What Was the Star of the East?


It is written in the Gospel of Matthew that a star guided wise men to the place where lay the Christ child, the newborn King. We read that “the star, which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” (Matt. 2:9-10).

Through the centuries this unusual star has been the subject of countless drawings and works of art associated with the Nativity. It has also been the subject of numerous speculations: What was this star?


Astronomers have tried to identify this singular “star” which marked Jesus’ birthplace with a comet, a meteor, or some other heavenly phenomena which appeared about the time of the birth of Christ, but with little if any solid satisfaction. Speculations are many, but the question of this star remains largely unanswered.

The ancient peoples, ignorant of the magnitude of the heavenly bodies, thought that the stars could leave their orbits and herald the advent of noted personages. Believing in astrology, they thought the stars and planets could move at one’s command. In fact, we are told, “It was the sober belief of primitive Greece that the sun was a torch and the stars candles periodically lit and extinguished” (Encyclopedia Britannica).

But the God of the Bible always condemned such ideas. The command was very plain: “Stand now with your enchantments, and the multitude of your sorceries,…Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, and the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save you from what shall come upon you. Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them” (Isa. 47:12-14).

While we do not question the ability of God to make a celestial phenomena coincide with the time and place of the birth of His Son, we do not see any need to resort to this explanation when the Scriptures offer other possibilities.

Among the definitions given by the Hebrew Lexicon for the original word translated “star” we read, “Metaphorically, a prince…an illustrious prince.”

The Bible uses the word “star” in this sense. In the first book of the Bible, in Genesis 37, we are told that Joseph dreamed a dream, and in that dream he saw “the sun, the moon and the eleven stars” make obeisance to him (vs. 9-10). When he told his father about the dream, his father replied: “What is this dream you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?” (vs. 10). Jacob did not even consider a reference to the literal sun, moon or stars, but recognized immediately what was represented by the dream, that he was represented by the sun, the mother by the moon, and the eleven brethren by the eleven stars. In Numbers 24:17 is a prophecy of Christ which uses the “star” symbol in the same metaphorical sense. We read, “A Star shall come out of Jacob, a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Christ was to be this “star.”

The “star” is especially appropriate in its symbolic sense because some of the properties of a “star” are also those of “an illustrious prince.” A star radiates light, and we know from the Bible that immortal beings also radiate light. Jesus Himself said, “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43). The prophet Daniel stated this same fact when he said, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).

This light from immortal beings will provide illumination for the new age, physical as well as spiritual. Isaiah prophesied, “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, And your God your glory” (Isa. 60:19). When John saw the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, he saw a city of light. We read: “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there)” (Rev. 21:23-25). What a glorious source of never-failing light!

On the night Jesus was born, the announcement of His birth was delivered to shepherds, and the messenger delivering it was an angel. “the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’” (Luke 2:10-11). Then after the one angel had spoken, there was with this angel “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God ….”

If God could summon a multitude of His heavenly hosts to attend this auspicious announcement, could He not send another angel to stand over the birthplace, to mark the place for the few who were intent on visiting the Christ Child?