One man’s ancient overcoming of adversity reveals the future of modern nations as they face the challenges of our present day.
The sound of footsteps echoed throughout the prison chamber as unexpected visitors approached its door. The prisoners could hear muffled voices outside. Suddenly, the door swung open, and the guards looked hastily about. They then seized one of the prisoners—a man about 30 years of age—and hurried him out of the cell.
Once outside, the prisoner had a new set of clothes shoved at him, and was told to bathe and shave. While he complied, his mind raced. Where were these men taking him? And why? The guards then hurried him out of the prison and set him in front of the most powerful king in the world. As the king opened his mouth to speak, little did the young man know that, before the conversation ended, his life would be changed forever.
The man was named Joseph, and the king was Egypt’s Pharaoh. Joseph’s brothers had sold him as a slave 13 years earlier, when he was just 17 years old (Genesis 37:25–36). After being wrongfully accused of assaulting his master’s wife, Joseph had been thrown into prison (Genesis 39:20), only to be released years later in such astonishing circumstances.
Thousands of years later, the cruelty Joseph endured is still shocking to consider. Yet we can find encouragement and inspiration when we consider the hardship God helped Joseph to overcome, and the wisdom and power of God’s plan to save Joseph’s people and the entire nation of Egypt. But that plan hinged on Joseph’s willingness to submit faithfully, in patience and trust, to God’s will.
In the account recorded in Genesis, we learn that—after 13 terrible years of bondage and then imprisonment—Joseph was suddenly released by Pharaoh. He was then unexpectedly elevated to the second-highest office of the most powerful government of that time. How did this happen?
Pharaoh had been disturbed by troubling dreams. The first involved seven sick cows eating seven healthy cows. The second dream involved seven blighted heads of grain devouring seven healthy heads of grain (Genesis 41:1–7). The king’s butler knew Joseph as an interpreter of dreams, so he brought him before Pharaoh. Here is Joseph’s interpretation: “The dreams of the Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do…. Seven years of great plenty will come throughout all the land of Egypt; but after them seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine will deplete the land” (Genesis 41:25, 29–30).
Joseph suggested that a wise and diligent manager be appointed to collect grain in preparation for the drought years. Pharaoh chose Joseph for this important task, laying the groundwork to save Egypt and the surrounding nations from ruin (Genesis 41:56–57). Under Joseph’s hand, Egypt prospered, becoming the “lender of last resort” during a very difficult time. And God also used Egypt’s prosperity to reunite Joseph with his brothers who came to Egypt from Canaan in search of grain (Genesis 42:1–3).
More than 3,600 years later, this ascent from prison to power is still astonishing! It testifies to God’s power to preserve not only families and tribes, but whole nations as well. So, what can we learn from Joseph’s rise to power? And what eventually happened to Joseph’s family? Can we identify his descendants today? And, though Joseph rose, are his descendants headed for a fall?
After Joseph was reunited with his brothers, he sent for his father, Jacob, whose name had been changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28). What a joyful reunion it must have been, with the father he had not seen for thirteen years! Jacob then gathered his sons together to tell them what would happen to their end-time descendants: “And Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days’” (Genesis 49:1). The elderly patriarch then gave a prophecy about what would happen more than three millennia later. Speaking under the inspiration of God, he described Joseph’s future: “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall” (Genesis 49:22). In other words, Joseph’s latter-day descendants would be “well-watered” and virtually overflowing with food.
The descendants of Joseph would also have a strong military that, through God’s power, would win decisive victories (Genesis 49:23–24), and would also gain rich blessings exceeding those of other peoples (Genesis 49:25–26). Jacob also bestowed a special blessing on Joseph’s two sons—Manasseh and Ephraim—saying, “He [Manasseh] also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:12–19).
Most people assume that Ephraim and Manasseh—and the other tribes that split away from Judah in the days of Rehoboam—were “lost” after they were taken captive by ancient Assyria in 721 BC (2 Kings 17:5, 23). Yet Jesus Christ sent His disciples to preach to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6). Though they were scattered, Christ and His disciples knew where they were and how to find them. The Apostle James also knew where the “lost” tribes were, opening his epistle with the introduction, “To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (James 1:1). Not lost at all!
