The Incredible Story of Ephraim and Manasseh
Historically the Church of God has located modern Ephraim in the British Isles and Commonwealth countries, and Manasseh in the United States of America. There are some studies, however, which identify Ephraim as the U.S. and Manasseh as Britain — an attempt like Joseph’s to reverse the hands of the aged patriarch Jacob (Genesis 48:17-19 — compare Hebrews 11:21). This argument inverts the traditional British-Israel identifications of Ephraim and Manasseh and raises several interesting points.
Considering the argument
The argument for the United States being descended from Ephraim instead of Manasseh uses the following logic:
· The United States has become the greater of the two powers; no nation — not even Britain at the height of her strength — has ever had in real terms the material and economic power as has America in the 20th century.
· The U.S. is far greater blessed than Britain in having the most land.
· The U.S. is approximately four times the size of Britain in population; this fact of present-day demographics finds expressions in Deuteronomy 33:17 (Deuteronomy 33 is a parallel passage to Genesis 49 assigning the various blessings of Jacob to the 12 tribes of Israel) which ascribes “ten thousands” to Ephraim and “thousands” to Manasseh. The concept of “company of nations” applies not to Britain’s imperial edifice but rather to the legal autonomy accorded the American states and the division between state and federal government.
· The number 13 — a figure recurring regularly in the early history of the U.S.A. — should be associated with Ephraim as the 13th of Jacob’s children.
· As Manasseh preceded Ephraim in birth, so England established a presence in North America before the American colonials established their own independent but “second born” nation — in both cases, there was a time when there was a Manasseh but no Ephraim.
· The appellation “Great” preceding “Britain” is predictable considering Jacob’s affirmation that Manasseh “also shall be great” (Genesis 48:21). If the above ideas have a certain intellectual appeal, they also have several inherent weaknesses. In the schema making Ephraim America, the two grandchildren replace Joseph, with Manasseh becoming son number 12 and Ephraim son number 13. Is this the correct view of the matter?
Thirteen tribes — thirteen colonies
As a result of Jacob’s placing his name on Joseph’s two sons (Genesis 48:46), both Ephraim and Manasseh became sons of Jacob by adoption. Herbert Armstrong notes “there were 12 original tribes. Joseph was one of these 12. But when Joseph divided into two tribes and Manasseh separated into an independent nation, it became a thirteenth tribe. Could it be mere coincidence that it started, as a nation, with thirteen colonies” (United States and Britain in Prophecy, p. 104).
An equally convincing and far more thoroughly developed case of associating the number 13 with Manasseh has been made by J. H. Allen in his volume, The National Number and Heraldry of the United States of America (a book coincidentally written in Pasadena, California in 1919 from 591 El Molino Avenue). Allen draws heavily from the heraldry of the United States to make his case.
Sidebar: Jacob’s Crossed Arms
The moment was charged with electricity. Joseph guided his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, before the frail and aged patriarch Jacob. Summoning what little strength he had, he sat on his bed and rehearsed the story of his relationship with God over the past one hundred years.
Reminding these two particular grandsons of God’s promises to make him fruitful — a multitude of people — and to give him the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, Jacob then adopted the boys as his own sons. They became a replacement for his two disinherited firstborns, Reuben (Genesis 35:22) and Levi (34:25-27), borne from his marriage to Leah.
Before pronouncing his blessing on Ephraim and Manasseh, the aged patriarch laid his hand on each one. Much to Joseph’s distress, Jacob crossed his arms, placing his right hand on the head of the younger offspring. Knowing that the right hand connoted receipt of the greater blessing, Joseph attempted to reverse his father’s hands. “Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his [Manasseh’s] head” (Genesis 48:18).
But Jacob held steady, replying “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he [Manasseh] also shall be great; but truly his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations” (verse 19).
Some British-Israel writers find an interesting parallel to the crossed arms of Jacob in the British Union Flag, or as it is more popularly know, the “Union Jack.” It is interesting that the name “Jack” points us back to the patriarch Jacob.
The flag itself is a combination of three crosses. The first is the St. George cross — a red cross on a white field — an emblem believed to have been introduced by Richard I Lionheart in 1194. By 1277, Englishmen generally considered this flag as a national emblem. To the St. George cross, the newly ascended English King James I added a second symbol: the cross of St. Andrew. This blue diagonal cross was that of Scotland’s later patron saint.
The combination of crosses appropriately represented the joining of the English and Scottish kingdoms, a union enacted when James added the English crown to the Scottish one he already possessed.
