Wise Men HeaderStars.

By Rev. Phil Greetham. © Copyright 1996. This Version, 2012.

4: A moving star ?
After being told by King Herod that any Messianic figure would be born in Bethlehem the Magi would have been anxious to be on their way. The direct road from Jerusalem would take them south-south-west about 5 miles/8 Km over quite hilly countryside. Despite all this it should not have taken them more than a an hour or two to make the journey and if the secret meeting with King Herod was at night, they probably did travel during the hours of darkness. The Bible then tells us that they saw the star that they had seen previously in the east. However, it was now in front of them and apparently going ahead of them. It is at this point, and this point only!, that the Bible indicates that the star was a 'guiding star'. Of course guidance was not required, even at this point. They had successfully guided themselves at least a thousand miles from their home country to Jerusalem. They would hardly require guidance to go the half dozen or so miles to Bethlehem. The purpose of the star seems to be one of confirming the Magi by indicating the location of the child. This then leaves us with a description of something which seems impossible; an object millions of millions of miles away apparently indicating where the child was to be found by moving and then standing over the child's position. How can this be? Is Matthew serious in asking his readers to believe that an object high in the sky can move and thus indicate the position of one person upon the ground? It does not require our modern scientific knowledge to dispute this, even the experience of a first century reader would have told him that this just wasn't possible. Is Matthew then a fanciful ignoramus making up a story?
Lincoln Sky I remember something similar happening to me while moving from our house in Barnsley in West Yorkshire to Lincoln, Lincolnshire when I had to attend theological college. Having safely despatched my family and goods to our new house, I was left to load the car with the few things left behind and then set off for Lincoln. By this time it had got dark and a bright star (actually Saturn), low down in the south east seemed to hang over the general direction I was going. All the way down the A1 it was right in front of me. I then had to zig-zag my way through the countryside, the star apparently moving left or right constantly reminding me of the direction I had to go.
It was easy to think of it as a guiding star going on ahead of me, and the star in front of the Magi would have behaved in much the same way. There is nothing necessarily supernatural involved here, although it does require a large degree of coincidence, which could be described as miraculous anyway.
The use of stars to navigate by would have been quite familiar to the Magi, but seeing the same star that had led them to make the journey in the first place was a wonderful confirmation of their belief. That it lay in the exact direction they were going was an experience of exceeding joy. The Bible then says that the star stood over where the child was. It goes on to say that, 'on arriving at the house.....' We are not sure where the star stood over. Was it over Bethlehem? Was it over the specific house mentioned? Either way it stopped its apparent movement and was stood over where the child was. Going back to my journey to Lincoln, I eventually turned south on to the A15, a straight Roman road. Saturn was now also due south. From my position in the car, Saturn was no longer moving but was stood over the city were I was going. Its position remained constant over the city because I was now heading straight for the city in an exact straight line with Saturn. As I got closer, the star appeared to descend upon the city, eventually being eclipsed by one particular building. If that building had been my new house it would have been a tremendous coincidence! Perhaps this is what Matthew is trying to describe in his gospel. Not a supernatural, all-dancing all-moving star but a mighty coincidence that confirmed the Magi in what they were doing and finally indicated the exact position of the child.
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