How Joseph’s Greatness Was Attained
“God is an Englishman”
Or so it was said by many people outside of the British Isles in the 19th century. What accounts for this startling expression of speech from the previous century? If England’s status in the world today is a shadow of what it was one hundred years ago, you would have had a difficult time convincing anyone who lived in the 1800s that God was not somehow divinely prospering the politicians, statesmen, diplomats, explorers, generals, admirals, soldiers, architects, engineers, scientists, inventors, bankers, businessmen, shopkeepers, and entrepreneurs of the British Isles.
The prosperity of Joseph
Perhaps it is significant that the name “Joseph” in the Hebrew — Yowceph — literally means, “let him add,” implying prosperity. Certainly as the descendants of Joseph, the people of Great Britain enjoyed a prosperity that no other people in the record of human history had ever achieved. To many observers both in and out of Britain, it appeared that success came to the British people whether or not they even pursued it — whether or not they made wise or foolish choices.
It was as though certain unconditional blessings were overtaking them (Deuteronomy 28:2). It was this very kind of “inevitable” success which inspired Cambridge professor of modern history (1834-1895) and author of The Expansion of England (1884), John Robert Seeley’s well-known observation that England acquired her globe-girdling Empire “in a fit of absence of mind.”
The 19th became Britain’s century. The British — specialists it seems in “muddling through” — seemed unable to do anything wrong. To their own astonishment, they found themselves ruling about a quarter of the world’s population and a fifth of its landmass. British rule extended over not just any locations but the choicest and most fertile territories on earth.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the United States’ fortunes were about to bloom as well. This was the time that a 2,520-year withholding of the birthright to the descendants of Israel drew to a close. It is hardly surprising that educated people of the day saw the hand of God in the process. It was hard to miss.
One example of many comes from Lord Rosebery, a former British Foreign Secretary (1886, 1892-1894) and Prime Minister (1894-1895). He spoke in November 1900 to the students of Glasgow University about the British Empire: “How marvelous it all is! Built not by saints and angels, but by the work of men’s hands; cemented with men’s honest blood and with a world of tears, welded by the best brains of centuries past; not without the taint and reproach incidental to all human work, but constructed on the whole with pure and splendid purpose. Human, and yet not wholly human, for the most heedless and the most cynical must see the finger of the Divine.
“Growing as trees grow, while others slept; fed by the faults of others as well as the character of our fathers; reaching with a ripple of a restless tide over tracts, and islands and continents, until our little Britain woke up to find herself the foster-mother of nations and the source of united empires. Do we not hail in this less the energy and fortune of a race than the supreme direction of the Almighty?”
In those more biblically literate times, people like Lord Rosebery saw some parallel between their own remarkable circumstance and that of the chosen people of ancient Israel. Was not God blessing them as he had promised to bless those same ancient people? It did not seem unreasonable to see the British Empire as the Kingdom of God on earth and the British people as the “chosen of God.”
The British Empire
Many of the builders of the empire aspired to construct a peaceful, happy, unified domain with a quarter of the world’s population living under British rule. To their great credit, British administrators sent to colonial and imperial territories throughout the globe did an admirable job in establishing and extending law and order. In many regions, the British presence stimulated economic development and brought Western technological advances.
The Pax Britannica enforced peaceful conditions in many regions of the world formerly troubled by war. Men like William Wilberforce (1759-1833) were instrumental in the abolition of the slave trade. And British missionaries became the bearers of Christianity to people from one end of the globe to the other.
However, for all the good that the empire may have accomplished, it fell far short of the realities that the Kingdom of God will bring. Christ’s kingdom will be worldwide (Psalm 47:1-9). If the British brought with them their own laws, Christ will bring and enforce the law of God (Isaiah 2:3; 11:2-5).
British prosperity was transient and accompanied by all the attendant social evils that are so often found in industrial civilizations. The economic stability brought by Jesus Christ to humanity will be pure, equitable, and enduring (Isaiah 65:22-23; Amos 9:13; Micah 4:4).
The peace of the British Empire was a human creation — something dependent on control of strategic passageways, overwhelming military might, and technological superiority. Moreover, in places the Empire itself was a perpetual battlefield, troubled by numberless imperial wars. There was even conflict between the British government and the various English, Celtic, and Dutch populations in Ireland and South Africa.
The peace of Christ (Isaiah 9:6) will be based on a remarkable change in human behavior induced by the writing of the law of God on the hearts of the men and women of the world (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Matthew 11:28-30). The hopes of Englishmen to Christianize the world fell far short of expectations. Jesus Christ will succeed where all who have gone before Him have failed (Jeremiah 31:34). Inevitable tendencies toward ambition and selfinterest limited even the best British intentions. In contrast, Christ will rule with fairness and equity (Matthew 20:20-28).
