37 are the Bible and the book of Mormon, the "two sticks becoming one stick" being the work that Joseph Smith accomplished in bringing the Bible and Book of Mormon together as one body of scripture. Many Mormon missionaries repeat this interpretation still today. The prophecy reads:

"The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying, 'Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, 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: And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand. And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these? 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. And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes." (Ezekiel 37:15-20)

Now, the actual interpretation of this passage is actually given plainly in the text. If one keeps reading, the thought continues without interruption in the very next verse:

"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 into their own land: 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 37:21-22)

So clearly the two sticks are the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel and the promise is that God will regather them back together is one Israelite kingdom, and they will be one people again. This is one of those delightful passages where literally right after a prophetic image is reported, it is plainly interpreted for the reader in the text itself.

Dual Fulfillment?

Some LDS have, however, suggested that perhaps this is a case of "dual fulfillment." Jewish and Christian commentators alike have always recognized that there are some prophecies in the scripture which have a fulfillment near to the time they are given and with a scope more localized to the people they are given to, but that the prophecy also refers to an event much further out that is far broader and grander in scope. So, some LDS will ask, why can't the "stick" prophecy be one of these?

But the LDS are not actually describing a case of "dual fulfillment," because neither interpretation is immediate in timing and local in scope. Both interpretations are far reaching, grand, and all encompassing events set distant in the future from the original hearers. Joseph Smith, a man over 2,000 years later on the other side of the world whose prophetic role is claimed to be for all peoples everywhere is certainly not an immediate fulfillment to the people whom the prophesy was given, nor is the promise to bring all the people of Israel back together under one king in one united kingdom, which was clearly a prophesy of the Messianic kingdom to come. (This is made explicit in the promise of verse 24 "And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd" and again in verse 25, "and my servant David shall be their prince for ever.") Dual fulfillment does not mean two different grand, global, messianic interpretations. It is not a free license to apply any prophesy to anything if you can make a few of the words fit. It is a specific kind of prophesy where one fairly immediate predicted event also points to a later, far larger, and typically Messianic event.

But What If...

However, even if one decides, purely for the sake of argument and with no meaningful basis in doing so, to allow that Ezekiel 37:15-20 was somehow also meant to point forward to two bodies of Israelite scriptures coming together into one, the LDS claim that this is the Bible and the Book of Mormon still would not work. Ironically, even on this interpretation, the Book of Mormon disqualifies itself.  Ezekiel 37:16 tells us that Joseph's stick is the "Stick of Ephraim," and verse 19 says again that the stick of Joseph is "in the hand of Ephraim." If this stick were to be somehow understood as a body of scripture, that scripture would have to be connected with and possessed by Ephraim. In the Book of Mormon, however, in Alma 10:3 we read:

"And Aminadi was a descendant of Nephi, who was the son of Lehi, who came out of the land of Jerusalem, who was a descendant of Manasseh, who was the son of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by the hands of his brethren."

Nephites and indeed all the sons of Lehi were said to be sons of Joseph, but not through Joseph's son Ephraim. They came, rather, through his other son Manasseh. They were not Ephraimites, but Manassites. Further, Lehi and his sons are said to have come from the "land of Jerusalem". Jerusalem is in the kingdom of Judah. The Nephites have absolutely no meaningful connection to Ephraim; not the man, the tribe, or even the land. They cannot be the Ephraim in whose name the sick of Joseph comes and in whose hand it is to be found. Therefore, even if one somehow confuses Ezekiel 37:15-20 to be a prophesy about two bodies of scripture, one must still conclude that it has nothing to do with the Book or Mormon. No matter how many concessions you make, there is simply no way to read Ezekiel 37 as promising Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.