Genesis 48:3-4 - "'I will make you a community of peoples ..."

Jacob said to Joseph, "God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me, 'I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.'" (Genesis 48:3-4)

Why is Jacob telling this to Joseph?

Jacob has become ill, and Joseph came to his bedside:
Some time later Joseph was told, "Your father is ill." So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. When Jacob was told, "Your son Joseph has come to you," Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed. (Genesis 48:1-2)
Whether we accept that Joseph is also Jacob's physical son, Joseph is visiting Jacob as a student. This is why Jacob begins to detail an appearance of the Supreme Being.

As discussed with earlier texts, this text is odd when translated and interpreted to be a father-son relationship combined with some sort of land inheritance.

As for land inheritance, we know that this actually never came to pass. The scribes that put forth this thesis that God was granting Abraham and Jacob and their direct descendants a bunch of dry, barren famine-ridden desert is contradicted by history.

Joseph's descendants did not inherit any lands in Canaan. This land was successively conquered over the centuries by the Persians, the Greeks (Alexander the Great), the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Romans, the French and other Europeans over the centuries. These armies made sure that no one had any land inheritance, because these conquerors successively governed and controlled the land with an iron fist. Some of them - such as the Babylonians - actually exiled the Israelites from these lands.

If one wants to romanticize that some quasi-descendants of Abraham came to control modern Israel, well, that is certainly a reach. The country of Israel is a democracy and the population is composed of various peoples from around the world, including about a quarter Arab. Israel is not a monarchy controlled by a descendant of Abraham. It is a democracy and therefore governed by virtue of democratic elections and representatives.

Yes, a majority of the Israeli population follow the Jewish faith. But that doesn't mean they are descendants of Abraham. The Israeli population is composed of people from around the world.

If the land was not governed and controlled by Jacob's descendants, then they were never actually given that land. If they were given the land, then this land would be privately owned or divided up by the actual family members of this family.

But that is not what happened. They never owned or controlled that mostly-barren desert land, and still do not to this day.

Even Jerusalem was not retained by Abraham's descendants. Jerusalem was captured by outsider conquerors 44 times, and besieged 23 times. And today the city is divided into four quarters. These are:
-The Jewish quarter
-The Muslim quarter
-The Amenian quarter
-The Christian quarter

Therefore, not even Jerusalem has been owned and controlled by Abraham's and Jacob's descendants. Therefore, they were never given this land by God. See below to find out what Abraham and Jacob - and Joseph - were being given. Let's understand the topic of the discussion first:

What is the meaning of 'fruitful' here?

The word "fruitful" here comes from the Hebrew word פרה (parah). This means not only "to bear fruit" but also to "branch off."

Certainly this word is being used metaphorically, as human beings do not have branches nor do fruit grow off of us.

However, to assume that the term "bearing fruit" means having children is making an assumption well beyond the common use of the phrase, both in normal speech and in speech pertaining to spiritual topics.

A person "bears fruit" when they are productive. This may include, but does not require having children in order to be productive. And the context of this discussion - especially relating to discussions between God and His loving servants - being productive means passing on His teachings (the "Truth") to others. It means changing peoples hearts.

This is confirmed by Jesus as he discussed being "fruitful" with his disciples:
"This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:8)
and
"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you." (John 15:16)
Jesus is clearly identifying that bearing fruit has nothing to do with having a big family, as most of his students here were in fact single and celibate. Jesus is talking about spreading his teachings to others. He confirms this later in this same discussion:
"And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning." (John 15:27)
To "testify" is clearly referring to passing on what Jesus taught them to others. Jesus is indicating that they should be clear on his teachings since they have been following him from the beginning of his missionary work.

Why would Jesus have a different meaning for the same word as used by God? Jesus was God's representative - so we can certainly derive its meaning from Jesus' teachings.

Certainly they were both using "bearing fruit" metaphorically. But we must understand that when a tree gives fruit it is not the same as procreation. A fruit is not a little tree. A fruit is something the tree produces - and used for food. The seeds within the fruit can be planted to yield another tree. But the fruit is not another tree.

This is confirmed by the fact that פרה (parah) also refers to "branching off." When a person "branches off" it means that they are passing something on to others outside of himself. They are reaching out to others.

And this is exactly what occurred among the Israelites. We find many instances in the Old Testament where the term is applied not to some incestual family - but to a group of people who fervently followed the teachings of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and other Prophets - all representatives of God who bore "fruit" by passing those teachings on to others.

Why are these Prophets so popular and respected even to this day? Because they went out ("branched out") and bore fruit by passing on God's teachings to others. This is why they are so famous - not because they each had a bunch of kids.

This is confirmed in these verses:
The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt. Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:5-7)
Here we see the contrast between the number of family members and the number of Israelites. The number of Israelites were able to expand quickly (contrasting only 70 family members) because the definition of an Israelite is not what family they were born from - but whether they followed the teachings of Jacob (Israel). If they followed his teachings - loving and worshiping the Supreme Being - they were considered a follower of Israel - an Israelite.

