INL December 20, 2002  

SOUNDING OUT:
The Magi's Example

  God's Word clearly records two distinct appearances of the star of Bethlehem associated with the birth of Jesus Christ. As recorded in Matthew 2:2, it was observed by the Magi in their homeland before they set off on their journey. They saw it "in the rising," above the eastern horizon. Then Matthew 2:9 records its appearance unto the Magi when they left Jerusalem for Bethlehem. On this second occasion the star appeared in a southerly direction from Jerusalem. On both occasions, they saw the star "in the east" (Literally from the Greek meaning "in the rising.")

  Most people believe that the star seen by the Magi was exceptionally bright. Some go as far as depicting it linearly pointing directly down to the stable where the babe was in the manger. If that were so, why did they stop at Herod's to inquire where the child was born? They went to Jerusalem to see Herod because they expected to find a king's son. It was only after Herod inquired of the chief priests and scribes where the child was to be born that they were directed to Bethlehem. The Bible clearly indicates that only the Magi took special notice of the star. Its brilliance is never mentioned, only its significance. Whatever the star was, it was important for what it meant to the Magi, not how bright it was.

  This was not a star that had never before appeared and that disappeared after the birth of Jesus. The Magi didn't immediately follow the star from their eastern homeland to Jerusalem after its mysterious appearance. Neither did the Magi arriving in Bethlehem on the night of Christ's birth, find the newborn "Christ child" in the manger while the shepherds stood by. Yes, according to Luke 2:16, the shepherds found a newly delivered babe (in Greek, brephos, and in Aramaic, ula,). However, the Magi arrived in Bethlehem over a year and three months after Jesus' birth and found a "young child," (in Greek, paidion, and in Aramaic, talya). They didn't find a newborn babe in a stable; the Magi found a young child in a house. A child is referred to as a "young child" as early as his circumcision (eight days old, as in Luke 2:21) and as late as twelve years of age (as in Luke 2:40 and Mark 5:39-43). Furthermore Matthew does not mention shepherds being present.

Matthew 2:9:
When they had heard the king [Herod], 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.

  As the Magi left Jerusalem, they again saw the same star, Jupiter, which they had seen in the rising. As they traveled south, the star "went before them, till it came and stood" over Bethlehem. How could "his star" so clearly point out Bethlehem to the Magi and yet remain unnoticed to anyone else?

  All the visible stars and planets appear to an observer on earth to move westward during the course of a night, similar to the motion of the sun during the day. A star or planet will reach its highest point when it arrives on the meridian, directly south of the observer in the northern hemisphere. This is similar to the sun when it reaches its highest point during the day about noon, when it is on the same meridian as the observer. From this point on, the sun begins to descend in the western half of the sky. This is also what the stars do at night. They "stand" when they reach the highest point, since they are neither "rising" or "falling" at that time.

  As the Magi left Jerusalem, they saw Jupiter on its nightly course. Looking south they saw it high in the sky, nearing its apex on the meridian of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. As learned astronomers, they knew that Jupiter would slowly progress to its meridian. Indeed, as they traveled, they could see Jupiter slowly moving in the direction of Bethlehem. The very star they had seen "in the rising," which had inspired their journey to Judea, the star they had seen in so many notable configurations--the king planet--was now confirming their destination by approaching its meridian as they traveled towards it.

  As the Magi approached Bethlehem, Jupiter finally "stood over" the area of Bethlehem where the child was. The time period in which the Magi traveled to Bethlehem could only have been between December 4, 2 B.C., when Jupiter could be seen in this position over Bethlehem, and before January 9, 1 B.C., when the events surrounding the death of Herod began. The words "stood over" do not necessarily mean Jupiter stopped; they mean the star had reached its highest point, or "stood." In beholding "his star" as it stood over Bethlehem, the Magi were thrilled with unspeakable joy that they would soon find the one they had come searching for, the promised seed, the king of the Judeans whose star they had seen in the rising.

