“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:5,6
Just how many stars are there? That thought had to have crossed Abraham’s mind, just as it has your own, I’m sure. But we don’t have any record in scripture of him ever asking and certainly nothing to give us a quantitative answer. This childless old man is simply told that as the stars are innumerable so would his offspring be innumerable. And he believed God.
Well guess what. Several thousand years later, the stars are still innumerable and so are Abraham’s descendants. You’d think with all our advances in technology we’d at least be able to count the stars, right? But no, we’re actually not much closer to an accurate number than Abraham would have been. You could try using a service like “Ask an Astronomer” offered by Cornell University. “How many stars are in the universe?” you ask, and someone like David Kornreich, who founded the program, would be forced to answer back, “I don’t know, because I don’t know if the universe is infinitely large or not.” Well, that’s not a good start, is it? So we’re a bit stuck already because we don’t even know the scope of what’s containing the stars.
So what if we started small and worked our way out? Since stars seem to be clustered in galaxies, what if we started by counting the stars in our own galaxy and then multiplied that number by the number of known galaxies? Well, there we go getting stuck again. The fact is, we don’t even know how many stars are in our own galaxy. Estimates run between 100 billion and 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, but good grief, that leaves a lot of wiggle room! But we’ll go with what we’ve got.
Now, Mr. Astronomer, “How many galaxies are there?” “About 10 Trillion,” says Kornreich. Of course, that is a very rough estimate, because of course we don’t even know how big the universe is, right? But the Hubble Space Telescope really helped give us a glimpse as to the shocking number of galaxies beyond our field of vision. Focusing in on tiny dark areas of the sky, images reveal thousands upon thousands of galaxies per area. So it takes a lot of creative counting to come up with the 1 septillion stars that Kornreich estimates. That’s a 1 with 24 zeros after it. It looks like this if you’re wondering: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
But really, we just don’t know. We would probably do well just to believe God, like Abraham did, since Psalm 147:4 says that not only has God numbered them, He’s named them as well.
Anyway, it’s an awful lot of offspring being promised to a childless old man. Hebrews 11:12, says, “Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
That sounds pretty wonderful, but for the man called to lead a good chunk of those descendants out of their enslavement in Egypt, it was a bit overwhelming. Innumerable descendants is one thing, but innumerable whining, complaining, bickering rebellious descendants is another thing entirely. In Deuteronomy 1:9-12, Moses complains, that sure, the Lord had multiplied the Israelites, and they were indeed “as numerous as the stars of heaven,” but “how can I bear by myself the weight and burden of you and your strife?”
And what’s God to do with such a mass of rebellious children? Later in Deuteronomy 28:58-63
He instructs them to be careful to “do all the words of the law that are written in this book that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God.” Otherwise, he warns,
“Whereas you were numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God. And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you.”
Whoa. Why would the Lord take delight in destroying His own chosen ones? That’s a side of His divine nature that makes us rather uncomfortable. But think of it friend! If the Lord didn’t delight in His own justice there would be no cross! Isaiah 53:10 says “it was the will of the Lord,” or “it pleased the Lord” to crush Christ. Why? It was for you and me! Jesus bore OUR sins, He carried OUR sorrows, He was pierced for OUR transgressions, He was crushed for OUR iniquities, the chastisement that brought OUR peace was put on Him, His wounds bought OUR healing, it was on Jesus that the Lord was pleased to lay OUR iniquity.
We may not like the sound of the Lord delighting to show justice, but the Lord delights in whatever brings Him glory. It brought Him glory to give a childless old man descendants as numerous as the stars. And it brought Him glory to crush the One who spoke the stars into existence. And it brings Him glory when we, like a man as good as dead, believe His promises and trust Him, delight-filled justice and all.