July 15, 2023


Looks like a lamb, sounds like a dragon

Amy Sheppard Ratsara

As recent as 10 years ago, Americans polled held largely positive views about America’s role in history. “Nearly 8 in 10 (79 percent) say America has always been a force for good in the world, and almost two thirds believe God has granted America a special role in human history (64 percent) and that the world would be much better off if more countries adopted America’s values and way of life (63 percent).”1

The Hypocrisy of a Nation

Not everyone, of course, holds these views. This has been true from the beginning of the American enterprise. One insightful episode from history is a speech made by Frederick Douglass. A former slave turned abolitionist in the years leading up to the American Civil War, he was invited to give a speech on the Fourth of July to an abolitionist society in Rochester, New York. He declined speaking on July 4, but agreed to do so on July 5.2 In what became a popular speech, reproduced and distributed across the country, Douglass made some insightful observations of the United States, asking, “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?”

“Whether we turn to the declarations of the past,” Douglass remarked, “or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.” He expounds, “The hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”3

Douglass indicts America as a nation duplicitous in nature, by all appearances one thing, but in practice something very different. To a Seventh-day Adventist student of the Bible, this should sound familiar, calling back to the portion of Scripture that points to America as an international power foretold in prophecy.

Historically, Seventh-day Adventists have deduced that the beast that came “up out of the earth” and had “two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon” (Rev. 13:11) represents the United States of America and its Protestant ideals. This verse describes characteristics of the beast, providing identifying information. This is not to be confused with what the beast ultimately does, which is described in verses 12–17. In the broadest of terms, those latter verses describe the assault on religious liberty made by the beast with the authority of the first beast in the last days.

Two Different Kinds of Speech

One identifying characteristic that helps us understand the nature of the beast is that it “spoke like a dragon” (verse 11). The beast speaks like a dragon concurrent with its lamblike state. Despite its Christlike appearance, the lamb talks like a dragon.

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34), so one’s speech is a reflection of one’s character. We know the dragon represents Satan, “that serpent of old” (Rev. 12:9), a reference to the devil’s seductive and deceptive speech used to induce Eve into sin in Genesis 3:1-5. In short, to appear like a lamb yet speak like a dragon means that this beast is duplicitous—it lives a double life.

Ellen White states that “the ‘speaking’ of the nation is the action of its legislative and judicial authorities.”4 This suggests that from American law and case history, we can see the duplicitous nature of America.

The Declaration of Independence proclaimed the values on which this new nation would be based, stating “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .” and that governments are instituted “from the consent of the governed” in order to secure their inalienable rights [see left QR code, center box].5 Yet its author and a majority of its signers were slaveholders, and a condemnation of slavery was deleted from the declaration before it was signed.6 Slavery’s legal status was also ensconced in the United State Constitution, the ultimate law of the land, until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment following the Civil War.7

Reckoning with History

Slavery is not the only example of the law not living up to the ideals proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, history is replete with instances of American doublespeak. The U.S. Supreme Court withholding citizenship from Indian-born Bhagat Singh Thind in 19238 and their decision to uphold the internment of Japanese Americans against their will during World War II9 are just two illustrative examples from the past century [see right QR code, center box]. Justice Frank Murphy, in his dissent in the internment case, recognized that it resembled “the abhorrent and despicable treatment of minority groups by the dictatorial tyrannies which this nation is now pledged to destroy,” noting Italian and German Americans were not similarly treated.

Ellen White observes: “The greatest and most favored nation upon the earth is the United States. A gracious Providence has shielded this country, and poured upon her the choicest of Heaven’s blessings” rings as true as her assessment “But these gifts have been repaid by ingratitude and forgetfulness of God.”10 

Eventually the United States will form an image to the beast and enforce the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:14-17), directly undermining the religious liberties the Constitution has protected from the founding of the nation. But that will come as no surprise to students of the Bible and history. Because America, through its laws and court decisions, has continuously struggled with executing the ideals for which the nation claims to stand.

As odd as it may seem, this reckoning with history should be encouraging for Seventh-day Adventists. First, it should bring us to personal reflection. Do how I speak and act reflect who the Lord has transformed me to be? Can Jesus be seen and heard in me? Or do I bear bad fruit? (Cf. Matt. 12:33-37.) And second, if I can already see the duplicitous nature of America in history and law, as predicted by Revelation 13, I can have confidence and prepare for what the rest of that chapter says will shortly come to pass. Eventually all the broken systems of human governance will be broken to pieces, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people” (Dan. 2:44), for God Himself will rule. How amazing it will be to live in a society in which the values match the system that governs. May we experience it soon.

1 https://www.prri.org/press-release/july-2013-prri-rns-release/

 2 https://time.com/5614930/frederick-douglass-fourth-of-july/

 3 https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2927t.html

 4 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 442.

 5 https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

 6 https://lithub.com/how-slavery-was-written-out-of-the-declaration-of-independence/

 7 Article I, Section 2, the “three-fifths” clause; Article I, Section 9, Clause 1, prohibiting the importation of slaves after 1808; Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3, the fugitive slave clause.

 8  United States v Bhagat Singh Thind, 261 US 204 (1923).

 9 Korematsu v United States, 323 US 214 (1944).

10 Ellen G. White, in Signs of the Times, July 4, 1899.