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.
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
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
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.
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
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,