Have the Western nations prospered by chance? Has some aspect of their character or environment made the difference? Or is Almighty God working, behind the scenes, to accomplish His purpose?
What does the future hold for the nations of the world? Does God have anything to do with that future?
Does God actually intervene in human affairs? Does He determine the rise and fall of nations? Or do human beings determine their own fate by their own decisions? Today, many wonder whether there really is a God—especially a God who guides history. Yet, while they doubt God, they do not doubt the dominance of Western ideas and military power—emanating especially from northwestern Europe and England, and then from the United States—and, as English historian John M. Roberts points out, they have struggled to understand "the source of the West's mysterious power" (The Triumph of the West, p. 21).
Twenty-five years ago, Italian journalist Luigi Barzini pondered a question that occupied the minds of historians and statesmen for decades: What caused England to become a great power? Barzini asked, "How had the British done it? How… did a peripheral island rise from primitive squalor to world domination?" (The Europeans, p. 47). Barzini, like many others, speculated but had no real answers. Philosophers have asked similar questions about America's ascent to greatness. What allowed 13 struggling colonies to overcome England's military might and become the world's most powerful nation? Was it merely coincidence? An accident of history? The result of purely human decisions and actions? Or were these important world events part of an overall plan that God is working out on the earth?
Scholars may scoff, but the Bible contains scores of prophecies that long ago predicted the rise and fall of certain nations, and it provides a framework for understanding the course of events in our modern world. Historical records show how prophecies have been fulfilled—on schedule and in detail—over the last few centuries. When we honestly examine the big picture of world history, Bible prophecies demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is working out His purpose by bringing to pass the events He foretold in Scripture several thousand years ago.
Bible prophecies provide an accurate and sensible explanation of why the world is the way it is today—why certain modern nations have risen to prominence and others have declined. Your Bible also reveals what is ahead for the leading nations of the West, and for other key nations around the world.
To grasp the significance of major events that determined or changed the course of modern history, we must first notice what God has revealed about how He operates on the earth. Notice how He worked with Egypt's Pharaoh. To show the world's most powerful nation the identity of the real God, He hardened the Pharaoh's heart against letting Moses and the Israelites leave Egypt (Exodus 7:3–5). When Pharaoh's magicians could not duplicate miracles performed by Moses and Aaron, they told Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19). In Scripture, God proclaims that He can predict the future and bring it to pass. "I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure'" (Isaiah 46:9–10, NASB). This is an easy claim to verify by comparing specific Bible prophecies and the facts of history.
Bible prophecy can even help us understand what has happened to modern nations, when we understand how they have descended from ancient nations mentioned specifically in Scripture. For example, Scripture labels the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a "chosen" people, who became the "children of Israel." God promised Abraham that as a reward for his obedience, his descendants would become great and be a source of blessings to the people of the world (Genesis 12:1–3). God promised that Abraham would become the father of many nations and the progenitor of kings (Genesis 17:4–6), and that his descendants would spread abroad to the north, south, east and west and gain control of the gates of their enemies (Genesis 22:17–18; 28:14). These promises were passed on to Jacob, who in turn had twelve sons—the forefathers of the twelve tribes of Israel (Genesis 35:23–26).
God made even more amazing promises to Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh, who along with their brothers would be called "Israelites" after their father Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28; 48:16). God promised that Ephraim's descendants would become a multitude of nations, as the British Commonwealth became. He promised that the descendants of Manasseh would become a single great nation, as the United States became (Genesis 48:18–20). Other prophecies reveal that the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh would become a colonizing people who would gain possession of the choice places of the earth (Genesis 49:22; 49:25–26; Deuteronomy 33:13–16), would be targeted by jealous enemies yet prevail (Genesis 49:23–24), and would dwell "separate from his brothers" (Genesis 49:26; Deuteronomy 33:16).
God also gave the children of Israel His laws—and a mission. They were to be lights and examples to the world, by demonstrating that obedience to God's laws would bring blessings (Deuteronomy 4:1–10). Sadly, the ancient Israelites failed to live up to their responsibilities and went into captivity without inheriting all the prophesied blessings. The ancient Israelites never gained possession of the gates of their enemies, nor did they possess the choice places of the earth or become great nations with their own kings.
