So God tells Abraham that he will make Ishmael into a great nation.

Some nations, like China, are great without God having made a bilbical promise to anyone. When Abraham was promised that Ishmael was going to be great, was God promising to "pull strings" in Ishmael's favor to make him great? If so, what is the nature of the string pulling? Is the idea that God nudged Mohammed to create Islam and effect this great nation status compatible with Judaism?

Bereishit 17:20 "And regarding Ishmael, I have heard you; behold I have blessed him, and I will make him fruitful, and I will multiply him exceedingly; he will beget twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation."

  • 1
    The Arabs could have been a great nation without Islam.
    – Ypnypn
    Jul 31, 2014 at 16:23
  • possibly, but the way they actually did become a great nation was through Islam. Jul 31, 2014 at 18:53
  • could be their mazalot got more power
    – sam
    Aug 1, 2014 at 1:54
  • The "Arabs" are actually descendents of Yoktan, not Ishmael. They say though they are "spiritually" descended from Ishmael.
    – CashCow
    Nov 25, 2014 at 16:17
  • 1
    Can you source that they are descended from Yoktan and NOT Ishmael? Nov 26, 2014 at 0:12

1 Answer 1


The Rambam, in his Igeret Taiman (Epsitle to Yemen) addresses the quote. I realize this doesn't quite answer the question completely, but he does reject Islam as part of the blessing.

(Translation is from http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Epistle_to_Yemen/VIII)

The phrase "a great nation" cited above does not connote a people in possession of prophecy or a Law, but merely one large in numbers just as in reference to idolaters Scripture says "nations greater and mightier than yourselves." (Deuteronomy 11:23). Similarly, the phrase "bimeod meod" simply signifies "exceedingly." Were there any allusion in the verse to Mohammed, then it would have read "and I shall bless him bimeod meod," and whoever likes to hang on to a spider's web might then discover a reference to Mohammed therein. As it is, since Scripture says "I shall increase him bimeod meod," it can only denote an extravagant increment in numbers.

  • bimeod meod on its own connotes large numbers, but twelve princes and "great nation" status appear to be separate aspects of the blessing. Rambam doesn't really address the argument but rather dismisses it because Moslems don't actually use it. Your answer, however, is the best (and only answer in several months. Aug 6, 2014 at 18:38
  • Thanks! The paragraph I quoted does mention "great nation" specifically, but you are correct that he focuses more on the "bimeod meod" component. Off topic, but I find it fascinating that people were placing real importance on the gematria "Muhamad == Bimeod Meod" that the Rambam had to specifically argue against that reading.
    – Nic
    Aug 6, 2014 at 18:53

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