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Yeshua in Context » Background to Gospels, Birth of Messiah, Detailed Commentary, Intertextuality in the Gospels, Preachable Points, Video » Bethlehem Star, Video

Bethlehem Star, Video

When the very Jewish gospel of Matthew tells us the story of Messiah’s birth, you can bet it will be filled with Jewish themes. In fact, there are little known Jewish themes in the Matthew 2 story of the magi from the east and the star that reveals the place of Messiah’s birth.

What was the star of Bethlehem? What is the Jewish background of the star and the magi?

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Filed under: Background to Gospels, Birth of Messiah, Detailed Commentary, Intertextuality in the Gospels, Preachable Points, Video

8 Responses to "Bethlehem Star, Video"

  1. yeshuain says:

    When you watch the video, please forgive a little goof in the first 7 seconds (my son and I are still learning). You will see a title screen that is blank for the first two seconds with a starfield in the background. We’ll edit that out and re-upload later.

  2. Shalom Derek…

    Thanks for sharing. The connection between Balaam’s prophetic announcement and the story of the Magi seems to be a very traditional explanation of how the Magi knew that the “signs” in the stars referred to the birth of the Messiah.

    But, what if we were to take this one step further. Rather than trying to explain Numbers 24:17 purely as a prophecy of the birth of Yeshua, is there more we can get out of the multivalent interaction of these two stories. (I am not disputing this, but only suggesting we can consider prophecy in perhaps a deeper sense and get more from the connection of the two texts together.)

    Example: You made reference to the MaTovu as an opening blessing. It seems Balaam is “star-struck” at the appearance of the people of Israel and their encampment. One might generally assume the traditional approach to revelation that Balaam simply was given words by God and spoke them verbatim as prophecy. But, what if, instead, we were to read this passage in another way.

    “This is the prophecy…of one whose eyes see clearly; the prophecy of one who hears the words of God, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened” (Numbers 24:3-4).

    Balaam hears the words of God, but these words are intimately connected with the fact that Balaam has seen something, “a vision from the Almighty,” that has opened his eyes. What did he see? Didn’t he tell us? He saw the people of Israel…who had come out of Egypt. He saw something in their encampment and their way of living that challenged what he had known before. He could not curse them, but instead repeats the central theme of the narrative of Genesis 12.

    My suggestion, then, is that the prophecy that “a star will come out of Jacob; and a scepter will rise out of Israel” should not be assumed to be separated from Balaam’s being overwhelmed with what he sees as he looks out at the people of Israel.

    When comparing this to the narrative in Matthew of the magi, can we not also conclude that writer of this narrative (Matthew) assumed that the nations (represented by the magi) would expect a Messiah to come and rise up to be a king for Israel (represented by the passage about a ruler born in Bethlehem like David and the political connection in the story with King Herod), essentially because of that Genesis 12 promise?

    Even Micah 5:2-4, which begins with the political-theological connection of the “ruler over Israel” who will be born from Bethlehem,
    ends with the hope that “they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.” Then, if we look at this in connection to the larger themes of Micah (repentance, judgment, promised Kingdom of Peace), we might read Micah as calling for Israel to be a people that would be like those people which Balaam looked over and, in seeing them, his eyes were opened and he was able to hear the God.

    Long winded, but I am just wanting to suggest that Numbers 24 was primarily a narrative about who these people of Israel are to be in relation to their neighbors and that Micah and Matthew are further interpretations (or reflections) on that theme.

    What do you think?

    1. yeshuain says:


      I appreciate your interpretation of Balaam’s “star-struck” oracles. Very nice. While I do recognize that in most cases the prediction-and-fulfillment paradigm for messianic prophecies has been overstated in tradition, I think we can see Num 24:17 received more directly in Israel as a prophecy. Akiva apparently took it that way in the Second Jewish Revolt (called Bar Kosiva Bar Kochva — son of the star). So it doesn’t seem a stretch for me to think the early Yeshua community took Num 24:17 as a prediction of a star-messiah rising in Israel, one with Davidic military overtones (really a foretelling of the house of David but pointing ultimately to Messiah). You might say that in literary terms the Balaam oracle is more complex, but in terms of reception history, we have evidence it was received in a militaristic and messianic way in the early centuries.

      1. Thanks Derek:

        I think you understood that I was not trying to deny the legitimacy of the prediction-and-fulfillment paradigm then, or now. I only wanted to suggest that–in a narrative framework, in light of how most of us have experienced personal revelation, and especially in relation to the overall call for God’s people to be a holy people–we might see the prophecy and the coming of the Meshiac in light of a new, deeper meaning.

  3. Mary says:

    Great Job! Very interesting video. You did alot of work on this, much appreciated. Bless you and yours, Mary Merry Christmas

    1. yeshuain says:

      Thanks, Mary. I pray your celebration of Messiah’s birth is rich and meaningful.

  4. I’ve found about 7 references in Jewish literature referring to Messiah’s appearance preceded by a Star in the East:

    And there shall be a ruler amidst Jacob [Numb. 24.19] At first a star arose in the east, at the head of which there was a sword. Israel saw it, and said to one another, “What is that?” The other nations asked their astrologers, “What is the character of this star?” They [the astrologers] said to them, “This is the star of Israel. This is the king who shall yet arise for them.: As soon as Israel heard that, they approached the prophet Samuel and said to him, Give us a king to judge us, just like all the nations [I Sam. 8.5] – just as the nations said. in this context it says, a star shall arise from Jacob. [ Num. 24.17] And so also at the end [of days], a star shall arise in the east, and it is the star of the messiah; as it says, and there shall be a ruler (yerd) amidst Jacob. Rabbi Yose said: In the language of the Arameans, the east is called yerd. And it spends fifteen days in the east. If it tarries even longer, it is only for the good of Israel; and then you may expect the footsteps of the Messiah.”
    Midrash ha-Gadol, Numbers, Yemenite Midrash, translated by Yitzchak Tzvi Langerman, HarperCollins, pg. 175-176

    Philo says:

    “And in the land of the barbarians. . . there are very numerous companies of virtuous and honorable men celebrated. Among the Persians there exists a group, the Magi, who investigating the works of nature for the purpose of becoming acquainted with the truth. . . initiate others in the divine virtues, by very clear explanations.”
    Philo, Every Good Man is Free, 74

    “The glory of his majesty” refers to the Messiah when he shall reveal himself in the land of Galilee; for in this part of the Holy Land the desolation first began, and therefore he will manifest himself there first . . . and when the Messiah shall have manifested himself, a star shall come forth from the East variegated in hue and shining brilliantly, and seven other stars shall surround it, and make war on it from all sides, three times a day for seventy days, before the eyes of the whole world. The one star shall fight against the seven with rays of fire flashing on every side, and it shall smite them until they are extinguished, evening after evening. . . . After the seventy days the one star shall vanish.”
    Zohar, Volume II, Shemot 7b, Soncino Press Edition, pg. 21

    1. alexeyhurricane says:

      hmmm last comment from zohar sounds like revelations of john!!!

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