On the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, history and Scripture show us that God is faithful to His promises. Many in the United States credit God for the nation's prosperity and blessings. But few realize that these blessings were foretold millennia ago in Scripture!
At its 200th anniversary, the Louisiana Purchase reminds us that God is faithful to His promises.
On a bright, balmy afternoon nearly 200 years ago, a remarkable event marked the partial fulfillment of a promise made more than 3,600 years before! On December 20, 1803, the flag of the United States of America was first raised in the Place d'Armes (now Jackson Square) in New Orleans, as the U.S. officially took possession of the Louisiana Purchase.
As the bicentennial of this event has approached, many have noted the importance of the Louisiana Purchase. But very few realize that this vast acquisition of land was foreordained more than three-and-a-half millennia ago! Astounding as this may seem, the Louisiana Purchase was part of a divine plan revealed in the very first book of your Bible—the book of Genesis.
In just a few years at the start of the 19th century, the U.S. and British Commonwealth nations rose to unprecedented prominence on the world scene. This is remarkable enough, but even more remarkable is the fact that this sudden and dramatic expansion was foretold long ago, in the pages of your Bible!
Why did the English-speaking peoples rise to such unprecedented power and greatness? What does the future really hold for the U.S. and the British Commonwealth nations? The answers to these and other questions form part of history's most astounding story!
In 1776, there had been no United States of America. That summer, Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, which first declared the existence of a sovereign American nation. A bloody war and successive years of struggle were to follow, and a new nation was created. In March 1801, when Jefferson took the oath of office as the third President of the fledgling U.S., much had changed in just 25 years. Thirteen British colonies hugging the Atlantic seacoast had quickly become a westward-looking nation expanding toward the Mississippi River.
In 1801, the total population of the U.S. was still under six million, most of whom lived less than 100 miles from the Atlantic coast. But several new states—Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee—had been added to the original 13, and increasing numbers of settlers were pouring into the future states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Many farmers were finding that it only made sense to ship their produce down the Ohio River to the Mississippi, then south to the port of New Orleans. A lack of roads made it impractical for farmers to haul their cash crops east to the Atlantic seaboard.
The French had founded New Orleans in 1718, then ceded it to the Spanish in 1763 as part of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years War (also called the "French and Indian War" in America). Because of its position at the mouth of the Mississippi, New Orleans was of major economic importance to the western settlers in the young U.S. As more settlers moved westward, this port could only grow in importance.
So the Jefferson administration was understandably concerned when it learned that France's new ruler, Napoleon, was pressuring Spain to return the Louisiana Territory to French control. It was one thing for a weak Spanish government to control the port of New Orleans, but it was quite another for it to be controlled by an ambitious and powerful ruler such as Napoleon. The Mississippi River was the economic lifeline for America's western settlers, and whoever controlled New Orleans controlled commerce on the Mississippi.
Knowing that the very future of his country was at stake, President Jefferson dispatched to France two diplomats—Robert Livingston and later James Monroe—to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans. At first, Napoleon's government showed no interest. Napoleon had dreams of reestablishing a vast French colonial empire in the "New World." But the Creator of the universe had other plans!
Napoleon's dreams of an American empire were crushed when 50,000 French troops, under the command of his brother-in-law General Charles LeClerc, died while trying to subdue a rebellion against French colonial rule on the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo. This calamity, and the growing prospect of war against the British, prompted Napoleon to offer the American envoys not just the purchase of New Orleans, but rather the entire Louisiana Territory.
For $15 million—less than a nickel an acre—the U.S. received what turned out to be a vast inland empire of 830,000 square miles, including some of the richest farmland on the face of the earth! Included were all or part of what would become 13 states: Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota. "'Today,' said Livingston, after he had attached his signature, 'the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank'" (William O. Scroggs, The Story of Louisiana, p. 161).
At the time of the purchase, the boundaries were so poorly defined that neither France nor the U.S. knew exactly what was being sold. President Jefferson was eager to learn all about the new territory—the Indian nations living there, its plant and animal life, its rivers and the prospect of a route across the northern part of the new territory that could take Americans all the way to the Pacific Ocean. An official expedition into the new territory was outfitted and dispatched, led by U.S. Army officers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Leaving from St. Louis, Missouri in the summer of 1804, they returned a couple of years later with maps and data that made clear that America had gained far more than had previously been realized.
