In the second half of Ezekiel 37 (vv. 15-28), the prophet brings two sticks together in his hand to demonstrate the unification of the divided nation of Israel that God will effect. Repeatedly, the oracle announces that the tribes of Israel (šibṭê yiśrāʾēl, pl.) will become one (ʾeḥād, sg.), as in verse 19:

וַֽעֲשִׂיתִם֙ לְעֵ֣ץ אֶחָ֔ד וְהָי֥וּ אֶחָ֖ד בְּיָדִֽי
waʿăśı̂tim lĕʿēṣ ʾeḥād wĕhāyû ʾeḥād bĕyādı̂
and I will make them (pl.) into one (sg.) stick, and they will be (pl.) one (sg.) in my hand

However, the initial instruction to Ezekiel in v. 17 is different:

וְקָרַ֨ב אֹתָ֜ם אֶחָ֧ד אֶל־אֶחָ֛ד לְךָ֖ לְעֵ֣ץ אֶחָ֑ד וְהָי֥וּ לַאֲחָדִ֖ים בְּיָדֶֽךָ׃
wĕqārab ʾōtām ʾeḥād ʾel-ʾeḥād lĕkā lĕʿēṣ ʾeḥād wĕhāyû laʾăḥādı̂m bĕyādekā
And (you) make them near, one to one, into one (sg.) stick, and they will become ones (pl.) in your hand.

The sense of the verse is clear enough, but this plural adjective "ones" (ʾăḥādı̂m) has me confused. Making it plural seemingly undermines the idea of oneness, which is the point of the whole thing. One wonders why have a plural version of "one" at all.

As it happens, a plural form of ʾeḥād appears a grand total of 5 times in the HB (vs. 971x for the singular). Three of these are part of what looks to be an idiom yāmı̂m ʾăḥāḏı̂m ("ones days" ~ "a few days"). The fourth is Gen 11:1 (dĕbārı̂m ʾăḥādı̂m ~ "the same words"). All of these are attributives modifying a noun that is plural in both form and sense.

Why is the plural ʾăḥādı̂m used instead of the singular at Ezekiel 37:17? Is something other than full oneness intended (perhaps because these are the concrete objects of Ezekiel's play-act rather than the promised divine unification described later in the chapter, but cf. the singular earlier in the same verse)?

Translations are my overly literal renderings for the purpose of the question. Please see links for "real" translations.

4 Answers 4


The Idea in Brief

The use of this plural-form of the word appears to stem from its necessity to “fit” into the cantillation scheme of the second half of the verse. In other words, if the singular form of the word appeared, the short vowel (preceding the tone accent of the new word) would necessarily alter the cantillation pattern and therefore the dichotomy and meaning of the second half of the verse. This explanation of course would assume (along with the Babylonian Talmud in Nedarim Folio 37B) that the cantillation and vowel sounds were always inherent to the Hebrew Scriptures, although not codified in written form until later in the 9th and 10th Centuries by Masoretic scholars.


Jewish Interpretations

First, there was no apparent plural meaning understood in this word by Jewish scholars. For example, the Targum Jonathan to the Prophets, which appeared as early as the 2nd Century, provides the simple singular translation of “one” without any nuance or innuendo of plural forms. For example, the highlighted phrase in yellow (below) contains the singular form of the word “one” in Aramaic.

Ezek 37:17 (Targum Jonathan to the Prophets) enter image description here

Second, the medieval Jewish scholar Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (“Rashi”), who lived in the 11th Century, made a similar observation, which was that the words should not be considered in any plural sense. The following translation of his commentary comes from http://chabad.org

Commentary of Rashi on Ezek 37:16

וְהָי֥וּ לַאֲחָדִ֖ים בְּיָדֶֽךָ: I shall join the two sticks, so that they will be one stick in your hand.

