I love looking at the stars. My Dad had a telescope when I was a child and I was fascinated by the heavens… all those little shining lights had a story and I wanted to know all of them. There’s something very beautiful about a clear night sky. It’s like ancient light whispering to us from a trillion miles away. And the truth is, we are looking into history when we look at the stars. It takes years, and sometimes thousands of centuries, for the light of one star to reach our eyes. What we are looking at, when we peer into the night sky, is the past. In fact, some of the stars we see today actually disappeared many many years ago.
Science has taught us a lot about stars, but what did the ancient Hebrew people think of these little lights in the sky?
In Deborah’s song we are given to understand that they saw stars as visual representation of God’s heavenly army:
The stars [ha-kokavim] fought from heaven, from their paths they fought against Sisera (commander of the Canaanite army).
If God’s heavenly host were represented by the stars, it was quite telling when God announced to Abraham that his descendant would be like the stars in the sky. God’s heavenly family and God’s earthly family were not so different. Metaphorically, being like the stars in the sky meant being vast in number. But what we tend to miss is that it also compared us to God’s heavenly family, His divine counsel (as seen in Psalm 82:1, Job 1:6-7 & Job 2:1, 1 Kings 22:19-22, etc).
Stars of the Nation
God promised a thriving, people-filled, nation. Over and over (including Genesis 22:15-18, Genesis 26:4, Exodus 32:13, Deuteronomy 1:10, Deuteronomy 10:31, Deuteronomy 28:62, 1 Chronicles 27:23, Nehemiah 9:23) God compared the population of the Hebrew people to the stars of the heavens:
But Abram said, “Lord YHWH, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Abram also said, “Since You have given me no son, one who has been born in my house is my heir.”
Then behold, the word of YHWH came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.”
And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens and count the stars [ha-kokavim], if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
That was a lot of shining descendants. The Psalmist painted a beautiful image of YHWH giving names to each of the stars:
He [YHWH] counts the number of the stars [la-kokavim]; He gives names to all of them.
Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.
With the knowledge that YHWH made Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars, this poem reflected the idea that YHWH knows each of us personally, and that His knowledge of us, and love for us, is as vast and wide as the universe.
The “Fixed Order”
Stars were understood as an integral part of the working universe set out in Genesis 1. Everything counted in the Universe, so if anything went out of order, everything was at risk:
This is what YHWH says, He who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars [w-kokavim] for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— YHWH of armies is His name:
“If this fixed order departs from Me,” declares YHWH, “Then the descendants of Israel also will cease to be a nation before Me forever.”
There was no way that God’s fixed order would change. He is perfect, and makes all things as they are meant to be. The sun would rise like clock work in the morning and set at dusk; the moon would follow and illuminate the night sky. This has been the order since the dawn of time and nothing would change it. Similarly, nothing would wipe out the nation of Israel… although many have tried. The stars were fixed and YHWH was in control, now and forever!
Do Not Worship Stars of the Heavens
The writers of the Tanakh (Old Testament) left a warning about stars. Stunning though they may be, we were never meant to worship them:
And be careful not to raise your eyes to heaven and look at the sun, the moon, and the stars [w-et ha-kokavim], all the heavenly lights, and allow yourself to be drawn away and worship them and serve them, things which YHWH your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.
We were created to be co-workers for God’s amazing universe. Stars were created for the people, not the people for the stars!
King David understood that, (although the heavens were amazing), God treasured His people more than He treasured the stars:
[David:] When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars [w-kokavim], which You have set in place; what is man that You think of him, and a son of man that You are concerned about him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty!
You have him rule over the works of Your hands; You have put everything under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the animals of the field, the birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
YHWH, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!
You think that the stars reflect glory and majesty?! We were the ones crowned with God’s glory and majesty! We were created to be God’s stars on the earth, caretakers of the planet, and reflecting God’s great design. But in the time of the prophet Amos the people couldn’t see that and they disobeyed YHWH and worshipped the stars:
[YHWH:] “Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, house of Israel? You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star [kokav] of your gods which you made for yourselves. Therefore I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus,” says YHWH, whose name is the God of armies.
The people also turned to divination and astrology, and placed emphasis on star prophecies rather than God’s promises. Isaiah cheekily taunted these people: Are you having trouble? Let your astrologers save you!
“You are wearied with your many counsels; let now the astrologers, those who prophesy by the stars [ba-kokavim], those who predict by the new moons, stand up and save you from what will come upon you.
Behold, they have become like stubble, fire burns them; they cannot save themselves from the power of the flame; there will be no coal to warm by nor a fire to sit before!”
Astrologers and their star predictions saved no one! Only YHWH saves!
Yeshua, the Morning Star
But there was one star worthy of worship. Yeshua (Jesus) was sent as starlight into the world. In John’s Revelation Jesus called Himself “the bright Morning Star.” (Rev.22:16b). He was the light who would save us from the darkness:
[Jesus:] “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should remain in darkness.”
It should be of no surprised that Yeshua’s birth story highlighted a star that pointed in His direction. For more on the Star of Bethlehem, so often remembered this time of year, and the importance of stars as signs and symbols, click below:
Remember that light and life are YHWH’s domain! We who believe in God, and have a relationship with Him, we hold a little bit of God-space within us… we are purveyors of His light and His light is always there… even in the darkest moments. The prophet Micah put it this way:
But as for me, I will look to YHWH; I will wait for the God of my Salvation. My God will hear me.
Do not gloat over me, my enemy. Though I have fallen, I will rise; though I sit in darkness, YHWH will be a light for me.
We may walk through darkness… and 2021 has been a particularly dark year… but we will not remain there.
Starlight pointed to a little baby that would save us. And we have been saved… and now we can take the light and shine it forward.
And those who have insight will shine like the glow of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, (will shine) like the stars [ka-kokavim] forever and ever.
We were created to be God’s reflection to this broken planet. Let us be the light bringer we were meant to be! Let us shine like the stars, because that is what we are!
Next week: To STAND