In other words, they 'increased in numbers' because more and more people began to follow the teachings of Abraham and Jacob. They were not necessarily all from the same family.

Were all the Prophets related?

To assume that all the Prophets were in the same family is also erroneous. Was Joshua the son of Moses? No. Was Samuel the son of Eli? Was David the son of Samuel or Saul? No. The lineage being discussed is a lineage of teachings - not an incestual family.

"I will make you a community of peoples" refers to the coming broad acceptance of Jacob's teachings by many followers, which would form a large swath of people from different areas, all who worshiped God by following Jacob's teachings and the teachings of his students.

And as far as giving away land - we've discussed this previously at length. The Supreme Being does not give land to temporary physical bodies or groups of temporary physical bodies.

If God gave Jacob's descendants land, why could they not be able to control it over the centuries? Because God didn't give them land. God is not a land-grant office. God maintains ownership and control of all lands. Humans cannot truly own land because our bodies are not permanent. These physical bodies are incapable of retaining control over anything in the physical world. Our bodies live for a few years and then die, and then become part of the land as they decompose.

So what was God giving to Jacob then?

The word ארץ ('erets) is being translated to "land" here. But the word has many other possible translations, including "whole earth," "earth (as opposed to heaven)," "country," "territory," "district," "region," "tribal territory," "ground," "soil," "land of the living" and many others.

It is only practical that God would be discussing a particular region on the earth as one might discuss a territory of a sales person: "This is your territory." It doesn't mean the person owns that region. It simply means that specific to their duty - here passing on the teachings of God - God can assign a territory.

We can also know within the context of this statement by God regarding being fruitful that Jacob will have many followers, we can know that God is discussing that Jacob's teachings will reach far and wide. Jacob will followers all over the world, or in the immediate term, throughout the region. But we also know his teachings will be spread through the generations throughout the world.

This is because Jacob was "fruitful": he was a missionary, and so were his students.

This is confirmed when the Pharaoh asked Jacob how old he was:
"The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers." (Genesis 47:9)
A 'pilgrimage' refers to being a missionary. Here the Hebrew word מגור (maguwr) - which can refer to a lifetime, also refers to temporary quarters, and thus traveling, and in the case of Jacob, Isaac and Abraham - traveling and preaching. They were missionaries.

Consider this statement:
So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. (Genesis 46:1)
and
Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother. (Genesis 35:5-7)

Yes, Jacob was a missionary. He was guided by the Supreme Being to move to new places and pass on the word of God to others. He built temples in different places. He had many followers.

What about the land then? Either we accept that the Supreme Being promised to Jacob something He couldn't deliver, or the transcription/translation is incorrect.

Many believe the former. They just think that somehow God lost control over those lands. Many think the so-called "devil" is battling God and won over the land - taken it from God's people or something.

This is not true. The Supreme Being is always in control. He never loses control over anything. If He really gave Jacob land then Jacob would not have had to even go to Egypt in the first place. If God gave Jacob and his descendants land "as an everlasting possession" then that land would have never been divided and conquered by others over the centuries.

What is being discussed is the fact that God is granting Jacob and those who follow him - עולם אחזה - a spiritual inheritance - a place for them in the spiritual realm.

Many have in fact interpreted promises of "land" by God as being some kind of "promised land" But as we see played out in the Bible, there was no 'promised land' on the earth.

Anyway, giving such a barren and famine-ridden land would be more of a curse than a gift. What kind of gift is a war-torn piece of barren land in the desert? Is this really a "promised land?"

This assumption is ridiculous, and it is obvious that such an interpretation is intended to claim rights to certain lands.

The correct interpretation is that the Supreme Being is promising those who use their physical lifetimes to worship Him and serve Him that they will be able to return to the spiritual realm after their physical lifetimes are over. He is promising them a return to the spiritual realm.

This is confirmed by the use of the words עולם (`owlam) and אחזה ('achuzzah) at the end of God's statement. אחזה ('achuzzah) refers to an inheritance of a place or abode, while עולם (`owlam) refers to "everlasting, indefinite or unending future, eternity."

And since we know there was no eternal giving of any land to Jacob - as his body died shortly after detailing this to Joseph - this is obviously referring to the spiritual realm - the eternal world where there is no death.

This inheritance of the spiritual realm refers not only to Jacob, but Jacob's followers in the future. This is confirmed by the word אחר ('achar) which relates to "after" or "behind" - referring to following.

This is proceeded by the word זרע (zera`). As we've discussed previously, this word refers to sowing - or seed. This is related to the passing on of the teachings - the origin of the word desemination - to pass on. This relates to those who have received the teachings - which relate to love for God and an eternal inheritance in the spiritual world.

As such, we can now offer a more appropriate translation of this verse:
"I am going to make you fruitful and increase your followers throughout the land. You will have a community of followers all over the world, and you and your followers will inherit the eternal abode." (Genesis 48:4)