STARS IN SCRIPTURE
IN THE BEGINNING
The stars feature prominently in Scripture, in both a literal and symbolic sense. Consider the first verse of Genesis chapter 1: “in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (note the order: heaven, then earth). In verse 14 we are told the purpose of the arrangement of the heavens: “ … lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night … let them be for signs, and for seasons, and days, and years.” The lights spoken of are the sun, the moon and the stars (verse 18).
The Hebrew word “made” (verse 16) is ‘asah’, meaning ‘assemble’. It is different from the word for “created” (Heb. Barah, meaning an instantaneous act of production) used in verse 1. This suggests that the heavenly bodies were already in existence at the time of the six days of creation, and were assembled by God to sustain the earth and fit in with His wonderful plan for our well-being.
The moon is the only satellite of the earth; but it has always puzzled some scientists as to why it is so different from the earth. It is virtually without an atmosphere, lacks an appreciable global magnetic field, is different in composition, appears to be very old, and is not believed to be originally part of the earth. Further, the four planets nearest the sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars contain elements that are different from those found in the sun. This would suggest that the sun is an unlikely source-material for the rest of the solar system.
God’s Word is simple, yet profound. The sun, moon and stars already existed, and God took them and set them on their courses in order that we might recognize signs, know the seasons and be sustained night and day. Note that this work was done on the fourth day in order that the plant cycles established on day three would not perish due to perpetual darkness or light, or grow in a manner in which the Creator would be unable to declare of what He saw that “it was good” (Cp. Vs. 12, 18).
Scripture encourages us to look for spiritual lessons in the arrangement of the heavens: “the heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory” (Psa. 97:6). Jacob understood this, and interpreted Joseph’s dream (Gen. 37) in terms of the hierarchy of his family:
Sun – Father (Jacob)
Moon – Mother (Rachel, already dead)
Stars – Israel (Joseph’s brethren)
Consider the spiritual lessons signified in the heavens in Psalm 19:
Verse 1 “the heavens declare the glory of God”
“the firmament (expanse, Young) sheweth his handiwork”
Verse 2: “day unto day uttereth speech”
“Night unto night sheweth knowledge”
Verse 5: “… the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber”.
The earth travels at a mean speed of 66.6 thousand miles per hour on its 7000 million mile orbit (significant numbers?) of the sun and returns each year to a given point, always on time. When we look at the heavens on a cloudless night, we cannot but marvel at God’s handiwork – its boundlessness, and our insignificance (Psa. 8:1-4, “what is man that thou are mindful of him …?)
The cycle of a day from sunrise to sunset speaks to us of the power of God. The brilliance and penetrating heat of the sun is likened to “a bridegroom coming out of his chamber” and to the rejoicing of “a strong man to run a race” (Psa. 19:5-6).
The sun is at the centre of our solar system; it is the sustainer of all life. The temperature of the surface of the sun is about 6000 degrees K, and the energy is generated by thermonuclear processes: we cannot therefore approach it. Without it we would be in total darkness and perish: if we try to look at it we will be blinded. God, in His infinite wisdom and care for mortal man, has protected the earth from harmful radiation effects of the sun by the atmosphere that surrounds it.
The spiritual parallels with our Heavenly Father are obvious: God is the sustainer of all life. “for the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly (Psa. 84:11) “dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen, nor can see: (1 Tim. 6:16) “There shall no man see me (God), and live” (Exo. 33:20). Mankind without God is in darkness and without hop (Mat. 22:13).
God has provided one natural satellite for the earth. The moon completes a cycle of phases from one new moon to the next in approximately 29.5 days. The moon is a night light that reflects the sun’s rays on the darkened surface of the earth, and is a controller of the ocean tides.
The moon was intended by God to be a “lesser light” to rule by night, to facilitate the measurement of time. The phases of the moon (new, crescent, half, gibbous, and full) followed by the same sequence in reverse order, gave the Jews a lunar month. The Psalmist tells us that “he appointed the moon for seasons” (Psa.104:19). This marking of time was important, since it was essential to know when the “beginning of months” (Num. 10:10) was. It was a time for blowing of trumpets, offering of burnt offerings and peace offerings, and for marking the time of Passover (Exo. 12:2). David was aware of the cycle of moon phases: “tomorrow is the new moon” (1 Sam. 20:5) when he was required to eat with the king.