Does this mean God did not fulfill His promises? No! He merely delayed them, in a biblically explained manner. In the books of Daniel and Leviticus, we find prophecies that provide a time frame to explain how the prophesied blessings would ultimately come upon the children of Israel. Daniel was given a prophecy about a "seven times" or seven year period of punishment for the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:16, 25). Moses was given a similar prophecy, that if the Israelites did not obey God, they would be punished seven times and then seven times more (Leviticus 26:18, 21, 23–24). A "time" can mean a year (of 360 days), and seven "times" can be seven years—as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar. However, seven times can also mean a prophetic period of 7 x 360 years (a day for a year; see Ezekiel 4:6)—a period of 2,520 years.
Is it merely an "accident of history" that the nation of Israel was carried captive to Assyria about 720bc and that America and Britain began their rise to world prominence about 1800ad—approximately 2,520 years after their ancestors went into captivity for their sins? Is it another "accident of history" that the nation of Judah went into captivity about 604bc—and Jerusalem was liberated from the Turks in 1917—about 2,520 years later?
While skeptics can dismiss these prophetic fulfillments as interesting coincidences, many other prophecies relating to the modern descendants of ancient Israel began to be fulfilled around and after this same period. Specific prophecies and promises have been fulfilled in recent centuries in amazing detail by America (Manasseh) and Britain (Ephraim) and the peoples of British and Northwest European descent, who spread out to colonize the choice places of the earth, to gain the gates of their enemies and to carry Western ideas around the globe.
As prophecy describes, the children of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh—Britain, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) do dwell separately from their European brothers (France, Holland, Belgium), their Scandinavian brothers (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland) and from the Jewish nation of Israel. The prophecies of Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33 provide keys for identifying the various Israelite nations "in the last days." By noting the prophesied characteristics and looking at history, we can recognize which nations at the end of the age have fulfilled specific aspects of these detailed prophecies and promises.
In the 1400s and 1500s, Portuguese and Spanish navigators set out to explore and claim parts of the world and spread their Roman Catholic faith. From Rome, the pope in 1500ad intervened to settle their competing claims to the "new world." He awarded most of the new territory to Spain, but what is now Brazil and most of Africa went to Portugal. Over the next century, the Dutch, French and English also explored and claimed new territories.
The nations that have dominated our modern world began to emerge as powers when Philip of Spain launched his Armada against Britain in 1588. Philip sent 130 ships, 2,500 cannons and 30,000 men in an attempt to bring Protestant England back into the Roman Catholic fold. But a heavy storm pummeled the Armada before it arrived, and faster English ships with longer-range cannons peppered the Armada as it moved up the English Channel, causing the Spanish ships to flee north toward Scotland—trailed by English ships that had nearly run out of ammunition. As they sailed around Scotland and Ireland, many of Spain's ships floundered and were lost in a north Atlantic storm—a storm that the English viewed as God's intervention. "The defeat of the Spanish Armada marked the decline of Spain and the rise of England as a world power" (The Battle 100, p. 54, Lanning).
Remember, God foretold the descendants of Joseph would become great—and the Spanish are not descendants of Joseph. God was beginning to fulfill His ancient promises.
In the mid-18th century, competing claims in Canada and the Ohio Valley led to conflict between the English and the French. At the Battle of Quebec in 1759, English troops defeated the French and by treaty gained all the land France had claimed east of the Mississippi River and north of the Great Lakes. This meant that all of Canada belonged to England. Between 1759 and 1805, the English navy decisively defeated the French navy at Quiberon Bay and Trafalgar. In 1815, a combined army of British, Dutch, Belgians and Prussians, led by the British Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. A rainstorm on the night before the battle forced Napoleon to delay his attack, which allowed time for the Prussians to arrive and tip the balance of power to the British. Napoleon's defeat, aided by a rainstorm, brought an end to French domination of Europe.
