Two Sticks

There are two places where Mormons claim the Bible speaks about the Book of Mormon. Perhaps the most popular text used to back up their claim is Ezekiel 37:16-17 which reads in the King JamesBible:

“16Moreover, 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: 17 And Join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.”

The argument goes that, as the sticks are written on, they must be records of some kind. These records are to be brought together to become one. The bringing forth of the Book of Mormon through Joseph Smith is seen as fulfilment of the Ezekiel prophecy. The stick of Judah is the Bible and the stick of Ephraim the Book of Mormon. Certainly since 1981, when the new editions of Mormon scripture were published with the four “standard works” of the church cross-referenced to each other, the sticks have been regarded as truly “one in thine hand”. Is Ezekiel talking about the Book of Mormon and the Bible?

The word translated stick is the Hebrew etz which is variously translated tree, wood, stick or rod. The prophet is instructed to take one etz and write upon it “For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions” and take a second etz and write upon it “For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions.” The words in quotes are the words written on the sticks (we are still with the KJV) and literally mean “This etz represents Judah” and “This etz represents Joseph”. They do not mean, as Mormons seem to think, “This is the record for Judah” and “This is the record for Joseph”. In other words God is saying the “sticks” represent the two kingdoms.

God is graphically showing his people what he is going to do. In verse 20 the sticks are clearly objects in the hand of the prophet being held up before the eyes of Israel, “Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on…” (NIV). The Good News Bible carries the thought very well when it says in verse 17 “hold the two sticks end to end in your hand so that they look like one stick.” The promise of God is that he “will take the children of Israel from among the heathen…And [he] will make them one nation…and one king shall be king over them all: and they shall be no more two nations” (vv 21-22). God is saying that, just as the sticks become one in the hand of the prophet, so the two kingdoms will become one in the hand of God.

Has the prophecy been fulfilled? There are key points in the remainder of the chapter that show where we should look for its fulfilment. The first is that they will have one king over them forever who will be David (vv 22,24,25). Clearly this is not literally David, who is dead, but a descendant of David, one who occupies David’s throne. The next point is that God will “save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them” (v.23). God’s provision for the cleansing of sin is Jesus, the promised Messiah who will sit on David’s throne.

The last point is that God “will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant” (v.26). Jeremiah spoke of a time to come when God was to make a new covenant with Israel and Judah (Jer.31:31). In Hebrews 12:24 we read of Jesus being the mediator of a new covenant and, in Hebrews 13:20, we are told his is the blood of an eternal covenant. Finally Paul said that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Rom.5:1-2). This, then, is a Messianic prophecy.

It is worth remembering that the first Christians were Israelites. It is also noteworthy that Israel is to be called out “from among the heathen, whither they have gone”. As the gospel is preached “to every nation, tongue and people” surely there is a gathering from out of every nation of both those who are literal Israel and those who are Israel by adoption. And, by faith, they are the true Israel of God.

It Shall Be Unto Me As Ariel

In addition to Ezekiel 37, and the sticks of Jacob and Joseph, another reference popular among Mormons in this context is Isaiah 29. The relevant verses are 1- 4 and 11-14:

“1 Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! Add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices. 2 Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be unto me as Ariel. 3 And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will raise forts against thee. 4 And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.” (Isa.29:1-4 KJV)

Here, it is claimed, is a coded reference to coming events on the American continent. Ariel, the city of Jerusalem, is to be virtually destroyed some time in the future (“Add ye year to year, let them kill sacrifices”, or as the NIV puts it, “let your cycle of festivals go on. Yet I will besiege Ariel”). Then, claims the Mormon apostle LeGrand Richards,

“[Isaiah] seems to be carried away in a vision to witness a similar destruction of the cities of Joseph, ‘and it shall be unto me as Ariel'”.(A Marvellous Work and a Wonder, p.67-69).

Isaiah, then, is seeing in vision the destruction of Jerusalem and a similar destruction of Book of Mormon cities, the cities of Joseph. It cannot be Jerusalem spoken of here, it is reasoned, because the plight of whoever is being besieged is being compared with the plight of Jerusalem.

These people will be brought low and would speak out of the ground. Their speech would be “low out of the dust”. LeGrand Richards reasons,

“The only way a dead people could speak ‘out of the ground’…would be by the written word, and this the people did through the Book of Mormon. Truly it has a familiar spirit, for it contains the words of the prophets of the God of Israel”.

The vision goes on:

“11 And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed. 12 And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned. 13 Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as these people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: 14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.” (Isa.29:11-14 KJV).

Here is the Book of Mormon, whose bringing forth is counted “a marvellous work and a wonder” by the LDS Church. A sealed book understood only by revelation and not by the wisdom of men. Typically, they have decoded this vision with very little reference to the facts.

Ariel certainly is Jerusalem and her destruction is foreshadowed in this vision. At this point in their history God’s people had turned to an alliance with Egypt to protect themselves from Assyrian forces. In this they felt secure but God warned them, through the prophet, that their dependence on political alliances instead of on Jehovah would bring about their destruction. Assyria would be the downfall of Jerusalem. In their arrogance they refused to believe Isaiah and were judged for holding their cycle of festivals and offering their sacrifices, having a semblance of religion, but ignoring God’s mouthpiece.

And it shall be unto me as Ariel, (v2). What shall be as Ariel? Jerusalem shall be as Ariel. Jerusalem shall be as Jerusalem? It makes no sense! Yes it does. Bible writers often used plays on words, or puns, to emphasise a point. The Hebrew word for Ariel sounds like the Hebrew word for altar hearth.

“She [Jerusalem] will be to me like an altar hearth.” (NIV)

Jerusalem, after the fighting and bloodshed of siege warfare, shall be turned into a virtual “altar hearth”. No reference here to Joseph’s cities in the Book of Mormon. This is exclusively Jerusalem’s fate being prophesied. Her people will be brought low to beg for mercy with their faces in the dust. This is a gruesome picture of defeat at the hands of a brutal enemy.

“…and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust” (v4).

This is a most unfortunate misuse of scripture by the Mormon Church. In Isaiah 8:19 Jehovah expressly forbids his people to “seek unto them that have familiar spirits”. These are mediums and spiritualists. Tragically, in their crisis, Judah had turned, not only to political alliances for safety but to mediums. They boasted that they had made a bargain, or covenant, with death and that, “when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us” (Isa.28:15). This bargain was a form of necromancy, or consultation with the dead. God made it clear that there would be no protection for them in such bargains, “Your covenant with death shall be disannulled and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it” (Isa.28:18). Judah expected to escape death but would herself speak as from the realm of the dead, “out of the dust”. What about the sealed book? This is simply saying that God’s word had become to them like a sealed book. The key to understanding this is the previous verse:

“10 For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. 11 And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed… The book is God’s word that had become closed to them because God had closed their eyes (the prophets and seers). Their own wisdom in understanding these events would fail them, for the book [is delivered] to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot, for it is sealed. 12 And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.”

Neither the learned nor the ignorant could read what God had sealed.

A Marvellous Work and a Wonder

God will perform Wonder upon wonder (Isa.29:14 NIV) among his people, the result of which will be that the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish. All they have come to depend upon will come to nothing. What seems like wisdom to them will be shown to be folly. What seems safety will be no safety and, where they imagined they saw foolishness, i.e. in the words of the prophet, they would see God’s wisdom working its course. Paul uses part of this same text in reference to God’s provision of salvation through Christ:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (1 Cor.1:18-19 NIV)

This, then, is the marvellous work and a wonder. It is the foolishness of God frustrating the wisdom of men, For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe…For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man.