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, 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.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matt 2:1-6 ESV)
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?
What the Bethlehem star was has been up for debate and discussion since the first century it appeared. Some of the astrological phenomenon put forth the following as an explanation: a nova, comet, triple conjunction, Jupiter or a custom-made heavenly event. Some have stated that it was the Shekinah glory of God leading the wise men. I think the last explanation makes the most sense, because the star had led them from the east to Jerusalem, where they inquired about King of the Jews, and then it reappeared and led them to be specifically where the child was. That’s a lot of twists and turns for a natural phenomenon. Shekinah glory also makes further sense in that, in the Old Testament it was always the physical manifestation of the visible presence of God. And if the son of God was born in Bethlehem, then why not the Shekinah glory of God to mark and proclaim his birth?
Looking at this passage in Matthew, there are very few specifics regarding the star and we are left wondering when did it lead them? How long did it lead them? If the wise men were from Babylon or Persia, their trek could’ve taken 50 to 60 days following the star in the West. So how long was the star in the sky? We don’t know. What we also don’t know is, why didn’t any of the locals notice it? It took the arrival of some foreigners to get the attention of the local government. After consulting his scholars, Herod found out about the prophecy regarding Bethlehem and shared it with the Magi.
The Magi left Herod, again saw the star in Jerusalem, which then led them specifically to where Christ was. That’s when Matthew tells us, “When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!” (2:10 NLT) It’s sad to think that the only people who were filled with joy at this point were some foreigners. Chief priests and scribes should’ve been thrilled — but they weren’t. It’s obvious Herod wasn’t, since he didn’t want to lose his job. But it also says all Jerusalem was troubled as well. But prophecy is being fulfilled, and they had not heard from the Lord in over 400 years! Why was this not a matter of joy? And why didn’t they see the star?
I suppose we could talk about hearts being closed off, being too busy with normal everyday life and just not caring about God’s prophecy — I mean after all, it was probably 400 years too late. But don’t let their mistakes become your mistakes. Keep your heart open to what God is doing. And you know what, there’s still plenty of prophecy to be filled, not the least of which is Christ’s return. What brings you hope and joy this Christmas?
Want to go deeper? Dr. Ray Bohlin of Probe Ministries has a great article on the Bethlehem Star.
Missed yesterday’s post? Read about what happened on Earth the day Jesus was born.