The current Jewish population in the world is c. 14 million (c. 0.2% of the world's population).

In Gn 15:5, God asks Abraham to [l]ook toward heaven, and number the stars, if you he was able to number them. He then promises him that [s]o shall his descendants be.

God repeats this promise in Gn 22:17 and Gn 26:4.

According to this article, there are roughly a septillion stars in the observable universe (our own milky way has 4 billion stars).

The question is, from the current Jewish world population and the reading God's promise to Abraham, what is the understanding of the above biblical passages?

I note that the article says about 5,000 stars are visible to the naked, average, human eye.

Please see also: Are There More Grains of Sand Than Stars?

  • The inheritance of the land may only include the Israelite (not strictly equal to "Jews" but a bigger category). But the numbering of Abraham's descendants has to also include the Arabs, doesn't it? Aug 29, 2014 at 3:43
  • @davidbrainerd ... my thinking is those in the Church as well and that the fulfillment of the promise lies in the future. I wanted experts to weigh in.
    – FMS
    Aug 29, 2014 at 3:45
  • I think this question could be formulated more sharply: Why did the omnipotent god who created the universe and decides everything that happens allow at least one third of the total population of his chosen people to be murdered under the most appalling circumstances? Is this what you call a god?
    – fdb
    Aug 29, 2014 at 21:38
  • @fdb You are welcome to ask that question separate from this and I believe I have an answer.
    – FMS
    Aug 30, 2014 at 0:44
  • I would like to hear your answer.
    – fdb
    Aug 30, 2014 at 0:46

4 Answers 4


Abraham, at Gen. 22: 16-17 is promised that his descendants would be blessed with an "exceeding multiplication of his seed like the stars of the heaven and the sand upon the seashore." Previously, at Gen. 13:16, God promised Abraham that his posterity would be as numerous "as the dust of the earth." Rabbi Mendel Weinbach writes about this:

"Sand, dust and stars, our Torah commentaries point out, refer to three different stages of Jewish history. Sometimes Jews are the victims of persecution which renders them to the dust upon which their enemies tread. It is at such times that they discern the Heavenly message and call to Heaven for mercy.

"The sand upon the seashore is where the mighty ocean waves encounter an impassible barrier to their threat to flood the world. This is symbolic of the repeated attempts of our enemies to achieve a "final solution to the Jewish problem" only to be restrained by Divine intervention. The stars represent Jewry in its ideal state, elevated above all the nations and serving as a light for them."

  • 1
    Nice answer rich in symbolism.
    – FMS
    Aug 29, 2014 at 19:07
  • @fmshyanguya Apparently someone disagrees. I got a downvote w/o explanation. Sep 5, 2014 at 1:53

This is clear use of hyperbole. Jesus makes use of similar hyperbole in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:21-48) in which he instructs us to cut out our eyes if we even look lustfully at a woman or cut off our hand if we stumble. He doesn't mean this literally, but is using hyperbole to emphasize his point. Likewise, here we have an over-emphasis to drive home a point.

I would not suggest you read into this number too literally. Hosea 1:10 says "Yet the Israelite will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted." We see here that the there are many more stars than grains of sand, so Which is it? The answer is neither. Obviously what was meant here was "a lot".

While 14 million people may not make up a large slice of the "population pie," it is nonetheless still a hyperbolically large number of people. Furthermore, God's promise was not to make them the largest nation in terms of population, but instead a great nation. This is not necessarily defined in terms of population.

Additionally, you only count those who are biologically Jewish, however in Galatians 3:7-8, Paul makes it clear that all Christians can be considered children of Abraham:

Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.”

Finally, God's plan is not yet complete for us and there may be future greatness yet to come.

  • 1
    Not discounting but currently, those not of Abraham outnumber those of Abraham (through Isaac and Jacob Israel) almost 500:1.
    – FMS
    Aug 29, 2014 at 6:36
  • Expanded my answer to more directly address this aspect of your question. Aug 29, 2014 at 7:25
  • 1
    I like it! Thank you very much! We should remember that God is able to raise children for Abraham from stones ...
    – FMS
    Aug 29, 2014 at 8:10
  • 1
    We should also remember that there are conditions to the promise and Israel must uphold it's part of the Covenant. If it does not, then no land/great nation status. Aug 29, 2014 at 14:49
  • It is hyperbolic but to such a great degree as to suggest that the author of the account was not aware of just how much sand there is in even a handful of sand and that the account is fictional. This is not the only scientifically ignorant feature of the scriptures. Any attempts to reach a septillion human descendants by adding in Arabs and Christians to his descendants (not that these are not indeed his descendants) are likewise playing with a number they don't understand.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 24, 2017 at 5:27

The question is about Gn 15:5, which is God's response to Abraham's concern that he has no children. Basically God is saying, don't worry, you'll have kids - plenty of kids! That's the simple - pshat - meaning of the verse.