In a prophetic sense, the contests at Quebec, Quiberon Bay, Trafalgar and Waterloo were contests between Ephraim (Britain) and Reuben (France). God foretold that Ephraim would become great and prevail, but that Reuben "shall not excel" (Genesis 48:19; 49:3–4), according to God's plan.
At about the same time, the United States was beginning its ascent to greatness. During the late 1700s, the American colonial army under George Washington withstood and outmaneuvered the more powerful British, often with the help of favorable changes in the weather at just the right time (as at the battles of Long Island and Yorktown), and by a combination of bold decisions by Washington (as at Trenton) and bad decisions by British commanders (as at Saratoga). The 1781 surrender of the British at Yorktown, one of the most influential battles in history, led to the independence of the United States and launched America on the road to becoming the world's most prosperous nation and eventually the only superpower. In prophetic terms, Manasseh (America) and Ephraim (England) were to become two separate nations—a great nation and a great company of nations—which is exactly what happened as a result of the American Revolution. In spite of losing the American colonies, England continued to amass an overseas empire "upon which the sun never set"—becoming a great company or commonwealth of nations—just as God predicted thousands of years earlier.
Some of modern history's most stunning examples of divine intervention occurred during the "dark days" of World War II. In the summer of 1940, the German blitzkrieg had pushed 400,000 Allied troops to the European coast near Dunkirk, France, where British military planners were expecting the greatest military disaster in their history. Yet, in a tactical blunder, Hitler suddenly halted the advance of the German tanks just as they were closing in for the kill. The King of England announced a National Day of Prayer, and thousands flocked to churches. During the nine days of the Dunkirk evacuation, the normally stormy English Channel remained as calm as a millpond—while a storm broke over Flanders, grounding Germany's Luftwaffe. These unexpected events allowed nearly the whole Allied army of 338,000 irreplaceable soldiers to survive and fight again—an amazing development which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called a "miracle of deliverance," when thousands of Englishmen gave the credit to God, as Walter Lord wrote in The Miracle of Dunkirk (pp. 272–274).
The British thanked God, and appealed to Him for His intervention. During the Battle of Britain, as German and British planes fought in the skies over Britain and the English Channel, the King declared another National Day of Prayer. Prime Minister Churchill announced on a radio broadcast, "Bearing ourselves humbly before God, but conscious that we serve an unfolding purpose, we are ready to defend our native land…" (We Have a Guardian, Grant, p. 13). After the Battle of Britain, the commander of the Royal Air Force observed, "I say with absolute conviction, that I can trace the intervention of God, not only in the battle itself, but in events leading up to it… it was all part of a mighty plan" (Grant, p. 19).
When British troops were massed in Egypt for the Battle of El Alamein, another National Day of Prayer was called in Britain. General Bernard Montgomery, who led the British army at El Alamein, exhorted his troops that, "The soldiers must have faith in God," and he proclaimed: "Let us pray that the Lord, mighty in battle, will give us the victory" (Grant, pp. 30–31). The British saw the hand of God in how events transpired—not only was German commander Erwin Rommel away in Germany as the battle began, but his temporary replacement General Georg Stumme died of a heart attack on his way to the front. The German Africa Corps later withdrew after suffering heavy losses.
When the Allies landed troops on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, the shores of Sicily and the beaches of Normandy, the hand of God was visible in the remarkable circumstances of these endeavors. For the invasion of North Africa in late 1941, a fleet of 650 ships from America and Britain sailed to Casablanca, unnoticed by German planes or submarines, because many of the ships were obscured by "a squall that seemed to be traveling with our ships" (Grant, pp. 31–34, 49). Bad weather had been predicted, which would have made the landings difficult or unsuccessful—yet the Allies' ships arrived to find a calm, smooth sea! The Allied naval commander termed it "incredible"—and many recognized the hand of God at work.
In July 1943, U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower launched his invasion of Sicily with a prayer and a comment: "The die is cast, and the events are in the hands of God" (Grant, p. 38). During the night, gale force winds buffeted Allied ships, but the wild weather also caused Italians defending Sicilian shores to discount any signs of enemy activity. By the next morning, however, the sea suddenly calmed in a way that "seemed miraculous" (Grant, p. 39) and Allied troops could easily take the beaches.
