Thursday, December 9

The Star of Bethlehem

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read about an elusive star that leads the wise men to the town where the Messiah was born - and to where He was staying after his birth. It was this very star that led the kings, who were also astronomers and astrologists, as the two once went hand in hand, that led them to believe this was the fulfillment of prophecy. (Photo credit to: Saint Benedict's Table)

We often see specials and documentaries on channels such as National Geographic or the Discovery Channel that try to provide an explanation for what this was. Indeed, there have been many attempts made to explain the Christmas Star over the past two thousand years. Some say it may have been a comet or perhaps a bright star, other say it could have been a dying supernova, which would have produced a very bright light in the skies, while yet others infer it may have been the planet Venus, a meteor shower, the aurora borealis (which is the Northern Lights), or even two planets that were in conjunction that would produce a very bright glow.

The wise men, astronomers and kings from Mesopotamia and Persia, were students of the night sky who, night after night, search the heavens for signs - they used astrology. Regardless of how they came about finding or understanding the star, their final destination was Bethlehem - where they delivered the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These men were prophesied about in Psalm 72: 10, "May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him with gifts."

It has been suggested that the wise men followed the star based on the prophecy regarding a star that would herald the birth of the Messiah found in Numbers 2:17, "I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh; there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel..." This was a prophecy of Balaam.

If the Star was a supernova, this would not fit the Biblical view. Why? King Herod inquired of the wise men where they had seen the star appear. If it had been a supernova, it would have been quite noticeable. It is the same for a comet - it would have been noticeable to all who gazed on the night sky. Also, a comet would not move and stay over where Christ had been born as the Star of Bethlehem had. (Matthew 2:9)

For the star to have been a celestial and natural object used for supernatural purposes, it would have been something that would amaze the magi (wise men) yet not attract the attention of King Herod. Some suggest a conjunction, as aforementioned. Though rare, there were several that occurred around the time of the birth of Christ. A conjunction occurs when a planet passes another planet - or a star, backs up, passes yet again, and proceeds to reverse direction and pass a third time. Again, though rare, these have occurred.

Once such conjunction occurred around 7 BC, it was a triple conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn. There was also a triple conjunction of the star Regulus (a very bright star) and Jupiter around 3 BC - closer to Christ's birth. (Estimated at 4/3 BC) If a conjunction announced the birth of Christ, there would only be one issue - the Star is described as a single star, not a conjunction - and the astronomers would have known about this.

There was, however, one, only one - conjunction around 2 BC that could be called a "star." In this year, Venus and Jupiter moved so close together that they appeared as one bright star. This would have been perceived as a sign to the wise men. This does not fully fit the biblical account, however: Matthew 2:2, 9 record that the wise men saw the star upon entering Jerusalem - as well as after the meeting with Herod, ultimately leading to Bethlehem. The issue? This merger only occurred on the night of June 17, 2 BC.

As astronomer and astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle of Answers in Genesis so rightly points out, "God can use natural law to accomplish His will. In fact, the laws of nature are really just descriptions of the way that God normally upholds the universe and accomplishes his will. But God is not bound by natural law; He is free to act in other ways if He so chooses. The Bible records a number of occasions where God has acted in a seemingly unusual way to accomplish and extraordinary purpose." (The New Answers Book 2, Ch. 18, pg. 181)

What was the purpose of the Christmas Star? It alerted the wise men about the Birth of the Messiah - which prompted them to follow suite with a trip to Jerusalem. Before we go further, as I mentioned in a previous entry, the wise men did not find Jesus the night of his birth, contrary to popular belief. They actually found a young Jesus living with Mary and Joseph in a house in Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:11) He was most likely over a year old.

It is believed though, that Jesus was about two years old - as King Herod tried to have all male children killed to prevent the Messiah from growing up. (Matthew 2:16) It seems as if the Star didn't guide the wise men the entire journey. How do we know this? Though it guided them at first, they had asked King Herod where the baby was born. (Matthew 2:2) But after the meeting, the star seems to re-appear, and they follow it to Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:10)

The wise men already knew that Christ was in Bethlehem - the star seems to have led them to the exact house. They had learned about Bethlehem through Herod's priests, who quoted Micah 5:2, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathath, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will rule over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Matthew 2:4-5, 8)

Michael R. Molnar, and astronomer and author of the book The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi, concludes that his research as well as the research of many others all come to the same conclusion regarding the qualities of the Star. They are as follows: 1) It signified birth, 2) it signified kingship, 3) it had a connection to the Jews, 4) it rose on the east, just as other stars do (rotation of the earth factored in), 5) it appeared at a specific time, 6) Herod did not know when it appeared, 7) it was there for some time, 8) it stayed ahead of the wise men as they traveled south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and 9) the Star stopped over Bethlehem.

Regardless of how much scientific or plausible explanations are thrown out there, or how it was done, God used this Star of Bethlehem to indicate something that would glorify him - and at the same time, would save us all: the Star heralded the Birth of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Troy Hillman

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the info, it helped me write my paper over the Bethlehem Star. No I did not copy but I used and quoted the bible verses. I added this site as my resource. Thank you for the info.