When They Saw the Star

"When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy" (Matthew 2:11).

Each year, as Christmas approaches, articles appear in numerous publications, both secular and religious, "explaining" the famous star whose unspoken testimony led the wise men to Bethlehem when Christ was born. Many theories have been offered, by many learned men, seeking to account for this remarkable event recorded in Matthew 2:1_12. Although a small booklet such as this cannot really do justice to all these studies, it may be helpful to give a summary evaluation of them from the viewpoint of Biblical literalism, assuming "star" means "star."

But before considering the nature of the star itself, there are at least two intriguing questions about this remarkable event that are rarely discussed, even at Christmastime, but which do bear upon its true significance.

1. Just who were these "wise men" and why were they the only ones who realized the importance of the star? None of the political or religious leaders of the Jews seemed aware of it until these men from a distant country suddenly showed up in Jerusalem.

2. Why did the appearance of these three (?) travelers, with their question, inspire such agitation among King Herod and these Jewish leaders? When the wise men saw the star over Bethlehem, they were excited and joyful. Why did not Herod and the Jewish leaders rejoice with them?

3. Finally, just what was this star, and how could it possibly lead them on such a long journey to just the right location, especially since every one else in the very city of the promised Messiah seemed unaware of it?

Let's take a brief look at possible answers to these fascinating questions.

Who Were the Wise Men and How Did They Know?

The common legend about the wise men says that there were three of them, named Melchior, Balthasar, and Gaspar, from three different nations (Babylonia, Persia, and India). One early writer called them three kings.

However, all this is traditional, with no basis in Scripture. The phrase "wise men," in Matthew 2:1,7, is Magi (or Magoi) in the Greek original, and applies to members of a special group of men. A class of scholars called the Magi (from which our modern word "magic" is derived) may originally have come from a certain tribe in Media, and may even have later become a part of the governing body of Persia. This is uncertain, but what does appear to be well established is the fact that they were especially interested in astronomy and the prophetic "wisdom" that this talent seemed to give them.

They eventually became a sort of priestly caste, and were attached to the royal courts of Babylonia and Persia and even those of more distant lands such as Arabia and India, as consultants and advisers to the nobles of those lands.

There is even an ancient tradition that Balaam, the notorious prophet from Mesopotamia, was an early member of the Magi, perhaps even their founder. If so, this fact would at least partially explain why the Magi at the time of Christ were aware that a special star would be used by God to announce the Savior's birth to this world. It was Balaam's prophecy, of course, as recorded in the Bible, that spoke of this future star. Here is his prophecy, actually constrained by God to be uttered against the prophet's own will.

I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth, and Edom shall be a possession. Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come He that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city (Numbers 24:17_19).

Thus Balaam's reluctant, but divinely inspired, prophecy, revealed that a unique Star associated with Israel would accompany a future Sceptre (that is, King) who would eventually rule the world.

The later Magi, especially those in Babylon and Persia (where the influence of Daniel, as well as Mordecai and Esther) had been profound and long-lasting, would surely be familiar with this prophecy and also the various prophecies of Daniel (who had been the most respected of the "wise men" at the courts of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus?note Daniel 2:45; 6:28).

Some of the Magi may even have been Jews in religion, if not in ethnicity. At the time of God's great deliverance of the Jews in Persia during the days of Queen Esther, it was recorded that "many of the people of the land became Jews" (Esther 8:17). This event in itself would constrain many of the Persian members of the Magi at that time to study the Jewish sacred books, especially the Messianic prophecies of Daniel. This lore would have become a key part of the Magi's traditional learning, handed down generation after generation, even to the time of Christ.

Among these Danielic prophecies, of course, given during the reign of Darius the Mede, was the great prophecy of the "seventy weeks," which revealed that the Messiah would come as Prince of Israel 483 years after the Persian emperor gave the commandment to the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem (Daniel 9:24,25). It would easily be possible for the Persian Magi, as the promised date came near, to put these prophecies of Balaam and Daniel together, and thus be watching for "His star" to appear.

