Chapter 2 of the Gospel according to Matthew covers the story of the Magi who came to worship Christ after His birth. The scripture records that the Magi had seen ‘His star’ when it rose, and so they knew he had been born. Many scholars believe, as I mentioned yesterday, that the Magi would have had access to and understanding of the prophecies about the Messiah from Daniel, who had lived in Babylon as an exile, and was appointed over all of the Magi in that kingdom.
In yesterday’s post, I talked a little about how the Magi were a higher class of educated men. They were considered to be very wise, thus the synonym ‘wise men’. They had education in mathematics and astronomy, science, agriculture and history. Because of that educational background, they knew how to do the astronomical computations to figure out the approximate time that the Messiah would be born, according to details given in the Old Testament prophecies. It is also because of this education in astronomy that many have proposed that the star of Bethlehem could have been either a comet or the conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. There are all kinds of scientific based theories that explain why these things have been proposed that you can read about online. However, I believe there is a better explanation.
When Moses and the exiled Jews who fled Egypt were wandering in the wilderness outside the promised land, God led them in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:20-22). When God had the Jews stop to camp, and they erected the tabernacle, God’s glory cloud would settle and fill the temple for the duration. When it rose up into a pillar, they knew it was time to pack up and get moving again. God’s glory also filled the temple. Today, this manifestation of God’s presence/glory is commonly referred to as the Shekinah glory. Many Bible scholars and commentators believe that it very well may have been this Shekinah glory that the Magi described as ‘His star’. James Montgomery Boice in his commentary The Gospel of Matthew says “a miraculous phenomenon, possibly an appearance of the Shekinah glory.” John MacArthur in his commentary (Matthew 1-7, p.29) says this:
Since the Bible does not identify or explain the star, we cannot be dogmatic, but it may have been the glory of the Lord-the same glory that shone around the shepherds when Jesus’ birth was announced to them by the angel (Luke 2:9). Throughout the Old Testament we are told of god’s glory being manifested as light, god radiating His presence (Shekinah) in the form of ineffable light. The Lord guided the children of Israel through the wilderness by “a pillar of cloud by day…and a pillar of fire by night”.
The reason I agree with these Bible commentators and teachers is because of these verses in the account of Matthew: “After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” (Matthew 2:9-10, emphasis mine) Notice that the ‘star’ went before them? It sounds an awful lot like the pillar of cloud/fire that went before the Jews, does it not? The reaction of the Magi to the star also seems to hint at the Shekinah glory, because when is the last time anyone had exceedingly great joy from seeing a star? Certainly, it could have been joy because they recognized that it was THAT star, but I believe it is indicative of its supernatural origin.
We may not know this side of heaven exactly what the star of Bethlehem was or how it worked. Nevertheless, it is interesting to think about!
Soli Deo Gloria!