Old Testament Lesson 43 (Ezekiel 18; 34; 37)

Individual Responsibility for Sin

A proverb of Ezekiel’s day (Ezekiel 18:1–2): The parents are sinning [eating sour grapes] and the children are being punished for it [reaping the results of being raised by parents who sin].

— The Jewish exiles in Babylon believed this. They felt they were suffering the horrors of captivity because of their forefathers’ sins.

— Article of Faith 2Men will be punished for their own sins. Yet . . .

— Exodus 20:5–6The “iniquity of the fathers [is visited] upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”

— The sins—attitudes and actions—of parents who hate the Lord are often seen in attitudes or tangible effects in the lives of their children. Sin inevitably hurts more than the sinners, and children are affected by the sins of their parents. (Alcoholism, infidelity, and hostility to God are examples).

— It is perfectly clear, however, that whenever God actually punishes someone it is for his own sins and not for anyone else’s, And no child loses his agency because of the sins of his parents: he may be righteous or unrighteous, regardless of his parents.

● “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” establishes clearly the accountability of each person for his own sins (Ezekiel 18:3–4, 19–21; Jeremiah 31:29–30; Deuteronomy 24:16).

— For example, if the response of children to their parents’ teachings are sinful, that sin is not upon the heads of the parents (D&C 68:25).

Repentance and Forgiveness

● The repentant sinner shall live and none of his sins will “be mentioned” (Ezekiel 18:21–23).

● Prior to the resurrection, the Lord never closes the door against us, utterly withdrawing his offer of help and healing (Ezekiel 18:27–28).

— Elder Marvin J. Ashton stated: “I believe we start to fail in the home when we give up on each other. We have not failed until we have quit trying. As long as we are working diligently with love, patience, and long-suffering, despite the odds or the apparent lack of progress, we are not classified as failures in the home. We only start to fail when we give up on a son, daughter, mother, or father.”1

— What we must do to truly repent, and what the Lord does when we do (D&C 58:42–43).

● God is concerned more with our desires for righteousness than our behavior. All who wish to be saved must endure to the end in righteousness (Ezekiel 33:12–13, 18; Matthew 10:22; Mosiah 4:30; 3 Nephi 15:9; 27;17; D&C 18:22; 53:7; 82:7).

● The Lord no longer looks upon the repentant man as the sinner he used to be, but rather as a man who does what is “lawful and right” (Ezekiel 33:14–16).

— Elder Matthew Cowley said: “There isn’t a man living who isn’t greater than his sins, who isn’t greater than his weaknesses. That’s a wonderful thing to know. It is a wonderful thing to know that even though a man may sink so low that he is at the bottom of the gutter, yet within him there is a greatness that can regenerate him if he will submit himself to the right influences and to the power above and beyond himself.”2

— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “There is never a time when the spirit is too old to approach God. All are within the reach of [his] pardoning mercy, who have not committed the unpardonable sin.”3

● The Lord’s feelings when he punishes the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 32).

● A person cannot be saved by his former righteousness (Ezekiel 18:24, 26–27). Many suppose that they can stockpile good works and that on a balance sheet they may cancel or counterbalance their sins. This is not true (v. 24).

— President Spencer W. Kimball said: “Having received the necessary saving ordinances—baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, temple ordinances and sealings—one must live the covenants made. He must endure in faith. No matter how brilliant was the service rendered by the bishop or stake president or other person, if he falters later in his life and fails to live righteously ‘to the end’ the good works he did all stand in jeopardy.”4

● The Lord’s wants us to have “a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:25, 29–32).
— Repentance means turning away from sin and having a change of heart (Alma 5:7–14).
— Our lives are the product of what we really desire, and therefore do (Alma 29:5).

● Repentance must not be procrastinated (Alma 34:32–34).

— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: [Repentance] “cannot be trifled with every day. Daily transgression and daily repentance is not that which is pleasing in the sight of God.”5

— Elder James E. Talmage said: “To procrastinate the day of repentance is to deliberately place ourselves in the power of the adversary.”6

The Resurrection as a Metaphor for Restoring Israel

● Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of bones (Ezekiel 37:1–14).

— Dualism: As we have learned, prophetic utterances sometimes have dual meanings. Such is the case for the well-known allegory of the scattered dry bones:

— Resurrection: Ezekiel describes a literal resurrection of the dead.
— Restoration: He uses the resurrection as a metaphor of Israel’s gathering together.

— President John Taylor said:

“The Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.” [Genesis 13:14–15.] What did Stephen say, generations afterwards? That God “gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on; yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.” [Acts 7:5.]

“Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones explains this seeming contradiction. The Lord said to him, “Son of man, can these bones live? . . . ” [Ezekiel 37:3.] Who are they? We are told, in the same chapter, they are the whole house of Israel, and that they shall come out of their graves, bone come to its bone, and sinew to sinew, and flesh come upon them, and they shall become a living army before God, and they shall inherit the land which was given to them and their fathers before them. The measuring line shall again go forth upon those lands, and mark out the possessions belonging to the tribes of Israel.”7

The Sticks of Judah and Joseph

● Ezekiel predicted the uniting of the sticks of Judah and Joseph (Ezekiel 37:15–20).

