Friday, February 6, 2015

The Star of Bethlehem: Prophesied of?

In Sunday school a few weeks ago we talked about the story of the wise men seeing the star and coming to Israel from the east.  I love this verse containing their question of Herod:

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. (Matt 2:2)

This is fascinating because it implies these wise men 1) have been watching the skies and know the stars well, 2) they know when an unusual star appears, 3) they know what the new star means, 4) they know generally where to go to find this king of the Jews and they seem to think everyone in Israel (most especially the current king) should know all about it and be able to give directions.

In Sunday school, someone mentioned that this prophecy of the star isn’t in our scriptures.  This intrigued me, so I went looking. 

And actually…

It is there, in a place totally unexpected.  Would you believe the prophet Balaam?

15 ¶And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said:
16 He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open:
17 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. (Numbers 24: 15-17)

It is interesting that this prophecy doesn’t seem to speak literally; rather it uses parallelism to communicate that the Messiah would be a great light and ruler, and it combines in second coming prophecy of the destruction of the wicked.  But it was also literally fulfilled, as a star did arise.

Also, you can see why Herod would be worried.  If the wise men quoted the prophecy to him with its context, he would be concerned about the bits telling about smiting and destroying and ruling because not only would he feel in the way, but he’d worry about the plunging of his kingdom into war with its neighbors, which is also implied.

Now, we don’t know if this was the only scriptural reference to the star that the wise men had.  They may have had other scriptures we know nothing about.  They may have had angelic visitors telling them to watch for that sign, much as the shepherds had an angelic visitor telling them to look for a baby in swaddling clothes in a manger, or as Samuel the Lamanite had an angel tell him to look for the day and the night and a day with no night and a new star.

However, if all they had was that one reference in Numbers, then part of what made them so wise was their belief in what this prophet said, to the extent that they watched and studied the skies.  Part of their wisdom (which looks a lot like the spirit of prophecy) lay in being able to truly discern a literal prophecy in what looks very much like symbolic figurative language.


Rozy Lass said...

I know it is not scriptural or confirmed by any General Authority, but I believe that the "wise men" were prophets from the eastern lands. The Lord told Nephi that he spoke to all nations and all nations kept records. We just don't have their records at this time. Won't it be fabulous when they come forth?!!

Michaela Stephens said...

I agree. That will be interesting.