Although the unique design and pattern of the Union Flag may be nothing more than a reflection of the unique historical events which created the United Kingdom, for those who see in Genesis 48 a prophecy of the unique blessings passed on to Ephraim’s descendants, it is a perpetual reminder of the heritage promised and received as a part of the promise to Abraham.
Indeed, British and American heraldic symbols — subjective evidence that they may be — make a stronger case for associating Ephraim with the British and Manasseh with the Americans.
The facts of history also argue in favor of the Church of God’s traditional association. By the late-18th century, English settlement of North America existed in the form of thirteen separate colonies, each with its own governmental apparatus and laws. A certain measure of state independence continues to exist today, with each respective state empowered to make its own laws. However, the tendency toward a dominant federal government was apparent as early as the administration of Andrew Jackson (1829-1836), sometimes derisively called “King Andrew” by his political enemies.
Jackson was a staunch supporter of the Union over States Rights, an issue which intermittently troubled American political life from the time of Jackson through the presidency of Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865), whose presidential career coincided with the American Civil War (1861-1865).
The war between the states ended in 1865. Along with slavery, the issue of States Rights was a central consideration igniting this conflict. Perhaps the greatest immediate outcome of that war was that this president named “Abraham” successfully held the Union together, thus preserving a concentration of the resources of North America under the umbrella of a single, unified nation-state.
Ascension to national greatness
One popular university textbook puts forward this opinion: “The United States was on its way to becoming a true nation-state with an effective central government.... The wartime achievements added up to a decisive shift in the relationship between the federal government and private enterprise. The Republicans took a limited government that did little more than seek to protect the marketplace from the threat of monopoly and changed it into an activist state that promoted and subsidized the efforts of the economically industrious. The most pervasive effect of the war on northern society was to encourage an ‘organizational revolution.’
“[The North’s] victory meant that the nation as a whole would now be ready to embrace the conception of progress that the North had affirmed in its war effort — not only advances in science and technology, but also in bringing together and managing large numbers of men and women for economic and social goals.
“The Civil War was thus a catalyst for the great transformation of American society from an individualistic society of small producers into the more highly organized that “incorporated” America of the late nineteenth century” (Robert A. Divine, et. al., America: Past and Present, pp. 455-458).
The victory of the Union effectively guaranteed the survival of the United States and the supremacy of the federal government. The centralized structure of the American government is a far more cohesive and structured political framework than the exceptionally diverse imperial edifice of the British Empire.
British imperial systems
Britain’s imperial framework included a wide-ranging array of governmental systems. During the late-19th century, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa existed as virtual nation-states, enjoying “Dominion” status with autonomy in virtually every arena except the formulation of foreign policy, enactment of constitutional changes, and determining of issues relevant to defense and trade. At the opposite end of the continuum were imperial territories like India.
The subcontinent of Asia was the linchpin of the Empire and as such the British were scrupulously attentive to retaining absolute control of the region. After the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the British directly governed India with the kind of ubiquitous control which eventually helped to inspire the creation of the independence-minded Indian Nationalist Congress Party under the leadership of Mahatma Ghandi. Britain’s imperial structure seems a far more suitable candidate for the description “a company of nations” (Genesis 35:11; 48:19) than does the American relationship between the states and the federal government.
The Empire itself is an example of the fallacy in arguing that the United States is far larger in terms of territory and population than the British Isles. Canada alone is larger than the U.S. Australia is almost the same size as the contiguous 48 states. Moreover, Queen Victoria was “Empress of India” (see text box “Maestro of Empire,” Chapter VII). There was a time when the United Kingdom ruled over populations which far exceed that of the present-day United States.
The reversal of the prophetic identities of Ephraim and Manasseh can also be challenged on a more intuitive level. The Bible includes some hints that one feature of the Manassite character is resistance to monarchy as a political institution. The 13th century B.C.E. Manassite deliverer and judge Gideon singularly rejected the offer of his people to found an Israelite dynasty (Judges 8:22-23).
Sidebar: The First American Inauguration
With over 200 years hindsight, we appreciate what a momentous occasion it was when, under the newly adopted United States Constitution, George Washington became the first American president under a governmental system which has provided for the peaceful transition of power for more than two centuries. There is a fascinating dimension to the inauguration ceremony which brought Washington to the presidency.