Matthew 2:9 and 10:
When they [the Magi] had heard the king [Herod], they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east ["in the rising"], went before [Greek, proegen, went or guided in front of] them, till it came and stood [until having come, it stood[ over where the young child was.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

  From this we see that the Magi's journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem had to occur when Jupiter was at its apex over Bethlehem. Obviously that had to be between Jesus' birth on September 11, 3 B.C., and Herod's death some time prior to Passover in April of 1 B.C. According to astronomical calculations, Jupiter was not visible crossing the meridian, the "high point," over Bethlehem from September through November of 2 B.C. During this time Jupiter was too close to the sun to be visible when it reached that meridian. However, by December 4 of 2 B.C., Jupiter became visible at the meridian shortly before dawn. From December 4 until Herod's death before the Passover on April 8, Jupiter continued to visibly cross this meridian each night at a progressively earlier time. However, the eclipse that shortly preceded Herod's death occurred on January 9, 1 B.C. Thus, it was sometime during this five-week period, from December 4, 2 B.C., to January 9, 1 B.C., that the Magi journeyed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and saw the star of Matthew 2:9. This would have made Jesus about 15 months old when the Magi arrived. That is why, according to Matthew 2:16, Herod chose to execute the children two years and under based on the time of the star's rising, the time of which he had learned from the Magi when he privately conferred with them (Matthew 2:7).

  If they were traveling in any direction other than south, they could not have followed as the star "went before them." When they traveled south towards Bethlehem, they saw the same star which they had observed previously in their homeland. It was rising in its nightly course towards the meridian over their destination, confirming for them that they were going in the right direction to find the child born a king. The star finally reached and stood at its highest point on the meridian directly over Bethlehem in the southern sky. The Magi "rejoiced with exceeding great joy" for they recognized this as verification of the child's whereabouts. They realized they were about to find the child who was the king of the Judeans.

  I think there is a very important message to note here. It was not the brilliance of the star, but its significance that caused such rejoicing. They had spent years anticipating the coming of the promised seed, as Daniel had taught them. However, their exceeding great joy was due to the significance of what they understood to be transpiring. This was not just any ordinary child. This was the Promised Seed of the woman?written both, in the stars and in the scriptures. When the heavens declared "the glory of God," it was to the child into whose presence they were about to enter that they spoke.

  They were about to seize the moment to meet the one to whom all creation paid homage with homage of their own. Matthew 2:1 declared that they had come to worship him. That opportunity was about to be theirs, and they could hardly wait. What made the moment so momentous and significant for them is because they realized into whose presence they were about to come. Both the heavens and the scriptures lead them to this place in their lives and they acknowledged how blessed they were. The Word was alive and real to them, and it filled them with EXCEEDING GREAT JOY. ( I pray that we enjoy the same joy as we experience His Word living and real.)

  Herod had directed them to Bethlehem because of a scriptural prophecy in Micah 5:2. Now the star confirmed this location by appearing directly before them as they approached the city of David. Both Scripture and the heavens were directing them.
The star did not indicate a specific house, as this is astronomically impossible. The star simply confirmed that Bethlehem was the village in which they would find the "king of the Judeans" whom they sought. The Magi only required a couple of hours to travel to Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Upon arriving in Bethlehem, it would not have been difficult for the Magi to find the child, for local inhabitants would be aware of this special child born in the area previously, since the shepherds had spread the news of Christ's birth throughout the region. Thus the Magi were able to locate the young king.

Matthew 2:11:
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped [paid homage to] him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

  The Magi found the young child in a house, not in a stable or in a manger. There were no shepherds present. This was not the night Jesus was born, but more than one year and three months later.
Upon finding the child, the Magi fell down before him as a sign of utmost reverence to a king, the king of Israel born in Judea. The Magi's gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were very precious and costly indeed, suitable for giving to royalty. Also, that there were three gifts given is no indication whatsoever that there were three Magi. Although modern tradition consistently depicts three Magi, this is guesswork and has no scriptural verification.

  However, I'm sure that these precious gift were helpful because Joseph, Mary, and the baby would soon be off to Egypt at God's direction. Not only had God given Joseph warning to protect the child, but He also provided the wherewithal to do so in the form of the magi's gifts.

  God's story of redemption written in the stars had been realized. Are you aware of its significance? Are you humbled by whose presence you may enter at any time? The Word living and real makes life really, worth living.