Something like this may at least partly explain why the Persian Magi?and not the Herodians and the rationalistic Sadducees (who comprised most of the Jewish religious leaders of the time) were aware of the significance of the star when it appeared. It is quite possible also that the "wise men" from this same caste who were prominent as counsellors in Babylon and other lands (even Arabia and India) were also aware of what was happening. It may be possible (as the tradition suggests) that Magi from other lands as well as Persia joined the entourage journeying to Jerusalem to seek this promised "King of the Jews." There is no convincing reason to think that only three Magi came. The fact that three types of gifts (gold, frankincense, myrrh) were offered does not mean that only three men offered the gifts. The Bible does not say how many there were, but there may well have been many more than three.

Why Were Herod and the Jews so Troubled by the Magi's Visit?

It would, indeed, seem rather unlikely that the visit of three itinerant "astrologers" would create such a stir in Jerusalem. In the first place, how could these foreigners ever get in to see King Herod? Why would their question cause the king to be "troubled, and all Jerusalem with him" (Matthew 2:3).

But all this becomes clear when it is realized that the visitors probably consisted of much more than three foreign "astrologers" (as a number of modern translations call the "wise men"). There were very likely more than three Magi in the group, probably a dozen or more. They had come from "the east," and were themselves representatives of one or more great nations, traveling no doubt with a military escort and a sizable entourage of servants.

Even so, why should this upset a powerful king acting under authority of the great Roman empire, supposedly dominant in all the known world of that time. Herod had been appointed "King of the Jews," by no less then the great Caesar Augustus himself, so why should he be troubled by these dignitaries from the east?

The fact is, however, that the Roman empire was not dominant in all the known world. In fact, the various nations "east" of Judaea?Persia, Babylonia, Assyria, etc.?were not part of the Roman empire at all, but rather part of the large and powerful Parthian empire, which was a serious rival to Rome and had defeated several attempts by the Roman legions (including one led by Herod himself, before he became king) to subjugate her. There is reason to believe that, at this time, the Parthians (i.e., Persians) were actually threatening Rome along the nearby boundaries of the Roman empire.

Herod had been appointed "King of the Jews" as his official title by Rome, but here was a delegation from a powerful enemy empire demanding information about someone "born King of the Jews" (Matthew 2:2). No wonder Herod was troubled. Furthermore, the entourage was not traveling on camels (as the Christmas cards tend to picture them) but on strong horses (for that was how Persian nobles travelled), and they were quite confident that this coming King was already in the land and that His presence had been announced by God Himself through a star in the heavens.

The rest of Jerusalem was also "troubled" by what seemed an imminent threat of invasion. The religious leaders were undoubtedly embarrassed, as well as troubled, that they, of all people, had to be informed by foreigners about the coming of Messiah.

Although these Jewish religious leaders were not looking for the Messiah, and did not really want Him to come and upset their own profitable operations, they did at least know about the messianic prophecies. King Herod, who was a descendant of Edomites, did not know the prophecies himself, but when he inquired of the chief priests and scribes, they were able to tell him where this coming King Messiah was to be born. Paraphrasing Micah 5:2, they said: "Thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel" (Matthew 2:5,6).

Whether these Jewish leaders were familiar with Balaam's prophecy of the Star or not, the account does not say. In any case, they had not paid any heed to the actual Star when it appeared, though they must have seen it.

Just What Was This Remarkable Star?

If we really seek to take the Bible literally, we need to think of this star as a real star, not an angel or some miraculous atmospheric light which the wise men thought was a star. The Greek word, aster, occurs some 24 times in the New Testament. A similar word, astron, is used four times. Both words refer specifically to real stars, unless the context indicates otherwise.

It is true that stars are sometimes used to symbolize angels (e.g., Revelation 1:20; 12:4,7) or even human beings (Jude 13). It is also true that planets, meteorites, and comets were apparently considered "stars" by the astronomers of that day and even by the Lord Jesus Himself (e.g., Matthew 24:29). But such usages are always apparent in the context.

The account of the wise men, however, is given as a simple historical record, and the Magi certainly knew what a star was as well as anybody in that day, and they called it a star (in fact, His star), not an angel or an atmospheric guiding light of some kind. They were familiar with the record of the glory cloud (the Shekinah) that had guided the Israelites under Moses in the wilderness (e.g., Numbers 14:14), for it was in the same book of the Torah as the account of Balaam's star. Yet they called it a star, not a glory cloud or any other kind of moving light in the sky.

