In the dark of night, in a Bethlehem sky, 2013 years ago, a phenomena appeared that many have spoken of but very few have understood. Usually referred to as the ‘Bethlehem Star’, some astronomers in modern times in an attempt to accommodate the event into their understanding, have referred to it as a ‘supernova’ 1 or a very hot and expanding star, usually in the end of its ‘star life’ which provides an illuminating and dramatic occurrence in the night sky.
Yet within scripture, there is little evidence to support just exactly what the ‘star’ was, or why so many were sure, even in foreign lands and different religions, that it heralded the most important birth on earth: that of the Messiah, or the Meschiach of Israel. One of the most faith-affirming aspects of the account of the nativity, or birth of Christ the Messiah is that most of the events of the birth are found prophesied in the Old Testament, or ‘Tenach’. We see the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah in passages such as Micah 5:2 and in Psalm…
: But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Micah 5:2
I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, Unitl I find out a place for the LORD, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob. Lo, we heard of it at Ephratha: we found it in the fields of the wood. Psalm 132:4-6
The place of Yshua’s birth, (Jesus) was to be in Bethlehem Ephratha, precisely, and would be a ‘habitation for the mighty God of Jacob’ denoting the incarnation, Christ’s divine nature at birth. We also see the pronouncement of the birth of the one to be called, Prince of Peace in such passages as Isaiah 9: and 11
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall beno end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. Isaiah 9:6-7
And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious. Is 11:10
Many other passages point to the timing of the birth, such as in the weeks of Daniel, and /or to the very fact of the coming Messiah, a promise which emanates from the Garden in the first moments after the Fall of Adam. (Gen 3:15) Most of the other passages referred to as ‘messianic prophecies’ deal with his characteristics, his ministry, and his forthcoming redemption of Israel. Regarding the nativity however, there are direct mentions of his lowly birth, his incarnation, and his birth from a virgin (the incarnation: see God Made Man).
Whatever the Star was, there are a few things we are told of it:
1. It was a dramatic and expected phenomena, and it appears that people around the time knew it heralded the birth of the Messiah King of Israel
2. It directly shown on the place of his birth
3. ‘Magi’ , presumably Chaldeans and what are described as Kings from other lands used the Star to navigate their way to the manger.
The dramatic phenomenon
The timing of the appearance of the Star is not certain, and while it is not clear when it first appeared, it was its appearance in the sky that brought the wise men from afar, though some have reasoned that this was at a point of time after his birth, the gifts brought being not only the prophetic gifts pointing to the ‘tabernacle among men’ (frankincense, myrrh, gold) but also provided the means for the newborn King and family to escape from the hands of a vindictive king (Herod), and provide for the trip down into Egypt. We know it shown bright enough to be seen in distant lands,:
Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. Matthew 2:2
Here the interesting point is the distance from which the star is seen: these stargazers from other countries, knew the mideastern skies: while they were of more ‘magical’ beliefs and practiced in the dark arts, the skies and charts of stars were known from old: men such as this were mentioned several times in the Old Testament, such as in Daniel in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar , or among those in Pharaoh’s courts, or ‘observers of times’ even in the courts of the Philistines. One category of ‘diviners’ or magicians were even referred to as ‘stargazers’- a seer or prophet of ‘stars’ which appears particularly to do with the Messiah. In Isaiah’s warnings to the nations, Babylon, or the ‘daughter of Babylon’ and her Chaldeans are rebuked for their practices as the reason for judgment:
Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. Is 47:13.
Yet in Mattew 2:2 perhaps the most interesting question that the Magi ask is “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? Christians often dismiss those of other nations and religions, because the uniqueness of Messiah causes us to reject all that is not of Christ, or Messiah: in other words, we see in the ‘Way the Truth and the Life’, no other ‘way, truth or life’. It is often the case though through history that while ‘all truth is god’s truth ‘ is not the case, that nonetheless it is often true that kernels of truth hide among versions of the truth: the Chaldeans had ‘prognosticators’ and seers: they looked to ways and events to predict the future, and here, somehow, they seemed to know that the time of Messiah was at hand and that this star was its harbinger. One thing many miss, is that when Daniel was in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar and his successors, he had available to him not only the books of sorcery he was forced to be schooled in, but the book of Jeremiah:
In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. Daniel 9:2.
This means that even at that time, around 583 bc, that the Chaldeans studied not only their own prophets but the prophets of Israel as well, and to those who are well acquainted with Jeremiah, the book is replete with Messianic prophecies.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earthIn his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Jeremiah 23:5-6
But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them. Jeremiah 30:9
Daniel additionally was told in a sealed prophecy more about the timing of the Messiah, which would have been available as well to the Chaldeans:
Consider the following from a site called
(Table by Bill Gordon, Calvary Chapel)
It is often the case as well that a prophet said far more than what was recorded in the complete canon of scripture: it was God’s determination what the prophet said, and what was recorded from it in his perfect will. While it may be a slight surmizing, no doubt it would have been possible, that Daniel was overheard more than once expounding or explicating the alreadly existing teachings about the Messiah. Nonetheless, there was still no prophecy regarding a star per se.
The Star Shows the Place of His Birth
Contemporary depictions of the manger scene usually show the star overhead at the manger, and it would appear, given the heavenly events of the night of his birth, that some strange happenings were occurring in the heavenlies.
to be continued.
___________________________________________________________________________ 1 Supernova- according to NASA: “(a)The death explosion of a massive star, resulting in a sharp increase in brightness followed by a gradual fading. At peak light output, these type of supernova explosions (called Type II supernovae) can outshine a galaxy. The outer layers of the exploding star are blasted out in a radioactive cloud. This expanding cloud, visible long after the initial explosion fades from view, forms a supernova remnant (SNR). (b) The explosion of a white dwarf which has accumulated enough material from a companion star to achieve a mass equal to the Chandrasekhar limit. These types of supernovae (called Type Ia) have approximate the same intrinsic brightness, and can be used to determine distances.” Imagine the Universe! Dictionary.” Imagine the Universe! Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Dec. 2013.