Understanding the Historic Past and the Prophetic Future
It is a fact of history that about 2,520 years after ancient Israel ceased to be an independent kingdom, the Anglo-Saxon people were on the verge of exercising unparalleled influence.
It is also a matter of clear, unquestionable historical record that during the century and a half from 1660 to 1820, developments in Britain and the United States laid the foundation for the Anglo-American economic, political, and military dominance of the last two centuries. Is this mere coincidence — or is it precisely what we should expect based on the Bible prophecies foretelling the near-unbelievable greatness of Abraham’s heirs “in the last days”? (Genesis 49:1).
Three sets of prophecies
In fact, there are three sets of prophecies, all of which provide some of the most convincing evidence available about the modern-day identity of the descendants of Israel. The first arises from those astonishing predictions about the double-portion of the Abrahamic blessing to fall on the people of Joseph (Genesis 48:21-22; 49:22-26; Deuteronomy 33:13-17; 1 Chronicles 5:1-2).
The second relates to Jacob’s prediction of an eventual separation between Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:1-20) — his forecast that descendants of the two boys would grow together into a great people; that eventually they would experience a parting of the ways with each group enjoying continuing prosperity and blessings in their own right. We can locate the people of Joseph in history by looking backward in time, identifying the modern-day peoples who have fulfilled the predictions at the time and in the way that prophecy leads us to expect.
The third set of prophecies, scattered liberally throughout the writings of both Major and Minor Prophets, foretells of monumental end time events yet to overtake the Israelitish peoples. They are of value to us not only in demonstrating that a physical, national people of Israel exists today; they give us an enlarged understanding of the very job of the Church of God as humanity moves inexorably toward the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His Millennial rule over the all the earth.
In this chapter, we will examine in order each of these three sets of prophecies, how they have been fulfilled, and what remains ahead for Israel.
The incredible prosperity of Joseph
The words of Jacob predict marvelous and wonderful things for Joseph’s end time descendants: “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), by the God of your father who will help you, and by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers” (Genesis 49:22-26).
Moses reiterated these words in his farewell address to the Israelites about to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land.
“And of Joseph he said: ‘Blessed of the Lord is his land, with the precious things of heaven, with the dew, and the deep lying beneath, with the precious fruits of the sun, with the precious produce of the months, with the best things of the ancient mountains, with the precious things of the everlasting hills, with the precious things of the earth and its fullness, and the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush.
‘Let the blessing come on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers. His glory is like a firstborn bull, and his horns like the horns of the wild ox; together with them He shall push the peoples to the ends of the earth; they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh’” (Deuteronomy 33:13-17).
The word Hebrew word used here for “separate” means “consecrated” which means “set apart” (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, # 5139). Other translations use the term “set apart from” (New Revised Standard) and “the one distinguished among his brothers” (New American Standard) in place of “separate.” This seems to be the primary intent, but one can also make the case for a physical separation. Joseph was sold into slavery. And there is even a modern correlation to the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh. They have been separated (and also distinguished) from their brothers by geography and prosperity.
Joseph separate from his brethren
These prophecies have been fulfilled in the stories of the British and American peoples. Like Joseph, the son of Jacob, the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh have been physically separated from the descendants of the other tribes. Throughout European history, the English Channel has served as a beneficent buffer separating the Celts, the Angles, and the Saxons from their fellow-Israelite tribespeople living on the northwestern portion of the Continent. This separation has had numerous beneficial effects. The first relates to colonization.
Those adventuresome Ephraimites, who had wanderlust, trekked to distant parts such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The Manassite branch of the family traveled as well, ultimately building a nation insulated from not only Ephraim but the other brothers as well by the Atlantic Ocean. The colonization and settlement process in which these people participated was a dramatic fulfillment of Joseph’s branches running “over the wall” (Genesis 49:22).
Separation has also allowed the British and American people to live in peaceful isolation (verse 26). It has often has done much to spared them of the grief and losses caused by war. If the British people have been participants in many of the European wars of modern times, they also have often had the decided advantage of picking and choosing how, when, and at times even whether they would be involved.
