Ezekiel 37: The Secret of the Plates Revealed in the Targum

By Ya’akov ben Y’hudah

One of the most memorable prophecies in the Book of Ezekiel is the famous “Two Sticks” Prophecy of Ezekiel 37, which reads as follows in the Tanakh:

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. (Ezek. 37:15-20, emphasis added)

We learn several things from these verses. In Judaism it is understood that there are four levels of understanding of the Scriptures. Each level is progressively deeper and more intense, like the layers of an onion. These layers are Pashat (literal); Remez (implied; hinted); Drash (allegorical; homiletical) and Sod (hidden, secret, mystical). If we take the first letter of each word to create a new word (a process known in Judaism as Notarikon) it spells PaRDeS (there were no written vowels in ancient Hebrew), a word meaning “paradise.”

To begin with, the obvious Pashat (plain, simple) meaning, is that of a promised reunion of the two divisions of Israel. But there is more. On the Remez level (implied, hinted), we see that the stick of Joseph, is “in the hand of Ephraim” but is also called the “stick of Ephraim” earlier in the passage. If the stick of Joseph simply represents Ephraim (The House of Israel), then how can Ephraim be in the hand of Ephraim? This implies that there must be a deeper meaning to the phrase “stick of Joseph” than simply a reference to the House of Israel (although that is its Pashat, or plain, simple meaning). 

So let us look deeper, into the next level of understanding, the Drash (allegorical, homiletical understanding). For that understanding, let us look to the Targum on Ezekiel 37.  

The Targums are Aramaic paraphrases of the books of the Tanakh that were anciently read in the Synagogues, alongside the Hebrew readings from the Torah and the Prophets. The Targums explained, in Aramaic, what the Hebrew was understood to mean. Therefore, the Targums were highly interpretive and “Midrashic.” 

So let’s look at how the Targum Jonathan paraphrases this prophecy in Ezekiel 37, and see what this reveals to us about how this prophecy was understood by the ancients:

וַהֲוָה פִתְגָם נְבוּאָה מִן קֳדָם יְיָ עִמִי לְמֵימָר: 

וְאַתְּ בַּר אָדָם סַב לָךְ לוּחָא חֲדָא וּכְתוֹב עֲלוֹהִי לְשִׁבְטָא דִיהוּדָה וְלִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אַחֵיהוֹן וְסַב לוּחָא חֲדָא וּכְתוֹב עֲלוֹהִי לְשִׁבְטָא דְיוֹסֵף דִי הוּא שִׁבְטָא דְאֶפְרַיִם וְכָל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲחֵיהוֹן: 

וְתַקְרֵיב יַתְהוֹן חַד לְוַת חַד לָךְ לְלוּחָא חַד וִיהוֹן לְחוֹד בִּידָךְ: 

וְכַד יֵימְרוּן לָךְ בְּנֵי עַמָךְ לְמֵימָר הֲלָא תְחַוֵי לָנָא מָה אִלֵין לָךְ: 

אִתְנַבֵּי לְהוֹן כִּדְנַן אֲמַר יְיָ אֱלֹהִים הָא אֲנָא מְקָרִיב יַת שִׁבְטָא דְיוֹסֵף דִי הוּא שִׁבְטָא דְאֶפְרַיִם וְשִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲחֵיהוֹן וַאֲחַבֵּיר יַתְהוֹן עֲלוֹהִי יַת שִׁבְטָא דִיהוּדָה וְאַעְבְּדִינוּן לְעַמָא חַד וִיהוֹן חַד קֳדָמָי: 

וִיהוֹן לוּחַיָא דִי תִכְתּוֹב עֲלֵיהוֹן בִּידָךְ לְעֵינֵיהוֹן:

And it came to pass a sentence came upon me from before YHWH saying: And you son of man, take you one plate and write upon it for the tribes of Judah, and to the sons of Israel, their brothers. And take one plate and write upon it for the tribe of Joseph which is the tribe of Ephraim, and all the House of Israel their brothers. And join the plates one to another, and they shall become one in your hand. And when the children of your people shall speak to you saying: “Will you not show us what these are?” I prophesied to them thus says YHWH Elohim, behold I shall join the tribe of Joseph which is the tribe of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel their brothers, and I will cause them to have fellowship with the tribe of Judah and I will make them one people and they shall be one before me. And the plates which were written upon will be in your hand to their eyes. (Ezek. 37:15-20 Targum Jonathan)

The Targum paraphrases the word eytz meaning “stick” with the Aramaic word lucha (lookh-ah), which means a plate or tablet that is inscribed or engraved. The same word in Hebrew is luach (לוח Strong’s 3871, plural luchot), which is the very word used in Exodus for the inscribed stone tablets of the Torah (see Ex. 24:12). The Targum reveals to us a deeper layer of meaning, said to be handed down from the prophets themselves, identifying the two “sticks” as two records, or two inscribed sets of plates, which are united into one record.

