googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Matthew 2: The Star of Bethlehem

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Matthew 2: The Star of Bethlehem

This Christmas season, you may have heard that old hymn:

“We three kings of orient are
“Bearing gifts, we’ve traveled so far.
“Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
“Following yonder star.”

We’re all familiar with the coming of the wise men described in Matthew 2. In our minds, we usually picture three kings riding on camels, traveling by night, looking up at an especially bright star. I believe this common perception is completely wrong. There has been much speculation about what the Star really was. It just so happens that I have my own theory as well.

Some people have speculated that the Star was an astronomical phenomenon like a nova or a certain arrangement of the planets. These certainly could have caused a bright and unusual “star” to appear. Along those same lines, others suggest it was a comet. They then use the dates of known astronomical events to estimate the time of Jesus’ birth. But I believe any natural, astronomical event could not possibly explain the details given in Matthew. For example, how can anyone “follow” a star? The earth rotates so a star in the east in the evening will be in the west by the morning – all except for the North Star, but the wise men weren’t heading north.

There are theologians who suspect the star was similar to the pillar of fire that led the children of Israel (Exodus 13:21). This is far more likely than any astronomical phenomenon but I don’t think it quite explains everything. For example, if they were following a pillar of fire, why did they end up in the wrong city (Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem) asking where the King was? If they were following a pillar of fire, it should have led them right to Him. Besides, the Bible doesn’t even say they followed the star. The magi told Herod, “we have seen His star in the east.”

Here then is my theory. The “star” is actually an angel. The angel appeared to the wise men in the east and announced the birth of Jesus to them in the same way the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in Luke 2:10. When the angel announced the birth to the shepherds, the shepherds said, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” I believe the magi would have said the same thing - only the magi thought the “city of David” (Luke 2:11) was Jerusalem while the shepherds would have known it was Bethlehem.

The shepherds were in the same country and were able to visit Jesus the same night of His birth. The wise men traveled for 2 years to see the Savior the angel had told them about. When they arrived in Jerusalem they said, “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) Now this took Herod completely by surprise. The Bible says that Herod, “when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared (Matthew 2:7). Isn’t that curious? It seems to me if this were truly an astronomical event, everyone in the world would have seen this star. Yet Herod acted like he didn’t even know what they were talking about.

The Jewish scholars had told Herod the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:4-6) so he sent the wise men there. He told them that when they find the Child, come and tell him where He was so that he could come worship Him (Matthew 2:8). Of course, Herod was intending to kill Him instead. But again, couldn’t Herod have just sent his soldiers to follow the star once the magi had pointed it out to him? This further suggests, to me, there was no star in the sky that they were following.

Matthew 2:9-10 says, “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” So, after they left Herod, the angel appeared to the magi again. When they saw it, they were extremely glad. This clearly suggests they had not seen the star since it had appeared to them in the east. And further, it came and stood directly over the house where Jesus was. There is no way a comet or nova could point out an individual house.

The last detail given about the wise men says that God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod and so they returned to their country by another way (Matthew 2:12). But the next verse says that Joseph also was warned by the angel of the Lord to take the Child and escape to Egypt because Herod was about to kill Him. I believe the same angel had warned the wise men and that it was this angel that had led them to Jesus in the first place.

I believe that if the “star” were an angel it explains the details in Matthew very well. In Revelation 1:20, there are seven angels which are represented by seven stars so there is Scriptural evidence of angels being called stars. Of course, I can’t be dogmatic about what this particular star was; Instead, I only suggest it as food for thought. I may not be exactly sure how God made the birth of the Son known to the wise men, but I believe the message delivered by the angel to the shepherds was meant for all of us:

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Have a Merry Christmas!


Pigtail2015 said...

Appears to me that if you were in the East traveling West you would be following a star in the WEST.
The soft glow of a star covers thousands of square miles, so how could it be a pointer to a specific area of geography? Pigtail 2014

RKBentley said...


As I said in the post, the Bible doesn't even say they “followed” the star. It only says they were in the East when they saw the star. I don't believe the Magi saw the star anymore until after they met with Herod (Matthew 2:9-10). There it says, “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” It seems to me the star which had appeared to them in the East, appeared again and showed them the house where the child was.

I don't believe the star was an astronomical body at all but was an angel who announced the birth of Jesus to the magi the same way angels announced His birth to the shepherds.

Thank you for your comments. Please keep visiting.

God bless!!