In ancient time, travelers didn’t have GPS. Most travelers navigated a journey by following stars. Travelers and astronomers knew the night sky. Based on their observations over decades, astronomers knew that star constellations and, what we now know as, planets moved in a prescribed pattern over a year’s time. They trusted this annual rotation of heavenly bodies. You can imagine how surprised these same astronomers were to see a new phenomenon in the night sky. They didn’t know how to describe it, except to call it a “star.”
Today, a goodly number of Bible scholars and secular astronomers believe that the Star of Bethlehem was an alignment of stars and planets in the Leo constellation. They include the star Regulus (king) in Leo and four plants. Those planets were Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system and the planets Mars, Mercury, and Venus.
Many astronomers and wise men (Magi) in ancient Near Eastern countries lived in Persia. As they talked with one another about the new star that appeared in the sky, they concluded that it must herald the birth of a king. Perhaps, they remembered Balaam’s oracle regarding the Israelites: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star shall come out of Jacob; and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17 NIV). Several of the wise men determined to follow the star to see this new-born king. Of course, they carried presents for the baby.
Following the star, the wise men arrived in Jerusalem and went to King Herod’s court. They expected that a newborn king would be birthed in a palace, amid a court. The Magi asked King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2 NIV). King Herod was flabbergasted. He didn’t see a new star in the night sky. His own wise men didn’t tell him about one. Most assuredly, King Herod knew nothing about a newborn king. When King Herod learned that the future king would be born in Bethlehem, he directed the wise men to continue following the star. Once the wise men learned exactly where this newborn king was, they were to report back to him, ostensibly, so he too could go and worship the king.
Following the star, the wise men came to a humble house in Bethlehem where Joseph, Mary, and the young child lived. Although we celebrate Epiphany 13 days after the feast day for Jesus’ birth, best evidence indicates that the wise men didn’t arrive in Bethlehem for a year, possibly, even two years, after Jesus’ birth. The star that led the wise men to the home where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived, wasn’t spectacularly bright. The Bible doesn’t tell us that Joseph and Mary ever saw a large star over their home. Likewise, there isn’t Bible documentation that King Herod saw the star.
The Bible doesn’t identify, what happened to the star. Did it disappear or stop moving when the wise men reached the home of Jesus? If the star was an alignment of planets and Regulus, it would have continued to move westward in the night sky. Yet, the wise men didn’t continue to follow the star westward. They returned to Persia without going back to Jerusalem and reporting to King Herod.
The star’s presence was a heavenly announcement that God’s son was born to humankind; and this son would save both Jew and Gentile from sins. As stars rule the night sky, Jesus Christ rules the powers of darkness on earth.