After being released from Assyrian captivity, the ten “lost” tribes of Israel—including the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh—migrated into Western Europe. The tribe of Ephraim eventually comprised Great Britain and most of the British Commonwealth countries. Manasseh is today identified as the United States of America. To learn more about how Scripture and history reveal the modern identity of these two tribes, request our free booklet The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy.
Joseph’s faith and wisdom—guided by God—played a crucial part in preserving Egypt and its surrounding nations during the catastrophic drought. He was considered a savior by his people because he did not withhold food from those who needed it (Genesis 41:57; 47:25; cf. Proverbs 11:26). Joseph’s policy—while admittedly consolidating Pharaoh’s power—was a blessing for people suffering severe hardship. As the historian Josephus notes, “[Pharaoh] called upon Joseph, who sold the corn to them, being become confessedly a savior to the whole multitude of the Egyptians. Nor did he open this market of corn for the people of that country only, but strangers had liberty to buy also; Joseph being willing that all men, who are naturally akin to one another, should have assistance from those that lived in happiness” (Antiquities of the Jews, volume 2, section 6).
Joseph was a proponent of an open market, with access for everyone needing food. His works and policies were a blessing, and Scripture reveals that Joseph’s end-time descendants—despite their sins and weaknesses—were prophesied to have a similarly beneficial impact on the world. God promised Abram, “You shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (Genesis 12:2–3).
Truly, from its earliest years when European settlers reached its shores, God has blessed America! Despite its many—and growing—sins, God has been long-suffering and merciful, and the whole world has benefited because of God’s blessings on this modern descendant of ancient Israel. A hundred years ago, the British Empire was the world’s largest creditor nation, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of foreign investment around the globe. Yet, today, Britain is just one of many nations battling a crippling national debt. So, too, was the U.S. an engine of prosperity—after the devastation of World War II it was largely American investment that helped Europe and Japan rebound from crushing defeat. Yet, today, that same U.S. seems unable to control the spiraling growth of its national debt.
Indeed, the former “arsenal of democracy” and “breadbasket of the world” is facing unprecedented challenges from the rise of China. Although the U.S. still had the world’s largest annual GDP in 2021—$23 trillion—according to a report by Goldman Sachs, China was in second place at $18 trillion, projected to surpass the U.S. by 2035 if present trends continue.
It is enough to make one wonder if all those old blessings are coming to an end. Will God’s patience with America’s mounting disobedience run out? Will the U.S. soon be no greater an influence on the world scene than Britain is today? And what does the future hold for a post-American world?
Joseph lived to be 110 years old (Genesis 50:26). After his death, a new Pharaoh ended Joseph’s policy of benevolence, putting the Israelites to hard labor out of fear of their increasing strength in numbers. Taskmasters were set over the Israelites, and a prosperous and vibrant society gave way to slavery and forced labor.
Could this foreshadow the destiny of Joseph’s modern descendants? Authors, commentators, and even politicians often discuss the “decline of America” today. Many around the world welcome the prospect of the U.S. being “humbled”—becoming no longer a leader, but instead an equal or even junior partner on the international scene. As Trita Parsi of the Quincy Institute think tank recently wrote in the New York Times:
There was a time when all roads to peace went through Washington. From the 1978 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt brokered by President Jimmy Carter to the 1993 Oslo Accords signed on the White House lawn to Senator George Mitchell’s Good Friday Agreement that ended the fighting in Northern Ireland in 1998, America was the indispensable nation for peacemaking.… But over the years, as America’s foreign policy became more militarized and as sustaining the so-called rules-based order increasingly meant that the United States put itself above all rules, America appears to have given up on the virtues of honest peacemaking (“The U.S. Is Not an Indispensable Peacemaker,” March 22, 2023).
Indeed, just as the U.S. is losing international credibility as a neutral power broker, China under President Xi Jinping has tried to take over that role. After surprising American policymakers with his China-mediated agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, his efforts to mediate tensions between Russia and Ukraine demonstrated perhaps even more pointedly the growing clout of China and the diminishing status of the U.S.
Will America be able to foster and maintain peace and order in the future? Or are chaos and catastrophe ahead? The answer can be found in your own Bible.
