His Star Appears In The East

by Nick Martin December 25, 2022

Throughout history, mankind has sought to develop maps, instruments, and systems in an attempt to rightly orient themselves in the world. From roads to stars, navigation for travel was often aided by landmarks along a traveler’s journey. Yet, even with modern GPS, we have all found ourselves headed in the wrong direction or far from the place we intended to be. If only we had recognized that highway sign a few miles back?

In Matthew 2, the appearance of a star in the east signifies a miraculous event of a God that has intervened in the course of history. The star is recognized by the convinced kingmakers. The star is rejected by the conspiring king, Herod. The star is renounced by the cynical chief priests and scribes. For it is this star, His star, that revealed the advent of the King of Kings.

Yet, while major emphasis must rightly be given to the star’s kingly significance (Numbers 24:17), the star’s significance in relation to its’ appearance in the east allows us to treasure the coming of King Jesus to sinful man all the more.

From Genesis onward, the Bible utilizes direction to not only identify physical location, but to depict spiritual orientation in relationship to God. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden, God banished them to the east (Genesis 3:24). Similarly, when Cain went out from the presence of the Lord after murdering his brother, he settled in Nod, east of Eden (Genesis 4:16). Not only had these biblical characters moved physically, but their sin had revealed their rebellious course and distanced them from communion with God. For man to move eastward appears to be one way the Bible uniquely depicts the rupture of fellowship and disobedient path of sinful man toward a holy God.

Further in the biblical narrative, the connection between direction and heart posture remains, as those who, despite living in the aftermath of the flood, constructed the tower of Babel, first journeying east to settle on the plain of Shinar (Genesis 11:2).

However, as God sovereignly covenanted with Abram, a turning of physical direction in the narrative spotlights a new spiritual direction in relationship with God. With his back toward Ai, a city to the east meaning ‘heap of ruins’, Abram, is headed with his face toward Bethel, meaning ‘House of God’. There in the middle, Abram pitches his tent and builds his altar (Genesis 12:8).

Moreover, direction would separate Abram from his nephew, as Lot journeyed eastward as far as Sodom (Genesis 13:11). Upon the giving of covenant blessing, Abraham sets apart the promised son, Isaac, as the sons of his concubines depart eastward with their gifts to the land of the east (Genesis 25:5-6). Jacob, who wrestled with God, would too find himself in the land of the sons of the east (Genesis 29:1).

Later, God clearly displayed for the Israelites the connection, as the tabernacle would face east calling out to those distant from God, as the Aaronic priests moved west toward the Holy of Holies where fellowship was to be restored (Exodus 27:1-18; Number 2:1-34; Numbers 3:38). Nevertheless, Israel would later find themselves exiled to Babylon in the east (Daniel 9:9-10).

Our world today could aptly be described as one east of Eden. One does not have to travel far to realize mankind’s condition is far from God. Yet, the narrative of Christmas is one that finds a star appear in the east as the magi from the east recognize the coming King (Matthew 2:1-2). Was it not the prophet Ezekiel who saw the glory of God coming from the way of the east to fill the house with His Spirit one again (Ezekiel 43:1-5)?

This Christmas, as you travel far and wide to reach those who you love, remember, recognize, and rejoice, for His star in the east signifies the King who has come to welcome those east of Eden who were exiled so long ago. [1]

[1] Patrick Schreiner, Matthew, Disciple and Scribe: The First Gospel and Its Portrait of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2019), 80.

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