God promises Abraham a number of times that he would father a great nation whose numbers would be like the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach.

However today there are less than 14 million Jews, hardly close the amount of stars visible with a mediocre telescope, while of course nowhere near the billions of stars in existence.

How do you explain this unfulfilled promise?

  • 1
    possible duplicate of Why is the Jewish Population so small?
    – Seth J
    Oct 26, 2013 at 23:15
  • Imray, you actually commented on that question. Did you forget it existed, or is there something about that question that you think isn't addressed that you've felt the need to ask separately? Because if you intend to be asking a different question, it's not clear (to me, at least) what the difference is.
    – Seth J
    Oct 26, 2013 at 23:19
  • 1
    @SethJ The question you refer to seemed to be asking from a practical and historical perspective. My question is from a religious view; if this prophecy was given, why is it so far from being fulfilled? Oct 26, 2013 at 23:24
  • @SethJ I move to merge those answers here.
    – Double AA
    Oct 26, 2013 at 23:26
  • @double aa, why not the reverse?
    – Seth J
    Oct 26, 2013 at 23:35

6 Answers 6


Being as numerous as the stars nowadays would in fact be inconsistent with our current state, as in exile we now bear the burden of the terrible curses in Deuteronomy, one of which foretells our nation's size being very few, rather than numerous as the stars. See Deut 28:62.

וְנִשְׁאַרְתֶּם, בִּמְתֵי מְעָט, תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר הֱיִיתֶם, כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם לָרֹב: כִּי-לֹא שָׁמַעְתָּ, בְּקוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.

And ye shall be left few in number, whereas ye were as the stars of heaven for multitude; because thou didst not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.

  • 2
    According to that the Jews were once "as the stars of heaven for multitude". When? Jan 27, 2017 at 1:47
  • @ElShteiger good question! ask!
    – Baby Seal
    Jan 27, 2017 at 19:55
  • @ElShteiger See an example in Talmud Gitin 57a : at the Temple's Destruction, on Har Hamelech --a single mountain in Erets Israel-- there was 3600180000 Jews.
    – yO_
    Mar 23, 2018 at 16:34
  • You meant it contradicts other promises of God, agreed, but does not answer the question IMHO.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 14, 2020 at 17:23

It is imagery. The promise was not that there would be exactly as many Israelites as stars. It was that this man without a child would have 'many, many' descendants, as has already been the case in history, and anyway, who knows how many Jews will yet exist in future as well.


The above blessing does not refer to numbers in one generation but to permanence for all time. Chinese are here today but who knows about tomorow. while the promise to avraham is that the Jews will be here forever and ever. This is something only God can guarantee.

Related to this, Mark Twain observed.

”...If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky way. properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it.

The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

  • Mark Twain (“Concerning The Jews,” Harper’s Magazine, 1899)
  • Clemens is not referring to the Jews' population size. I don't see how this answers the question. There are clearly more living people in China now than all Jews ever combined.
    – Double AA
    Oct 27, 2013 at 7:39
  • 2
    my intent is to give an alternative interpretation. that the above blessing does not refer to numbers in one generation but to permanence for all time. Chinese are here today but who knows about tomorow. while the promise to avraham is that the Jews will be here forever and ever. This is something only God can guarantee.
    – ray
    Oct 27, 2013 at 8:22
  • 1
    Interesting. Aside from making that clearer in your post, do you know of any commentator who has suggested this before you? Or is this your own innovation?
    – Double AA
    Oct 27, 2013 at 8:24
  • from Rabbi Uziel Milevsky zt'l former chief rabbi of mexico. see beginning of this audio: dafyomireview.com/audio/m04-3_flaws_of_man_and_role_of_jews.mp3 according to that, this was the symbolism of the brit mila pact which God made with Avraham. it was on the reproductive organ since tht reprents continuity.
    – ray
    Oct 27, 2013 at 8:28
  • i admit though, that this interpretation is probably not the simple meaning. simple meaning sounds more like "too numerous to count".
    – ray
    Nov 4, 2013 at 6:20

The Bible says in Deut 10:22 (and a few other places as well) that: "Thy fathers went down into Egypt with threescore and ten persons; and now the LORD thy God hath made thee as the stars of heaven for multitude."

