When I look up at the night sky, I see nothing like the photo above. I’m lucky if I can count twenty stars, mostly the ones in Orion and the Dippers. So for all my life, the following verse where God is talking to Abraham made little sense to me:
“I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies.” (Genesis 22:17 NLT)
So Abraham would have like 20 descendants? Why did God choose the stars as a metaphor if Abraham had no idea the galaxy had billions and billions of stars? If Abraham just saw what I see at night, I’d be underwhelmed, even confused. Can twenty guys conquer a city even?
Truth is, Abraham could see a lot more stars than you or I could. We have the unfortunate case of living in a world of electric lights. The massive output of light from cities at night causes a phenomenon called skyglow, which actually prevents most starlight from reaching us. Even when we live in the suburbs or rural areas, light pollution from cities affect our view of the night sky because of skyglow. Just walk out at night in the wee hours and you can see for yourself the skyglow from your nearby city’s center.
But imagine the world of Abraham. At best they had oil lamps and wood fires. The glorious bodies of the heavens could be seen in full splendor at night, from the Moon to Orion, from Jupiter to Mars. Thousands of individual stars could be seen in their night sky, not to mention the river of stars that split the sky: the Milky Way. That’s the huge band in the first photo above, the center of our galaxy.
The Heavenly Host
Now imagine seeing something like that in the sky when God made His promise. The heavenly bodies (stars and planets) were also known to the ancients as the Heavenly Host, that is, the Army of Heaven. Given the number of stars they could see, this makes sense. And they imagined each star as an angelic soldier commanded by God. Now think of God promising Abraham he’d have more descendants than the Heavenly Host. Now that kinda progeny for sure can conquer cities.