This vast expanse of territory ensured the continuing expansion of widespread land ownership among the American people. Laying a foundation for a wide-based American prosperity, millions of future settlers were able to own their own land, rather than live as tenants on the estate of some great landlord. Under President James Madison, Jefferson's successor, the U.S. government undertook the ambitious project of surveying this vast tract of land. The survey began in a swamp near the present-day town of Brinkley, Arkansas, where a stake was driven in the ground and teams began to chart an east-west line that became the baseline for all property descriptions within the territory of the Louisiana Purchase. This line continued west along what is now Baseline Road in Little Rock, and ultimately extended across the entire state of Oklahoma. "The National Historic Landmark, deep in the swamp of the Louisiana Purchase State Park in Brinkley, marks the initial survey point. From this point, surveyors began their work of chains and compasses. Every legal description of the land contained in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 depended on these measurements taken from this point" (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 4, 2003).
The Louisiana Purchase territory includes some of the most valuable agricultural land on the planet. It encompasses the very heartland of the North American continent. Control of this valuable territory set the stage for what Americans in the coming decades began to call "Manifest Destiny."
Was this rapid expansion just a matter of time and chance, or was it really the nation's pre-ordained destiny? If it was a matter of destiny, then why? Why were the English-speaking peoples destined to control the American heartland, rather than the nations that had tried and failed before?
To understand the answer to that question, we must look to the far distant past. The Creator of the universe told a man named Abram, living on the lower Euphrates River in a city called Ur of the Chaldees, to leave his family and homeland to go to a land that he would afterward be given. At age 75, Abram left Mesopotamia behind, and began his journey to the land of Canaan.
Initially, God simply told Abram that he would become "a great nation" and that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:2–3). Twenty-four years later, when Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him and entered into a solemn covenant. God changed Abram's name to Abraham, and expanded His promise to include Abraham's becoming the "father of many nations" (Genesis 17:4). Many years later, the Almighty appeared to Abraham's grandson Jacob, and further expanded the promise by declaring that Jacob's descendants would spread abroad in every direction from the promised land in the Middle East (Genesis 28:13–14). Still later, after another encounter with God, Jacob's name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28), and his descendants were thenceforth known as Israelites.
Genesis 48 describes a ceremony that took place near the end of Israel's long life. Very few have ever understood the real significance of what occurred that day in ancient Egypt. Israel's sons had sold their younger brother Joseph into slavery many years earlier. Joseph, however, had prospered, rising to become second-in-command to Pharaoh in Egypt. The family was reunited during a time of famine, when Israel and his family had come to Egypt to live in the Nile delta region (the "Land of Goshen"). Learning that his elderly father was ill, Joseph came to visit, bringing his sons Ephraim and Manasseh.
Sitting up in bed to receive his son and grandsons, elderly Israel called Ephraim and Manasseh near to bless them. Knowing that his father was nearly blind, Joseph had purposely placed the boys so that his father's right hand would be on the older son, Manasseh, and his left hand would be on the younger, Ephraim. When the time came, Israel crossed his arms, laying his right hand on Ephraim and his left hand on Manasseh. Initially, Joseph was disturbed, for he thought his father had become confused. Israel corrected him, explaining that he was doing this on purpose. In this ceremony, Israel placed his name on the young men, declaring that Ephraim's descendants were to grow into a great company of nations while Manasseh's were to become a single great nation.
One reason that so few have understood the significance of Israel's declaration is that most people erroneously assume that all Israelites are Jews. Yet Judah—the Jews' ancestor—was just one of the 12 sons of Jacob (Israel). After the death of King Solomon, more than seven centuries after Jacob's declaration, Israel's descendants split into two kingdoms—northern and southern. The citizens of the northern kingdom, with its capital at Samaria, were known as Israelites, and were taken into Assyrian captivity after Samaria fell in 721bc.
The southern kingdom of Judah, however—with its citizens known as Jews—continued on for a century after Israel's fall, before falling to Babylonian invaders. From the time of Solomon onward, the histories of Israel and Judah have been quite distinct. While the promise of the kingly dynasty, and ultimately of the Messiah, came through the line of Judah, the birthright promises went to the descendants of Joseph (1 Chronicles 5:2).
With this bit of background in mind, we can understand the events that immediately preceded Jacob's death. After blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, he called all of his sons together and told them what would befall their descendants in the last days (Genesis 49:1). Jacob described Joseph's descendants as a colonizing people, and likened them to a fruitful vine whose branches would grow and spread out. They, as a result of God's blessing, would be militarily strong and have great blessings of agricultural and mineral wealth (Genesis 49:22–26). This birthright blessing, which Israel conveyed to the descendants of Joseph, had been described as the "fatness of the earth" (Genesis 27:28) and included a future inheritance of lands that would produce an abundance of corn and wine.
