THE MAGI AND THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM
Hello everyone! What a fine week this is as tomorrow we celebrate worldwide the birth of the Messiah, the Christ infant Jesus! I pray all is well with you and your families. I have been getting Christmas cards from dear friends from far away. That is one of the best things about Christmas...all the new news!
Speaking of news from far away...where exactly did the three wise men come from? Well as we discussed last week, the star that led the magi was one of the supernatural acts of God for it must have been an atmospheric phenomenon (see last weeks discussion) perceived as a celestial phenomenon. So how did the wise men know to look for such a sign from heavens at that time? It seems these three magi must “...have had some knowledge of the scriptures since the prophet Daniel had also lived in that region centuries earlier. Perhaps the magi were expecting a new star to announce the birth of Christ from reading Numbers 24:17, which describes a star coming from Jacob and a King (“Scepter”) from Israel.”1
|map for Answers in Genesis|
So now the question becomes, where was the position of the Bethlehem star? Matthew 2:1 states “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.” Since the bible states “...we have seen his star in the east…” (Mat 2:2), does it mean when they first saw the star it was in the east . Or does it mean that the magi themselves where “...in the east…” (say in Persia or the orient) when they first saw the star? If the star really was in the east while the three wise men were still in the east, why did they travel west?
Well, scripture actually only says that the star went before them on the journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (the house of Christ). Perhaps at first the star was just a sign to get their attention and did not guide them. If that was the case it would only be logical for the magi to start their search in Jerusalem since Numbers 24:17 states a King would come from Israel.
“But there is another interesting possibility. The Greek phrase translated in the east can also be translated at its rising. The expression can be used to refer to the east since all normal stars rise in the east (due to earth’s rotation). But the Christmas star may have been a supernatural exception⎯rising in the west over Bethlehem (which from the distance of Persia would have been indistinguishable form Jerusalem). The wise men would have recognized such a unique rising. Perhaps they took it as a sign the the prophecy of Numbers 24:7 was fulfilled since the star quite literally rose from Israel.”2
Also scripture indicates that the star wasn’t visible and guiding them when the wise men reached Jerusalem; Matthew 2:2a gives us the clue; “[the magi said] Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” So it seems the star had stopped guiding them at this point but later when they began their travels to Bethlehem it reappeared; “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” (Matthew 2:10). “After the magi had met with Herod, the star went on before them to the Bethlehem region and stood over the location of Jesus. It seems to have led them to the very house that Jesus was in⎯not just the city.
There is something else to clear up about the magi. Christmas tradition puts the three wise men arriving at the manger just after Jesus’ birth. But scripture tells us that they found Jesus as a child, not an infant, living in His house. Listen to Matthew 2:11; “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.” this is also supported by Matthew 2:16 that states “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.” These are two important verses in scripture because shortly after the magi left Mary and Joseph, God called the little family to move to Egypt. The move and readjustment to living in a different country would have been possible with the newly acquired gifts to trade and live off until they could get established. Our Lord thinks of everything, right up to creating an atmospheric manifestation through His power in the form of a illuminated phenomenon that appeared as a star and made it possible for the magi to determine which house was directly beneath it. God used remarkable means for this very extraordinary purpose.
Maybe we will all look at Christmas just a little different from now on. When our Lord delivered His gift of the incarnation of His son, He gave it in the most phenomenal wrapping ever!
Until next time,
1-2, and in general, Ham, Ken, The New Answers Book 2, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2012, pp 179-184.