The Star in the East
by Rev. Willard D. Pendleton
It came to pass in the days when Herod was king in Jerusalem that there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, "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) Who these wise men were we do not know; but we do know that they came from the land of Aram, or Syria, which is referred to in the twenty-ninth chapter of Genesis as "the land of the ... [sons] of the east." (Genesis 29: 1; AC 3249, 3762)
From most ancient times Syria has been the center of a civilization which had its origin in the Most Ancient Church, among whom it was well known that someday the Lord would come into the world. But as the men of that church fell away from their original integrity, the knowledge of the Lord's coming was gradually forgotten, and lest all knowledge of the Lord should be lost the doctrinals of that church were gathered together and preserved in the Ancient Word. (AC 3419) It was, then, by means of the Ancient Word, or by means of such fragments of it as still existed among the scattered remnants of the Ancient Church, that the knowledge of the Advent was preserved among those to whom the Hebrew prophets referred as the "sons of the east."
It is our thesis, therefore, that the knowledge of the Lord's coming was not, as is generally supposed, confined to Israel. The evidence of this is found in the story of Balaam, a Syrian prophet who, in the days of Balak, the king of Moab, was called out of Syria to cast a curse upon the children of Israel. Fearing this people who had come out of Egypt by way of the wilderness of Sinai and were now encamped on the borders of Moab, Balak hoped to accomplish by enchantment that which he knew he could not do by the sword. Thus when Balaam was come unto him, Balak charged him, saying, "Curse me this people." (Numbers 22: 17) But Balaam answered him: "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)
We note here with particular interest that in answering Balak, Balaam referred to Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, as his God and Lord. Concerning this the Writings state that "Balaam . . . not only worshiped Jehovah, but also offered sacrifices [to Him], and was at the same time a prophet [of the Lord]." (AC 1366; also AC 1992) To understand this we must bear in mind that Abram, the father of the Hebrew nation, had come out of Syria where he had worshiped Jehovah under the name of God Shaddai, but we are told that there were other families there who were also descendants of the Ancient Church and who retained the worship of Jehovah and called Him by that name. (AC 1992)
It is evident from the text of the Old Testament that it was to one of these families who still worshiped Jehovah that Balaam belonged. (AC 1675: 5) Like the Hebrew prophets, he, too, was a prophet of Jehovah, although descended from a different line. The office of the prophet, however, like the office of the priesthood, was subject to corruption, and in lending himself to divinations and enchantments for the sake of personal gain, Balaam did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. Yet when called upon to cast a curse upon those whom Jehovah had chosen as His own people, Balaam's fear of Jehovah was greater than his hope of reward. Thus instead of cursing this people he blessed them, saying, "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the side of the river." (Numbers 24: 5, 6)
Then was Balak's anger kindled against Balaam, and he smote his hands together and charged him, saying, "I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them." (Numbers 24: 10) But again Balaam answered him, saying: "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the commandment of the Lord, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what the Lord saith, that will I speak . . . Come and I will advertise [to] thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days. And he took up his parable, and said ... I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh: 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: 10, 13, 15, 17)
There is every reason to believe that Balaam's reference to a star was derived from a yet earlier prophecy which was well known to the men of the Ancient Church. While it is true that we have no record of such a prophecy, we do know that the ancients possessed the knowledge of representatives and significatives, and it was therefore known among them that by a star is signified the knowledge of good and truth, and that by a star in the east is signified the knowledge of the Lord.(AC 3419; AE 422: 20) Further, the Writings state: "These representatives in worship . . . remained with many even to the Lord's coming, and thence there was a knowledge of His coming, as . . . [may be evident] from the predictions of Balaam who was from Syria." (AE 422: 20) That is why it was that on the night the Lord was born a star appeared to certain wise men in the east, and led them to the place where the young child lay. For the knowledge of a thing must always precede the perception of it.(AC 5649)
But although it was known to the ancients that a star was to be the sign of the Lord's coming, they did not know among what nation or people He was to be born. What was new in Balaam's prophecy, therefore, was the designation of Israel as the chosen matrix of the Divine seed. Now it was known, not only to Israel, but also to the sons of the east, that someday He who had been promised of old would come out of Jacob; and that, as signified by the sceptre that was to rise out of Israel, He would be born of a royal line. Thus in the days when Herod was king in Jerusalem there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, "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). This, the Writings say, is evidence that the knowledge of Balaam's prophecy was preserved until the time of the Advent among the sons of the east. (AE 422: 20)
On this day of the year, therefore, when we commemorate those high and holy events which took place so many years ago in the hill country of Judea, our hearts are stirred by the affections of early childhood when we first learned of Him who was born in Bethlehem in the days of Herod the king. For we know that this Child, although born of woman, was as no other child, in that He was conceived of the Divine seed. He it was of whom the prophets from the beginning had spoken, and He it is to whom the Writings bear witness at this day. But if we would know Him, we, too, must follow the star of His birth; for at this day, even as on the night He was born in Bethlehem of Judea, His star may be seen in the east.
Unlike the star of Bethlehem, however, which led the wise men through the darkness of the spiritual night, the star of His second coming is the herald of the day. Thus it was that John, the prophet of the second coming, spoke of Him who was to come as "the bright and morning star." (Revelation 22: 16) As yet, however, its light is but a feeble ray discernible only to those few who have not lost faith in the Word. But as it ascends it will dispel the darkness until it shines as the sun in his strength. For as the Lord said to the Jews, "I am the light of the world." (John 6: 12)
The light of the world is the Divine doctrine, and He it is who has been born among us at this day. In our celebration of Christmas, therefore, our thoughts are directed not only to that miracle which took place almost two thousand years ago in Bethlehem of Judea, but also to that miracle to which we bear witness today. In the birth of the Divine doctrine, that is, in the derivation of the spiritual sense out of the letter of the Word, He of whom the ancient prophets spoke in parables, may now be seen in light. For this Child, who is the newborn doctrine of spiritual truth, giveth light to the understanding; that is, the ability to perceive the truth of the Word.
It is the primary truth of all Divine revelation that there is a God and that He is Divine Man. Yet while many at this day claim faith in some kind of deity, there are few who accept the direct testimony of the Scriptures concerning Him. But man is not man from himself. He is man because God is Man. That is why the Writings have been given, for apart from the spiritual sense of the Word, the Lord's Divine Humanity cannot be seen because it cannot be understood. At this day, therefore, a light has come into the world, and as the Psalmist said so many years ago, "In Thy light shall we see light." (Psalm 36: 9)
Like the wise men of old, therefore, who followed the star of His birth from the land of the sons of the east to Bethlehem of Judea, let us fix the sight of our understanding upon that star which at this day shines in the east. While it is true that there will be times when its light will be obscured by intellectual persuasions of various kinds and by reasonings from the appearance of self-life, nevertheless, if we persist in the way in which it leads, the star will reappear and will bring us to Bethlehem of Judea; that is, to the perception and acknowledgment of Him who at this day is born among us in His own Divine Human.
In ancient times men saw the Lord through the instrumentality of a human borrowed from the angelic heavens. This was the Angel of Jehovah, who appeared to the prophets and prepared the way for the Divine descent. When He came into the world, however, men saw Him, not as He had been seen by the prophets, but in the human derived from the mother. But at this day the Lord is revealed in the spiritual sense of the Word, that is, in His own Divine Human. Thus it is now permitted to enter with understanding into the mysteries of faith, and to see and perceive that He who is born unto you in the spiritual sense of the Word is Divine Man, and therefore the essential and only Man, in whose image and likeness all men are created.
-New Church Life 1970;90:553-557