Through much of British history, the insulation afforded by the English Channel spared the British the draining costs of maintaining a standing army and watching the cream of its manhood fall victim to enemy swords, arrows, bullets, and bombs. On many occasions, the British even determined the outcome of Continental conflicts, watching safely from a distance, serving as “Paymaster of the Allies,” and pursuing her typical 19th century policy of “Splendid Isolation.”
If the English Channel made England a relatively peaceful place by Continental standards, the Atlantic Ocean gave the United States of America one of the most unprecedented opportunities in recorded human history. From the birth of the country in 1776, the founding fathers aspired to create a new and noble nation. They wished to build a unique nation-state, unencumbered by aristocratic traditions and foreign entanglements that afflicted the Old World out of which the American colonists had come. The advantage of geographic isolation on a new and largely unpopulated continent gave Americans to create what which has become the strongest and most powerful nation in today’s world.
American nationhood flowers
U.S. involvement in world affairs began to crescendo around the time of the Spanish-American War (1898). America’s first naive, idealistic, full-scale plunge into international relations came in 1917 with her entry into World War I. Disillusionment over the peace process led to a temporary lapse into isolationism, but by the late-1930s, the world had become “too small” for the United States to stand aloof much longer. American involvement in World War II began a sustained participation by the United States in world affairs. Today, America is the recognized leader among the nations of the world.
Along with brother Ephraim, the descendants of Manasseh have had the power to “push the people together to the ends of the earth” (Deuteronomy 33:17). Little wonder that the prophecies inform us that Joseph’s “bow abode in strength” (verse 24). If the luck of geography made possible Anglo-American dominance of the past two hundred years, much of that strength sprang as well from favorable climate and a seemingly endless supply of natural resources. The “blessings of heaven above” (Genesis 49:25 — compare Deuteronomy 33:13-14) have come to both peoples whose territories lie squarely within the temperate zones. Auspicious climate has enabled both the British and Americans to capitalize agriculturally on the abundant supply of rich and fertile soil of their territories (Deuteronomy 8:9; 28:3-5).
A dependable food supply has yielded the steady population growth in British regions of the world and the United States from the 18th through much of the 20th centuries. Certainly in terms of population growth, the descendants of Joseph have been a “fruitful bough” (Genesis 49:22, 25; Leviticus 26:9; Deuteronomy 6:3; 7:13-14; 28:4) providing both the labor force and human ingenuity which helped to make possible the industrialization which changed the face of the world.
In addition to favorable climate, weather, agricultural production and a large population base, the British and American peoples fell heir to a treasure trove of natural resources. What the British lacked within their own isles, they drew from an empire encircling the globe.
The Americans found everything necessary for national economic greatness — fertile top soil; iron ore and coal deposits; reserves of gold, silver, diamonds; and petroleum — within the confines of the continental U.S. Both peoples possessed “the chief things of the ancient mountains” — the “precious things of the lasting hills” and “the precious things of the earth and fullness thereof” within the territories they exclusively controlled (cf. Deuteronomy 8:9, 28:1, 6, 8, 13).
Forty decisive years
All of the things promised in the prophecies about Joseph “in the last days” (Genesis 49:1) began to converge near the end of the 18th century C.E. It is worth examining what happened to the descendants of both Ephraim and Manasseh during this period. We find England and France locked in a life-and-death struggle over European — and by extension world — hegemony. The outcome of that struggle determined who would dominate the world during the following two centuries. The final results were not entirely clear until the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1804-1815).
Napoleon’s defeat brought closure to what is arguably the most decisive 40 year period in modern history: 1775-1815. The Bible makes repeated use of the number 40 as symbolic of judgment or as a unified block of time denoting stages of life or regal periods (compare Exodus 2:1-10, 15; Numbers 14:34; Joshua 3:14-17; Judges 3:11; 2 Samuel 5:4; 1 Kings 11:42; 1 Chronicles 29:27; 2 Chronicles 9:30; Acts 13:21). The events unfolding during these four decades confirmed the Anglo-American character of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Genesis, chapter 48 addresses the separation of Ephraim from Manasseh and the foundation of two separate independent polities. Jacob predicted that Manasseh “also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations” (verse 19).
