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The star’s stopping – and the wise men’s joy

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Matthew 2:1-12
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “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.” 

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’ ” 

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Researchers have done a good job of sorting out the astronomical cues to try to make sense of this star of Bethlehem. But their explanations still leave some people wondering about verses 9 and 10. How can an actual star or planet have “stopped” over Bethlehem? Doesn’t this “star” need to be understood as some kind of unexplainable supernatural event in order to have done this?

Well, as we study them, the astronomical details continue to reveal more and more intricate details, to the point where I believe this passage can now be fully understood in terms of an explainable and reconstructable astronomical event. And I’m glad that God did it this way. I believe He intentionally made this and many other truths verifiable – so that those who care about discerning between truth and fiction can actually accomplish this verification, and in the process gain great confidence in the reality of who He is, and in the unfathomable depth of His understanding.

There’s a special feature of the cycles of Venus and Jupiter which hasn’t been understood and talked about before – but when paying attention to it, this feature opens the door to the following possible scenario –

As the wise men travel in search of the new-born king, having been directed by the rabbis in Jerusalem to Bethlehem as the birthplace foretold by the prophet Micah, what they see in the sky intrigues them. Just before leaving Babylon they had seen a magnificent event. An exceptionally close conjunction of Venus with Jupiter right at the full moon. It had been the last piece of the puzzle, just falling into place, telling them with certainty that the Anointed One had been born just as prophesied.

VenusJupiter, Jun 17, 2BC
The exceptionally close Venus/Jupiter conjunction of Jun 17, 2 BC
Hebrew month 3, day 14, probably the final sign seen
by the wise men before beginning their journey

But now, unexpectedly, they were seeing Venus again approach Jupiter. It normally took at least 10 months for Venus and Jupiter to meet up again after a conjunction – but that notable conjunction had been less than 4 months ago. So what was going on?

Consulting their tables, they realized that what they were seeing was a convergence of two patterns – that of Venus and Jupiter, and that of Venus’ 4-month retrograde loops around the Sun. These retrograde loops would essentially set Venus back by 4 months, so an astronomical event Venus had just been involved in could sometimes be replayed 4 months later. But would this happen for the Venus/Jupiter conjunction that had sent them on their way to Jerusalem? Would they actually see that again?

On this they could only speculate. They’d never seen this happen. The timing of the loop would have to be just right in order to allow this particular event to be replayed. But 3 months into their journey, with both Venus and Jupiter now easily visible in the morning sky, Venus had done its last reversal, now moving in the forward direction once again, and each day drawing closer both to the ecliptic and to Jupiter, just as the wise men were drawing closer to their destination.

Each morning as they took their readings the anticipation grew, seeing Venus and Jupiter drawing steadily closer together. On the last morning, now at the full moon, and now in view of the little town of Bethlehem as they took their readings one last time, came the most surprising observation. It was about the timing of all this. Venus and Jupiter were no longer approaching each other. They had stopped, now at their closest approach.

VenusJupiter, Oct 13, 2BC
Venus/Jupiter together again just 4 months later
on Oct 13, 2 BC, Hebrew month 7, day 13

Just as the wise men had arrived at their destination, Venus and Jupiter had arrived at theirs, standing tall above Bethlehem, affirming to the hearts of the wise men a deep truth – that God was with them. That God had guided them. That even this journey they had just completed was an integral part of God’s master plan, having been precisely mapped out for them in the stars.

And in their hearts they sensed God’s pleasure with them, for having listened, for having invested all that effort in studying and sorting out the details of what had been foretold, and for having carefully followed His leading.

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