The moon provides us with a God-given time calculator. Paul applies this knowledge to the time of the Lord’s coming: “Of the times and seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thes. 5:1-2). His statement was not intended to indicate that believers could predict the time when the Lord will return (see Acts 1:6-7), but that they should be able to read the signs of the times (Mat. 16:3) when people say, “peace and safety” (1 Thes. 5:3-4). God has not revealed the actual date, but rather the circumstances that will prevail when our Lord returns.
An essential difference between stars and planets is that stars emit light. The stars are vast distances away, and therefore appear to be ‘fixed’, as far as man can observe in a human life-span. Planets do not give light, but merely reflect it, and follow a regular orbit around the sun. There are spiritual lessons for us in the way Scripture uses these terms. The faithful are at present like the planets, reflecting the glory of God (Mat. 5:16). But when given eternal life, they will be as stars giving light which will contribute to the spiritual heavens which declare the glory of God (Psa. 19:1).
THE SIGNS OF THE ZODIAC
The Zodiac is a band of twelve constellations through which the sun passes each year. It has been suggested that these constellations and their signs were invented by the Babylonians before 2000 BC. Israel were commanded not to worship any graven image, male, female, beast, fowl, creeping thing or any fish. They were also forbidden to worship the sun, moon or stars (Deut. 4:15-19). The signs of the Zodiac combine the worship. Men have taken creatures (i.e. crab, bull, fish, goat, lion, ram, scorpion). Some mythological (e.g. Sagittarius), and identified them with groups of stars – such is the perversity of human nature.
The Zodiac signs are linked with Chaldean mythology and date back to the time of Nimrod. They are part of idolatrous worship and were, perhaps, worshipped by Israel (2 Kings 17:16), and by Judah (2 Kings 21:3). Manasseh worshipped the sun, moon and “planets” (see margin – 12 signs or constellations 2 Kings 23:5) and all the host of heaven. Stephen speaks of Israel (Acts 7:43) worshipping the star of Remphan (an Egyptian deity) which corresponds to Chiun (Amos 5:26) which is Saturn.
The word used for star (Gk. Aster – Youngs) also means ‘luminous meteor’. Meteors, also known as shooting stars, or falling stars, are the result of interplanetary dust from comets entering the earth’s atmosphere at high speed. The heat generated due to friction with the atmosphere causes the material to be dissipated as a bright light, usually lasting only for a fraction of a second before it disappears for ever.
Jude 1:13 speaks of the unfaithful in the ecclesia as “wandering stars”, or wandering luminous meteors whose course is inexact – “to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever”. The faithless have no permanence or stability: they come on the scene suddenly and are removed just as quickly. Meteor-type language is also used of the political systems of the world (Mark. 13:25, Rev. 6:13) and also of the tribulations of the western (Rev. 8:10) and eastern (Rev. 9:1) portions of the Roman Empire.
At certain times of the year the Earth encounters swarms of cometary dust which gives rise to meteor showers. At 33 year intervals there can be extraordinary displays with thousands of meteors per hour for short periods. Jesus’ words may have a literal as well as a symbolic fulfilment at his return: “the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (Mat. 24:29).
The use of the term “stars” is important in Scripture. It is used frequently to symbolize Israel, ruling powers, and the faithful. God said to Abraham, “look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be: (Gen. 15:5). The stars are a nightly reminder to us of the reality of the promises that God made to Abraham and to us who are “heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). Deborah, like Jacob, recognized the stars as a symbol of Israel, in her song of praise to God for the downfall of their enemies. “they (Israel) fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera” (Jud. 5:20). Edom also would be cut down because they set their nest among the stars (Ob. 1:4). Similarly, Nineveh was cut down, because she “multiplied (her) merchants above the stars of heaven” (Nah. 3:16).
The leaders of the seven ecclesias in the book of Revelation are seen as stars to whom Jesus addresses warnings. Like stars, they were expected to give light and therefore guidance (Rev. 1:20). We have received the light of the gospel and this brings responsibility (Rev. 2:1-2).
