Ezekiel 37:15-20: Books or Sticks?

By Bill McKeever 

When it comes to proving the authenticity
of the Book of Mormon, many zealous Latter-day Saints like to quote
from Ezekiel 37:15-20. These passages read:

"The word of the Lord came 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."

Many Mormons insist that the sticks mentioned in the
foregoing verses actually speak of books. One of the books, they
insist, is the Bible, while the other is the Book of Mormon. One Mormon
leader who championed this notion was LDS Apostle LeGrand Richards. On
page 67 of his book A Marvelous Work and A Wonder, he quotes Ezekiel
37:15-20 and concludes, "In ancient times it was the custom to write on
parchment and roll it on a stick. Therfore, when this command was
given, it was the equivalent of directing that two books or records
should be kept." Is such a conclusion plausible? Was Ezekiel speaking
of two records that were to be kept?

First of all we must examine the Hebrew word used in the
above passages. In doing so we find that the word used, "aits," speaks
of a literal piece of wood, not books or scrolls as Mormons often
insist. Consider 1 Kings 17:12. This passage reads:

"So he [Elijah] arose and went to Zarephath.
And when he came to the gate of the city, behold the widow woman was there gathering sticks."

Elijah asks her for some water and a morsel of bread, to which the woman responds by telling the prophet:

"I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil
in a cruise [pitcher]: and, behold I am gathering two sticks, that I
may go in and dress [prepare] it for me and my son, that we may eat it
and die."

Was the widow of Zarapath gathering books? If your answer is
no, then there is no consistency in claiming the sticks of Ezekiel 37
are books since both passages use the same word.

Another set of passages to consider is 2 Kings 6:1-7. The
Bible tells how, during the act of cutting down a tree, the axe head
fell off its handle and landed in the water. Distressed because the axe
was borrowed, the man who was using the axe sought the aid of Elisha
the prophet. Pointing out where the axe head landed, Elisha proceeds to
"cut down a stick" and cast it into the water. Amazingly the iron axe
head floats to the top. Now I don't believe I've ever heard a Mormon
insist that Elisha cut down a book and threw it into the water. But
again, if the Mormon wishes to insist that Ezekiel 37 speaks of books,
and wants to be consistent at the same time, he must conclude Elisha
cut a book off the tree since the word stick in verse 6 is the same
Hebrew word that is Ezekiel 37:16ff.

Of course, the widow of Zarephath was not gathering books,
any more than Elisha cut down a book from a tree. Neither was Ezekiel
holding books (or scrolls) in his hand as Mormons all too often imply.
Ezekiel 37 has nothing to say about the Book of Mormon. By using two
literal sticks, Ezekiel was illustratively predicting the coming
together of two nations, Judah and Israel, which had been separated
since the time of King Rehoboam, nothing more. If the Mormon would
continue reading to verse 22, he would see that this is clearly
explained.