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The Morning Star

 

The following article is taken from Rev. Phil Greetham's website www.btinternet.com/~prgreetham/Wisemen/soc3.html:

"The ancients often linked various stars with gods. The Assyrian god Kaiwan, for instance, is equivalent to the planet Saturn. One god which is significant to our subject is 'Ishtar' identified as Venus, the morning star. Ishtar is a universal goddess known by a variety of names and features in several religions. She is the consort to the chief god and has developed the roles of both a love/war goddess and also a goddess of fertility. She is the 'Queen of heaven' mentioned by Jeremiah in Jer 7:18. In the Ancient Sumerian religion they are An and Ishtar. In Babylon they are known as Anu and Ishtar. In the Assyrian religion they are Ashur and Ishtar. She is Ashtoreth to the Canaanite people and Astarte to the Greeks. Ishtar's main city of Worship in Assyria was Nineveh. In Babylonian mythology she is responsible for the great flood. The Morning Star is a theme that also re occurs throughout the Bible, both New and Old Testament.

The Morning Star is first mentioned specifically in the Book of Job. Job is a very unusual book and although many may disagree, it comes across like a very long and sophisticated parable. In it Job, the epitome of a righteous man, has lost everything he possesses except his life. In his misery he is tempted to curse God. Instead he curses himself and wishes the day he was born had never existed. He desires that the day be obliterated from the calendar.

Job 3:1 – 10

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said: "May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, `A boy is born!' That day - may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine upon it. May darkness and deep shadow claim it once more; may a cloud settle over it; may blackness overwhelm its light. That night - may thick darkness seize it; may it not be included among the days of the year nor be entered in any of the months. May that night be barren; may no shout of joy be heard in it. May those who curse days curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan. May its morning stars become dark; may it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn, for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me to hide trouble from my eyes.

Job wishes that the day he was born would never have begun; that the night would not have turned to day. The morning stars are mentioned as heralds or precursor to the coming of the sun. His desire is that they should become dark and therefore stop the coming of the dawn on the day he was born. The book then goes on in much the same frame, with various so - called friends giving him advice. Finally towards the end of the book, God speaks.

Job 38:4

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone - while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

He points out that the morning stars were there before the beginning of creation, and that they sang with joy along with the angels at the dawn of the universe. He rebukes Job for daring to give orders to the morning and the dawn. Here also we have a fascinating description of the dawn.

Job 38:12 – 14

Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place,
that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?
The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.

Here we have not only the obvious rebuking of Job, but a revelation, a symbolism or even a prophecy. That the dawn will come and as it does everything that was fuzzy and indistinct will take shape like an image stamped in clay. Detail will be revealed and the so - called 'light', that the wicked hold on to, will vanish in the glare of the true light. The morning stars and the angels are rejoicing at the coming of this dawn. This imagery seems to go beyond a simple description of daybreak and suggests the dawning of a new era, when evil and darkness will be abolished by the coming of the light.

The next mention of the morning star, is found in Isaiah 14:12 - 15

How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!

You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.

Isaiah is condemning each nation in turn and in chapter 14 he turns his prophecy against Babylon. There is some confusion amongst scholars as to when this passage was written and to whom it refers. Like a lot of prophecies it probably refers to several events. If it was written by Isaiah the 8th century prophet then it would have been written in about 720 BC. Interestingly on the morning of the 26th of March 719 BC, the planets Jupiter and Venus rose in the east together as one star, a very rare thing to happen. Unfortunately, at this time, there was no 'King of Babylon' who would have fitted the description.

At that time King Sargon II of Assyria had just defeated the northern Israelite kingdom and had subjugated Babylon. As long as the morning was not cloudy, his priests could not have failed to notice this phenomenon. His priests may have equated Sargon with the god, 'Ishtar', their name for the planet Venus, the morning star. It does seems very coincidental that this event occurred at the same time as Isaiah would have been writing his prophecy about the morning star. The Isaiah passage is very sarcastic and only works if the person mentioned was referring to himself as 'the Morning Star'. The prophecy seems to remind the 'Morning Star' that according to the Ishtar myth he will rise but he will also have to go down into the underworld. In the same way this king, although ascending now, will one day fall.

However the prophecy as we have it refers not to an Assyrian King but the Babylonian King. Therefore it may be pure coincidence about the rising of Venus and Jupiter; yet again the prophecy may have originally referred to Sargon but was later applied to the Babylonian King. It is known that the Babylonians also worshipped Ishtar, the morning star. Babylon would, within the next 100 years, rise and defeat the Assyrians, defeating Judah and deporting its inhabitants to Babylon. The prophecy could then be applied specifically to the Babylonian King at that time, Nebuchadnezzar II. Whatever the explanation for the morning star taunt, the prophecy is still valid. In Isaiah 14:12, the King is called the Morning Star, son of the dawn. (The taunt only works if the King has called himself 'Ishtar', the Morning Star.) He has ascended high into the heavens. It was his intention to go above the stars of God and on to a position of equality with God. However he will fall from heaven and be cast down to the depths of the earth.

