Scripture tells us that the sun, moon, and stars were created to be signs (Genesis 1:14), and that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1) and his righteousness (Psalm 97:6). God knows the number of the stars and calls them all by their names (Psalm 147:4).
Arguably the most famous instance of the heavens declaring the signs, glory, and righteousness of God is the Star of Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Christ. No date is given in Scripture for this event, but most Bible scholars link it to the time of the fall feasts. The story in Matthew 2 gives many clues about this heavenly prophetic sign. It was in the time of Herod, who died in the year 1 BC, so the astronomical event in question had to have occurred before then. The wise men no doubt knew the prophecies of Daniel that told them when the time of the arrival of the Messiah would be near, so they were likely on the lookout for it.
We are told by the question the wise men asked in Matthew 2:2 that the star told them that it was 1) a sign of a birth, 2) of the King, 3) of the Jews. The star was rising in the east. Herod, the king, gave the wise men an audience (something not afforded easily) and believed them. He questioned them about the exact time they saw the sign. Clearly it was there in the heavens for the entire world to see, but only the wise discerned what was being shown in the skies.
So what was this star? Due to the mathematical accuracy of the heavenly orbits, there are computer programs that allow us to see the positions of the stars both far in the past, and into the future. Searching the night skies in the Middle East around the time in question reveals some fascinating events.
In the summer of 2 BC, Jupiter (the largest planet, known as the “King Star”) and Venus (known as the “Morning Star”) were in conjunction, which would have made these two bright objects appear as one very bright star. It is interesting to note that Yahshua (Jesus) is known as “The Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16).
There is also a star, Regulus, whose name also means “King”. In that same year, Jupiter passed very near Regulus. In fact, right as it approached Regulus, it went into retrograde motion, so it appeared to pass Regulus, backtrack beyond it (passing it a second time), and then come out of retrograde, passing it a third time, creating what is known as a triple conjunction. So we essentially had one King star appear to be doing a dance around the other King star.
An explanation of “retrograde motion” from Wikipedia says: As seen from Earth, all the planets appear to periodically switch direction as they cross the sky. Since Earth completes its orbit in a shorter period of time than the planets outside its orbit, we periodically overtake them, like a faster car on a multi-lane highway. When this occurs, the planet we are passing will first appear to stop its eastward drift, and then drift back toward the west. Then, as Earth swings past the planet in its orbit, it appears to resume its normal motion west to east.
It was also at this time that “Virgo” (Bethula in Hebrew), the virgin constellation, had the new moon at her feet, and a 12th star (Jupiter) at her crown. That should sound a bit like Revelation 12:1: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” So imagine during a short period of time, the King star, in conjunction with the Morning Star, dancing around the other King star at the constellation of the Virgin, at the time Daniel had prophesied the virgin birth of the Messiah.
There is so very much more that could be said about this wonder in heaven, and more importantly, to help us to learn to understand the future wonders in heaven that our Creator has put there to be a sign unto us. To study the entire gospel of the stars in detail, I would highly encourage you to obtain the “Mazzaroth series” (Mazzaroth comes from Job 38:32, and is what we commonly refer to as the Zodiac) offered by Lighted Way Ministries at www.lightedway.org.