Star of Jacob / Star of Bethlehem

As the children of Israel approached the promised land under the leadership of Moses, the king of Moab, Balak, requested a prophet in his country named Balaam to curse the new arrivals. Balaam warned the king’s servants, “If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more” (Numbers 22:18). Still, he accompanied the king to three different locations, where he pronounced each time a blessing on Israel instead of the cursing the king sought. When the king responded angrily, Balaam became more specific. He prophesied poetically that this new nation would conquer and overthrow Balak’s kingdom:

There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.

Numbers 24:17

This prophecy may be what prompted a group of wise men many centuries later to travel to Jerusalem and ask King Herod, “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” (Matthew 2:2). They associated the star with a scepter and believed that it signified the arrival of a great king in Israel.

The irony is that although Jesus was a descendant of Jacob (Israel), He was also a descendant of Ruth, a Moabitess. (See Matthew 1:5, Ruth 1:22.) So that even though Jesus Christ, who will govern the earth, lived as an Israelite, He can also trace His roots to Balak’s kingdom of Moab.

After King Herod directed the wise men to Bethlehem, Matthew tells us that the star which had prompted their journey “went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.” Then, he added, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:10). Was he still talking about the star in the heavens, which they had presumably seen every night for months? Or was he now referring to the One whom the star represented, the young child who had brought God’s light into the world?

Like Balaam, Samuel the Lamanite prophesied of this star to an unreceptive audience. After foretelling majestic heavenly signs which would coincide with the birth of the Savior, he added, “There shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you” (Helaman 14:5).

When Mormon describes the fulfillment of those prophecies, he specifically highlights that one:

And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word.

3 Nephi 1:21

At the end of the Revelation of St. John, the Savior extends the following invitation:

I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

Revelation 22:16-17

This Christmas season, let’s follow the example of the wise men. Let’s seek for “the bright and morning star,” the Star of Jacob, our Savior, Jesus Christ. When we find Him, like them, we will “rejoice with exceeding great joy.”

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