A Company of Nations
One of the linchpins of Herbert Armstrong's identification of the United States and Great Britain as the modern manifestations of Israel is found in the thirty-fifth chapter of the book of Genesis. The "prooftext" reads as follows: "And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins..." (Genesis 35:11, KJV) For Armstrong, "a nation" implied the single greatest nation in the history of the earth (the United States), and "a company of nations" suggested a great commonwealth of nations led by Great Britain. For him and his followers, those promises could never have been fulfilled by any other nations in the history of the world!
Indeed, this verse continues to be the foundational "prooftext" for the Armstrong Churches of God up to the present day. In their article Does the United States Appear in Bible Prophecy?
, the United Church of God underscores the fact that: "God specifically told Jacob that through him would come 'a nation and a company of nations' (Genesis 35:11)." They go on to point out that "The promise of national expansion beyond Canaan into a great nation and company of nations was never fulfilled in biblical times by the Israelites." According to the article, this promise devolved onto the two sons of Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh; and they go on to reference the forty-eighth chapter of Genesis (verse 19) to prove it. They conclude: "Descended from Ephraim was the group of nations that formed out of the greatest empire the world has ever seen, the British Empire...Out of this power came the British-descended countries of the Commonwealth of Nations—Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand." What of Manasseh? They conclude: "From Manasseh came the great single nation. Its people dwelt with the Ephraimites in Great Britain until it was time for their separation through westward colonization and a war for independence—the American Revolution, by which came the formation of the United States."
For the sake of this argument, we will overlook the license which they employ in their interpretation of greatness, and their complete dismissal of the fact that God's promises to the patriarchs were clearly tied to a particular piece of real estate in the Middle East (see Genesis 15). Instead, we will focus on those all important phrases in United's principal prooftexts (Genesis 35:11 and 48:19): "a company of nations" and "a multitude of nations" respectively.
First, it should be noted that these promises are directly/purposefully associated in Scripture with God's promises to make Abraham "fruitful" and to "multiply" him. In other words, whatever these promises entail, they are intimately connected to God's promise to make Abraham's descendants like the stars in the sky or the sands on the seashore in numbers.
Now, according to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the Hebrew word translated into English as "company" is "qahel" - meaning "assembly, company, congregation, convocation" (especially in a religious context). In similar fashion, the same source informs us that the Hebrew word translated into English as "multitude" is "melo" - meaning "fulness, handful, mass, multitude." In both cases, the English word "nations" is a translation of a Hebrew word that means nations or peoples (especially Gentile ones). Hence, to suggest that the original Hebrew predicts a "commonwealth of nations" frankly stretches linguistic credibility to the breaking point!
In fact, the sense of the original Hebrew wording suggests an assembly of folks from all of the kindreds of the earth. In other words, the language used in these passages once again points to these promises finding their ultimate fulfillment in and through the Messiah (tying it back into the promise that all of the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abraham). Indeed, the English word "commonwealth" suggests a republic or a collection of republics - a much more narrowly defined connotation than that implied by the original Hebrew in these verses.
Is it possible then that these verses refer to Israel and all of the other peoples of the earth who will be saved through Jesus Christ? In fact, isn't that interpretation much more plausible than suggesting that the United States and British Commonwealth are the modern manifestations of Manasseh and Ephraim (especially in light of all of the historical, linguistic, archaeological and genetic evidence which refutes such a conclusion)? Don't we really have to stretch the language in these verses (and their context) to make them identify the U.S. and Britain as Israel?