To those who walk faithfully and preach to others, the stars are a symbol of their future exaltation. The “wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3-4). To the spiritually-minded man, the star spangled heavens speak therefore of resurrection to life everlasting and the occupation of an exalted place for eternity in the kingdom of God with the faithful of all ages.
There will be differences at the resurrection as to the level of authority given in the kingdom: “one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:41-42). There is a difference in the strength of the light from the stars, and Jesus’ parable of the pounds reminds us of the spiritual lesson to be drawn from the observation of the literal heavens: “because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities”. And to another he said, “Be thou also over five cities” (Lu. 19:17, 19).
God knows how many stars there are in the heavens and has named them all (Psa. 147:4), in contrast to things on the earth, which He invited Adam to name (Gen. 2:19-20). God, in speaking to Job out of the whirlwind used the names of some of the constellations: Pleiades, Orion (hunter), Arcturus (bear) and Mazzaroth (twelve signs) (Job 38:31-32). It appears that some of the names given by God were known to man in early times (Job. 9:9). The names of the stars are not lost; God knows them all by name, just at the names of the faithful are recorded in His Eternal Memory (Mal. 3:16). The Psalmist tells us that God gave a name to each star; the spiritual type is seen in the promise to the faithful that each will be given a name by God in the kingdom age (Rev. 2:17) and elevated as the stars in brightness for ever (Dan. 12:3).
THE DAY STAR
Jesus is presented in Scripture as a star. Balaam’s prophecy concerning Israel speaks prophetically of Jesus as a star that would come out of Jacob (Num. 24:17). To the faithful, Jesus promised power, rulership and “the morning star” (Rev. 2:28). The morning star is a reference to the planet Venus. The ancients did not realise that the first star to appear in the night sky and the last to disappear from the morning sky was in fact the same heavenly body. Two names were used: ‘Hesperus’ (evening star) and ‘Phosphorous’ (morning star, meaning ‘light bearer’) (see Fig. 1). The diagram shows that the evening star (east of the sun) is visible soon after sunset and that the morning star rises before daybreak in the morning sky (west of the sun) on its almost circular orbit the sun.
The reference to Jesus’s work being light-bearing are numerous. For example:
“the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isa. 9:2).
“I will … give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light to the Gentiles, to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isa. 42:6,7).
“The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Isa. 60:1-3).
Jesus said of himself:
“I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jno. 8:12).
The “word of prophecy” is likened to a light by Peter in preparation for the day’s dawn, when “the daystar arise in your hearts” (2 Pet. 1:19). This is the light-bearing work of Jesus which is a source of joy and hope for the believer. The “daystar” (phosphorous) in this last quotation is the name for the planet Venus.
The natural world has lessons for the spiritually-minded. The planets have no light to give of their own: they reflect the light of the sun. Jesus said, “the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do” (Jno 5:19). And: I can of mine own self do nothing … I seek not my own will: (Jno. 5:30). The planet Venus has the highest reflective value of all the planets and is therefore the brightest object in the sky other than the sun and the moon: it absorbs little light, but passes it on.
“He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (Jno. 14:9).
Of all the planets, Venus is most like the earth in size (95 % of the earth’s diameter); it’s orbit around the sun brings it closer to the earth than other planets (within 24.8 million miles). We can see nothing of it’s surface features because the planet is permanently covered with cloud. “he hath no form or comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2). Venus is closer to the sun than the earth is: “the Son is in the bosom of the Father” (Jno. 1:18), and its orbit brings it between the sun and the earth: “One God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).
The rotation of 8 of the 9 planets in our solar system is West to East; the exception is Venus, the day star, which rotates in the same direction as the Sun, i.e. East to West. The association of the daystar (Jesus) with the earth (man) and the relationship with the sun (God) is there for us to observe. Consider the astronomical implications of Jesus’ words in John 8:12:
“I am the light of the world”
And verse 23:
“Ye are from beneath, I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world”
And verse 29:
“He that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone: for I do always those things that please him”.
Scripture leaves us in no doubt that the “morning star” is a title of our Lord Jesus Christ: “I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16); and Jesus said, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (verse 13), as Venus is the first star to appear in the night sky, and the last to disappear in the morning.
