The family of Noah after the flood were told to "replenish" the earth, which would have consisted
a fulness, had this replenishing been accompanied by grace and righteousness. Alas, by the time we reach the eleventh chapter of Genesis, the evil character of the world was made manifest, and Babel, and the scattering of the people, brought another movement in the purpose of the ages to a close. Babel in Genesis eleven, will yet find its corresponding member when great Babylon comes up for judgment, but the gap formed by the rebellion of Nimrod and the introduction of idolatry which is so closely associated with this mighty hunter before the Lord, was filled by the calling of Abraham and the promises made to him concerning the great nation Israel.
In Genesis 48:19 we read, "his seed shall become a multitude of nations". It so happens that the word "multitude" occurs earlier in this same chapter, namely in verse 4, where we read:
"Behold I will make thee fruitful and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people" (Gen. 48:4).
Two words are found in the Hebrew original which are here translated "multitude" and these must be distinguished.
The word translated "multitude" in verse 4 is the Hebrew word qahal "to call" or "to assemble", but the word translated "multitude" in verse 19 is entirely different, it is the Hebrew word melo "fulness".
Let us bring together three more passages which make the promise that Israel shall be a multitude or company of people or nations.
"And God ALMIGHTY bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people"
(Gen. 28:3). "And God said unto him, I am GOD ALMIGHTY; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee" (Gen. 35:11).
"Behold I will make thee fruitful and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people" (Gen. 48:4).
Readers who use The Companion Bible (early editions) should observe that the note against "multitude" in verse 19 should be transferred to the margin of verse 4 in the same chapter.
In these passages "multitude" translates the Hebrew word qahal. When Jacob blessed Joseph's younger son Ephraim,
putting his right hand upon his head, instead of upon the head of Manasseh his elder brother, Joseph said:
"Not so, my father," Jacob answered, "I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations" (Gen. 48:19).
Here, as we have already observed, the Hebrew word translated "multitude" is melo, "fulness".
We must, therefore, become acquainted with the usage and meaning of these two words which are
translated "multitude" before we can proceed with our study. Qahal, means "to call
together", "to assemble", and the noun form is translated "congregation", "assembly" and "company". In seventy passages, the Septuagint renders the Hebrew qahal by ekklesia, and Stephen speaks of "the church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). In the three passages quoted from Genesis, "multitude" and "company" are represented by "synagogue" in the Septuagint.
In Genesis 48:19 melo which is translated "multitude" is rendered in the Septuagint plethos, which in the N.T. is rendered by
the A.V. "multitude" thirty times, "company" once and "bundle" once. Unfortunately the English word "multitude" has to stand for two very different conceptions. Plethos, is from the same root as pleroma and retains the idea of fulness or filling, but there is another Greek word translated multitude, namely
ochlos which means rather "a crowd" or "a mob", the unruly nature of which is reflected in the verbal forms which mean "to vex" or "to trouble" (Acts 5:16; 15:19; 17:5, Heb. 12:15).
While, therefore, we are compelled to use the English word multitude in these passages of Genesis, we must dismiss the
thought of a "mob" or of an unruly "crowd", and retain the idea of a properly assembled gathering and a filling.
Returning to the usage of the word qahal, we observe that from Exodus 12:6 where we read "the whole assembly", the word is used of Israel as a nation, but in Genesis, before Israel
as a nation existed, it is used prophetically, looking down the ages to the day when the seed of Abraham shall indeed become
"a filling of the nations" (Rotherham). The four occurrences of qahal fall into their place in the structure, which can be seen set out in full in The Companion Bible.
The following extract will be sufficient to demonstrate this fitness here.
Gen. 27:42-28:5. Departure. Jacob to Padan-aram "that thou mayest be a multitude of people"
Gen. 35:1-15. Return. Jacob from Padan-arum "a nation and a company of nations" Gen. 48:1-20. Blessing of Joseph and his sons "I will make of thee a multitude of people"
Gen. 49:1-28. Blessing of all his sons "unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united".
It will be remembered that in the endeavour to obtain the birthright and the Abrahamic blessing, Jacob, at the instigation of his mother who knew that "the elder shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23), attempted by fraud to make the prophecy sure, but failed. When Jacob as a consequence was obliged to leave home, the coveted blessing for which both he and his mother had schemed was given to him freely:
"And GOD ALMIGHTY bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham" (Gen. 28:3,4).
Not only is "the land" a definite feature of this promise, but a peculiar character attaches to it, it is called "the land wherein thou art a stranger". This is repeated in Genesis 37:1 and in 47:9 Jacob uses the same word where it is translated "pilgrimage". The margin of Genesis 28:4, reads, "the land of thy sojournings". This term is used seven times in the law and is repeated in Hebrews 11:9,13. After the formation of Israel and the giving of the law, the nation is not again reminded that they were strangers and sojourners except in one passage, namely in Leviticus 25:23, where the laws governing the sale of land showed that the Lord Himself was the true Owner, Israel only holding the land as it were on a lease. One further note is necessary before we attempt a conclusion, and that concerns the word translated "nation". An attempt has been made, in order that a
certain popular theory might be supported, to show that Ephraim was to become "Gentilized". The Hebrew word translated "nations" is goyim, the plural of goi. This word is translated in the A.V. as follows: "Gentile" thirty times, "heathen" 142 times, "nation" 373 times, "people" eleven times. It is easy, when we are reading the passages where "Gentile" and "heathen" occur, to jump to the conclusion that the word means, "all nations of the world, excepting the Jews", but this is an error.