The first part of this grand prophecy was fulfilled in the setting of the American Revolution (1775-1783) and the War of 1812 (1812-1815). The American Revolution severed the political connection of the American colonists to England. The wars between France and England on the European Continent had an indirect influence as well. The Louisiana Purchase was the product of Napoleon’s need for ready cash to pay for the costs of impending war with England. The acquisition of the Louisiana Territory (1803) insured world power status for the United States. The War of 1812 confirmed the separation of the U.S. from Britain.
And finally, the death of Tecumseh (October 4, 1813) effected a subduing of the Indian threat which opened the way for relatively unhindered westward expansion — a development which gathered increasing momentum and reached a kind of climax with the growth of the spirit of “Manifest Destiny” and the Mexican War (1846-1848).
A Commonwealth of Nations
The second aspect of Jacob’s prediction — that Ephraim would become “a multitude of nations” (verse 19) — also began slowly but inexorably to be fulfilled as a result of the French defeat in 1815. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy ruled the world’s oceans. The British economy, greatly stimulated by the conflict, had been propelled to unparalleled world supremacy (William H. McNeill, The Ecumene: The Story of Humanity, p. 528-529; see also the F. Crouzet essay, “England and France in the Eighteenth century: A Comparative Analysis of Two Economic Growths,” pp. 167, 173- 174, in The Causes of the Industrial Revolution in England edited by R. M. Hartwell; and Age of Aristocracy, pp. 217, 277-278).
The French bid for world hegemony — more-or-less continuous since the days of Louis XIV (1643-1715) and the opening rounds of the “Second Hundred Years War” — had decisively failed.
Britain found herself free and in possession of the necessary political, economic, and military power to build an empire that extended around the globe. As brother Manasseh moved forward to construct a nation that would extend from “sea to shining sea,” Ephraim fell heir to the world.
The British built an empire on which the sun never set. This imperial structure was almost infinite in its diversity, comprised as it was of people from virtually every known ethnic group and governed by means a centralized as the Raj in India or the British Agent- General”s Office in Egypt... or as independent as the dominion status granted to the territories of settlement in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Genesis, chapter 49 relates the details of Joseph’s inheritance — not Reuben’s (1 Chronicles 5:1-2) — of the double portion of the Birthright passed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob.
Napoleon’s fall was an essential prelude to Britain’s ascension and the fulfillment of this prophecy. After 1815, Anglo-French tensions remained, particularly in the sphere of colonial and imperial rivalries (the most dramatic example of which is the Fashoda Crisis of 1898), but even in that arena, there are novel examples of attempts at Anglo-French cooperation (e.g., the Anglo-French Commission which managed Egyptian economic affairs from 1876-1881 or the dividing of the Middle East into spheres of influence by the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1917).
From 1815, there generally ensued a decrescendo of tensions which culminated in the Entente Cordiale of 1904 and the joint Anglo-French resistance to the Triple Alliance and later the Central Powers against whom both French and English fought during World War I.
Sidebar: The Coronation of James I, King of England (1603)
No doubt breathless after his furious and unauthorized Pony Express-style 300 mile dash up the Great North Road from London to Edinburgh, a young courtier named Robert Carey stood inside Holyrood Palace.
In spite of his more than 30 hours in transit — and the fact that he had taken one bad fall along the way — he was delighted to be the man to inform Scottish King James VI that, on the death of English monarch Elizabeth I, James had become James I, king of England. Carey delivered these momentous tidings at the end of the day of March 26, 1603.
If the Throne of David went from Jerusalem to Ireland to Scotland, then the succession of the Stuart king, James I, at the death of Elizabeth I constitutes the final planting of the Davidic throne in England. The possibility that the Scottish line of kings represents the Davidic family is particularly interesting. This is especially true in light of Nathan’s prophecy of the fate to befall David’s family in the aftermath of the Bathsheba-Uriah the Hittite debacle (2 Samuel 11:1-27). The prophet inveighed, “Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house ... I will raise up adversity against you from your own house” (2 Samuel 12:10-11). This prophecy finds a fascinating echo in the observations of Prince Michael of Greece: “Scotland, whose very ancient historical beginnings remain obscure, made her first appearance as a coherent kingdom in the ninth century under Kenneth I McAlpin The descendants of his dynasty include such famous historical figures as Duncan and Macbeth. Dominated by wars with England, the history of Scotland is a romantic tapestry of acts of great heroism and great brutality. The Stuarts came to the throne with Robert II in the fourteenth century.”