Why was the timing of this future inheritance delayed for so long? A recurring theme of Scripture is that God has a time plan and does things right on schedule. Jesus told His disciples that the Father retains control of the times and seasons of human history (Acts 1:7). The Apostle Paul declared that God had determined in advance both the times and bounds of habitation for the nations (Acts 17:26). This prophetic time framework shows God's sovereignty in history. Just as God declared that "seven times" would pass over Babylon, so that men would know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomsoever He will (Daniel 4:16–17), so also does history prove that seven prophetic "times" elapsed in the fulfillment of the end-time promises that Jacob made to his sons.
What is a prophetic "time"? Revelation 12 and 13 use the expressions "1,260 days" and "time, times, and half a time" and "42 months" interchangeably. Forty-two months of 30 days each are equal to 1,260 days—or three-and-a-half years. Clearly, then, 2,520 days—1,260 doubled—are the equivalent of "seven times." Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6 establish the principle that a day is equal to a year in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. History shows us that Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took Jerusalem and brought Judah under his control in 604bc. This was in the third year of King Jehoiakim and the time at which Daniel and a number of other young men of prominent families were taken away captive to Babylon.
Interestingly, it was exactly 2,520 years later—seven prophetic "times"—that the stage was set for an end-time Jewish nation in its ancient homeland. It was in November 1917 that the British government issued the famous Balfour Declaration, announcing that it would "look with favour" upon a Jewish homeland in Palestine. A few weeks later, British forces under Viscount Allenby entered Jerusalem and freed it from the Turks.
When looking at the history of the northern kingdom (the House of Israel), we find a similar phenomenon. From the time of Israel's being taken into Assyrian captivity in 721bc, the passing of 2,520 years brings us to the year 1800. This was the time when the British and American nations began their rapid rise to world dominance, which would endure for the entire 19th and 20th centuries.
Clearly, the U.S. and the British Commonwealth nations have received the fulfillment of the ancient promises that the Creator God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God has given them prosperity that no other peoples on earth have known. Just as Britain mushroomed into the greatest empire in the history of the world, beginning at the start of the 19th century, so the U.S. quickly rose to become the greatest single nation in history. A great nation and a great company of nations possessing the choicest places of the earth—this description is the fulfillment of what elderly Jacob promised to Joseph's sons in the end time. This describes the English-speaking peoples as it does no others in the entire history of the world.
Acquiring the vast Louisiana Purchase territory was only the beginning of expansion for the U.S. Spreading across the North American continent to the Pacific coast within a generation, the American nation was destined—along with Canada and Australia—to become the breadbasket of the world.
However, with great blessings come great responsibilities. Just before Israel first entered into the Promised Land, Moses gave a solemn warning. After describing the "bounty" of the land into which God was leading Israel (a description that is certainly appropriate today for the lands held by the English-speaking peoples), Moses warned the people not to forget the source of that bounty (Deuteronomy 8:7–14). He cautioned that the most dangerous time is not the time of hardship, but rather the time of abundance. In times of adversity and trial, it is easy to be conscious of our need for God's help and blessing. It is in the time when we have "bread without scarceness" that people tend to have an illusion of self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
Though the U.S. and Canada both have holidays set aside as Thanksgiving Day, the real meaning underlying them has become lost. In the U.S., this day is increasingly called "turkey day" and has become little more than a day of football, overeating, and the start of the "Christmas shopping season." How many are truly thankful to the Creator of the universe, recognizing that the wealth that they enjoy is the result of God's faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham? Rather, as their wealth has multiplied, the U.S. and British Commonwealth nations have increasingly forgotten God and His laws.
When the English-speaking nations rose to prominence in the 19th century, the Bible was the most widely read book in the English-speaking world. The Ten Commandments were acknowledged as the underpinning of national laws. Today, that is no longer the case! As courts and legislatures seek to legalize the perversions for which God anciently expelled the nations of the Canaanites, we should not forget that God will not be mocked.
Moses made it plain that if the Israelites forgot God, and refused to obey Him, they would "surely perish" from the land that God gave (Deuteronomy 8:19–20). As "modern-day Israel," the U.S. and British Commonwealth peoples should heed this warning! While the Louisiana Purchase might rightly be described as the "greatest land deal ever," we must never forget that it was not nearly so much the result of American ingenuity as it was the result of the Creator fulfilling His promises. As the U.S. and British Commonwealth nations increasingly turn their collective backs on the One who gave them His choicest bounty, we should realize that the same One who gives national wealth can also take it away.
Those who refuse to remember their Creator in this time of abundance will ultimately be forced to seek Him in the midst of the greatest time of trial and adversity in mankind's history. Scripture calls this "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7).
What about you? Do you truly acknowledge God as the source of your national blessings? Do you really recognize that His laws are the source of the righteous conduct that truly exalts a nation (Proverbs 14:34)? Only those who recognize His role, and obey His laws, will have His protection in the trying times that will conclude this age and set the stage for the coming of the Messiah!