After becoming the only unanimously elected president in American history, Washington traveled to New York City for the inauguration. A tremendous and joyful crowd greeted him as a special barge transported him to Wall Street. As has become tradition, the president took his oath of office with his hand placed on an open Bible. Through the years, different presidents have selected various passages on which to place their hands. Washington’s hand rested on a Bible opened to Genesis 49-50.
The whereabouts of Manasseh
Is the tribe of Manasseh to be found in England or America? Support for either position depends largely on when we examine the respective histories of the British and American people. People who identify the Americans as Ephraimite often consider the classical identification of Manasseh with America as a product of early-20th century world conditions.
They argue that British-Israel writers came to a logical conclusion given the world dominance of the British and the relative insignificance of the United States in world affairs prior to the mid-20th century. They rightly maintain that if the U.S.A. has become the greatest and most powerful nation in all world history, this development has reached full maturity since World War II.
But the determining factor is not which nation in world history has accumulated the greatest volume of real wealth, power, and glory. Rather, it is who in relative terms has been the greatest nation through time. Robert Briffault, viewing British greatness essentially from an economic perspective, captures the essence of the matter writing: “The world control of industrial and wave-ruling England did not become fully evident to the world until the middle of the [19th] century. The year of the Great Exhibition of 1851 may be regarded as marking the proclamation and recognition of that matchless power and influence... That power and influence rested almost exclusively on the fact that England was first in the field of new economic conditions which transformed the world and displaced all other sources of wealth and economic control... The chief cause of their [the English’s] ‘muddling through’ was that they had more money” (The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, pp. 5, 7-8, 12-13).
Evidence of the birthright blessing
Another prestigious academic observer, historian A. J. Hobsbawm, amplifies Briffault’s commentary, noting that for a brief period the Industrial Revolution “coincided with the history of a single country, Great Britain. An entire world economy was thus built on, or rather around, Britain, and this country therefore temporarily rose to a position of global influence and power unparalleled by any state of its relative size before or since, and unlikely to be paralleled by any state in the foreseeable future.
“There was a moment in world history when Britain can be described, if we are not too pedantic, as its only workshop, its only massive importer and exporter, its only carrier, its only imperialist, almost its only foreign investor; and for that reason its only naval power and the only one which had a genuine world policy” (Industry and Empire, p. 13) — For further evidence on Britain’s overwhelming world dominance, see also James Morris, Pax Britannica, pp. 126-127; Farewell the Trumpets, pp. 338-362; and Heaven’s Command, pp. 195-196).
Hobsbawm also offers convincing evidence relevant to the importance of the rather unique character of English entrepreneurship to the industrialization process (The Age of Revolutions, pp. 30-32).
Regarding the role of the Industrial Revolution as an aspect of Joseph’s Birthright blessing, the record of history dramatically illustrates another example of Joseph supplanting Reuben. The academic community marvels over how the British were in many respects more poorly positioned and less endowed than the French in many of the human and material resources necessary for industrial take-off.
Nevertheless, it was the English who burst ahead of their rivals across the English Channel as the 18th century drew to a close (on this subject, see R. M. Hartwell, ed., The Causes of the Industrial Revolution in England noting in particular the essay by F. Crouzet, “England and France in the Eighteenth century: A Comparative Analysis of Two Economic Growths,” pp. 155-156, 160-161, 167, 169, 173-174.)
William McNeill demonstrates the critical impact of the French Wars (1792-1815) in propelling the economy of Britain to undisputed supremacy over France and every other nation-state of the world (The Ecumene, pp. 528-529). This rather unexpected outcome is especially ironic considering these conflicts very likely represent Reuben’s last frenetic effort to retrieve the Birthright from Joseph that it had forfeited some three and a half millennia before.
In light of all the above considerations, the Church of God’s traditional understanding of the modern-day identity of Ephraim and Manasseh is quite appropriate. In point of fact, England’s greatness in relative terms has outstripped anything that the world has ever seen.
At the turn of the 19th century, England burst ahead of her fellow nation-states in virtually every category of human economic, military, and political endeavor. By midcentury, the British were so far ahead in economic and industrial development they could scarcely see who was in second place.
If such facts are easily established, historians have been less successful in comprehending why these developments happened where and when they did. Little wonder since the historian’s craft is restricted to what can be determined, perceived, and understood by the critical-historical method, with all its rules, regulations, and attendant limitations.
It is only through the inspired understanding brought by a special and revelatory insight into Scripture that our historical understanding can be enlarged. It is to such an examination that we will turn to in a later chapter.
But first we must address the significance of the throne of King David and his covenant with God in connection with the whereabouts of the descendants of ancient Israel today.