This was at the time the Israelites were about 3 million people (by some accounts) after coming out of Egypt. In other words, the Bible considers that this promise was already fulfilled when there were about 3 million Israelites.

Of course, this is a major blow to anyone who insists on a literal interpretation of the Bible..

  • 4
    I don't understand your last sentence.
    – Double AA
    Oct 27, 2013 at 16:39
  • There are about 200 billion stars in our galaxy alone, and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. Yet the Bible says that 3 million people is as many "as the stars of heaven." So if the Bible is the Word of God, then either God did not know how many stars he himself created, or what he said cannot be taken literally (though many religious people claim it should be taken literally, like Young Earth Creationists)
    – Spherus
    Oct 27, 2013 at 16:57
  • 6
    That just disproves those who insist on a stupid interpretation of the Bible. No one with half a brain thinks David was hoping for two little pigeon wings to sprout from his shoulder-blades (Psalms 55:7). Literal reads don't have to be stupid reads.
    – Double AA
    Oct 27, 2013 at 20:16

According to Ralbag (Commentary to Parshas Lech Lecha), the promise was not that Avraham's descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Rather the promise was that they would be hard to count like the stars. Ralbag says this because he was of the opinion that there are actually very few stars (approximately 1,022) and thus a promise to have as many descendants as the stars would be pretty meaningless.

והנה דבר ה' אליו לאמר שכבר יתן לו זרע שיירשנו והוציא אותו החוצה במראה הנבואה להביט בשמים ואמר אליו שכמו שלא יוכל לספור הכוכבים לריבוים כן זרעו יהיה באופן מהריבוי שלא יספרו והנה מספר הכוכבים לא היה נודע בימי אברם ולזה הראהו המדמה בעת הנבואה ענין ריבוי הכוכבים למשל הריבוי המופלג אשר ייעד אותו ה' יתעלה שיהיה בזרעו וכזה תמצא שראה יחזקאל בעת הנבואה שיהיה לגלגלים קולות מצד מה שהיה מאמין מזה הענין כמו שזכר הרב המורה כי לא יחוייב שיהיו אצל הנביא כל הדעות האמיתיות בענין סודות המציאות

In Milchamos Hashem (5:1:52 quoted from manuscript in the Ma'aliot edition of Ralbag Al Hatorah) Ralbag elaborates on this, and he also points out that in Devarim 1:10 Moshe states that the Israelites were at that point like the stars in number. Even though the Israelites had already been counted, the point is that it was difficult to count them.

Therefore, if it is hard to count Avraham's descendants the promise is fulfilled.

  • Hi where in the above quote was it suggested that there are 1022 stars? I wasn't able to see the reference Mar 5, 2021 at 19:11
  • The number 1,022 is not from the quote I cited, it’s from the elaboration in Milchamos Hashem.
    – Alex
    Mar 5, 2021 at 19:13
  • Can you reference the quote, it's hard for me to find online Mar 5, 2021 at 19:14
  • When I get back to my books.
    – Alex
    Mar 5, 2021 at 19:20
  • @bluejayke Milchamot Hashem 5:1:52 וכבר מנאום בעלי זאת החכמה ומצאום כמו אלף וכ״ב כוכבים
    – Alex
    Apr 9, 2021 at 12:26

I have a better question: Why did God underestimate the numbers? Recall that Abraham did not have a telescope, and thus could only be aware of a few thousand stars. God promised a few thousand, and fulfilled His oath a thousand-fold.

  • 3
    If God meant "stars" as 10^3 then what did he mean by "sand"? Certainly, Avraham already knew that there were more than 10^3 grains of sand on the beaches.
    – Double AA
    Oct 27, 2013 at 8:26
  • @DoubleAA I'm not sure Abraham spent much time actually counting sand or stars. I doubt he took samples, counted them, then measures the area of the beach. I also doubt he stayed up late peering into the night sky. Whether stars or sand or text wasted on arguing what God meant, I think this instance is clear that He meant a lot more than Abraham could count by himself. A million seconds is 11 days. It would take you years to practically count to a million.
    – user3178
    Sep 2, 2014 at 18:18
  • @fredsbend That's my point.
    – Double AA
    Sep 3, 2014 at 2:42

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