The official Targum of the Prophets was composed some 2000 years ago by Jonathan ben Uzziel, who was a talmid (student) of Hillel. (Hillel taught as an old man when Yeshua was a small child, so this was one or two generations before Yeshua). The Talmud describes this Targum as follows:

The Targum of the Prophets was composed by Jonathan ben Uzziel under the guidance of [traditions handed down from] Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, and the land of Israel [thereupon] quaked over an area of four hundred parasangs by four hundred parasangs, and a Bath Kol [voice from heaven] came forth and exclaimed, Who is this that has revealed My secrets to mankind? Jonathan b. Uzziel thereupon arose and said, It is I who have revealed Thy secrets to mankind. It is fully known to Thee that I have not done this for my own honour or for the honour of my father’s house, but for Thy honour l have done it, that dissension may not increase in Israel. (b.Megillah 3a)

So when Jonathan ben Uziel revealed (among other secrets) in his Targum, that the two “sticks” in Ezekiel 37 represented not only the two houses of Israel, but two records written on “plates”, he was recording a tradition handed down from the last of the prophets of the Great Assembly, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, and revealing Elohim’s secrets concerning Ezekiel 37 so that “dissension may not increase in Israel” but that our people might know that Ezekiel was foreseeing, not only the future reunion of the two houses of Israel, but the coming together of two records kept on “plates”: The Stick of Judah (the Tanakh) and the “Stick of Joseph” which is “in the hand of Ephraim” and brought together with the Tanakh.

This secret of Elohim, which has been passed from the last prophets of the Tanakh, through the Targum, to us today, is in total agreement with The Stick of Joseph, which alludes to Ezekiel’s prophecy saying:

Wherefore, the fruit of your loins shall write, and the fruit of the loins of Y’hudah shall write. And that which shall be written by the fruit of your loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Y’hudah, shall grow together unto the confounding of false doctrines, and laying down of contentions, and establishing shalom among the fruit of your loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, says YHWH. And out of weakness he shall be made strong, in that day when my work shall commence among all my people, unto the restoring you, oh house of Isra’el, says YHWH. (2 Nefi 2:4 emphasis added)

Notice that the Talmud recorded that the Targum Jonathan reveals (among other secrets) this secret of the two sets of plates so “that dissension may not increase in Israel,” while The Stick of Joseph tells us that the two sets of plates grow together for the purpose of “laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins.”

Nefi’s Name

Nefi is the originator and first author of The Stick of Joseph in the Hand of Ephraim. This remarkable prophet fled Jerusalem in 601 BCE, just prior to the Babylonian destruction, and began keeping sacred records at God’s command. In this post, we’ll consider more about Nefi, his prophetic role, and the purpose of the record he created, beginning with Nefi’s name.

Nefi was likely named from the ancient Egyptian word nefi which means “to breathe, to blow at; to give breath to, i.e. to set free (a prisoner)… compare Heb. נָפַח” (An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary; E.A. Wallis Budge; Dover Publications; New York; 1978; Volume 1, page 369, column b). This Egyptian word is actually derived from the Hebrew root Nafach (נָפַח) (Strong’s 5301) having the same meaning “to blow, to breathe.”  

The fact that Nefi’s name is an Egyptian form of a Hebrew word comes as no surprise, as he made clear in the very opening of his record: 

Yes, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Y’hudim [Jews] and the language of the Egyptians. (1 Nefi 1:1) 

A later author gives further clarification: 

And now behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us according to our manner of speech. And if our plates had been sufficiently large, we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew has been altered by us also. (M’raman 4:11) 

This clearly demonstrates the language of the text and those who wrote it was Hebrew, but they used an Egyptian writing system to save space on the plates. Therefore, the idea that Nefi’s name is an Egyptian form of a Hebrew word fits perfectly with the nature of the record Nefi created.

The same word is used in Genesis 2:7, when God breathed (nafach) into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life:

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

This is also the root used in Ezekiel 37:9, to prophesy that the spirit, or breath of life (ruach רוח Strong’s 3707), would breathe (nafach נפח Strong’s 5301) on the dry bones of Israel and bring them back to life: 

Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.

