Magi the Wise Men

Was it a Star as We Understand Stars in the Heavens?


December 8, 2003

The Wise Men and the Star in the West!

Was it a Star as We Understand Stars in the Heavens?

Matthew 2:1-3 – 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, [2] 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. [3] When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

They were the Magi, the wise men, the descendents of their Magi forefathers who, some 600 years before the King of the Jews was born, had known Daniel and his teachings in the Kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. They had seen a new light in the east glowing in the western sky, and believed it to be a star, but not just a star, the symbol of the birth of a King, which the ancients thought announced a new Kings birth, and not just any King, but a King of Israel. Was what they saw really a new star in the high heavens that was millions of light years away? I would say they saw it low on the western horizon to have headed so specifically toward Israel, and any new light, seen twinkling so far away on the horizon, would have been called a star. But was it a star they saw? And how did they know it was the King of Israel that was born? There were other countries to the west of their position that had kings when the Magi first saw the star.

We know the prophet Daniel was in Babylonian captivity from the time of Nebuchadnezzar to King Cyrus of Persia, and that he was personally acquainted with the astrologers and the magicians, who made up the magi, the wise men of the kingdom.

Daniel 1:19-21 – And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. [20] And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king enquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm. [21] And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus.

And we also know that Daniel was placed over the Magi in the kingdom after he interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about a great statue.

Daniel 2:48 – 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.

We also know that Daniel had the first five books of the Old Testament because he quoted from them. We know he had Jeremiah’s writings because he quoted from him, and it is very likely he had the writings of the prophet Isaiah, who wrote some 100 years before his writings. And I seriously doubt that Daniel would not share with the descendants of Abraham these writings if they were willing to listen to them. I am confident that some of them did, and that they passed Daniel’s teachings on down through their descendants, who would also likely have been Magi through birth inheritance from their forefathers. So I am confident the Magi were familiar with Numbers 24:17.

Numbers 24:17 – I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.

They knew the Star from the loins of Jacob, who God gave the new name of Israel, had to be a King because the Sceptre was carried by a king as the symbol of his authority. And they knew this would be a very special King, probably from the writings of Isaiah, and what Daniel taught them concerning his coming and kingdom.

Isaiah 7:14 – Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:6,7 – For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. [7] Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Daniel 7:13,14 – I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. [14] And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

Once the wise men saw the star they had to prepare for their journey, which would be long and dangerous. To go from Babylon to Israel was not done by going west in a straight line, which is, of course, the shortest distance between two points. One did not even think of passing across the barren wasteland directly between Babylon and Israel. They would have trekked northwest on the eastern side of the Euphrates for safety reasons and to have a constant water supply, and probably attached their army to a larger caravan to provide safety from the many robber bands that plundered small parties of travelers. They would have followed the fertile crescent, going northwest up the Euphrates, then west through the Palmyra valleys, then south down the Jordan. Gathering up their people and possessions to accompany them, finding a caravan that was leaving for Israel, and the general preparations might have taken more than a month. And the journey itself, if unforeseen acts of fate occurred along the way, which they usually did, might have caused their arrival before Herod more than a year after they first saw the star. Once they saw the star they knew to head for Israel, and they did. They did not need to see the star every night. They simply told Herod “we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” It is probable they did not see the star after their first sighting, such that when they finally did reach Israel, where they knew the Israeli King would be born, they naturally went to the present King of Israel, who they thought would surely know where the new king was born. Although the Scriptures do not state it, it was only natural for them to assume Herod was his father, and that may have been the reason they came naturally to him.

We all know full well what happened after this, when the priests and scribes quoted Micah as to where Messiah was supposed to be born.

Micah 5:2 – But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

And we know that when the wise men departed from Herod, the star suddenly reappeared, probably for the first time since they had seen it more than a year before.

Matthew 2:9,10 – 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. [10] When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

If this star was high in the heavens they could not have known which house in the village it stood over. The star would have to have been low enough for them to be able to tell which house it stood over. It was a moving star, and “went before them.”

Now, please allow me to speculate, and I admit, it may not be correct, but it is something to think about. Angels are, at times, in the Scriptures, referred to as stars, as in Revelation 12:4, where one-third of the angels rebelled against God with Satan, and the heavenly one who comes to earth in Revelation 9:1 is labeled as a star.

Revelation 12:4 – And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.

Revelation 9:1 – And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.

Jesus refers to himself as the one who has sent the angel of the Lord to testify unto the churches, and then names himself as the morning star in Revelation 22:16, and calls himself the morning star in Revelation 2:28,29.

Revelation 22:16 – I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

Revelation 2:28,29 – And I will give him the morning star. [29] He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

When the ancients saw a new light appear in the heavens they referred to it as a star. Although I cannot say with certainty if what I am about to suggest is true, it is a very interesting possibility that does not violate the linguistics of the Bible. The Hebrew word for star is “kowkab,” which, according to Strong’s Dictionary of Words found in the Old Testament, means “a heap of blazing,” hence “a star (as round or as shinning).” The ancients would have identified a heap of blazing in the sky on a distant horizon as a star. They saw it on the night of the Kings birth, so what do I think they saw – They saw the light of the glory of his birth manifested in the heavens on the distant western horizon as a round ball of light, which they would have called a star.

Luke 2:7-14 – And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. [8] And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. [9] And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. [10] And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. [11] For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. [12] And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. [13] And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, [14] Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

The wise men would have studied the stars looking for the sign of the coming King of which Daniel had informed their forefathers, and they recognized the light from the many angels that announced his arrival as a distant star on the western horizon. I speculate it disappeared soon after they saw it, but they knew it was time to head west to worship the new Jewish King from what Daniel had taught them. And I further speculate it did not reappear until an angel of light, appearing as a round, blazing ball of light, which looked like a small star, began to lead them to the exact place where the young child (who was then likely between one and two years of age) dwelled with Joseph and Mary. Just as the blazing light of the Lord from the cloud of his glory guided Israel as they traveled by night across the Sinai, so did this blazing light, which appeared as a star, guide them directly to God’s Son. The star may have been the angel of the Lord, or one of the archangels. I confess that what I have just written is speculation on my part, and may not be correct, but I like it, and as long as the Lord does not bother me about writing it, I feel no obligation to keep it to myself.

Matthew 2:9-11 – 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. [10] When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. [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.

II Corinthians 9:15 – Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.