Q. Recently I was thinking about the so called Star of Bethlehem. Do you think it really was a star in the sky that the whole world could see or was it something that only those who knew where to look would have recognized?
A. Some scholars point to Numbers 24:17 as a prophecy of the star of Bethlehem and the birth of the Messiah.
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob, a scepter will rise out of Israel.”
The so-called wise men were actually descendents of a group of priests the prophet Daniel had formed in Babylon over 500 years earlier. He told them when to look for the Messiah based on what the angel Gabriel had told him (Daniel 9:24-27). They passed the information from father to son until the time came, and when they saw the star, they began their long journey to Bethlehem.
From Matt. 2:2 we can tell they knew they were looking for the Messiah because they asked King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” and referred to the star they had been following. The Greek word used through out the passage is aster. It’s used 24 times in the New Testament, and is always translated star. I believe it was a star, visible to all, just like the Bible says.
But this star was unique in the history of the world. It rose where they were and led them from there to Bethlehem. They were able to plot their course by its movement in the sky over a period of time that could have lasted for months. Its direction was so clear to them that it actually led them to Jerusalem, then waited in the sky while they conferred with King Herod, before taking them to the very house which the Lord was living where it stopped (Matt. 2:9). This was a supernatural phenomenon on a par with the Sun standing still for Joshua (Joshua 10:12-15).