From the start, America has considered itself a shining example to the entire globe. Yet what should that example be?
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The study of America’s place in the world could start with a quote from John F. Kennedy or Richard Nixon. It could start by dissecting Ronald Reagan’s farewell presidential address or Barack Obama’s university commencement speech in Boston. But there is a better place to begin—with Perry Miller, a mid-century scholar of history and literature…
After dropping out of a Chicago university, Miller traveled the world until he made his way to Africa. It was there, unloading barrels of American oil, that he claims to have had an epiphany, the National Endowment for the Humanities wrote.
While thinking of great civilizations that had come and gone over the centuries, Miller later recounted in a typical scholarly way: “It was given to me, equally disconsolate on the edge of a jungle of central Africa, to have thrust upon me the mission of expounding what I took to be the innermost propulsion of the United States.”
Put simply, Miller dedicated himself to uncovering and defining what America really means. What importance will the nation have in history? What should its role be in the world?
During Miller’s studies, he unearthed a 1630 sermon by Puritan leader John Winthrop called “A Model of Christian Charity.” This forever changed both Miller’s career and the United States itself.
Winthrop’s words were what Miller pinpointed as the special beginning of American history. It was in this sermon that the fledgling United States was likened to a “city upon a hill.”
That now-famous phrase was adapted from Scripture. Matthew 5:14-15: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light unto all that are in the house.”
Winthrop expounded on this idea in his sermon: “The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and by-word throughout this world.”
Miller’s crowning achievement was to bring “A Model of Christian Charity” to the public and demonstrate its importance in U.S. history. The National Endowment for the Humanities said Miller “turned it into the key text of American origins.”
Note those words, key text of American origins.
Miller wrote that Winthrop “preached to the emigrants during the voyage that the eyes of the world would be upon them, that they would be as a city set upon a hill for all to observe.”
National Endowment for the Humanities stated: “If this sermon were the origin of America, then America, from the first, had a role to play in putting the world right. That aspect of Winthrop’s sermon would reappear frequently in the political speeches of President Reagan and many others in the years to come.”
Beyond Reagan, all of the presidents mentioned earlier used Winthrop’s words to further their political causes. Yet they were not alone: Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all likened the U.S. to “a city upon a hill.”
Note this. These presidents came from backgrounds across the political spectrum. Yet they all turned to Winthrop—and in turn the Bible—to help define the nation they led.
Miller and American politicians claim Winthrop penned the key text of the nation’s origins. Yet that book is resolutely the Bible itself. In fact, most of Winthrop’s sermon came from God’s Word.
Here is the awesome, true story of America’s origins—completely lost to the centuries.
Toward the end of “True Christian Charity,” Winthrop paraphrased another Bible verse. He stated that if the Puritans did justly, loved mercy and remained humble: “We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, ‘may the Lord make it like that of New England.’”
With this last phrase, Winthrop was paraphrasing Genesis 48:20, which states: “The nation Israel will invoke blessings by you, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh’” (Christian Standard Bible).
In ancient Israel, the tribe of Joseph was broken into brother tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. These were bigger than the nation’s other 11 tribes—and enjoyed an abundance found nowhere else.
Winthrop desired a similar proverb to be written about New England. That the world would see God blessing that colony and want to be like New England.
Referencing a scripture about Ephraim and Manasseh carries more weight than Winthrop would ever know.
Consider further America’s biblical roots—found on its currency (“In God We Trust”), in the Pledge of Allegiance (“under God”), and sprinkled throughout laws (for example, bankruptcy regulations borrow from the seventh year of release found in Deuteronomy 15). It is also evidenced by the countless churches throughout the nation. An amazing 87 percent of households in the nation own a Bible, Lifeway research found in 2017.
Like Winthrop, America’s Founding Fathers saw powerful parallels between ancient Israel and the fledgling United States.
Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams proposed a seal for the new nation of the United States. It was to be an image of the ancient Israelites crossing the Red Sea with pharaoh chasing them and Moses standing on the other side. It would have included the motto, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” (Congress later settled on the eagle seal still in use today.)
Similarly, the Liberty Bell also bears an inscription from Moses’ book of Leviticus: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (25:10).
Have you ever asked yourself why there are so many references and connections to ancient Israel in American history and iconography?
In 1789, while being sworn in as the first president of the U.S., George Washington randomly opened the Bible to Genesis 49 and placed his hand there. As he pondered the future of the newborn nation and the importance of his position, he had no idea that, underneath his hand, America’s prosperous future had already been laid out.
