God is our Father
Deuteronomy 10:20 says,
20 You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.
Because Israel’s God was the Creator, a God of love, wisdom, and justice, He was worthy of Israel’s respect (“fear”) and obedience. Moses tells Israel to “cling to Him,” instead of being drawn to other gods who make similar claims and demands, but who are unable to fulfill their promises.
21 He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen.
The NASB uses the term “awesome” to give the sense of the Hebrew word yare (“fear”). The KJV renders it “terrible” in the Old English sense of causing fear or terror. But the Hebrew word used here is the same as in the previous verse where we are told to “fear the Lord your God.” The Hebrew word yare has a broad meaning, ranging from outright fear to respect, reverence, awe, and admiration.
Many Children Promised
In the New Testament it becomes clearer that God is not only God, King, and Judge, but also a Father. As a Father, we ought to have a personal relationship with Him. In other words, we are to love Him even as He loves us. As a Father, He desired children. Verse 22 says,
22 You fathers went down to Egypt, seventy persons in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.
God had given this promise to Abraham as early as Genesis 15:5, saying,
5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
This promise was repeated to Isaac in Genesis 26:4 and again implied with Jacob in Genesis 28:4. Jacob’s sons were then called “stars” in Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9. When the family went to live in Egypt at Joseph’s invitation, they numbered only “seventy persons,” but by the time of Moses they numbered about six million, as shown by the census.
The Household of Faith
Those seventy included only the physical family of Jacob. Many more came with them who were part of the clan, or village under Jacob’s authority. Recall that as early as the time of Abraham, we see that he was not a lone man walking around Canaan. He had moved to Canaan along with “the persons which they had acquired in Haran” (Gen. 12:5). When his nephew Lot was captured in the Elamite war with Sodom, Abraham had 318 warriors “born in his house” (Genesis 14:14) who set out to free lot from captivity.
At that time, Abraham had no children of his own—not even Ishmael. If those 318 warriors each had at least one wife and a few children, it is clear that Abraham’s village would have had a population of close to two thousand. These were the remnants of those whose fathers remained loyal to the patriarchs before them.
Noah lived to the time of Abraham. In fact, Abraham was 58 years old when Noah died. When Noah died, the birthright passed to his son Shem, who outlived Abraham. When Shem died, the birthright was passed to Isaac, who was 110 years old at that time.
During all this time, there were true believers who shared in the blessings of the birthright by their association with the birthright holders. Abraham was in fellowship with Noah and Shem, and the 318 warriors and their families were in direct fellowship with Abraham. Hence, all of these were part of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). They were the start of the many nations who would be blessed with Abraham, for they shared the faith of Abraham.
By the next generation, in the time of Isaac, that population could easily have doubled. And by the time Jacob went to Egypt at the age of 130 (Genesis 47:9), it is not unreasonable to think that ten thousand people went to Egypt with those seventy Israelites.
This would partially explain the rapid rise in Israel’s population, for we see by the time they left Egypt, no clear distinction is made any longer between the direct descendants of Jacob and the rest of the clan. They were all fully integrated into the nation of Israel, no doubt each joining a tribal unit by choice or by marriage.
Then, too, when Israel left Egypt, a “mixed multitude” went out with them, having seen the awesome works of God in the ten plagues. Exodus 12:38 says,
37 Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. 38 And a mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock.
These still had a long history of idol worship, so their carnality tended to cause trouble (Numbers 11:4). Nonetheless, they compare with many new Christians who form the church in the wilderness in the Age of Pentecost. The Apostle Paul had problems with their carnality (1 Cor. 3:2), and the situation has not changed to the present time.
By the time the nation of Israel reached the Jordan River, the mixed multitude had ceased to be a factor, for by this time the next generation had been fully integrated into Israelite life and culture. And so when Joshua gave the inheritance to each tribe, there was no separate inheritance given to the mixed multitude. All of the aliens became Israelite citizens and are thereafter treated as equals.
So Israel’s population increased, largely because they were greatly outnumbered from the start, but also in part because of the mixed multitude that joined them in their journey as the church in the wilderness. So also we see the parallel situation after the day of Pentecost in the New Testament church.
New Testament Parallels
Paul himself fought for equal rights and status in the Kingdom of God, not allowing Jews to refrain from eating with non-Jewish believers (Gal. 2:11-15). Likewise, Peter had received a vision from God telling him not to call any man common or unclean (Acts 10:28). On account of that vision, Peter preached the word to Roman soldiers, who then received the promise of the fathers, the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44). The lesson that Peter derived from this incident is given in Acts 10:34 and 35, which says,
34 And opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.
Paul took it a step farther when he argued that the true seed of Abraham are those who follow his example of faith (Gal. 3:14 and 29). In making his case, Paul makes use of the common metaphor of his day. Mark 3:17 says that James and John were “sons of thunder.” Likewise, Jesus said that “wisdom is justified by her children” (Matt. 11:19). Luke 16:8 speaks of the “children of light.” Jesus said in John 8:44, “You are of your father, the devil.” Even back in the days of Samuel, the sons of Eli, the high priest, were called “the sons of Belial” (1 Sam. 2:12).
None of these were to be taken in a physical sense. Those who linked their relationship with God to their genealogy from Abraham did not impress John the Baptist either, for he told them in Luke 3:8, “do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”
In the Old Testament, God gave Abraham many “children of faith” as seen in the 318 warriors born in his household. The mixed multitude coming with Israel out of Egypt were also children of faith, because they were part of the church in the wilderness. So also in the New Testament we see people from other nations coming to the place of faith in Christ. These too are “children” of Abraham in that same sense, and they share equal citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
This forms the context of Moses’ statement about the seventy persons who had become a multitude by the time Israel was ready to enter the Promised Land. The topic is really about God being the Father of many nations.