Similarly, in June 1944, a temporary break in nearly a month of stormy weather allowed the Allies to mount their D-Day invasion at Normandy on June 6, while the Germans were still caught off guard by the continuing bad weather. On D-Day, Rommel was once again in Berlin—this time celebrating his wife's birthday. Considering these dramatic events, the soldiers who planned the invasion and the writers who recorded it spoke of "The Miracle of D-Day" (Daily Telegraph, April 7, 1947) and observed: "Only the thoughtless can fail to realize how great a part Providence has played in the swift and successful transformation of the great war" (Daily Mail, November 14, 1942).
There may be no better example of a sudden turn of events than the Battle of Midway in the Pacific in June 1942. A Japanese task force of four heavy carriers, 80 support ships, and hundreds of technically superior aircraft flown by experienced pilots had begun to attack and bomb the strategic American-held island of Midway. They faced an American force consisting of outdated planes, inexperienced pilots and three older carriers. Waves of American planes attacked Japanese carriers without scoring a hit, and many American squadrons were nearly destroyed by Japanese gunfire. Yet when the Japanese admiral finally spotted American ships, he ordered his pilots to return to their carriers for more fuel and torpedoes. Then, suddenly—as if out of nowhere—a group of American dive-bombers dropped out of the sky to deliver their bombs onto the wooden flight decks of Japanese carriers littered with bombs, torpedoes and fully fueled airplanes. In just five or six minutes, three heavy carriers—the pride of the Japanese fleet—were ripped by tremendous explosions, engulfed with smoke and flames and headed for the bottom of the Pacific. A fourth carrier soon fell, along with 275 airplanes and 4,000 irreplaceable soldiers—including experienced pilots and one of Japan's brightest commanders who chose to go down with his ship. This sudden, dramatic and unexpected reversal changed the course of the Pacific war in a matter of minutes. "Before Midway, Japan experienced only victory; after the battle, they met a succession of defeats" (Lanning, p. 150).
Many modern writers describe these incidents as amazing bits of luck. However, when viewed as part of a bigger picture, it illustrates how God has repeatedly intervened to guide the outcome of world events to accomplish His purpose.
Many of the leaders who saw God's repeated and miraculous interventions on their behalf during World War II developed a strong conviction that they were part of a divine plan much larger than themselves. Today, however, the children and grandchildren of World War II veterans often find it fashionable to deny divine purpose in their lives. Most of the people in today's nations that descended from ancient Israel—nations God has blessed and delivered from serious trials—have forgotten vital lessons of their own history. Manasseh and Ephraim—America and Britain, as well as the peoples of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa—are caught up in a "post-Christian" world where millions not only doubt that God guides world affairs, but even that He exists at all. Other Israelite nations, including France, Holland, Belgium and Scandinavia, have joined their brothers in embracing behaviors and attitudes that the Bible clearly condemns as abominations. The West's libertine lifestyles, violent and sexually explicit films and crass music are exported around the world.
The modern Israelite nations are woefully unaware of Bible prophecies that foretell a dire future for nations that turn away from God. Moses warned the children of Israel, "Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments.… if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments… I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever.… I will set my face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies… I will break the pride of your power… I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste… you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. You shall perish among the nations" (Deuteronomy 8:11–20; Leviticus 26:15–17, 19, 33, 37–38).
We have seen how God has intervened in the past. What does the Bible tell us He will do in the future? God warns that He will send the Assyrian (Germany) against the modern nations of Israel (the American and British-descended nations). Scripture reveals that the modern descendants of ancient Israel will stumble—along with the Jewish nation of Israel—and become desolate as a result of their sins (Isaiah 10:5–6; Hosea 5:1–12). This is the sobering future that awaits us, unless we are willing to repent and turn from our God-rejecting ways that deny His laws and His purpose. Just like the ancient Egyptians who experienced the plagues, soon the whole world will be unable to deny that God is real, and that He is working out His purpose here on earth. If we are wise, we should strive now to put ourselves in harmony with that purpose.