If the imagery of this passage is similar to the Job passage then Isaiah is telling us that the King of Babylon appeared to be, in his own eyes and the eyes of his people, a precursor to the coming of the light. In the king was a promise of world rule and prosperity but it eventually it would come to nothing. The morning star would rise, but it would also fall and the dawn will not come. This is what Job had wanted for the day of his birth, but God told him that only he orders the dawn.

So we have in these two passages, imagery which tells us the following :

  • That a dawning of revelation will come, bringing light and clarity to the world.
  • We have an apparent human attempt at this, but it will fail.
  • All this leads to the possibility of a future candidate for the morning star, this time one sent by God.

The Old Testament, in many places and using various imagery, tells of such a future ruler who will come to establish his kingdom. It is outside the scope of this book to fully show the many strands of prophecy that point to the coming of a world ruler or Messiah, but they are there.

Let us continue to follow the star imagery and see what else we can find.

In the Book of Numbers we are told of a character called Balaam.

Balaam is a Magus, a wise man, a performer of sorcery and professional cursor. Balaam is summoned by Balak, the king of Moab to come and curse the Israelites. The story then goes through a series of amusing adventures where God alternately prevents and allows the journey. Not only does this belittle Balaam and his so called 'power' but it shows that God is fully behind what comes next. When he reaches Balak, rather than curse the Israelites, Balaam, now with the Spirit of God upon him, prophecies blessings for Israel. Needless to say, Balak was none too pleased with Balaam and he refuses to pay him. Balaam then gives him this prophecy.

Numbers 24:17a

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel.

The context of this prophecy was clearly fulfilled by King David, but like many prophecies, they are reusable on a different level. This particular prophecy was later attributed to the coming of the Messiah, and although Matthew does not mention it in his Gospel, it is recognized as a being fulfilled by the star seen by Balaam's occupational ancestors, 1500 years later, the Magi from the east.

The Early Christians and the Morning Star

What of the early Christians, did they possess the idea that the Morning Star, symbolized the coming Messiah? Apparently they did.

2 Peter 1:19

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

The writer is encouraging his readers to hold on to the old prophecies and Christ's fulfillment of them. He says it is a light in a dark and murky place. It will suffice until the day dawns and the Morning Star rises in their hearts. Notice again that the Morning Star precedes the dawn. In this case it is referring not to the coming of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem but a second coming, when Christ will come in glory and majesty. The heart is a symbol of the will, and the Star rising there, denotes a transformation of the person concerned. The believer will undergo this transformation when Jesus comes again. An ancient Christian hymn is embedded in

Eph 5:14;

Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

As Romans 13:12 puts it;

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.

Luke in his own nativity passage has this enigmatic passage.

'Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the dayspring will rise to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness,' (Luke 1:78f)

The word translated here, 'dayspring', is anatole‚. The exact same word used by Matthew to describe where the Star of Christ was first seen, 'in the east' or 'at its rising'.

The anatole‚ is the lightening of the sky that rises before the sun. That cone of twilight that heralds the coming of the sun. Anyone who has been awake all night and is longing for daylight will know the joy of seeing that glow in the east and the rising of the morning star. The final definite proof that Jesus is the Morning Star comes right at the end of the Bible in Rev 22:16. Here Christ says,

'I am the Root, and the Offspring of David and the bright Morning Star.'

In Conclusion

It should be now clear that the Star of Christ not only appears in Matthew's gospel, but is part and parcel of the revelation of God concerning, the coming of the Messiah. It is clearly part of the expectation of the coming Messiah and was continued to be used as a symbol for Christ long afterward. The early Christian practice was to face east for prayer. East was the direction that Christ was expected to return, (Matt 24:27, Acts 1:11) Church buildings during the time of Emperor Constantine had their sanctuaries in the west end so the leader of the Eucharist faced east. Later, the sanctuary moved to the east, so all the people could pray to the east. (The leader then had to turn his back on the people!) You can verify the importance of the easterly direction by noticing that most older British churches have an east-west orientation with the sanctuary at the east. If the morning star is as important as it seems then an appearance by Venus or Jupiter, (the morning stars) could be seen as a symbol of the coming of the Messiah. However it would have to be a very special appearance if it were to mean anything."