Nevertheless, many fine Bible teachers, unable to see how a fixed star in the heavens (or even a moving star like a planet or comet) could actually guide the Magi to the very house in Bethlehem where the infant Christ was staying, have decided it must have been an angel or the Shekinah or some other miraculous moving light, seen only by these foreign wise men.

But the idea that the "star" was not really a star involves serious difficulties, in addition to that posed by the straightforward use of "star" in the narrative.

Why, for example, would God send such a special aerial messenger 600 miles away to Persia, and not to those in Israel itself who were anticipating the coming Messiah? The Jewish leaders were not watching for Him, of course, but there were many who were. God did send a choir of angels and "the glory of the Lord" to a group of shepherds near the manger in Bethlehem to announce the birth (Luke 2:9_12), but what about the faithful remnant in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel? The account refers to "all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38) and mentions Simeon and Anna in particular. These two, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, even recognized the infant Jesus as the promised Messiah when Mary and Joseph, after the forty "days of her purification according to the law of Moses [see Leviticus 12:2_6] brought Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord" (Luke 2:22). Why had such devout Jews, waiting for the Messiah, not been informed about His birth in Bethlehem?

Furthermore, how would the Magi, far off in Persia, recognize this supposed moving light as announcing the King of the Jews, impelling them to undertake a long and dangerous journey to greet Him? And why would the light not have led them directly to Bethlehem instead of Jerusalem and Herod's court?

As a matter of fact, Matthew's account never says the Star (or moving light, if that's what it was) ever "led" them at all. It says merely that they saw the Star twice?once while they were at home "in the east," then later, as it "stood over where the young child was" (Matthew 2:2,9). There is no record that they saw it at all during the long journey to Jerusalem.

The guiding light hypothesis appeals to many evangelicals, since they are usually willing to accept the local miracles of Scripture (such as Christ's turning water into wine, or even the restoration of Lazarus' dead body four days after he died). Miracles that require God's intervention in the entire world, however, such as the global flood in the days of Noah, or the long day of Joshua, are not so readily believed, even by many evangelicals, and they often seek materialistic explanations for them, if possible.

For example, a very popular explanation offered for the star by many is that the "star" was merely a conjunction of two or three planets at the time of Christ's birth. The great astronomer, Johann Kepler, was apparently the first to suggest this type of explanation. In 1605 he calculated that there had been a conjunction of three planets (Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars) in 7 B.C. Many others have followed this idea, assuming that this conjunction constituted the Christmas star. It was said to have occurred in the constellation Pisces at that time, and this constellation was believed by astrologers to be the Zodiacal sign related to Israel.

Others have said that a conjunction of Jupiter, Venus, and the star Regulus in 3 B.C. was the Christmas star. All such conjunction theories, however, face several serious difficulties. It seems incredible that the Magi, as versed in astronomy as they were, would call such a group of stars "His" Star! No two of these stars were ever so close together as to look like a single star?never even appearing to touch each other! Furthermore, all such planetary conjunctions occur with some significant frequency, which could have been calculated easily enough by these experienced astronomers from the known orbits of the planets, so why would any one, or several, such conjunctions be associated as a special "sign" with the promised King of Israel? There was certainly nothing miraculous about them.

Still more importantly, this sort of thing?associating star and planetary and Zodiacal positions with events on Earth?is a prominent feature of the occult art of astrology, and astrology is condemned in the Bible (Isaiah 47:13_15; etc.). It would not seem reasonable for God to associate anything concerning His promised incarnation with the pseudo-science of astrology which He had warned His people to avoid.

Similar objections apply to the suggestion of some writers, both ancient and modern, that the Christmas star was a comet. Comets also are fairly frequent and travel in regular, predictable orbits, just like planets and their conjunctions. They also have a different appearance than or dinary stars or planets, with a sort of tail following each of them, and the Magi undoubtedly could distinguish them from real stars. They were also commonly used as astrological predictors whenever they occurred, and would thus seem unsuitable for God's purpose in sending His Star.

There does remain one special type of star which does not involve any of the difficulties discussed above. These are the novas (formerly called "new stars") or, still more intriguingly, the rare supernovas. These are real stars, not conjunctions of stars, or comets, and certainly not atmospheric phenomena.

Was His Star a Real Star after All?

Novas and supernovas are sudden, rare, entirely unpredictable explosions of existing stars that had been originally created on Day Four of Creation Week. Somehow what seems to be an ordinary star suddenly increases tremendously in brilliance, continuing so for several months until it finally fades away.