To go deeper, it is clear to me that God's answer here should be interpreted as referring to all of Abraham's descendents, not only the lineage of Jacob.

First of all, the passage in itself sounds like hyperbole - count the stars if you can count them" seems to mean simply a vast number. Indeed, while there are 5,000-9,000 discernible stars in the sky, when one looks at the Milky Way, the number of stars does seem uncountable.

Yet the question remains - for 10 million is a lot, but surely not uncountable!

Who are to be counted as his descendents? Gn 17:5 provides a clue - "I have made you a father of many nations."

How many is "many"? According to rabbinic tradition, this refers to the whole world, because the entire world is destined one day to follow in Abraham's footsteps. So 15:5 is not referring only to the lineage of Jacob.

[As an aside (not a proof, just an interesting fact), the latter verse is where God changes his name from Avram to Avraham. Avram means "father of Ram", i.e., Aramaia. Avraham means "father of many" but could also be read as "father of raham"; according to the basic method of gematria (numerology) this could be read as "father of 245".

Now, if you go by the UN, there are fewer than 200 nations. But if you go by 2-digit internet country codes (see http://goes.gsfc.nasa.gov/text/web_country_codes.html) there are about 243. Therefore, all we need is a couple more countries to split into two for God's promise to Abraham to be fulfilled.]

  • Interesting response.
    – FMS
    Sep 2, 2014 at 7:38
  • Welcome! Your answer could be improved by citation to the rabbinic source you used. Sep 5, 2014 at 1:58

I believe this question suffers from 2 basic presuppositions:

  1. That Abraham was a real person that existed in antiquity.
  2. That Abraham was the patriarch of the Jewish people.

Unless these two matters can be proven, then it is not possible to proceed to answer your question. I note that other characters in the Torah such as Jacob and Esau are not treat as real people by the Merkabah 1, and nor are their descendants, so it is unlikely that Abraham 2 was a real person either. Taking the bible literally started with the printing presses in Europe, but before that most people treat biblical characters, objects and events as symbolic,3 and the evidence is that this approach was justified by ancient numerical methods of exegesis.

The seasonal character of Esau and Jacob as the personifications of Winter and Summer 1 start at Genesis 25:27:

ויגדלו הנערים ויהי עשו איש ידע ציד איש שדה ויעקב איש תם ישב אהלים

“When the boys grew up, Esau(79) became a skillful hunter (104), a man(14) of the field(12), but Jacob(182) was a peaceful man, living in tents(26).”

Esau 79 + hunter 104 = 183

Jacob = 182

183 + 182 = 365 (days in a year)

Man + Field = 26

Tents = 26

26 + 26 = 52 (weeks in a year).

The origin of the story is Mesopotamian – typological to the Myth of Emesh and Enten (The Debate between Winter and Summer) which was recorded during the mid to late 3rd millennium BC.


1. "When Jacob's land was the light", by Bethsheba Ashe.

2. Sarah and Abraham, by Bethsheba Ashe.

3. 'Don't take the Bible literally' says scholar who brought to light earliest Latin analysis of the Gospels - The Telegraph, 23rd August.

Recommended Reading:

The Faces of the Chariot: Early Jewish Responses to Ezekiel’s Vision, by Professor David Joel Halperin.

Reader’s Guide to Judaism, by Sarah Pessin, page 457.

"A Mesopotamian Background for the So-Called Aggadic ‘Measures’ of Biblical Hermeneutics?", by Stephen J. Lieberman, Hebrew Union College Annual Vol. 58 (1987), pp. 157-225.

  • 1
    I see that you quote mostly yourself and "The Telegraph". Are there any actual scholars who support these views in peer-reviewed journals? Is the Merkabah to which you refer an actual text or set of texts that we can see? Can you cite a passage in a known manuscript that exists in some museum or archive?
    – user17080
    Sep 23, 2017 at 22:27
  • Ibrahim - may I trouble you to ask a formal stack exchange question about the Merkabah and its attendant gematria? Sep 24, 2017 at 5:03
  • I don't want every question I answer to be accompanied by a lengthy explanation about the Merkabah which would detract from the answer to the original question when I'm using it as a method of exegesis. Sep 24, 2017 at 5:09
  • The "Merkabah" to which you refer is not in the scope of this site, so it is not on-topic to ask such a question. In fact, the "Merkabah" to which you refer is apparently not any known document or set of documents known to anyone else. You don't need any lengthy explanation, just a reference to some real document or documents.
    – user17080
    Sep 24, 2017 at 9:41
  • If you had consulted the brief recommended reading list above you could not possibly say that! Please check yourself for cognitive dissonance Ibrahim. I can list an extensive bibliography of peer reviewed work but there's little point if you're in denial and refuse to read it. Sep 24, 2017 at 17:25

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