Our study of the Star of Bethlehem begins with the wise men coming to Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1). The wise men came from the East, so I am assuming they are either from Persia or the Babylonian area. In Matthew 2:2, the wise men inquire concerning the whereabouts of the King of the Jews, because they saw His star the night Jesus was born. Why were they looking for a star? I believe they were looking because of the prophecy made by Balaam in Numbers 24:17, 19a, about the coming star to proclaim the birth of the Messiah.
This King they were looking for was not just any king; He was the “King of the Jews.” The Bible proclaims in Numbers 24:17 and 19a the King will come out of Jacob (Israel) from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9a, 10a). In Matthew 2:2, the wise men were planning to worship this King. Verses like Luke 4:8, Matthew 4:10, and Revelation 22:9 proclaim that we are to worship God only. Scripture is clear, you worship God and serve Him only. During the time of the judges, Israel did not have a human king. God was their King (I Samuel 12:12b). The phrase, “King of the Jews,” is a reference to God, the “King of kings.” Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6 both testify that a child will be born who is to be ruler and He is God. I believe the wise men understood this information. The wise men in Matthew 2:11 worshipped Jesus and gave Him gifts of gold (for a King), frankincense (for a Priest), and myrrh (used for embalming, John 19:39). I believe the wise men knew Jesus is God, a King, a Priest, and He was going to die for their sins. The wise men understood the Gospel message, and they were believers.
In Matthew 2:7, King Herod inquires of the wise men as to when the star appeared. Apparently King Herod and Herod’s wise men did not see the star. Ancient civilizations studied the stars and knew their motions, etc. It is hard to believe they did not see the star. The star appeared around two years before the wise men arrived in Jerusalem. How do we know this? We know because King Herod killed all the baby boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16).
In Matthew 2:4, Herod gathers the chief priests and scribes together to find out where the Christ child should be born. The wise men must not have had this information. The priest and scribes discover in Micah 5:2 that the Christ child will be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5, 6). In Matthew 2:8, Herod sends the wise men to Bethlehem. In Matthew 2:9, the wise men see the same star, which they saw when they were in the east (in Persia). This star must be completely different from all the other stars in the sky. The wise men rejoiced with exceedingly great joy when they saw the star (Matthew 2:10). The stars in the heavens rise in the east and set in the west, because of the earth’s rotation. So stars move from east to west. The star the wise men saw did some strange things. First it appears (just one night during Christ’s birth), then disappears for two years, and then reappears when the wise men leave Jerusalem on their way to Bethlehem. Secondly, Bethlehem is south of Jerusalem, so the star moved south. Stars come from east and set in the west, they do not travel south. Thirdly, the star stood over the house where the young child was. Stars do not stand over houses. This was some strange star. So what did the wise men see? I don’t think the star was a planet or planet conjunction, nor comet, nor star, nor galaxy, nor supernova, nor a nova. None of these would distinguish a specific location on a whole continent let alone over a specific house. It had to be something supernatural.
The key to what the wise men were looking for is found in Numbers 24:17. The two phrases “there shall come a Star out of Jacob” and “a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel” are connected. Star and Sceptre go together (the King – Star). Jacob and Israel are the same thing. Jacob is Israel and Israel is Jacob. The verb phrases also go together. The wise men were looking for a star to rise up out of the nation Israel. Every night the wise men would look from their home in Persia, west to Israel. The stars would set in the west at the horizon behind Israel, and they were looking for a star to rise out of Israel. The star would move in the opposite direction of all the other stars.
Could the word “star” in Scripture mean, or be something other than a literal star? In I Corinthians 15:41, “star” means star. In Revelation 22:16, “morning star” means Jesus Christ. In Revelation 1:10 and Revelation 9:1-2, the stars and star that John saw were really angels. In Ezekiel 1:13, 21; 10:6, angels are very bright creatures! From a distance these angels could look like stars.
Let us have a closer look at what happened the night of Christ’s birth. In Luke 2:8, 9, and 13a, a number of angels appeared to the shepherds, and their appearance was very bright. In verse 15, after the angels delivered their message; they rose into heaven. So the shepherds watched as these angels (bright creatures) rose up in the sky into heaven. I believe as the wise men, looking from Persia westward to Israel, were too far away to see the angels, but close enough to see a bright light rise out of Israel into heaven. This is the sign mentioned in Numbers. Perhaps the wise men saw the shepherd’s angels!
The seeing of angels abounded at the time of Christ’s birth. In Luke 1:11, Zacharias sees an angel in the temple. Mary sees an angel in Luke 1:30. An angel comes to Joseph three times in Matthew 1:20; 2:13, 19. The wise men are warned by God not to return to King Herod, maybe by an angel.
Returning to Matthew 2:7, nobody seems to have seen the star (angels) except the wise men and the shepherds. Why? In II Kings 6:17, we see that not everybody can see angels. God had to open Elisha’s servant’s eyes, so he could see the horses and chariots of fire (angels) on the mountain. God has to open your eyes to see angels.
So why did God open the wise men and the shepherd’s eyes? They were diligently seeking the Messiah. The wise men and shepherds heard the Word of God, responded to the Word of God, and God led them to the Word of God, Jesus. Jeremiah 29:13 states that if you seek God, you will find Him, if you search for Him with all your heart. Are you seeking the LORD with all your heart? Wise men still seek Him and find Him.