Since supernovas are very rare and entirely unpredictable, they have no astrological significance. There have only been a few visible supernovas reported in our galaxy, the oldest of which occurred in 1054 A.D., as reported by Chinese astronomers. There was one reported by Tycho Brahe in 1572 A.D., and one by Kepler in 1604 A.D. Others have been seen with the aid of large telescopes, but these were not available to the Magi, of course.

Although we have no firm official astronomical record of a visible supernova occurring at the time of Christ's birth, such a stellar phenomenon would surely be appropriate to announce the birth of Christ. There surely must have been a few supernovas before 1054 A.D., and the fact that no records of these have been preserved is merely an argument from silence. A great Christian astronomer, E. W. Maunder, for fifty years Superintendent of the Solar Department of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, and president of the British Astronomical Observatory, came to the conclusion that such a star (called, in his day, a "new star" or "temporary star") was the only logical explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. He devoted a strong chapter to this subject in his book, Astronomy and the Bible, published in 1908,

As a matter of fact, there may well be certain other hazy records of such a star. In the Bible, the only mention of the star is in Matthew 2:1_12. However, a number of the early Christian writers were fascinated with the account, and apparently did some contemporary research of their own in extra-Biblical sources.

For example, Ignatius, who was the apostolic father closest in time to the New Testament writers (died 107 A.D.) wrote of the star as follows: "(It was) a star which so shone in heaven beyond all the stars, its newness caused excitement." The pseudepigraphical writing known as The Protoevangelium of James quotes the wise men as saying to Herod: "We saw how an indescribably great star shone among these stars and dimmed them so that they no longer shone, and so we knew that a King was born for Israel."

Eusebius, a scholarly church historian of the early fourth century, evidently made a considerable study of the literature available from the centuries before him, and came to this conclusion about the star. "The star was new and a stranger among the usual lights of heaven, a strange star besides the usual ones, a strange and unusual star, not one of the many known stars, but being new and fresh."

A recent writer, Robert McIver, has spent three decades researching this subject. In his book, Star of Bethlehem-Star of Messiah, published 1998, he cites star records from ancient Chinese and Korean astronomers who both noted such an unusual new star about the time of Christ's birth. He also discusses paintings in the Roman catacombs, as well as coins from various countries which depict an unusual star about this time. He even notes possible sightings of the star in the Americas. Much of his evidence is vulnerable to other possible interpretations, but it is at least an interesting coincidence, if nothing else, that such indications of an unusual new star at about the time of Christ's birth can be found all over the world.

In any case, although it is not possible to be dogmatic, it does seem that the most feasible explanation for the Christmas star is that it was a real star, rather than either a conjunction of two or more stars or a special moving light of some kind in the lower atmosphere. After all the Magi called it a star, and they would surely know the difference. The Persian Magi in particular were very competent observational astronomers, not astrologists. If they were not Jews or Jewish proselytes (either of which is a good possibility), they were Zoroastrians, and the Zorastrian religion was similar to Judaism in many respects, among which was an aversion to astrology.

They were almost certainly acquainted with the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, especially Balaam's prophecy of a new Star which would signal the rising of a great King in Israel. Balaam himself was probably a member of the Magi, possibly even the founder of their caste. Zoroaster also was probably one of the earlier Magi, between the times of Balaam and Christ.

Thus it is significant that both Balaam's divinely inspired prophecy and Matthew's divinely inspired history recognized it as a star?in fact as "His" Star! Unless God created a brand new star at this time, which is possible, of course, the most realistic explanation is that it was either a nova, or (more probably) a supernova?a gigantic explosion of an existing, but previously unknown, star.

As noted before, this was the conclusion of the late British astronomer, E. W. Maunder. He simply called it a "new star," the terms nova and supernova not yet having come into use in his day. In a more recent scientific article, "The Star of Bethlehem," published in Science Digest in December 1976, James Mullaney says: "The considered opinion of nearly all who have studied the question is that a nova or supernova seems the most likely explanation for the Christmas star of all those put forth to date" (p.65).

