The Book of Mormon as the Stick of Ephraim

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The Book of Mormon as the Stick of Ephraim



Ishmael as a Descendant of Ephraim

Latter-day Saints have historically interpreted Ezekiel 37:15–17 as being a prophecy of coming forth of the Book of Mormon in the last days. Elder Boyd K. Packer explained it this way in General Conference, October 1982:

I must tell you of a work that has moved quietly forward in the Church virtually unnoticed. It had its beginning in Old Testament times and is the fulfillment of a prophecy by Ezekiel, who wrote:

"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."

The sticks, of course, are records or books. In ancient Israel records were written upon tablets of wood or scrolls rolled upon sticks. The record of Judah and the record of Ephraim, according to the prophecy, were to become one in our hands. Two events connected with the fulfillment of the prophecy were centered in print shops.

One of Joseph Smith's early revelations makes the connection between the Book of Mormon and Ezekiel's "stick of Ephraim": "The hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim." (D&C 27:5.)

Since the Book of Mormon makes clear that Lehi was a descendant of Manasseh, brother of Ephraim (Alma 10:3), why is the Book of Mormon referred to as the "stick of Ephraim"? Joseph Smith answered a similar question "as to the Stick of Joseph in the hand of Ephraim" (see Ezekiel 37:19): "I will merely say suppose yourself to be an Ephraimite, and suppose all this church to be, of the blood of Ephraim and the book of Mormon to be a record of Manasseh which would of course [be a re]cord of Joseph, Then suppose you being an Ephraimite, Should take the record of Joseph in your hand, would not then the stick of Joseph be in the hand of Ephraim. solve this mistery and se[e]."[1]

In addition, Church leaders in the late 1800s stated that Joseph Smith learned in the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon that Ishmael was of the tribe of Ephraim:

  • Orson Pratt, 1850: "The records of Manasseh in the hands of Ephraim shall gather out the Lord's elect from the four winds, from one end of the earth to the other The Book of Mormon is the record of Manasseh; it is now in the hands of Ephraim, who have been for many generations, as the Prophet Hosea said, "mixed among the people." By them will the Lord "push the people together to the ends of the earth," even by the children of Ephraim, who is the Lord's first-born in this great latter-day work The American Indians are partly of the children of Manasseh; though many of them are of Ephraim, through the two sons of Ishmael."[2]
  • Erastus Snow, 1882: "The Prophet Joseph informed us that the record of Lehi, was contained on the 116 pages that were first translated and subsequently stolen, and of which an abridgement is given us in the first Book of Nephi, which is the record of Nephi individually, he himself being of the lineage of Manasseh; but that Ishmael was of the lineage of Ephraim, and that his sons married into Lehi's family, and Lehi's sons married Ishmael's daughters, thus fulfilling the words of Jacob upon Ephraim and Manasseh in the 48th chapter of Genesis."[3]
  • Franklin D. Richards, 1896: "Brother Joseph, how is it that we call the Book of Mormon the Stick of Joseph in the hands of Ephraim, when the book itself tells us that Lehi was of the lineage of Manasseh? I cannot find in it about the seed of Ephraim dwelling on this land at all." Joseph replied: "You will recollect that when Lehi and his family had gone from Jerusalem out into the wilderness, he sent his son Nephi back to the city to get the plates which contained the law of Moses and many prophecies of the prophets, and that he also brought out Ishmael and his family, which were mostly daughters. This Ishmael and his family were of the lineage of Ephraim, and Lehi's sons took Ishmael's daughters for wives, and this is how they have grown together, 'a multitude of nations in the midst of the earth.' "If we had those one hundred and sixteen pages of manuscript which Martin Harris got away with, you would know all about it, for Ishmael' s ancestry is made very plain therein. The Lord told me not to translate it over again, but to take from Nephi' s other plates until I came to the period of time where the other translation was broken off, and then go on with Mormon's abridgment again. That is how it came about that Ishmael's lineage was not given in the Book of Mormon, as well as Lehi's."[4]
  • Editor of the Improvement Era, 1905: "President Franklin D. Richards, and other Latter-day Saints acquainted with the Prophet Joseph, have declared, to this writer’s personal knowledge, that in conversation they had known him to say that in Mormon’s abridgement of the book of Lehi, (which supplied the 116 pages of manuscript lost by Martin Harris) it was plainly stated that Ishmael was of the tribe of Ephraim."[5]

Interpreting Ezekiel 37

In context, this portion of Ezekiel's record is a prophecy of the restoration and reunification of the divided house of Israel. Ezekiel sees a vision of a valley of dry bones that are miraculously reassembled with flesh, and the breath of life returns to them (37:1–10). The Lord promises Ezekiel that he will raise the people of Israel from the dead and give them rest in their own land (11–14). The Lord then gives the prophecy of the sticks (15–20). He explains the sticks represent the restoration of Israel to their homeland and reunification of the formerly separated nations of Judah and Israel (Ephraim) (21–22). They will live God's law, be purified from unrighteousness, and be ruled over by the heir of house of David (23–28).

So what does the Book of Mormon have to do with the reunification of Israel and how does Lehi, descendant of Manasseh, fit into a prophecy of a "stick of Ephraim"?

For Latter-day Saints this is an example of "likening the scriptures unto ourselves," as Nephi suggested (1 Nephi 19:23). The Book of Mormon is the restoration scripture for modern-day Ephraim—the people of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—and a message that they take to the world so that Israel may be gathered a final time in preparation for the second coming of the Lord.

Although Ezekiel was speaking directly of reunification, Latter-day Saints have applied their own modern application of this passage as it relates to the Book of Mormon's role in the restoration of the gospel and the gathering of Israel.

Notes

  1. "Letter to Stephen Post, 17 September 1838," josephsmithpapers.org.
  2. Orson Pratt, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon no. 6 (Liverpool, England: 15 October 1850), 91–92.
  3. "Discourse by Apostle Erastus Snow," at Logan, Utah, May 6, 1882, in Journal of Discourses 23:184.
  4. Franklin D. Richards, "Origin of American Aborigines," The Contributor 17:7 (May 1896), 425.
  5. Editor, "Questions and Answers—The Stick of Ephraim," Improvement Era 8:10 (August 1905), 781–782.