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.”