Mullaney also makes the cogent observation: "Truly, here is a celestial announcement card above all others worthy the birth of a king" (ibid.). A supernova explosion radiates more energy into space at its peak than all the stars in our own galaxy combined! The entrance of the Creator into His creation as a man among men would surely warrant the most majestic announcement possible by His creation. An angelic host announced it at the scene?a mighty star to the rest of the world!

The mechanistic details of what causes such a stellar explosion and its after-effects are still rather obscure scientifically, and their occurrences are altogether unpredictable as to time and place. How, then, did Balaam know that one would occur at the time of Messiah's birth, some 1400 years in the future?

The information came from God, that's how! While it is true that "new" stars, as well as comets and meteors and planetary conjunctions, have often in the past been taken as astrologically associated with the rise or fall of great men, it is also true that no astrologer or anyone else has ever predicted such an event hundreds of years before it happened.

Having created the stars, God is well able to set off an explosion in one of them whenever He chooses, and also to inform one of His prophets about it as far in advance as He chooses. There is really no better explanation of Balaam's remarkable prophecy (even given against the prophet's own will!) and the miraculous birth of Christ which eventually, in God's own time, fulfilled it.

But just how did the Magi know that this star, this supernova (assuming that's what it was) was His Star, the one prophesied so long ago by Balaam. After all, there had also probably been other "new stars" from time to time. This was surely not the first.

Or was it? There are records of earlier comets and earlier conjunctions, and these had indeed been considered to be astrological portents of one kind or another, but there have never yet been found any firm records of earlier novas. In fact, the Biblical chronology assures us (evolutionary astronomers to the contrary notwithstanding) that the stars were created only a few thousand years ago, and in general should not be subject to such an explosive disintegration process so soon, or so we would suggest.

That is, unless God Himself triggered it! There have been many other novas since that time, of course, and also a few supernovas, but perhaps God has allowed these just to show us that such things are possible. They do at least reinforce and support His revealed truth that His creation was completed in the past (Genesis 2:1_3). It is being conserved quantitatively, but decaying qualitatively, in the present, by the entropy principle (compare Psalm 102:25_27). This had been established by God's primeval curse on all man's dominion because of sin (Genesis 3:17_20; Romans 8:20_22; etc.), and will continue until Christ returns to renew His creation in the ages to come.

In any case, there were ways in which the Magi (as well as others, if they had been watching for it) could identify this new star as Balaam's prophesied star. As noted earlier, they could well have known from Daniel's seventy-weeks prophecy, as well as others, that the time of His coming was near, so they were watching for the star in their regular astronomical observations.

There is also the very realistic possibility that this new star occurred in one of the constellations which had been associated with God's primeval promise of the coming Savior. This "protevangel" (that is, "first Gospel") prophesied the age-long conflict between the Serpent (that is, Satan) and the Seed of the Woman (that is, Christ). The Serpent would inflict a serious bruise on the woman's seed, but eventually Christ will destroy Satan forever (Genesis 3:15).

This primeval promise is reflected in many of the star-pictures of the constellations, especially the twelve signs of the Zodiac and their decans (or related constellations). While these star messages have been badly corrupted by astrology, they do predate any astrological meanings later imposed on them. In fact, the Scriptures themselves imply that these pictures and their primeval meanings were established originally by God Himself, through the ancient patriarchs (Seth in particular, according to the Jewish historian Josephus).

In the Genesis record of God's creation of the stars, they were said to be for "signs," as well as for "seasons, days, and years," (Genesis 1:14). Then, according to God's message to Job, it was only God who could "bring forth Mazzaroth in his season" (Job 38:32), where Mazzaroth refers specifically to the twelve signs of the Zodiac?that is, the constellations which have been designated as representing the Virgin, the Balances, the Fishes, the Lion, etc.

Certain individual constellations are even mentioned by name as having been formed by God?that is, "Arcturus, Orion, the Pleiades" (Job 9:8), the "crooked serpent" (Job 26:13), and others. God is also said to have named the stars (Psalm 147:4; Isaiah 40:26). Such Scriptures indicate God had a purpose in identifying these stars and constellations and that purpose certainly was not to serve astrology. The most reasonable inference is that He wanted to imprint His purposes and promises on the very heavens themselves, so they could be seen in all times and nations, especially before His written Word would become available. Thus "the heavens declare the glory of God "and have been uttering speech and showing knowledge day and night throughout the world" (Psalm 19:1,2), ever since the beginning.