The first six occurrences of goyim occur in Genesis ten, and as Israel was not in existence at the time, it is evident that the word can only mean "nations"; the inclusion of the word "Gentiles" in the AN. of Genesis 10:5, being an anticipation and having no immediate meaning until placed over against the word "Jew". The R.V. has recognized this, and inserted "nations" instead. In Genesis 12:2 we read the words of the great prophetic promise to Abraham concerning his seed, Israel, "I will make of thee a great nation", while in Genesis 17:4,5,6 this promise is expanded to include "many nations", returning in 18:18 once more to the "great nation". So in Genesis 35:11 we read, "a nation and a company of nations", the only distinction between Jew and Gentile being, not in the use of a different word, but in the use of the singular for the Jew, and the plural for the Gentile. So again. in Deuteronomy four, we have interchangeably "this great nation", "what nation is so great", "the heathen", "a nation from the midst of another nation" and "the nations", that were to be driven out of Canaan, all being translations of the one Hebrew word. Even in the Greek N.T. when the distinction between Jew and Gentile is acute, we still find ethnos used both of the Gentiles and of Israel (Acts 22:21; 26:4,17; 28 :19,28). (See
While, therefore, goyim means at times Gentile or heathen, it always means "nation" whether the nations outside the covenant, or the great nation of promise. The promise that Israel should be "great" must not be misunderstood. With us, "greatness" is associated with nobility of mind, but originally the word gadol translated "great" means "growth" or "augmentation". So we read of "great lights", "great whales", a "great city" in Genesis. The word, moreover, is used to indicate "the elder" son (Gen. 10:21; 27:1; 29:16) who may not necessarily have been "greater".
Israel today are indeed at the present day "minished and brought low through oppression" (Psa. 107:39), but it is an integral part of the promise to Abraham, that Israel should not only be great in spiritual qualities, but great in numbers. The promise reads, "I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered" (Gen. 13:16).
The figure is changed in Genesis 15:5 to the innumerable stars of heaven, with the added words, "so shall thy seed be". Yet once again the figure is changed to "the sand upon the sea shore" (Gen. 22:17).
"Sir Arthur Eddington is of the opinion that one hundred thousand million stars make one galaxy, and one hundred thousand million galaxies, make one universe. The number of stars in a universe therefore would be ten thousand trillion, or expressed in figures,
10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, that is equal to the number of drops of water in all the oceans of the world, or grains of fine sand sufficient to cover the whole of England and Wales, to a depth of afoot, and each one of them comparable in size to our sun". (The Endless Quest, Westaway.)
While it is not intended that Israel are ever to reach such astronomical figures, the contemplation of the possible number of the stars, compels us to admit that an extraordinary increase in number constitutes an essential feature of the Divine purpose for this "great nation". According to Deuteronomy 1:10 these promises were on the way to fulfilment even when Israel stood upon the borders of the promised land, and the present drop in their numbers is coincident with their being in disfavour. "If ye walk contrary to Me, I will make you few in number" (Lev. 26:21,22).
When at length the Lord causes the captivity of both Judah and of Israel to return "as at the first", when He performs that good thing which He has promised unto the house of Israel and of Judah, then "as the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David My servant, and the Levites that minister unto Me saith the Lord" (Jer. 33:7,14,22).
At the time of the end of this age the world will be so ravaged and desolated by the destructive method of atomic or other superscientific weapons that the prophet Zechariah speaks of "every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem"
(Zech. 14:16), words that suggest a terrible depletion in the number of the inhabitants of the earth at that day. In Zechariah 13:8 the prophet's meaning is made very clear, when he says, "and it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein". Something of what may be expected when atomic warfare breaks out over this devoted earth can be sensed by the words of the Apocalypse:
"The third part of trees was burnt up". "The third part, of the sea became blood". "The third part of the ships were destroyed". "The third part of men, slain (Rev. 8:7,8,9; 9:15).
The day is passed when these catastrophic times could be brushed aside as mere figures of speech, we have lived through days when "a third part of the ships" were well nigh literally destroyed. We have seen that following the desolation of Genesis 1:2 came the creation of man and the command, "replenish the earth". We have seen that the same command was given to Noah after the cataclysm of the flood. This same command will be fulfilled in Israel when they, too, shall "blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit" (Isa. 27:6). Ephraim, as the "firstborn" will indeed be great, and his seed "shall become a FILLING Up of the nations" (Gen. 48:19).
Once again we see the principle of the pleroma at work, with its promise of a better day, when sorrow and sighing shall have fled away, when the true seed shall flourish, and the seed of the serpent be no more.