— These “sticks” are historical and scriptural records of these tribes (handout).
— The coming together of these two records plays an important part in the restoration

— Shortly after the joining of these two records, the Prophet Joseph Smith was given the keys to the gathering of Israel (D&C 110:11).

— Dualism: This passage is an example of the dual nature of prophecy. It refers to the latter-day combining of the scriptural records of Judah and Joseph (Israel). It also refers to the latter-day reunion of the kingdoms of Judah and Joseph.

Elder LeGrand Richards said:

“In ancient times, in addition to keeping records on metal plates, it was the custom to write upon parchment, which was then rolled upon sticks for preservation. Thus when Ezekiel was commanded by the Lord to ‘take thee one stick and write upon it, For Judah . . . then take another stick and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim,’ in our present day language it was the equivalent of commanding the prophet to write one record for Judah and a separate one for Joseph.

“It is evident that when this commandment was given to Ezekiel, the Lord did not anticipate that all His promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to the twelve sons of Jacob, would be recorded in the record of Judah. Recall that at the time this command was given, the house of Joseph had already departed northward into unknown lands, where they had been for some one hundred twenty years. Nevertheless, the Lord wanted all Israel to know that there would be two records kept, one ‘For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions,’ and the other ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions.’

“The Lord made it plain that in His own due time He would ‘make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.’

“Therefore, the earnest seeker after truth should realize that he cannot expect to have all the record of the Lord’s hand-dealings with His children if he has but one of these records. Since we have had the record of Judah with us always, we must inquire, ‘Where is the record of Joseph?'”8

— This verse refers to “the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim” (v. 19).
— The Lord declared in the Doctrine and Covenants that this is the Book of Mormon (D&C 27:5).

— All these other scriptures also speak of the records of the Jews and the records of the Nephites being gathered together into one (1 Nephi 13:40–41; 2 Nephi 29:10–14).

— Elder Boyd K. Packer said: “The stick or record of Judah—the Old Testament and the New Testament—and the stick or record of Ephraim—the Book of Mormon, which is another testament of Jesus Christ—are now woven together in such a way that as you pore over one you are drawn to the other; as you learn from one you are enlightened by the other. They are indeed one in our hands. Ezekiel’s prophecy now stands fulfilled.”9

— President John Taylor said: “It is one of those sticks that Ezekiel saw should be written upon, even the stick of Joseph which should be written for Ephraim, and be united with the stick of Judah, and become one stick—one in prophecy, one in revelation, one in doctrine, one in ordinances, one in unfolding the purposes and designs of God, and in leading mankind to a knowledge of the truth, as it was to be introduced in “the times of the restitution of all things spoken of by all the holy Prophets since the world began.”10

— Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: “Now if you will carefully analyze this verse, you will discover that it positively states that this “stick” which is the “stick of Joseph,” thus covering both tribes, is “in the hand of Ephraim.” The record, after its presentation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, was placed in the hand of Ephraim, for Joseph Smith was of Ephraim. There is no reason for us to attempt a reconciliation. The Book of Mormon is as much the stick of Ephraim as it is of Manasseh, because both Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph. The record of Joseph is now in the hand of Ephraim. So far as the fulfilment of the prophecy is concerned, it becomes the record of Ephraim, for the Latter-day Saints are, in the main, of Ephraim.”11

— Parley P. Pratt said: “Now, nothing can be more plain than the above prophecy: [Ezek. 37] there is presented two writings, the one to Ephraim, the other of Judah: that of Ephraim is to be brought forth by the Lord, and put up with that of Judah, and they are to become one in their testimony, and grow together in this manner, in order to bring about the gathering of Israel.”12

— The sign that Jesus Christ gave the Nephites that the restoration of the tribes of Israel was at hand was the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, which made the combining of the records possible (3 Nephi 20:46; 21:1–7; 29:1).

Events after the Combining of the Two Sticks

● The children of Israel will be gathered together and united into one kingdom with the Savior as King (Ezekiel 37:21–22).

● The people will be cleansed and purified (Ezekiel 37:23).

● The people will observe the Lord’s statutes (Ezekiel 37:24).

● The people will dwell in a promised land (Ezekiel 37:25).

● The restoration of the Lord’s sanctuary or tabernacle—meaning the temple (Ezekiel 37:26–28).

— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “Because [the Book of Mormon] came forth, as the seeric insight of Ezekiel has so plainly set forth, latter-day Israel would be gathered, her people would become clean before the Lord, he would make with them again his everlasting gospel covenant, and his tabernacle and temple would be in their midst forever-more.”13

Notes:
1.  In Conference Report, Apr. 1971, 15.
2.  Elder Matthew Cowley Speaks [1954], 218.
3.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 191.
4.  The Miracle of Forgiveness, 121.
5.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 148.
6.  The Articles of Faith, 12th ed. [1924], 115.
7.  In Journal of Discourses, 1:226.
8.   Israel! Do You Know, 26–27.
9.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1982, 75; or Ensign, Nov. 1982, 53.
10.  In Journal of Discourses, 10:126.
11.  Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 3:198.
12.  Key to the Science of Theology/A Voice of Warning [1965], 94.
13.  The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ [1978], 146.

 

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