This is, of course, the same vision in which Ezekiel prophesied of The Stick of Joseph in the Hand of Ephraim—this very record. It therefore comes as no surprise that a form of Nefi’s actual name appears as the moving action to begin the restoration of Israel. The action that awakens Israel is clearly tied to Nefi’s name, and therefore his record.

Isaiah, likewise, prophesied of Israel’s restoration and future glory. In Isaiah 54, he speaks of Israel’s future redemption and gathering, establishment of righteousness, freedom from fear, and eventual triumph over all her enemies. He even alludes to the future glorious city of Zion and her temple. 

In the midst of this beautiful prophecy, we find a curious aside, as follows:

Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work (Isaiah 54:16).

This aside, in the midst of promises and prophecies of future glory, seems a bit out of place. There is no readily apparent connection between promised future glory and redemption, and this curious passage about a blacksmith. Or is there? 

Examining the underlying Hebrew, we find the word that is translated as “smith” or in other translations, “blacksmith” or “craftsman” is charash (חרש Strong’s 2796), which actually means “engraver, artificer.”

The next word, translated as the verb “blow” or “fan” is nafach (נפח Strong’s 5301)—Nefi’s name, which we’ve looked at above. 

These two words alone, when considered in Hebrew, bring tremendous new meaning to Isaiah’s aside, which seems so out of place. Rather than a “blacksmith” who “blows” the coals, we see an underlying allusion to the “engraver, Nefi” who brings forth “an instrument for his work.” 

In both Ezekiel’s and Isaiah’s prophecies of the future restoration and gathering of Israel, we find the mention of Nefi—by name—as the operative force by which the work would begin. Nefi is, indeed, the engraver of the instrument by which YHWH’s work has begun again. In fact, Nefi was so integral to the record that throughout a thousand years of Nefite history, the posterity of Nefi and both sets of plates—large and small—bore Nefi’s name. 

In closing, we should note one, final, doubly delightful word play. The KJV, and several other translations give charash (engraver) as “smith,” thus equating the “engraver” of the instrument with Yosef ben Yosef, whose English name was Joseph Smith. In the Hebrew, we find Nefi, and in the English, we find Yosef—both named by name, and both vital to the fulfillment of YHWH’s covenants with Israel, set in motion by the record they produced.

The Stick of Joseph in the Hand of Ephraim now Available!

Happy Chanukah!

We are very pleased to make the following announcement: 

The Stick of Joseph in the Hand of Ephraim is now available for immediate order in print-on-demand paperback and hardback versions. The story of this text covers thousands of years, originating as a Hebraic record kept by a prophetic Israelite family for a thousand years, followed by 1400 years buried in the ground of upstate New York, USA, then miraculous discovery and translation by Yosef ben Yosef, 190 years of Gentile efforts to thwart, disguise and misuse the record, and finally restoration and publication in its current form. 

It’s an amazing story, about which much more will be written in upcoming blog posts on this site. 

Today is a symbolic and remarkable day of celebration. Consider the days leading up to it: 

  • Depending on your time zone, December 21 or 22 marked the Winter Solstice, and the return of light to the world. 
  • The evening of December 22 marked the beginning of Chanukah, and the lighting of the first candle for the Festival of Light.
  • Today, December 23, is the anniversary of the birth of Yosef ben Yosef (Joseph Smith, Jr.) who recovered and translated the hidden record, and set in motion the marvelous work that continues to bring light to a darkening world. 

Each of these three days marks increasing light, all symbolically pointing to this long-prophesied record, and ultimately to Mashiach, of whom the record testifies. 

The publication of this text is the result of thousands of hours of volunteer labor, as well as signifiant financial sacrifice by those who seek no reward other than to obey the God of Israel. Therefore, this book is offered for sale at publisher’s price, with the specific intent of eliminating any profit from its sale. Electronic versions will also be made available for download at no cost.

In the coming weeks and months, much more will be written here about this singular record. Until then, we hope you will read and consider the remarkable message it contains. The God of Israel speaks now, to all the world, and to all the House of Israel through the record He promised would come. Will you hear it?

Chanukah and The Stick of Joseph:
“A Great Miracle Happened There”

By Ya’akov ben Y’hudah

The central ceremony in celebrating Chanukah, is the lighting of the Chanukah menorah. Why do we light candles for eight nights? We read in the Talmud:

What is the reason for Chanukah? For our Rabbis taught: On the 25th of Kislev begin the days of Chanukah, which are eight, during which lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils in it, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they [the Maccabees] searched and found only one cruse of oil which possessed the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient oil for only one day’s lighting; yet a miracle occurred there and they lit [the lamp] for eight days. The following year these days were appointed a Festival with the recitation of Hallel and thanksgiving (b.Shabbat 21b).

