A Star out of Jacob
Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and is one of the keystone events of the New Testament. Although we do not know the exact date and there is no historical proof for December 25th, the gospel of John tells us there was a certain day when ‘the Word was made flesh’. (John 1:14) Note that the New Testament presents Jesus (His Hebrew name being יֵשׁוּעַ – Yeshua), not as a man claiming to be God, but as God becoming a man so that He may redeem mankind from sin and give inner peace to those He redeemed.
When this wonderful event occurred, God informed two groups of people. The gospel of Luke tells us that angels appeared to the shepherds the very night of Jesus birth – Luke 2:8-14. Matthew tells us that God gave wise men from the east (probably Persia) a sign of a star to know the new king had been born. The Hebrew word for star is כּוֹכָבִֽ – ko-chav. Since God made the stars, ( כּוֹכָבִֽים – ko-chavim is the plural), see Genesis 1:16, He can use them as He wills. Matthew 2:1-2 says, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem 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.“
Why did God use a star? Well, Moses prophesied that when the King of the Jews would come, He would be designated by a star. Numbers 24:17, “...there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” The appearance of the ‘Sceptre of Israel’, meaning the King, would occur at the same time as the ‘Star out of Jacob’. Also Daniel, who was a prophet in the same far away Persia during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, wrote in Daniel chapter 9 the complete timeline of the coming Messiah and states specifically it is before the destruction of the second Temple. Since Daniel also served as a high government official in the palace in Shushan, Babylon, his writings would have been preserved in the royal Persian library and available for the Persian wise men to read hundreds of years later. [Note: Daniel wrote his prophecy approx. 500 years before Jesus was born.] God also used a star for the wise men because they were astronomers and they studied the stars! God can speak to us in a general way through nature, but note that once the wise men reached Jerusalem, they received detailed instructions concerning the birth of the King from the Word of God. At Herod’s request, the scribes and pharisees told them that the Messiah would be born, “in Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet.” (Matthew 2:4-6) They were referring to the prophecy in Micah 5:2 that had been written approx. 400 years earlier. “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
The Scripture does not say exactly where in the ‘east’ the wise men were from, but Babylon was the largest city east of Jerusalem and it was 800 miles away. Also, the wise men did not make such a journey alone. They no doubt had a large caravan of servants, food and supplies, etc. They would have to camp each night in tents, prepare food, care for the camels, etc. I am sure men of such importance traveled with a large entourage! No wonder Matthew 2:3 informs us that Herod was, “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” when this entourage came into Jerusalem and started asking about the new king! The wise men would have ridden on camels, but many in the caravan would have had to walk no doubt. The pace would have been slow. At 10 miles per day, the trip would have taken a minimum of 80 days with no days of rest. I am sure they took days of rest however. They would have stopped in villages to purchase food and supplies, etc. So the journey would have taken a bare minimum of three months, but probably much longer. Some commentators even suggest a year. Also, factor in preparation time for the journey, ie, the time from when they first sighted the star in Persia to the time of departure from Persia. So the wise men did not arrive in Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth like the shepherds did. Notice Matthew says they came to see the ‘young child’ (not infant) in a “house”, not to the stable. In the KJV, the phrase ‘young child’ occurs eight times in Matthew ch. 2.
Why did God send a star to wise men in far away Persia to let them know the King of the Jews had been born? I think because the wise men were looking for that king. The prophet Jeremiah ( יִרְמְיָ֖הוּ ) writes (in 29:13), “And ye shall seek me, [God] and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” If we are seeking God, He will work miracles to ensure we find Him. But if our heart is closed to Him, we will be like Herod and the many residents of Bethlehem who had a King in their midst, but did not know it. Truly Wise Men Still Seek Him!