Thursday, October 22, 2015

What was the "star" of Bethlehem?


I read with interest the research by Colin Nicholl regarding Mr Nicholl's new book, The Great Christ Comet, reviewed by Tim Challies. Apparently the book is a scholarly journey into discovering what the star was which guided the magi after Christ's birth. Speculations over the years have leaned toward an astronomical event ranging from a planetary conjunction, to a comet, to a nova. Others have speculated that it was some kind of natural phenomenon. Mr Nicholl's conclusion was that the "star" was likely a comet.

I am not a scholar and I am not an astronomer. I may be displaying my great ignorance just by commenting on this topic. However I would like to humbly plunge ahead, and propose that the "star" which led the Magi from the east to Christ's home could have been an angel.

I suggest this as a possibility to be seriously considered, for the following reasons. First, let's read the pertinent verses (of which there are not many) beginning in Matthew 2:1-2,

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

We read further in Matthew 2:9-10, that

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

The very name 'angel' in Hebrew is malak which means messenger, and in the Greek it's aggelos which means the same. The greatest news the world has ever known or will know is the news of Jesus Christ, so it makes sense that God would use an angel to herald Christ's birth to the Magi. God used an angel to tell Zechariah of the coming birth of the forerunner to the Messiah, John the Baptist. He used an angel to tell Mary (Luke 1:30) she would conceive by the Holy Spirit. He used an angel to tell Joseph not to divorce Mary and also to warn Joseph in a dream of the danger to the baby. (Matthew 1:20, Matthew 2:13) He used angels to tell the shepherds that Christ was born. (Luke 2:9). Given that angels were heavily involved as messengers to tell the good news of Christ's birth, it makes sense He would use the same method to tell the Magi, as well.

Secondly, angels are formidable, powerful beings. They possess intellect, will, and strength. The holy angels carry out the will of God, including agents of His judgment. Look at some biblical examples of how powerful angels are:

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. (Revelation 7:1)

saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. (Revelation 9:14-15, these are unholy angels, but being angels, they are still incredibly powerful).

One angel in Revelation 14:6-7 is so powerful that he flies around the earth at mid-heaven to proclaim the eternal Gospel to all who live on the earth with his loud voice.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, (Revelation 19:17).

By these examples we know the power of angels, and that they can and do supersede 'the natural order' when God wills. If they can hold back the winds of earth, fly in midheaven around the planet, and stand on the sun, it makes sense that angels can also appear in the sky and shine a light bright enough to guide Magi across the desert.

Third, angels are called 'stars' in the bible. It is one of their nicknames. In Job 38:7 we read that all the stars shouted for joy when God made the world, and stars could either mean the actual stars or more probably, it was the angels shouted for joy at being witness to this stupendous act of God.

In Rev 12:4 we read that satan drew 1/3 of the 'stars of heaven' down with him to sin and rebellion against God, and a parallel to that is in Daniel 8:10, where the 'little horn' grew great and drew some of the 'starry host' down to earth. Revelation 1:20 tells us that the stars in context are angels:

As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

However the verse from Daniel 8:10 and Revelation 1:20 are disputed. The angels referred to as stars in Revelation could also mean the pastors of those churches.

Fourth, if the star that moved purposely in the sky was an angel, it would solve the issue that arises with a planet normally maintaining an orbit, or a comet maintaining a trajectory. The star in Matthew did move in a way that was distinct from any known planetary object. It moved before the men and came to rest at the place the LORD intended for it to rest, above Jesus' house.

So we have learned that angels have a function in the bible from Genesis to Revelation as messenger, are powerful enough to stay in the sky and guide men, are frequently referred to as "stars" in the Bible, and are used intensely in the events surrounding Christ's birth. These are just some of my ideas as to the mysterious object in the sky leading the Magi to the place where our precious Savior dwelled in his earliest days on earth. I could be extremely wrong, but I thought I'd throw my two cents into the pot.


