Even if you are not of a traditional Christian or Jewish faith, you might feel a bit uneasy searching for signs in the stars. Many people have concluded that there isn’t anything to astrology—or if there is something to it, it’s a “something” they want no part of. So, are we doing astrology here?
A reasonable question with a short answer. No. That’s not what we’re doing here. Astrology holds that stars exert forces on men.
Astrology is a… form of divination based on the theory that the movement of the celestial bodies—the stars, the planets, the sun and the moon—influence human affairs and determine the course of events.” (1)
By contrast, the Bible refers to the celestial objects as carrying signs from the Almighty. But it prohibits worship of what we see above or even holding such things in too high regard. For example, we read in the Book of Job, Chapter 31:
26 if I have regarded the sun in its radiance or the moon moving in splendour, 27 so that my heart was secretly enticed and my hand offered them a kiss of homage, 28 then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.
The Old Testament even decrees the death penalty for star worship (2).
Still, the Bible does make a surprising number of references to signs in the heavens. Both Old and New Testaments assume that what happens up there matters. If we are interested in following the counsel of the Bible, we must hold a distinction in mind. Astrology assumes that stars are causes of earthly events. The Bible assumes that they can be messages about earthly events. It may be useful to think of this as a thermometer distinction. A thermometer can tell you if it’s hot or cold, but it can’t make you hot or cold. There is a big difference between a sign and an active agent. This is the difference between “astrology” and what the Bible holds forth.
Scholars believe that the Book of Job is the oldest Biblical text, likely originating before the time of Abraham and the founding of the Jewish nation. It’s interesting, then, to find that this oldest book speaks of the stars and the constellations with respect. It states that God set them in place. And it references the same constellations we know today. Even considering ancient literature other than the Bible, it appears that the configurations of the constellations and what they represent may be older than the oldest surviving texts of any language (3).
In the Book of Job, Chapter 9, Job credits God with creation of the stars and constellations:
He is the Maker of the Bear [Ursa Major] and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
And in Job Chapter 38, God makes much the same point. He, not man, is sovereign over the creation, particularly the constellations:
31 “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? 32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons…
Many other Biblical writers in many other passages state that God arranged the stars. For example, says the Book of Isaiah in Chapter 40:
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
Several striking passages on this issue were written by David, son of Jesse. David is a towering Biblical figure. A fierce warrior, a revered king who was himself deeply reverent. Highly intelligent and wonderfully poetic, he wrote much of the Book of Psalms and some of the most beautiful passages of scripture. Among these is Psalm 19, where David extols God’s handiwork in the stars. But he doesn’t only extol, he tells us that the stars bear a message. Watch his choice of verbs [emphasis added]:
1 …The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world…
David chose verb after verb which says that the stars communicate. An intriguing passage. But isn’t it just poetry? Isn’t David just speaking with a poet’s elegant symbolism?
The apostle Paul didn’t think so.
In the Book of Romans, Chapter 10, Paul is addressing the question: had the Jews of Christ’s day heard that Messiah had come? He answers the question by saying that of course they had heard. He then quotes David to make his point!
17Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they [the Jews] not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Note the structure of Paul’s argument. Paul is taking the position that something has happened in the stars which indicated to the Jews of his time that the Messiah had come. As we shall see, the apostle Peter elsewhere forcefully makes the same argument. Of course, this argument has exactly no force unless something had happened in the stars. The fact that both men employed this line of reasoning shows they are making the same assumption. They assumed that their listeners were aware of celestial phenomena associated with Christ. It’s our quest to determine what those phenomena were.
For those who revere the Bible, we’ve probably seen enough to set us at ease about looking for meaning in the stars. We’re not doing something that the Bible condemns. Just the opposite. But there is one more authority who can put the most devout Christian at ease about looking up after dark. Jesus himself. In the Book of Luke, Chapter 21, Jesus tells us:
There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars…”
So, it is Biblically legitimate to look for signs in the stars, but always remembering the thermometer distinction. The Book of Deuteronomy warns at Chapter 4:
…when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars–all the heavenly array–do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshipping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.
At numerous times in Biblical history, the Jewish nation ignored this warning. Rather than looking to the stars for signs, they slipped over the forbidden line into assuming the stars influenced human affairs. They began to worship created things instead of the Creator. In the Second Book of Kings, Chapter 23, we find King Josiah leading a revival of spirituality among the Jews and a return to worship of God alone. One of the things Josiah had to do was clear out astrological objects which had been brought in to the very temple itself:
[Josiah] ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the articles made for… all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem…
The bottom line on the Bible and the stars: we may look to the stars for signs from God, but we are not to revere the stars themselves.