Tracking down a claim that David Barton views America as a covenant nation, a commenter on my personal blog provided a link to Timothy Ballard’s book, The Covenant: America’s Sacred and Immutable Connection to Ancient Israel. Barton endorsed Ballard’s book in a manner which indicates that he agrees with the central concept of America having a covenant with God. About the book, Barton wrote:
The concept of what a covenant truly is and means is unfamiliar to most today, for it far surpasses any legal understandings or obligations with which our current culture is acquainted. God established a covenant with Abraham and his posterity, the Bible recounts not only the duties but also the remarkable benefits produced by that mutual accord. Tim Ballard documents the “extension” of that covenant re-invoked during the establishment of this nation… a covenant made between God and America’s early colonists and Founders. The Covenant not only shows the unprecedented blessings America has received as a result of obedience to God but also what every citizen today can do to honor our national covenant with God and thus ensure His continued blessings.
This quote leaves little doubt that Barton believes America is a covenant nation. However, there is much more to this book than a claim that the English settlers made a pact with God. Ballard asserts that the arrival of the Europeans in the New World was prophesied in Genesis, and furthermore that the British are descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. This belief, sometimes called British Israelism, is commonly held by Mormons and adherents of Herbert Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God. For Ballard (who is Mormon), this belief has political consequences. He believes the country that is now America was destined to be settled by the descendants of Joseph and Ephraim due to promises made in Genesis 49. I am going to examine the basis of this claim later in this post, but first I want to provide some quotes from Ballard’s book which illustrate his positions.
At locations 1164-1167 of the Kindle edition of the book, Ballard writes:
…this study of ancient scripture and modern history will lead us to the powerful conclusion that modern-day citizens of the United States have fulfilled ancient prophecies—they have become the American Covenant-makers. Consequently, the story of the American Covenant—including the promised blessings and obligations given through Abraham to Ephraim and on to George Washington and others—becomes our story.
Speaking of the lost tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Ballard writes:
Indeed, Joseph/Ephraim was led out to become a multitude of people. They were led to the north country, to the coastline, to the isles of the sea. They were carried over the wall of water to another land. That land is America. (Kindle Locations 1028-1030)
Ballard quotes Herbert Armstrong as an expert on the subject of the lost tribes, saying
The renowned Christian pastor/author, and founder of the Worldwide Church of God, Herbert Armstrong, has perhaps studied this issue as much as any other Christian writer. (Kindle Locations 617-618)…
Indeed, as Pastor Armstrong noted, Joseph/Ephraim “never returned to Jerusalem from Assyria, where they were driven with the ten tribes after 721 B.C., and were never again mixed with the Jews from that time!” Instead, they would become completely independent and inherit a new promised land. They would inherit America. (Kindle Locations 631-634).
It is jarring to read Armstrong referred to as a Christian, given that his heterodox views and his frequent criticisms of orthodoxy have been rejected by the church he founded. The full story of the journey of the World Wide Church of God becoming the evangelical Grace Communion International can be read on the church’s website.
Ballard cites Armstrong to help him summarize his contention that the British are related to the lost tribes.
In the final analysis of these Old Testament promises, and with the advantage of historical hindsight, it is difficult to argue with Pastor Armstrong: “God did cause the birthright nations—and them only—to become suddenly the recipients of such national wealth, greatness and power as no nation or empire ever before had acquired! Together they—the British and Americans, descendants of only one tribe, Joseph—came into possession of more than two-thirds—almost three-fourths—of all the cultivated resources and wealth of the whole world. It sounds incredible!… The most amazing fact of all history is this sudden skyrocketing from virtual obscurity of two nations to the most fabulous wealth and economic power ever possessed by any people. Britain became Great Britain—a gigantic, stupendously wealthy commonwealth of nations—the United States, the greatest nation of history.” (Kindle Locations 1057-1065)
Eventually, Ballard addresses how Americans can keep the covenant by recognizing their place in Israel’s history.
Indeed, what is American history if not Old Testament history? American history, after all, is the story of a chosen people, with ties to the blood and promises of Israel, who were given a promised land by covenant. It is a story of this people’s struggle to live righteously as a nation so as to be blessed with the covenant blessings (liberty, protection and prosperity) required to realize God’s work and glory. It is a story of war against evil and oppression. It is also a story of miracles and conversions. It is a story of prophecy and fulfillment, a story of God’s efforts to save His people. And at the core of this story is the one thing that ties all elements together, the one thing that, if adhered to, will allow the blessings of liberty, protection and prosperity to thrive, thus securing the opportunity for salvation for this and future generations. At the core of this story is God’s holy covenant, the American Covenant. (Kindle Locations 6116-6123).