9 comments :

  1. I too read the Challies article on the comet book. I definitely would like to read that book, and like Tim I would be interested in hearing from someone in the field of astronomy to check the work and see if its solid.
    Jennifer

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    1. like astronomy, I took it in college, and I enjoy living where there is little ambient light and the astronomical objects are on nightly display.

      I am sure that the man who wrote the book is as Challies said, scholarly on the subject. I may be off on this, and certainly no disrespect intended to the author, but for Bible matters I don't believe that gaining educational degrees and spending time studying something OUTSIDE of the bible helps us to gain insight to issues IN the Bible. I realize that studying history does help us learn about the empire of Persia, for example, or the history behind the 7 churches in their respective 7 cities. But I don't think knowing astronomy is going to help explain the Star. I think the Bible will help explain the star.

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    2. You have a very good point. And I think your angel theory is a good one. I've long fell into the camp of supernatural phenomena (GOD) to explain the star. But the comet book sounds interesting.
      Jennifer

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  2. Considering the likely large time difference (up to 2 years) between when the magi saw the star to start their journey to arriving in Jerusalem as well as the very mobile nature of the 'star' (above the house) I don't really see how this could be fully explained by any natural celestial event.
    In my opinion, Christians who are always looking for some type of natural event to explain the 'star' are attempting to prove the story of Christ through worldly evidence or to determine the timing of the event. They may be doing more harm than good when their evidence, regardless of the pedigree of the author, is dis-proven or dismissed for not aligning with astronomical or even Scriptural evidence.
    Why diminish the super-natural abilities of God? Yes, God uses natural events to perform super-natural results (world-wide flood, parting the Red Sea, an awfully sturdy donkey jawbone), but he steps into the super-natural when He feels (the 3 surviving in a kiln, a floating ax, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove or flames of fire).
    The 'star' could be the Holy Spirit, but you are spot-on in noting the angel/star reference.
    God may very well have chosen to create some type of natural event, but it didn't need to be one, so these types of studies are wasted on me.
    Dwight

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    1. Thanks, Dwight. Good point abut the length of time between the birth and the arrival of the Magi. It made me think also of the length of time ti actually took for the magi "from the east" (likely Persia) to make the journey of 800-900 miles. Probably months. Would a comet hang around in the sky for 3 months? A planetary conjunction?...

      John MacArthur thinks it's the Shekinah glory of God that led them. In any case, I liked your point about Christians who look to worldly evidence.

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  3. Nothing new here for me. My dad, a humble, ordinary Christian who loves his bible, always said he thought the star was an angel. He uses the same verses you do. I've always wondered why more people don't seriously consider it. It makes more sense to mebut then I've heard it all my life!

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  4. I agree that it was an angel, or if not, something else quite miraculous. The problem with any astronomical object is that anything natural cannot "rest" over Bethlehem, as you point out above, unless it were in geosynchronous orbit. Furthermore, even if something were in geosynchronous orbit, that's 22,000 miles from Earth's surface. At that distance, how could anyone say that the star "rested" over Bethlehem, and not over, say Jerusalem. To be so specific in directing the wise men, considering the angles involved, it could not have been more than around 30 miles from the Earth's surface, and probably a lot closer, or else the possible region under the star would have been too big and indistinct, considering angles. It mystifies me why anyone would not see these objections, unless they have an axe to grind to deny the supernatural.
    Bill K.

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  5. I really enjoyed reading this and agree an angel makes much more sense to me. I have been thinking a lot about this star coming up to Christmas and about how almost 50 years ago when I was at school we always drew Christmas pictures with lots of small stars and then the "big star" as the finishing touch. If you saw a big star with little stars then you automatically associated it with the star of Bethlehem. How sad that this generation of children will most likely associate the brightest and biggest star with...Iggle piggle in the night garden. I watch it with the grandchildren but cringe every time that big star goes up into the night sky.The star and rainbow both hijacked!!

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