One day’s supply of oil miraculously burned for eight days, giving sufficient time to prepare a greater supply and continue the lighting. Thus, we light candles for eight nights. 

But did you know that there is an important prophetic connection between the Feast of Chanukah and the coming forth of The Stick of Joseph? The connection lies in an earlier Chanukah “Miracle of the Oil” recorded in 2 Maccabees.

The Second Book of the Maccabees opens with two letters. The second of these is from Judas Maccabee and the “Senate” (the Council of Elders of the time) to Aristoblus, who was leader of the large Jewish community in Alexandria, explaining to them why they should keep the Feast of Chanukah. In this letter, Judas Maccabee writes:

18. Since on the twenty-fifth day of Chislev we shall celebrate the purification of the temple, we thought it necessary to notify you, in order that you also may celebrate the feast of booths and the feast of the fire given when Nehemiah, who built the temple and the altar, offered sacrifices.

19. For when our fathers were being led captive to Persia, the pious priests of that time took some of the fire of the altar and secretly hid it in the hollow of a dry cistern, where they took such precautions that the place was unknown to any one.

20 . But after many years had passed, when it pleased God, Nehemiah, having been commissioned by the king of Persia, sent the descendants of the priests who had hidden the fire to get it. And when they reported to us that they had not found fire but thick liquid, he ordered them to dip it out and bring it.

21. And when the materials for the sacrifices were presented, Nehemiah ordered the priests to sprinkle the liquid on the wood and what was laid upon it.

22. When this was done and some time had passed and the sun, which had been clouded over, shone out, a great fire blazed up, so that all marveled.

23. And while the sacrifice was being consumed, the priests offered prayer — the priests and every one. Jonathan led, and the rest responded, as did Nehemiah.

24. The prayer was to this effect: “O Lord, Lord God, Creator of all things, who art awe-inspiring and strong and just and merciful, who alone art King and art kind,

25. who alone art bountiful, who alone art just and almighty and eternal, who dost rescue Israel from every evil, who didst choose the fathers and consecrate them,

26. accept this sacrifice on behalf of all thy people Israel and preserve thy portion and make it holy.

27. Gather together our scattered people, set free those who are slaves among the Gentiles, look upon those who are rejected and despised, and let the Gentiles know that thou art our God.

28. Afflict those who oppress and are insolent with pride.

29. Plant thy people in thy holy place, as Moses said.”

30. Then the priests sang the hymns.

31. And when the materials of the sacrifice were consumed, Nehemiah ordered that the liquid that was left should be poured upon large stones.

32. When this was done, a flame blazed up; but when the light from the altar shone back, it went out.

33. When this matter became known, and it was reported to the king of the Persians that, in the place where the exiled priests had hidden the fire, the liquid had appeared with which Nehemiah and his associates had burned the materials of the sacrifice,

34. the king investigated the matter, and enclosed the place and made it sacred.

35. And with those persons whom the king favored he exchanged many excellent gifts.

36. Nehemiah and his associates called this “nephthar,” which means purification, but by most people it is called “naphtha.”

(2 Maccabees 1:18-36 RSV)

In the passage above, 2 Maccabees refers to Chanukah as “the feast of booths and the feast of the fire” because, according to the books of the Maccabees, the first Chanukah was a belated Sukkot celebration (1 Macc. 4:36-61; 2 Macc. 10:1-9).

According to the KJV reading of 2 Maccabees 1:36, Nehemiah called this substance Naphtar but many people called it Nephi

In the Greek text of 2 Maccabees Naphtar is Nephthar and Nephi was rendered Nephthaei. In the Aramaic Peshitta text the two words are נפתר (Nephtar) and נפתי (Nephti). There is a Mishnaic Hebrew word נפט nephet which is used in the Talmud to refer to petroleum oil. 

So how does the Nephti present a type and shadow of the Nephites and their record? 

  • Like the Nephti (using the Peshitta Aramaic version of the word), the Nephites were removed from Jerusalem not long before the beginning of the Babylonian captivity, and taken to a place of safety.
  • And like the Nephti, the Nephite record (The Stick of Joseph) was buried in the earth, hidden away to be brought forth at a later time of restoration.
  • The story of the Nephti parallels the miracle of the oil at the time of the Maccabees. Likewise, The Stick of Joseph parallels the the Chanukah light. It is the Nephti, hidden away and brought forth in the last days as a light to the world.  

So when we say “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” (A Great Miracle Happened There) let us remember not only the miracle of the oil, let us also remember the miracle of the coming forth of The Stick of Joseph. As we light the Chanukah lights, let us remember this great light as well.