If the British Empire had its various flaws, shortcomings, and weaknesses, it nevertheless provides us with a pattern pointing to the fulfillment of some of the most important and exciting prophecies in all the Bible. But first let’s understand a little bit of its history.
The historic importance of the 19th century
Britain was not always “great.” Indeed, the real rise of both Britain and America came after 1800. Herbert Armstrong wrote: “It may not be generally realized — but neither Britain nor the United States became great world powers until the nineteenth century. Suddenly, in the very beginning of the nineteenth century, these two — until then small, relatively unimportant countries — suddenly spurted to national power and greatness among nations, as no nations had ever grown and multiplied in wealth, resources and power before...
“Never did any people or nation spread out and grow so suddenly and rapidly into such magnitude of national power... And nearly all this wealth came to us after A.D. 1800!” (United States and Britain in Prophecy, pp. 9, 11, 155, 161).
Only a couple of centuries before becoming the premier power of the world, England stood “in the margin of European economy and culture.” On the eve of those 16th century events that would initiate a slow but rarely interrupted ascension in England’s power and influence, the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V aptly characterized the relative place of England in the comity of European nations. He is said to have remarked “I speak Latin to God, Italian to musicians, Spanish to ladies, French at court, German to servants, and English to my horses” (Eugene Weber, Modern History of Europe, p. 130).
How did such a reversal of fortunes occur over the following two hundred years? More importantly, why did it occur when it did? Historians have revealed much about the process of England’s rise to power, but they remain largely as powerless as ever in explaining the timing of it all. That dimension of the story requires an insight accessible only through an understanding of the mind and plan of God.
The industrial and economic growth of the Anglo-American world began to crescendo in the mid- to late-18th century. Economic historians argue furiously about the point at which the industrialization process reached critical mass. Generally speaking, the earliest dates suggested are the 1750s and the latest near the turn of the 19th century. In any case, the proximity of these dates to the issuing of the Birthright to Joseph’s seed helps to make sense of the failure of so many previous kingdoms and empires to develop an industrial economic base, a fact that has long puzzled historians. Why did industrial “take-off” not occur before it did? The answer is simple. It was not according to the master plan and timetable of Almighty God (Isaiah 46:9-10).
One of the best assessments of the timing of industrialization comes from conservative historian, Charles Wilson, who writes in England’s Apprenticeship: “As yet [ca. 1763] ‘industry’ did not mean industrialization as a later age was to understand it. The manufacturing part of the economy was like the components of a watch ready for assembly but not interacting with each other.”
There were already urban industries (like brewing, soap boiling, sugar refining, etc.) but industry as a whole was far from urbanized. The greater part of the expanding export trade was sustained by rural and semi-rural industries organized on a domestic basis. “Factories there were, but few of them were mechanized on a [large] scale” (chapter 14 summary, p. 312).
In other words, as the 19th century approached the stage was set for the industrial take-off.
Britain’s industrial revolution
The true catalyst for the industrial process, the steam engine, was a replacement for the Newcomen engine, an atmospheric pump created in 1712 to lift water from mines. Newcomen’s machine was in no small way a product of the late-17th century wood shortage in Britain.
With little wood available for fuel, the English found an alternate source for heat: coal. And coal mines required removal of water from mines that began to become increasingly deep. During the late-18th and early-20th century French Wars, the need to extract metals for the war effort required deeper mining than ever before. Thus arose another incentive to improve pumping capacity. In 1768, James Watt, the “father of the Industrial Revolution,” built his first working model of the steam engine. He patented it in 1769.
The year 1776 was a landmark one (see Marshall B. Davidson, The Horizon History of the World in 1776). By that date, the steam engine was in practical use and within another decade — just a few years prior to the French Revolution of 1789 which significantly slowed industrial development in France — it became a commercial success. Interestingly, the same year the steam engine became a practical tool in England, American colonists declared their independence initiating the separation of Ephraim and Manasseh prophetically forecast in Genesis 48:16, 19. A Scottish University of Glasgow professor of moral philosophy, Adam Smith, published Wealth of Nations, which became the intellectual and philosophical support structure for England’s developing capitalist economy.
That economic system propelled the Western world in general and the British economy in particular to unprecedented heights. The gospel of laissez-faire articulated by Smith gave the rising commercial, industrial, and entrepreneurial classes of the British Isles the moral sanction they needed to implement “the most fundamental transformation of human life in the history of the world recorded in written documents” (Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire, p. 13).
For England, industrial supremacy was an important factor in the successful neutralization of the threat posed by Napoleon. It placed in the hands of Englishmen a kind of Promethean fire which made possible the eventual broadcasting of British imperial power around the globe — the somewhat haphazard, ill-planned construction of an empire on which the 19th century sun would never set.
