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One Nation Under God
For thirteen years of our lives, the first thing we did every morning at school was to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag. In this pledge we boldly recall the heritage of our nation and declare that the United States is "one nation under God."
But the truth is that all nations are under God. All the nations of the earth—and their leaders—are under the sovereign hand of God.
Very early in the pages of the Bible, Scripture makes this abundantly clear: “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel” (Deuteronomy 32:8).
Job says, “He makes the nations great, then destroys them; He enlarges the nations, then leads them away” (12:23). And King David, the greatest ruler of Israel, acknowledged the rule of God over all the heavens and earth:
“Blessed are You, O Lord God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone.” (1 Chronicles 29:10b–12)
In the book of Daniel, God reminded the great king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, that it is He who rules over man’s kingdoms:
“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.” (Daniel 2:20–21)
“In order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men.” (Daniel 4:17b)
“For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Daniel 4:34b–35)
Later, in the first century a.d., the apostle Paul reminded the inhabitants of the mighty city of Athens that all the nations of the earth are under God. During his second missionary journey, Paul arrived in Athens and was overcome by the idolatry in the city. On Mars Hill he reminded the Athenians of the most important truth for any group of people to understand: God is the Creator of all things and has determined when they will rise, when they will fall, and where the exact boundaries of their expansion will be:
“He is the God who made the world and everything in it.… He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need there is. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand which should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.” (Acts 17:24–26, nlt)
Why did God do this? Paul answers: “His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:27–28a, nlt).
Can you imagine preaching this message to Alexander the Great? “Sorry, Alexander, but you’re not the one in charge here. God is!” How do you think Napoleon would’ve liked it? Or Hitler or Saddam Hussein? How about affluent America: Does she really believe she’s “under God” and His authority?
Telling proud people that the God of heaven has already determined the limits of their expansion, the extent of their influence in the world, and the duration of their existence in world affairs is not going to win you any friends.1 But it is true. God is sovereign over individuals and nations. He is Lord of all.
Our God Reigns
Ray Stedman, noted pastor and author, once traveled to England to speak at a Bible conference. The church sanctuary was filled with people eager to hear this well-known teacher. The service began with singing and praise to the Lord. One of the songs was the chorus “Our God Reigns.”
Stedman, seated on the platform next to the pastor, glanced down at the song sheet and began to smile. Then he started to laugh. The words on the song sheet had been mistyped. The congregation was belting out "Our God Resigns."2
That’s one of those funny-but-painful stories, isn’t it? Sometimes we look at the world around us and conclude that God must have resigned and is no longer seated on His throne, ruling the nations.
We need to remind ourselves that God is indeed enthroned in heaven, reigning over all. And we must never forget that God is still on His throne, ruling over the nations of the world.
God of the Nations
Since God rules over all, He determines the existence and destiny of the nations of this world. And although the Bible does not give us information about many of the nations in history and in prophecy, it does clearly discuss the final destiny of many of them. At least fifteen specific nations can find their futures in the pages of Scripture as clearly as if they were in a history book:
• Jordan (Ammon, Moab, and Edom)
• Sudan (Cush)
• Russia (Rosh)
• Iran (Persia)
• Iraq (Babylon)
• Europe (reunited Roman Empire)
• Central Asia (Magog)
• Saudi Arabia (Sheba and Dedan)
• Libya (Put)
• Lebanon (Tyre)
“Oh, Say Can You See”
God is in control of each nation’s destiny. He has a plan for each one. This is true of the United States as well. So what is God’s prophetic plan for our nation? To borrow a phrase from a familiar patriotic tune, “Oh, say can you see” America in Bible prophecy?
Charles Ryrie, a noted theologian, poignantly addresses this question in his book The Best Is Yet to Come:
Nations rise and nations fall. It is a two-way street.
The might of ancient Babylon lasted only 86 years.
The powerful Persian Empire did better—208 years.
The glory of Greece was eclipsed after 268 years.
Mighty Rome ruled for almost 9 centuries.
The British Empire endured for about 250 years.
The United States of America has celebrated her bicentennial. If we make it to a tricentennial, we will beat the averages.
Now the fourth largest country in the world, both in area and population, the United States was largely a wilderness three hundred years ago. But thousands came from many lands and varied backgrounds to forge a nation that has blessed its people with the highest standard of living in the world. Rich in natural resources, technology, educational opportunities, and culture, our country seems invincible. Yet the great oil embargo of 1974 disrupted many areas of life and demonstrated our nation’s vulnerability. Military experts warn that other nations are capable of destroying our major cities at the push of a button. No longer does the United States excel in all phases of military power. What lies ahead for this great country?3
Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy also note the importance of this question.
“God bless America!” Is it a prayer, a promise, or a prophecy? We can see and hear the slogan in music, on bumper stickers, in casual conversations, in campaign rhetoric, at historic moments in our nation’s life (both joyful and sorrowful), from podiums, in parades, and in a host of other public and religious forums. Will God bless the United States in the future? Is there any sure word of our nation’s future in the Bible generally, and the prophetic passages specifically? It’s amazing! One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is with regard to the role of the United States in Bible prophecy. Is it fact or fantasy?4
Every prophecy teacher or writer I know of would admit that America, like most nations, is not mentioned by name anywhere in the pages of Scripture. This is obvious. Nevertheless, America is clearly a part of the general framework of prophecy. Numerous passages in the Bible refer to God's final dealings with "all the nations." Most would agree that America is included in such general references in Scripture.
However, the real question is this: Do specific passages in Scripture chronicle the role of America in the last days without giving the exact name “America” or “the United States”? Many students of Bible prophecy believe so.
In the next three chapters, I want us to take a look at the key passages of prophetic Scripture that people have said refer to America.