In the beginning God created man – adam in Hebrew – in His own image. He was without sin, yet of his own free will chose to give in to the temptation of the adversary, hasatan. Since that time each successive generation has been born (rather than created) in the image of sinful adam, not in the image of God (Genesis 5:3).
Ten generations later there was only one man out of the entire populated earth living righteously before God, the man Noah. So God wiped man off the face of the earth in a massive flood, saving only Noah and seven members of his family. Yet by the time only one of those eight who came through the flood was left alive – Noah’s son Shem – it is very likely only he and a few of his direct descendants were living righteously before God.
So God chose one of Shem’s descendants, Abram, and started over again. But this time, instead of beginning with one man to populate an empty earth, He chose that one man and gave him this promise: “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Then He said, “I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).
From Abram (now Abraham), the blessing passed to his son Isaac. From Isaac, the blessing passed to his son Jacob, the one God renamed “Israel.” And the Torah portion this week ends with this statement, “Now Israel lived in the land of Egypt, in Goshen, and they acquired property in it and were fruitful and became very numerous” (Genesis 47:27).
The Promise of the Seed
It is important to understand the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob regarding their physical seed. As already mentioned, God promised Abraham that He would multiply his “seed” exponentially “as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore.”
The Hebrew word for seed, zera (Strong’s #H2233), here refers to “descendants, offspring, children, and posterity” according to the Complete Word Study Dictionary. The Greek equivalent in the New Testament is sperma (Strongs #G4690). It is absolutely clear that the text is speaking of Abraham’s physical descendants, who would multiply and spread out all over the world.
God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; you shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” Thus He called him Israel. God also said to him, “I am El Shaddai; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from you” (Genesis 35:11,12).
God promised Jacob that multitudes of people, even nations, would come from his loins. Even before they entered the Promised Land, Moses said that this was being fulfilled, and would continue to an even greater extent. “The LORD your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day like the stars of heaven in number. May The LORD, the God of your fathers, increase you a thousand-fold more than you are and bless you, just as He has promised you!” (Deuteronomy 1:10-11).
The Dispersion of the Seed
After Israel entered the Promised Land, the kingdom flourished. Following its peak under King Solomon, Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms. Eventually both were taken captive by foreign nations and, following different timelines and different paths, were dispersed among the nations of the world. You can read my first post on the Two Houses of Israel here.
Today the population of the modern state of Israel is about 8 million people. According to jewfaq.org, there are 13 to 14 million Jews worldwide, with about 6 million living in modern Israel. Scholars estimate that just before entering the Promised Land the ancient Israelites numbered between 2 and 3 million people. Multiply that by a thousand, as Moses said, and that means that it is entirely possible that there are in excess of 2 billion descendants of Israel on the earth today at a bare minimum.
The Fullness of the Nations
Even though all twelve sons of Jacob share in the blessing, the promise of physical multiplication was passed on to Joseph (whose name means “Yah has added”) and then to Joseph’s son Ephraim (whose name means “doubly fruitful”). “When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on Ephraim’s head, it displeased him; and he grasped his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn. Place your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know; he [Manasseh] also will become a people and he also will be great. However, his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations”” (Genesis 48:17-19).
The Hebrew phrase translated as “multitude of nations” is melo hagoyim. Both Young’s Literal Translation and Jay P. Green’s Literal Version render the last part of verse 19 as “his seed is/shall become the fullness of the nations.” You may recognize the word “goy”- Gentile – in that Hebrew phrase melo hagoyim. The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament often quoted in the New Testament, uses the word ethnos in this verse. These are the same words Paul used in the New Testament: “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery–so that you will not be wise in your own estimation–that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).
The southern kingdom of Judah, the Jewish people – even though they ceased to exist as a nation in the second century AD – have still maintained their cultural, ethnic and religious heritage and identity. Jews have been hated, despised and persecuted for more than 2000 years.
The northern kingdom? The Ten “Lost” Tribes? Not lost – they are scattered among the nations, all 2 or 3 or 4 billion of them, maybe more. They are the “multitude of nations,” the “fullness of the Gentiles.” And most have no idea who they are. But God does, and He has promised to take them from the nations, unite them with their brothers and bring them together as one Israel under Messiah Yeshua. And here is a critically important point – the uniting into one Israel includes the house of Judah, the house Joseph (or Ephraim) and anyone at all who wants to join them.
It is exciting to grasp the complete story of Israel as revealed in Scripture. Ultimately, though, physical lineage is not important. Isaiah chapter 56 tells us that anyone has always been able to join with Israel, worship the God of Israel, keep His commandments and enjoy the blessing. All who come to faith in Messiah Yeshua are brought near, made part of the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13).
You can continue reading about the Two Houses of Israel here.