If British diplomats and statesmen lacked a grand design and blueprint for the construction of that imperial edifice, it nevertheless became the largest and most beneficent empire in all of world history.
There is little wonder that historians often describe the 19th century as the “British century.”
The significance of 2,520 Years
However historians or theologians may interpret these astonishing developments, it is undeniable that this flowering of Anglo-Saxon power came some 2,520 years after Israel’s demise and disappearance as a result of the invasion of the Assyrians.
What happened around that time among the British and American people bears witness to the fulfillment of the prophecies recorded in Genesis 48 and 49. The developments forecast in these prophecies were most dramatically fulfilled in the Anglo- American setting between about 1660 and 1820 C.E.
The former was the year of the restoration of Charles II and the Stuart monarchy by the “Convention” Parliament. By the latter date, the dust from the Napoleonic Wars had settled and England began to lapse into the Splendid Isolation which allowed her to concentrate on the development that made her the foremost nation-state in the 19th century world.
It was between these years that the stage was set for the Anglo-American ascendancy of the two most recent centuries of human history. Is this historical happenstance or part of the unfolding of the greater purpose, plan, and design of Almighty God?
To answer this question, we must realize that God often places conditions on the blessings which He promises (e.g., Genesis 17:1). The promise to the generation of Israelites who left Egypt was conditional. The Israelites almost immediately disqualified themselves (Numbers 13:17-14:39; Hebrews 3:8-19).
Those very Israelites never entered the Promised Land. They failed to keep their side of the bargain struck at the foot of Matthew Sinai. God promised Israel: “... If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people...” (Exodus 19:5-8). The assertion “If you will indeed obey My voice” (verse 5) is better understood when considered against the “blessings and curses” specified in Leviticus, chapter 26 and Deuteronomy, chapter 28.
God suspended the inheritance of the Promised Land for one generation after the Israelites rebelled in faithlessness and unbelief. On a larger scale, He employed the same type of principle in withholding the blessings promised to Joseph, only extending it over several dozen generations after the chosen people were taken into their in the 8th century B.C.E. captivity. The duration of that withholding was 2,520 years.
Without a doubt 2,520 is an unusual and remarkable figure. The Companion Bible observes: “The four perfect numbers, 3, 7, 10, and 12, have for their product the remarkable number 2,520. It is the Least Common Multiple of the 10 digits governing all numeration; and can, therefore, be divided by each of the nine digits without remainder. It is the number of chronological perfection (7 x 360)” (Appendix 10, “The Spiritual Significance of Numbers,” p. 14).
The number 2,520 is also important in respect to an understanding of biblical prophecy. This is especially true concerning a passage in Leviticus 26:18-21.
The “seven times” punishment
“And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze [a kind of temporary rescinding of the blessings promised to Joseph in Genesis 49:25 — “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”]: “And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit. Then, if you walk contrary to Me, and are not willing to obey Me, I will bring on you seven times more plagues, according to your sins” (Leviticus 26:18-21).
Reference is made in this passage to “seven times” punishment that will fall on Israel for disobedience to God. In context and based on the Hebrew grammatical structure, the “seven times” spoken of in verse 18 is in fact a measurement of “prophetic times” equaling 2,520 years. Conversely in context the “seven times” of verse 21 is referring to intensity.
In withholding the land of Canaan from ancient Israel, God required that the Israelites remain in the wilderness one year for every day that the faithless Israelites scouts spied out the Promised Land (Numbers 14:34). In the language of prophecy, a “time” represents the length of a year (360 days-- 12 months of 30 days).
Using this principle of a “day for a year” (cf. Ezekiel 4:4-6, and Daniel 4:32), it can be calculated that “seven times”=7 x 360 days (the ancient Israelites considered 30 days the length of a month) = 2,520 days or prophetic years. Two thousand five hundred and twenty years from Israel’s captivity brings us to about 1800 C.E. This is when God began to restore the Birthright to the modern descendants of Israel. In fact, God was honor bound to extend these blessings.
As we saw in Chapter 1, after the events described in Genesis 22 regarding the sacrifice of Isaac, the Abrahamic Covenant became unconditional. The northern kingdom was invaded and became the Lost 10 Tribes, but God remained responsible to fulfill the unconditional promises to Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 22:12, 16). God restored the Birthright promises to the progeny of those 8th century B.C.E. Israelites taken into captivity. He undoubtedly was involved as well in the setting of the stage for propelling the Anglo-Saxon people to unparalleled national greatness. This was a process that extended at least back to the mid-17th century. The next chapter will enlarge our understanding of this little known process.