Consider the biblical account that God rewarded Israel with wealth and prominence as a reward for obedience, but that in times of rebellion Israel was visited with escalating curses, rampant diseases, environmental disasters, and military setbacks (Deuteronomy 28:1–25). God warned through Moses that when sin began to mount in Israel, its former position of world economic leadership would give way to suffocating debt and economic subservience (Deuteronomy 28:44). When Israel went into captivity in 721 BC, God’s promises of blessing were deferred for 2,520 years (Leviticus 26:18)—yet even after the blessings were restored, Ephraim and Manasseh squandered them, continuing to disobey their Creator.
Is American culture rising toward greater godliness, or falling deeper into debauchery? Consider that the U.S. today has a political system full of hypocrisy and greed. Its streets and cities are increasingly dangerous. Many of its children grow up with no moral direction or guidance. God’s laws are mocked and dismissed from the public square. Its entertainment industry openly ridicules Christianity, while its media endorses and promotes immorality. Millions have come to accept unbridled greed and selfishness as “the American way.”
So, where will it all lead? Moses warned that if end-time Israel refused to repent, it would experience a complete and total collapse, leading to national enslavement. Notice his warning for Israel: “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you” (Deuteronomy 28:47–48).
The message is clear: Unless America undergoes a dramatic course change, it will fall. Jesus Christ warned of a coming time known as the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). It is a time also known as “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” when Israel will again go into captivity (Jeremiah 30:7). The prophesied “beast” power will overtake and conquer modern Israel, just as its ancient predecessor, Assyria, did in 721 BC. This “beast” power will ally with a great false church, and for a short time this religiopolitical force will bring prosperity to nations the world over (Revelation 18:11–15).
Yet this prosperity will come at a terrible price. This short-lived, blasphemous world power will rule harshly, demanding total submission to its will (Revelation 13:1–8). Religious and personal freedoms, taken for granted today in many countries, will disappear (v. 15). Shortly before Jesus Christ’s return, this power will carry out a devastating five-month military action in the Middle East, as described in Revelation 9:9–12. This will provoke a withering counterattack by a 200-million-man army from the east (Revelation 9:15–18).
This end-time conflagration will lead to all-out nuclear war, killing a third of the planet’s population. The world will be brought to the brink of self-destruction. Were it not for Christ’s return to the earth, no flesh would be spared (Matthew 24:22). But God in His mercy will not allow mankind to destroy itself. Jesus Christ will return to the earth, establish His Kingdom, and reign with equity and justice for a thousand years (Revelation 20:6). But this will not happen until the world has gone through a time of unprecedented calamity (Matthew 24:21).
So, can you and I be spared from the coming horrors of the Great Tribulation and Day of the Lord? The encouraging answer is an emphatic “Yes!”
Consider again the example of Joseph. As a young man, he showed unusual ability and drive to succeed. That can be seen in his service to Potiphar and his work for the prison keeper (Genesis 39:2–3, 5, 21–23). Even before Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt, God gave him dreams foretelling his eventual leadership role over his brothers (Genesis 37:5–11). Yet Joseph had much to learn before he was ready to take the reins of power. God had to test and teach him. He allowed Joseph to be humbled, his pride and vanity crushed. And with each day that went by, as Joseph faithfully obeyed God, he learned to trust patiently in God and His will—and he became a man God could use in the highest levels of government in the greatest nation of that day.
The urgent call for us today is clear: If we love our Savior, Jesus Christ, we must strive to obey Him and His laws (John 14:15). We must look to Him—rather than our own ingenuity and strength—for our blessings (Deuteronomy 8:18). We must really put God’s will first, without condition, as Jesus Himself did (Matthew 26:39).
Are we really willing to be humbled, as Joseph was? That is the supreme test! The prophet Malachi wrote, “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble” (Malachi 4:1). Jesus Christ told His followers, “Whoever falls on this stone will be broken [in heartfelt and complete repentance]; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:44). God has given great promises to today’s Christians—even that they will rule in His Kingdom with Him (Revelation 20:6). But first, like Joseph, we must be absolutely committed to carrying out God’s will in our lives!
The Apostle John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9). Now is the time for those with “ears to hear” to repent (Matthew 13:9)—for, even in these last days, God promises help and deliverance to those who wholeheartedly seek Him.
The American era will soon end, as the Bible foretells. In many ways, it has already ended. So, do not let the downfall of the U.S. take you by surprise! Jesus Christ gave encouraging instruction about how we can face the coming tumultuous times with courage and faith: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life…. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34–36).
Make sure that you and your loved ones learn the lessons of Jacob—and are ready for the world after the decline and fall of America!