From the time of Nimrod, pagan kings have regarding themselves as deified mortals. A king of Babylon took one of the titles of the Lord Jesus Christ to himself: the word rendered “Lucifer” in Isaiah 14:12 means “day star” (see margin). The proverb spoken against this king was spoken for five reasons:
- Because of pride (“thy pomp is brought down”)
- Because he had taken a title of our Lord Jesus (daystar)
- Because he thought he was a god (I will ascend into heaven” , “I will be like the Most High”
- Because he exalted himself above the stars of God (Israel)
- To show the cutting off of Chaldee mythology in the cutting down of the king of Babylon, for Lucifer was supposed to be “son of the morning” (Aurora) who married Orion (Nimrod).
As the work of Jesus in God’s purpose is developed, we see Jesus as no longer a planet reflecting God’s glory, but as part of the Sun he is now ready to bring judgments through fierce heat upon the wicked:
“all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord … but unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings” (Mal. 4:1,2).
Jesus was also prepared to bring judgment on the ecclesias in Asia Minor: “His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength (Rev. 1:16, see also Acts 26:23). In the Kingdom of God, the holy city will have “no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev. 21:23).
THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM
Suggestions as to what the star was that guided the wise men to Bethlehem have included the daystar, a comet, and meteor. Scripture does not identify the guiding light for us. We may discount some possibilities, but the facts are as follows:
- The star arose in the east and progressed in a westerly direction (Mat. 2:1-2)
- The wise men describe it as “his (i.e. Jesus) star” (Mat. 2:2)
- The object was not obvious to the casual observer of the heavens, since Herod had to enquire what time the star appeared (Mat. 2:9-10).
- On leaving Herod’s presence, the wise men looked up and saw the star and continued to follow it to Bethlehem (Mat. 2:9-10).
The “star” that the wise men followed was not therefore obvious to all. This discounts some spectacular display in the heavens. We cannot be certain about what they saw, but it required the eye of faith to discern this “sign of the times”. My suggestion is that they saw the daystar (Venus) which was always there, but only the wise men understood the significance of it as “thy light” which would attract Gentiles and “kings to the brightness of thy rising: (Isa. 60:1-3). They understood that the time was right (Dan. 9:25-27) for “his star” to herald the coming of the Son of God into the world.
The earth takes 365.25 days to orbit the sun: this is defined as one year. The further away from the sun a planet is, the longer it takes to complete a circuit of the sun. For example:
Mercury 88 days – 35.9 million miles from the Sun
Venus 225 days – 67.2 million miles from the Sun
Earth 365 days – 93.0 million miles from the Sun
Neptune 165 years – 2794.3 million miles from the Sun
Pluto 248 years – 3666.0 million miles from the Sun
A day on earth is defined by one rotation of the planet which takes 24 hours: but this is not the same time-period on all planets. For example, Mercury takes 59 days to rotate once, Venus 243 days, Pluto 6.4 days. These physical characteristics of our solar system may help our understanding of Peter’s words: “… one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” (2Pet. 3:8).
A “day with the Lord as a thousand years” suggests that while we on earth experience a 1000 year period (i.e. many rotations of the earth on its axis), this is the equivalent of one day with the Lord. The example of this slow rotation of Venus gives it the longest period of all the planets for its day (243 days). But a day with God, measured in human terms, would be 1000 years.
A “thousand years (i.e. with God) as one day” suggests that the vast distance away from the earth at which the Lord is located is represented by the ratio of one day on earth. The most distant planet in our solar system, Pluto, takes 248 years to complete it’s orbit of the sun (it is some 3666 million miles from the sun). The Lord may therefore be located at a distance far beyond this. The Lord is above the heavens (in distance): see Psalm 50:4: “he shall call to the heavens from above”. Psalm 8:1 “… who hast set thy glory above the heavens”. The book of Job says that God “walketh in the circuit of heaven” (22:4), yet He is not far from each of us, for He “sitteth upon the circle of the earth” (Isa. 40:22) if we seek Him.
The Lord God is timeless, “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psa. 90:2); and to help us understand this, God has se the greater and lesser lights for signs, seasons, days and years.