Ballard believes the covenant allows freedom of religious conscience but requires believers to keep the Old Testament commandments. There is much, much more that I could write about but I want to use the rest of this post debunking the key Scriptural claim Ballard makes. He claims that the prophecy of America as a covenant land is found in Jacob’s words to his sons in Genesis 49. Specifically, Ballard claims that Jacob’s address to Joseph contains the key predictions. Ballard says
Before Jacob-Israel died, he gathered his twelve sons—twelve carriers of the covenant—around him. There, he gave answers to these questions. To Judah, he promised that the Messiah would come through his tribe—a prophecy fulfilled in the New Testament. And to Joseph he promised a land where the covenant would be restored. He promised a nation that God would raise up for His purposes in the last days. He promised America. (Kindle Locations 665-668).
According to Ballard, the key passage in Genesis 49 predicting America to be the promised land is Jacob’s words to Joseph. According to Genesis 49:22-26, Jacob said:
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…[T]he Almighty…shall bless thee with blessings from heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts and of the womb: The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the head of him who was separate from his brethren. (Kindle Locations 669-674)
Ballard then explains why this passage, especially the references to branches running “over the wall” and “everlasting hills” mean Jacob was speaking of America.
Jacob’s blessing also indicates that Joseph’s “branches” (posterity) would “run over the wall.” Exodus 14:22 uses the word “wall” to mean great waters. As such, it can be inferred that the above-referenced promises to Joseph’s posterity were connected to a land across the seas from the Old World. Jacob’s concluding words to his son substantiate this by indicating that Joseph’s people would be “separate from [their] brethren.” We are also told that this land would extend to “the utmost bound” (to a distant place?). In addition to being located far away, and across the sea, the blessing suggests that the land would also contain “everlasting hills.” The longest mountain range in the world—the Andes—stretches 4,300 miles and resides in the Americas. The second longest mountain range in the world—the Rockies—stretches more than 3,000 miles through North America, boasting widths of up to 300 miles and ages of up to 3.3 billion years. (Kindle Locations 690-697)
Incredibly, Ballard offers a spurious inference from Genesis 49:22 to make his case that Joseph’s descendants would eventually cross the Atlantic Ocean and found America. He also offers some verses from Jeremiah which I will take up in a future post. However, the inference about the Joseph’s land being “over the wall” is used at least 12 times to drive home his contention that the tribe of Joseph’s son Ephraim migrated to the British Isles and then to the New World.
What is Ballard’s basis for assuming the image of branches running “over the wall” refers to the Atlantic Ocean? In the citation above, Ballard says that “Exodus 14:22 uses the word “wall” to mean great waters.” Thus, he interprets the Genesis passage as predicting that the descendants of Joseph would go beyond a great body of water. However, this is wrong on at least two counts.
First, note the use of the word wall in Exodus (adding verse 21 for context):
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall (chomah) of water on their right and on their left.
The word wall here is used to describe the appearance and function of the water. It looked like a wall and functioned as a wall. The meaning of the word wall is not changed based on the substance used to create it. For instance, Jeremiah 15:20 uses the same word (chomah) in reference to a “wall of bronze.” By Ballard’s logic, wall would then sometimes mean bronze, and Joseph’s descendants would have to go beyond bronze somehow.
Second, and more important in the analysis of the text, the Hebrew word for wall used in Exodus 14:22 is not the same word as is used in Genesis 49:22. The word for wall (shur) in the Genesis passage is used only three other times in the Old Testament, each time to mean “a wall” or “walls,” never water. The word can also refer to Shur, a region of Palestine bordering Egypt (that makes sense for Joseph as a description of his influence outside of Palestine), and the root of the word is “shor” — an ox or a herd of oxen. There is nothing about water or bodies of water in any usage.
There is another problem with this passage as a proof text for seeing America in Jacob’s poem. There are three different wordings of the verse in three different Hebrew texts – the Septuagint, the Masoretic and the Samarian Pentateuch. While I don’t want to take time to go into the differences and what they might mean, it is worth noting that precision is not possible with this verse. See this article for more on the different texts.
Ballard’s inference from Genesis 49:22 is crucial to his case. As noted, he refers to it 12 times in the book as the key prediction of America as covenant land given to Joseph and Ephraim. Since this inference is faulty, his entire argument is reduced to asserting that America must be a covenant land because the nation has been blessed.
It is distressing that both Glenn Beck and David Barton would throw their weight behind a book which rests on so many faulty assumptions and questionable authorities (e.g., Herbert Armstrong).
Ballard on the Glenn Beck Show