I do not see the stars on a regular basis, and when I do I give them a smile and a wave. I can find north most of the time, and I call that good. So, as I resumed my inductive study of Matthew, I was a little startled when I realized the Magi followed a star. A star they knew led to someone. And specifically a King of the Jews. But why would they care? How can a star appear in the sky? And what else did they use their knowledge of astronomy for?
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,2 ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.'” Matthew 2:1-2
My early knowledge of astronomy was limited to skimming the zodiac on a Chinese menu. Later I poked into an astronomy class and found it a fascinating science credit at college. There is so much in the sky that God has created…but can you really predict things from the stars?
I started doing some research on this passage, starting with cross-references:
Back before Israel ever got into the promised land, a man from a different country gave this prophesy –
“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near;
A star shall come forth from Jacob,
A scepter shall rise from Israel,
And shall crush through the forehead of Moab,
And tear down all the sons of Sheth.” Numbers 24:17
So they knew to look for a star.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says they probably came from Persia, and knew about the Jews from the time of Israel’s deportation to Media (2 Kings 17:6). “(130-35 AD). Tacitus (Hist. v.13) and Suetonius (Vesp. iv) tell us how widespread in the East at the time of Christ’s coming was the expectation that ‘at that time men starting from Judea would make themselves masters of things’ (compare Virgil, Ecl. iv). All this would naturally prepare the Magi to follow the star when it appeared.”
Smith’s Bible Dictionary adds that Daniel, a famous prince and counselor among the wise men, would have also excited their interest in the Jewish prince who would bring about change for the world.
The funny thing is, the Magi knew to look for the star, and traveled a significant distance to find the newborn king. The Jewish leaders who gave the Magi directions knew where to look for the king, but decided to sit on the couch at home and hear about the adventure later. I wonder if I’m like that – sitting on a couch and a little shocked when someone introduces a very unorthodox approach to serving God. Who makes those rules, anyway?
God, thank You for the stars. It says in Genesis 1 that You made them with the sun and moon for “14… signs and for seasons and for days and years…”. God, it ruffles my feathers a little to hear about watching the stars, since I have always associated that with worshiping them. But instead, these foreigners show that sometimes people on the outside of normalized religion are the keenest to truly worship You. Please help me to learn from them, and learn to appreciate all aspects of Your creation as a witness to who You are. To You be the glory, Amen.