Real Truth Editor-in-chief David C. Pack discusses this universally ignored chapter in the Bible in his book America and Britain in Prophecy.
“Genesis 49 contains the patriarch Israel’s latter-day prophecies for the descendants of each of his sons…God inspired this description to be recorded because He also intended that the final homelands of these peoples be known.”
Verse 1 of the chapter opens, “Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.”
“Last days” shows these verses do not apply to ancient Israel. Rather, they are written for the descendants of Israel many centuries later.
The prophecy in Genesis describes the future of each tribe of Israel, represented by each of Jacob’s 12 sons. The most obvious example is that the Jews are the modern-day descendants of Judah.
“Jacob’s prophecy foretells Judah will be a ‘lion’s whelp,’” Mr. Pack continued. “A whelp is another name for a young lion cub. Jacob prophesied that Judah would be a very young nation in the latter-day period of time. This describes the modern Israeli nation, which was ‘born’ in 1948 and is still a ‘young nation’ by today’s standards.”
The Bible shows that the descendants of Jacob’s son Joseph would also be clearly noticeable, as they were given a distinctly higher number and quality of blessings.
Mr. Pack writes: “As the primary subject of this book, ‘Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: the archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: but his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob…’ (Gen. 49:22-24).
“In this scripture, Joseph—the father of Ephraim and Manasseh—is likened to a fruitful bough or branch, most likely an olive branch. Joseph is also described as being shot by archers.
“Later, Joseph’s descendants are further described: ‘His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh’ (Deut. 33:17).
“With these descriptions divided between both sons, Manasseh’s primary emblem was that of an olive branch, and his secondary emblem a cache of arrows. Also attached to Manasseh’s ensign was the number 13, since he was the thirteenth tribe.”
Interestingly, the official seal of the U.S. features an eagle carrying an olive branch and a cache of arrows, as well as 13 stars. This is another interesting link between America and the symbols described in the Bible for Manasseh.
Another key to identifying these nations is in Genesis 48, in which Joseph’s two sons were given separate blessings.
Verse 19 states 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.”
Scour the record of history. There are only two brother nations with a common heritage where one was a massive empire (a “multitude” or “company of nations”) and the other became a single, great nation. These are the United Kingdom with all of its commonwealth countries and the United States.
These blessings came to all of these nations as the result of a promise God gave to Ephraim and Manasseh’s great-grandfather Abraham. Because of this great patriarch’s uncompromising obedience, God assured him “in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore” (Gen. 22:17). That promise was passed down through Abraham’s line, and today’s residents of the U.S., UK and commonwealth nations are the unwitting recipients of this special blessing.
One of the most astonishing points in world history is English and American peoples forgetting their history. Winthrop had no idea about this when he wanted New England to be like Ephraim and Manasseh, Washington had no idea when he placed his hand on Genesis 49 and the other Founding Fathers had no idea when they proposed a seal that included Israel crossing the Red Sea. Even more, all our modern presidents had no idea about America’s connection to the Bible when they called the U.S. “a city upon a hill.”
Back to Miller’s central question: What should America’s place be in the world? Again, the Bible makes clear what God intends for the peoples of the U.S. Amazingly, it is not too far from what they know in their gut to be the case.
In Deuteronomy 4, after outlining the Law of God, Moses said the following to ancient Israel. The words apply to the United States, Britain and all other modern descendants of Israel.
Start in verse 1: “Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers gives you.”
The land God gave included the Promised Land, but even more so the lands where Israelitish peoples live today. If they keep God’s Law, they will prosper and be blessed far beyond what they enjoy today. But there is another reason He wants Israel to follow His commands: so it can be a city-upon-a-hill example to the world.
Continue reading in verses 6-7: “Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who has God so near unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon Him for?”
As with forgetting its ancient identity, America has also forgotten the source of its blessings. Notice what He warned in Deuteronomy 8: “Beware that you forget not the Lord your God, in not keeping His commandments, and His judgments, and His statutes…Lest when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God…” (vs. 11-14).
This was ancient Israel’s downfall. It forgot God was the clear source of its blessings. The same is true of the U.S. today. As a nation, we think our power and ingenuity has built this great land.
Verse 17 summarizes this thinking: “You say in your heart, My power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth.”
The God of the Bible longs to continue blessing America—and to increase that bounty beyond imagination. Winthrop tried to apply God’s Word the best he knew. Presidents try to do something similar, yet with political ideologies mixed in. And average citizens know the U.S. is special but think it is because of the Constitution or some intrinsic American values.
To truly prosper, the United States must remember its true identity, turn to God, and finally become the “city upon a hill” example it was destined to be.