Jewish interpretations saw no plural meaning in this “plural” word. However, there appears a significant difference between the plural and singular forms of the word in this context, if and when viewed through the lens of accentuation and cantillation, and therefore meaning.

Significance of לַאֲחָדִ֖ים in the context

First, the received text according to the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia appears as follows. The word in red is “long,” which, according to Wickes, means that this word must take its own disjunctive accent. This disjunctive accent must be the Tipcha.

enter image description here

When diagrammed in descending order of cantillation, the verse structure appears as follows.

enter image description here

Please note that the closing phrase, “in your hand,” modifies the phrase “they will become one.”

Also, please note that Athnach disjunctive accent, which divides the verse in half (the so-called dichotomoy) occurs at the fourth word from the end of this verse. According to Wickes, the appearance of the Athnach on the fourth word forces one dichotomy in the second half of the verse. So what if dichotomy were different? How would the meaning change?

Significance of לְאֶחָד in the context

According to the critical apparatus of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, the suggested reading is the singular sense of the word. That is, the critical apparatus on this word in the verse reads as follows:

17 a prp לְאֶחָד cf 19 [ = “perhaps the word should be לְאֶחָד in light of Verse 19”]

If the “correct” word here were לְאֶחָד then the cantillation pattern would change, which then affects the dichotomy and meaning of the second half of the verse, and so the verse would appear as follows. Since the לְאֶחָד is not long, according to Wickes, this word would NOT be able to take any disjunctive accent, but would take the Merkha conjunctive accent.

enter image description here

When diagrammed in descending order of cantillation, the verse structure would appear as follows.

enter image description here

This arrangement would sound awkward because the verb here is intransitive, and like another example with an intransitive verb found in Exodus 19:16, the closing phrase, “one in your hand,” modifies the intransitive verb phrase “they will.” This separation of the intransitive verb from its immediate object seems more awkward than if the words just appeared together logically and syntactically by cantillation (as already noted above).


This explanation is not definitive, and is intended only to provide an alternative perspective on how the Hebrew Bible appeared and was heard (and understood) by Jewish scholars long before the system of cantillation marks and vowels were ever codified in writing in the 9th and 10th Century.

In this discussion, the “long” version of this word (לַאֲחָדִ֖ים) had enabled the dichotomy of the second half of the verse to occur later (before the last word of the verse). This arrangement provided the best meaning, since the dichotomy connected the intransitive verb with its immediate object.

However, if and when the normal “short” version of this word (לְאֶחָד) might have appeared, the dichotomy within the second half of the verse would have occurred immediately after the intransitive verb, and in this regard, would have separated the verb from its immediate object. This arrangement would not have been the ideal structure of this verse for the ears of listeners who heard these verses chanted through the system of cantillation, which was passed on through the centuries by oral Jewish tradition based on the original texts.


Wickes, William (1881). A Treatise on the Accentuation of the Twenty-One So-Called Prose Books of the Old Testament. London: Forgotten Books, passim.

  • Answer assumes אחדים and אחד have the same meaning, אחדים being perhaps a "poetic" version of אחד, based only on the Jonathan and a Rashi that follows the Jonathan and the Onkelos of Genesis 11:1, both of which are interpretive, rather than analytical. This is back-reading the tarjum into the MT, no more valid than back-reading English translation selections into the MT. Further assumes that consonantal text can serve the cantillation. Very problematic. Other examples to support this idea? Verse 19 "solves" this same "problem" with a zakef katon instead of an atnah. Same would work here.
    – user17080
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 16:05
  • @AbuMunirIbnIbrahim - Your comments are consistent with my conclusions.
    – Joseph
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 20:18

It is important to note that the word אחדים means "the same". We can see that אחד also can have this meaning as in "וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יוֹסֵף֙ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֔ה חֲל֥וֹם פַּרְעֹ֖ה אֶחָ֣ד ה֑וּא אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁ֧ר הָאֱלֹהִ֛ים עֹשֶׂ֖ה הִגִּ֥יד לְפַרְעֹֽה׃" "Joseph said to Pharaoh, 'Pharaoh's חלום (dreams) is אחד (the same). G-d has told him what He is going to do.'" (Genesis 41:25). Note that Pharaoh had two dreams. Joseph uses the singular חלום in the sentence, and thus uses the corresponding אחד. Joseph here uses the singular but means that both dreams are the same.

