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In Genesis 15:5,

“And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.””

What does it mean to “number the stars”?

I heard a preacher say that the original Hebrew alludes to the zodiac constellations telling the gospel story. Is that correct?

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    That is a literary trope, a rhetorical question, that includes answer in itself. Simply it conveys meaning in a more graceful way, than plainly said: “You will have so many descendants, that, unless you use computer, it will be impossible for your mind to remember them, but, please, ask me not what is computer, for it will be a long talk, better look up at the ✨ which you also perfectly will fail to count, not always though, but when the sky is cloudless and it is past midnight, :) and learn to respect Me, for I not only count them, but know name of each of them, with no computer (Psalm 147:4) Jan 10, 2023 at 15:25
  • The Zodiac may be more recent than Abraham. In any case, there is no hint of such a reference in the text. In any case, I do not believe we can find eternal truths in something as quintessentially pagan as the zodiac.
    – Dottard
    Jan 10, 2023 at 20:02
  • The zodiac or horoscope do not work on the basis of star alignment. It’s on the basis of a familiar spirit like the witch of Endor. The spirit is channeled Jan 10, 2023 at 23:13
  • Seems to me that it is a poetic way of saying "a really big number". Jan 11, 2023 at 2:58
  • Thank you for your time and help. Looking at your answers helps me to realize that I should have been able to use some common sense to come to the realization that it was false teaching. I appreciate that you shared your knowledge in a gracious manner. Jan 11, 2023 at 10:32

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The A.V. gives three words in connection with the stars:

"And [God] brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy see be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness." Genesis 15:5-6

The first word (rendered 'tell') is in Hebrew saphar - to number, write, cypher.

The second word (rendered 'number') is in Hebrew the same saphar - to number, write, cypher, so that it is confirmed that numbering (as in counting) is meant.

The third word (rendered 'counted') is in Hebrew shashab - to think, devise, reckon, and this is how God thinks of Abraham who shows faith, believing God, knowing God is righteous - God 'reckons' that as righteousness.

There is simply nothing in the text that gives any hint of any zodiac constellation. Certainly, the foundational point of the gospel is there, in verse 6, with faith being evaluated by God unto righteousness. That is exactly the same basis for belief in the gospel of Christ being what God requires, if a person is to be evaluated as righteous. The person has to believe what God says, his promises, for God is righteous, and therefore unshakable faith in God's righteous provision of Christ for salvation is shown. But any ideas about zodiac signs being somehow linked to the gospel of Christ enters into the realms of astrology.

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  • Thank you for helping me to discern the truth in the Scriptures from what is being preached. Luckily, I don’t listen to the source of misinformation anymore. Jan 11, 2023 at 10:29
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The MT for Genesis 15:5 is (Codex Leningrad):

וַיּוֹצֵא אֹתוֹ הַחוּצָה וַיֹּאמֶר הַבֶּט נָא הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וּסְפֹר הַכּוֹכָבִים אִם תּוּכַל לִסְפֹּר אֹתָם וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ כֹּה יִהְיֶה זַרְעֶךָ

There is no zodiac reference here.

There are no difficulties in the Hebrew of this verse.

The OP translation is a faithful representation of the meaning of the Hebrew text. Trust it.

The operative word is וּסְפֹר, it means "to count" in American English. Just as simple as that.

In older British English the verb usage "to number" means "to count". Just as simple as that - a difference in English usage, older British vs current US.

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    And if you think that counting the stars in the sky doesn't sound that hard, try visiting somewhere with less light pollution.
    – hobbs
    Jan 10, 2023 at 21:44
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    @hobbs Roughly 10E21 stars, by common estimate. Also roughly 10E21 grains of sand on the beaches of earth. The latter may be harder to count or to establish a basis for the count :-). || Memory suggests that I read that one of the early Greek philosophers made an estimate of thenumber of grains of sand on earths beaches (wit far far far less availavle date than we have) and came up with a similar number. [ :-) ] Jan 10, 2023 at 23:25
  • Thank you for answering my question. Hebrew is difficult for me. I appreciate your straightforwardness and simplicity. Jan 11, 2023 at 10:27
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The Hebrew to number ימנה was used, as opposed to, to count תכסו. The distinction is, counting is bulk total and numbering is also counting but also assigning a number.

When counting you can say tonight there are only 5 visible stars, numbering would mean listing which number each of these 5 stars are, for example stars 334, 55, 765, 9997, 13 are visible tonight.

God says to Abraham can you number the stars? Of course not, in the same way your descendants will be too many to number.

As to whether there is a zodiac or constellation inference, there is none in the text or the surrounding context.

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  • Thank you so much for your answer and your patience! I am not very educated nor have I been studying the Bible for very long. Jan 11, 2023 at 10:25

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