My husband loves to stargaze. Over the years there have been many times he has called me from outside to say, “Have you taken time to look at these stars recently?” It always, without fail, strikes me that so often I am busy doing things, that I don’t stop to contemplate the stars and marvel at the God who made each one. It reminds me of how enormous He is, how big the world is and how little and insignificant I am in the scheme of it all.
Star-Gazing in the Bible
I am not alone in my marvelling at the stars. King David, thousands of years ago, also marvelled at the stars:
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.” -Psalm 8:3-5
It makes me wonder what Abraham would have said, if he wrote a poem after being taken outside with God to look at the stars. Genesis 15:5-6 shares this event with us,
5 And he [GOD] brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
In these verses, we do see that it was a pretty amazing amazing experience, as Abraham believed God at His Word. If God, the Creator of the very stars I was marvelling at, took me outside and made a covenant with me, I would probably be inclined to believe Him too.
The Star of Bethlehem
So, as we get to the record of God sending His Son Jesus to earth as a vulnerable baby, the Christmas star must have been something fairly spectacular.
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.” (Matthew 2:1-2).
The star here had been followed by the Wise Men from the east and had moved as it had guided them and came to rest over the place where Jesus was (Matthew 2:9) . In the ESV Study Bible Notes, it says “The movement of the star suggests that it is not a natural phenomenon (e.g., a comet, supernova, or conjuction of planets) but was supernatural, perhaps a guiding angel that appeared as a star, or perhaps some specially created heavenly phenomenon that had the brightness of a star” (2008, p.1822). Whatever it was, it appeared like a star and had appeared to a group of Wise Men from the East.
Who Were the Wise Men From the East?
There isn’t too much information in the Bible about who the Wise Men from the East were. The word ‘magi’ (wise men) is plural, showing us that there were at least two. The presence of three gifts is how the characters of ‘three wise men’ have entered into general circulation.
They were ‘wise’ in terms of being knowledgable and could have been magicians (which stems from the word ‘magi’) or even scientists (who were considered magicians in this period). In the book of Daniel, Daniel is counted as a wise man (Daniel 1:18-20) and talks to the King about those who were considered ‘wise men.’ In Daniel 2:27-28, Daniel lists those considered amongst the wise in order to point out their inabilities in relation to God: “Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries…”
Earlier, Balaam (yes, the man whose donkey speaks to him in Numbers 22:22-41) prophesied of the Christmas star and coming King in an oracle, when he says, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…” (Numbers 24:17). It was this prophecy that the Wise Men must have been aware of, in order to know that a Jewish King had been born.
What Was The Reaction of the Wise Men to the Star?
I am struck by two things when reading of the Wise Men following the star. Firstly, that the Wise Men followed the star because they were aware of the prophecy in God’s Word. While we may look for experiences, signs and wonders, and hope that God too would lead us by some supernatural phenomenon, it is through knowledge of God’s Word that we are to be guided. For God’s Word is our light- the lamp for our feet and light for our path (Psalm 119:105). The Wise Men had a limited knowledge of the complete prophecies in the Bible concerning the coming Saviour King, because they went searching for Him in Jerusalem. When they reached Herod, the chief priests and scribes (who had greater knowledge of God’s Word) told them to look for Him in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:3-6; Micah 5). If we follow experiences, signs, wonders and other people without testing what is said against the complete Word of God, we too could end up going astray.
I am also amazed by the fact the Wise Men wanted to worship. As we go throughout life, celebrating this Christmas and ones to come, may we remember that our response to God needs to be worship. As we celebrate Jesus, may we worship Him- God in flesh who came to die the brutal death that would save us. May we not get sidetracked by worshipping the Christmas gifts, or even our family gathered around the tree, but may we worship the One who hung on the tree- for this is the only response that truly matters. The next time we venture outside at nighttime, let us pause to gaze at the stars, and worship the God who made them and yet graciously considers us significant enough to come to earth as a crying baby in a poor town of Bethlehem on the greatest rescue mission of all time.