As for Ezekiel, when the word אחדים is used it means that the two sticks will become the same stick. Here, והיו לאחדים means that the sticks will gain the adjective אחדים. When the word אחד is used, it cannot grammatically be an adjective for sticks, so it must be using a different noun to describe the objects. Here, the noun is changing from עצים to עץ. It means that they became one stick. There is little difference between the meaning of both those sentences, but there is a small grammatical difference.

  • Please add some references (eg, from a good lexicon, etc) to support you comments and assertions.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 1:06

The word אחדים is an active voice adverb form of אחד in Ezekiel 37:17 and Genesis 11:1. In English read as "be as united" in Ezekiel 37:17 and as "unified vocabulary" in Genesis.

Two or more things are united ("oned-ed"), so the verb form is plural.

The complete translation for Ezekiel 37:17 should read,

Bring one near the other so that they are one wood, united in your hand.

Note the alliteration in the verse - אחד three times before לאחדים. The message the reader hears is "one, one, one, ...united".

Note how this understanding of the verb form changes our sense of the semantics of the adjective form in verses such as Genesis 29:20 (ESV)

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her

where the translation is "a few". The undertone is that the days seemed to Jacob like one unified long day.


General Comments

There are five instances of ’ă-ḥā-ḏîm, as the OP has pointed out:

  • Genesis 11:1
    ū-ḏə-ḇā-rîm ’ă-ḥā-ḏîm (words ones), i.e. a set of words = a lexicon

  • Genesis 27:44
    yā-mîm ’ă-ḥā-ḏîm (days ones), i.e. a set of days = a while

  • Genesis 29:20
    yā-mîm ’ă-ḥā-ḏîm (days ones), i.e. a set of days = a while

  • Ezekiel 37:17
    ‘ê-ṣîm ’ă-ḥā-ḏîm (sticks ones), i.e. a set of sticks = a pair

  • Danial 11:20 yā-mîm ’ă-ḥā-ḏîm (days ones), i.e. a set of days = a while

Members of these sets have names that distinguish them, one from another. For those who are not familiar with the names of days in the OT, they were identified as "the fourteenth day of the first month", or "the third day of the month Adar", etc.

Specific Comments

In the particular instance being drawn to our attention by the OP, Ezekiel was instructed to take one stick and write upon it, "For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions", and another stick and write upon it, "For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions".

Clearly, the reason for the names is so the sticks, even when in the hand of the one shepherd, will continue to be identifiable -- the two inscribed sticks representing the leadership of two separate kingdoms each with their own sense of purpose, are the same "ones" that will be in the hand of the one shepherd, at an appointed time.

How will they end up in the hand of the shepherd?

The first part of chapter 37 depicts Ezekiel's vision of a valley of dry bones, which concludes:

And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD.
-- Ezekiel 37:13-14 (KJV)

A sign for the whole house (37:11) of Israel -- all twelve tribes from two separate kingdoms, will recognise the authority of the one shepherd and place their sticks in His hand.

This event will then give rise to the unification of the two kingdoms, which we are told will be a sign for the heathen.

My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the heathen shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.
-- Ezekiel 37:27-28 (KJV)

  • 1
    I think you're probably onto something. Your dismissive claim that "there is really nothing difficult here" has yet to convince me, though -- this is the only of the uses of ʾeḥād in the stick episode (of several with similar referent, see v. 19 quoted in Q) that is plural. There may be no accounting to be had, but, until proven otherwise, it is difficult.
    – Susan
    Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 6:09

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