One of the best known stories from the Bible is the Wise Men from the East coming to worship Jesus at his birth. Three of the common questions about this are: Who were they? What was the star they saw? And how did they know what it meant when they saw it?
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, 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.
Note that different from the common interpretation, rather than following a star to Jerusalem, they saw a star in the East and traveled West to Jerusalem. Also understand that while the Jews were under the capitivity in Babylon, several hundered years earlier, the prophet Daniel was highly respected by king Nebuchadnezzar. After Daniel not only recounted but explained a dream that Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t even remember, the book of Daniel 2:46-48 tells us…
Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him. The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret. Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon.
So Daniel was given a high place among the wise men of Babylon, this would include the Babylonian astrologers. During this period in Babylon Daniel was also given his prophecy regarding the 69 weeks, which better than 450 years ahead of time, pinpointed when the Messiah would be crucified. That prophecy made it into the Jewish scriptures as a warning to the religious powers of the day. They ignored it. Yet there is no reason to believe that he wasn’t given other prophetic insights that he may have given to the Babylonian astrologers regarding the birth of the Messiah. I think they saw what they were told to look for, and didn’t ignore it. So what might they have been watching for, and when did they see it? I think it was the Scepter of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah rising with the Sun, and I think they saw it in August of 2BC.
At that time there was an amazing conjunction of four planets in the constellation of Leo. Jupiter, Mars and Mercury aligned precisely, with Venus set off a little distance. Here’s an animation that shows how the planets converged over a one week period, between August 19th and 25th.
So what does this figurative scepter signify? Jupiter is the brightest planet in the night sky. The Romans called it Zeus and it is generally seen as being supreme among the planets. Mars signifies strength in battle. Mercury is known for it’s speed. And Venus, the Bright, Morning Star is at the handle of the scepter.
Here’s what it looked like rising with the sun on August 25th of 2BC. The planets are a bit out of scale and It probably doesn’t really look like much to you. But it almost certainly looked amazing to an ancient astronomer, especially if someone told them it was going to happen more than 450 years ahead of time.
A predicted sign such as that would certainly be enough to cause the Magi to saddle up and go to Jerusalem. They didn’t need a star to point the way. They knew where Jerusalem was, and they went to the king of Jerusalem because they thought that’s where they would find the young prince. Yet news of this child surprised King Herod, and he had to look to the scripture to figure out where the prophetic King would be born. The Wise Men were told to look for Jesus in Bethlehem, and were sent on their way.
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.
A few things to note here. In all of these verses the word ‘star’ is translated from the Greek word ‘aster’ and can be understood as being either literal or figurative. Where the verse says ‘the star which they saw in the East went before them,’ I tend to believe this is speaking figuratively, especially since they ‘rejoiced with exceeding great joy’ at seeing it. Folks don’t usually get worked up like that for what they’ve seen before. This was a different sort of star. The Moon is the closest heavenly body to the Earth and if it ‘stood over where the young child was’ it would be standing over every kid for ten thousand square miles. This second star was something supernatural. It was close to the Earth and able to lead someone on a local basis. Though it would also have to be figuratively similar to the planetary conjunction they saw earlier in the East. This second star would have to figuratively embody the scepter with three lights signifying strength, speed and supremecy with the Bright and Morning Star at the handle. As near as I can figure, it would’ve looked something like this.
If you can understand what God’s doing, you realize he does it exactly as it should be done. If he wants to capture the attention of astrologers, he’ll move stuff around in the sky. Once he’s got their attention he’ll lead them to where he needs them to be. And in the end they will know, he alone is God.
At least that’s what I think!
All graphics created with free open-source programs.
Available for all platforms.
Stellarium planetarium @ stellarium.org
The GIMP image manipulation @ gimp.org
Inkscape vector graphics editor @ inkscape.org
Used one free stock image from Stock.xchng here