A number of these ancient constellations, despite millennia of astrological distortion, do still show clear reflections of God's primeval promise. The great Christian astronomer E. W. Maunder noted this, as have various other scientists and theologians through the years. For example, the sign of the Virgin suggests the promise of a virgin-born Savior, as implied in the very phrase "seed of the woman" (men, not women, generate "seed," so a miracle would be required for a woman to do so). The sign of Leo the Lion pictures a conquering lion slaying a fleeing serpent. Similar related messages can be deduced from many of the other signs.

It is difficult at this late date to pinpoint the specific constellation in which the star appeared. The date of Christ's birth is uncertain and so is the date of the star. But it does seem reasonable to assume that it appeared in a constellation which the Magi knew was depicting the coming of the promised Redeemer.

These were devout men, believing in the true God of creation and the promises in His Word. They were undoubtedly familiar also with the original signs and symbols God had imposed on the stars, and thus were able to recognize that this new star that had suddenly blazed forth in the sky must indeed be "His Star," the star announcing the birth of the promised King.

They were so elated that they decided to make the long pilgrimage to Jerusalem to find and worship Him. However, this could not be arranged overnight. Considerable time would be needed to assemble an entourage of servants and armed guards, supplies for the whole company, gifts for the holy child, and perhaps even arrangements for meeting up with Magi coming from other regions with the same purpose. But finally they were ready, and set out on the long journey.

What Does His Star Mean to us Today?

Supernovas may shine brilliantly for many months and possibly longer, but this is a disintegration process and they finally fade out of sight. Also, as the earth moves along in its orbit around the sun, the night sky changes. Stars that were seen at one time during the year will soon be lost in the daytime, hidden by the sun's brightness, later in the year. Presumably this was happening to the Magi's star, so they could no longer see it as they travelled. They did not need it to guide them, however, as they knew it had announced Israel's coming King, and they assumed He would be in Jerusalem by the time they arrived.

In the meantime, Mary and Joseph had travelled from their home in Nazareth in Galilee, to Judaea, in order to be counted in the Roman census at Bethlehem, the ancestral home of Joseph's family. While there in Bethlehem, the child Jesus was born.

Although announced both by the heavenly host in the air above Bethlehem and also by the new star, neither announcement made any particular stir in Jerusalem. The shepherds had spread the news around Bethlehem, and later Simeon and Anna around Jerusalem (Luke 2:17; 2:38), but only a few realized the real significance of the event. After all, there had been various other alleged Messiahs who had come and gone. Not even the star had seemed to arouse any Messianic interest, although surely many had seen it. The Jews as a whole were interested in neither astronomy nor astrology. They apparently had little interest in Balaam's prophecy of the star, either, possibly because he was a Gentile who had been slain by the Israelites at the time of Moses.

When the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, several months after they first saw the star (possibly even as long as two years after, in view of Herod's later slaughter of the children, according to Matthew 2:16), they apparently assumed that the newborn King would have been brought to Jerusalem by that time, or at least that Herod could tell them where to find Him. Instead, Herod and "all Jerusalem" were merely "troubled," widely fearful that the Parthians and Persians might attempt to install this new King on the throne of Judaea. When the scribes cited Micah 5:2 as evidence that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, Herod sent them there in search of Him.

Then, as they headed toward Bethlehem, six miles away, they suddenly saw the Star again. Even though they had not been able to see it while traveling to Jerusalem, it had indeed been going before them and now appeared once again, probably in the early morning sky.

The Biblical account says that the star "came and stood over where the young child was" (Matthew 2:9). That seems to indicate that, when the star reached its zenith position, it was over Bethlehem. Obviously, they didn't need the star to guide them to Bethlehem, but when they saw it again, they "rejoiced with exceeding great joy," because this meant that their understanding of Scripture was right and this was, indeed, His Star!

There is an ancient story, which could possibly be true, that as the Magi entered Bethlehem, they saw the star's reflection in the water at the bottom of a well, and that this was how they knew that the star was actually vertically over the village. The story has been cited by the Christian astronomer Maunder as realistic, even though unconfirmed. The Biblical account does not say that the star stood above the actual house, of course, but it would be easy enough to find out from the townspeople where the babe was, for the town was not large.

When they finally saw Him, they forthwith "fell down, and worshipped Him" (Matthew 2:11).

And so should we!