Stars – Symbols of Kings and Kingdoms
Is there anywhere in Scripture that we find nations compared to heavenly bodies? The 1st chapter of Genesis gives us a clue as to why the Bible compares the sun, moon, and stars to rulers and their kingdoms.
In Genesis 1:16 (KJV) we read: “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.”
Please, notice that the sun (“greater light“) and the moon (“lesser light“) are said to “govern the day“ and “night.” Notice the word “govern” in Gen. 1:16. To “govern” denotes a government! Can we find examples of the sun and moon being used as symbols of government? Why, of course!
Joseph the Dreamer
Let’s go to Genesis 37:9: “And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.”
In a dream, Joseph saw “the sun and the moon and the eleven stars“ bowing down (obeisance) to him. And what did the sun, moon, and stars represent? They represented Joseph’s father, mother, and brothers. Now keep in mind that at this time Joseph was only “seventeen years old“ (Gen 37:2) being under the government of his father, mother, and older brothers. In a real sense they “ruled“ over Joseph. When Joseph’s brother Jacob heard about Joseph’s dream, Jacob asked Joseph in Genesis 37:10 “Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?” Obviously, Joseph’s father and brothers immediately understood the significance of the images in his dream. They were NOT looking for the sun, moon, and stars to bow down before Joseph. They KNEW he was referring to THEM!
Stars were used as symbols of earthly rulers and governments in other places in Scripture.
Judges 5:19-20 is a good example: “The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money. They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.”
Notice in verse 19 it states “the kings came and fought.” In verse 20 we read “the stars in their courses fought against Sisera”. Both verses are describing the same event in terms of Hebrew parallelism! The stars are symbols of kings and their armies. Stars, as we see them in space, were not fighting from heaven. A type of poetic, symbolic language is being used.
Babylon – Lights Put Out
Isaiah wrote in chapter 13:9-10 “the day of the Lord cometh,” and when it comes it will be “cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.”
Here is a description of a localized judgment on Babylon, a world power that existed long ago. Did the stars of heaven and the constellations actually not give their light? Was the sun literally darkened? Did the moon fail to give her light?
The answer, of course, is no! Who did God raise up to judge Babylon? We find the answer in Isaiah 13:17: “Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them.” The stirrup up of the Medes proves that the Babylon of long ago is the object of judgment. The day of “destruction” that came from “the Almighty” (Isaiah 13:6) was described with graphic expressions. Expressions such as, “Hands be faint“ (Isaiah 13:7); “every man’s heart shall melt” (Isaiah 13:7); and “they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth” (Isaiah 13:8) are used to convey judgment. Again we see that symbolic language, using celestial bodies is used to describe the judgment of a mighty nation!
Egypt – Lights Put Out
Pharaoh and ancient Egypt’s destruction were described in a similar way. It is not coincidental that Jerusalem is said to be “Egypt“ in Revelation 11:8. God’s faithful people in Egypt and Jerusalem suffered persecution. The Jerusalem of the 1st century sought to kill those who taught that Jesus was the promised Redeemer. Let’s read how the scriptures describe Egypt’s destruction:
Ezekiel 32:7-8 (KJV) – “And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. 8 All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord GOD.”
Egypt’s conqueror was Babylon because in Ezekiel 32:11 we read “For thus saith the Lord GOD; The sword of the king of Babylon shall come upon thee.” What’s interesting is that the language is similar to the words Jesus used in Matthew 24:39 to describe the soon coming destruction of Jerusalem in His day. Notice how Ezekiel uses symbolic language of celestial bodies such as the stars, the sun, and the moon to describe this destruction?
Did the stars literally go dark?
Was the sun literally covered with a cloud?
Did the moon actually not give her light?
Were the bright lights of heaven really extinguished?
The answer, of course, is no. The symbolic language we saw in Genesis in reference to the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to Joseph continues throughout the Scripture. So when we read scripture, we need to be consistent with our interpretation. We use scripture to interpret scripture!
Edom – Lights Put Out
While Scripture describes one nation bringing down the fortunes of another nation, we know that God is behind it all. God is in heaven, but “His sword“ finds its way to earth through the terror of other kingdoms. Let’s look at yet another example of national upheaval in the description of the end of a political power called Edom (referred to in the KJV as Idumea):
Isaiah 34:4-5 (KJV) – And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
Please, notice that God did NOT come down physically to deliver judgment upon Edom (Idumea). But the text states that His sword “shall come down upon Idumea”.
Did a sword come down from heaven?
Did the host of heaven “fall down”?
Was the heavens “rolled together as a scroll”?
Certainly NOT in literal terms. Again the language is simply a description of Edom’s (Idumea) national judgment.
Israel – Lights Put Out
In Amos 5:21 God had condemned Israel’s disdain for things holy by informing the people that He would reject their “festivals“ and their “solemn assemblies“. In Amos 5:22 we read: Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts.
In a word, the worship practices of Israel had become an abomination in God’s sight. Their deeds would bring on “the day of the Lord”:
Amos 5:18 (KJV) – Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! To what end is it for you? The day of the LORD is darkness, and not light.
Then again God tells them in Amos 8:9 – “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.” Is this passage describing a solar eclipse? Well, I guess it could be but isn’t it more natural and biblical to see it as a description of divine displeasure and judgment? Assyria had put Israel’s political lights out while Babylon extinguished the lights of Judah. Are you beginning to see the consistent use of symbolic language throughout scripture? A pattern?
What about when the nation of Israel was obedient? What language does the scripture use to describe that condition? You guessed it – the same type of symbolic language. There’s an excellent example of this in Isaiah 30:26:
“Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the LORD bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound.”
Here we see once again the use of symbolic language to describe God’s sovereign mercy being poured out on a repentant people. If the language were meant to be taken literally, the earth would be burned to a crisp, especially when we read that the “light of the sun shall be sevenfold!“ Time to get out the sunscreen right?
New Testament Examples
The New Testament picks up on this imagery of a nation (Israel) being represented by the sun, moon, and stars (the heavens if you will). Let’s look at the book of Matthew:
Matthew 24:29 (KJV) – “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken .”
Should we expect the sun literally to be darkened and the moon to cease reflecting the light from the sun? Will stars literally fall from heaven? Of course with God all things are possible; however, we would do better to survey how the Old Testament uses and applies this language than to allow our imaginations to run wild. Let the scripture interpret scripture.
The Book of Revelation describes stars falling to the Earth (Rev. 6:13). How can stars fall to the Earth and the Earth survive? Revelation 12:3 refers to the tail of the “great dragon“. In Revelation 12:4 we read that: “And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth.” Now isn’t just one-star MUCH larger than the Earth? One star would vaporize our planet, let alone a “third part of the stars“. From Genesis to Revelation we see the consistent use of symbolic language.
The Passing Away of the Heavens and Earth
In Matthew 24:29-31 we read: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Later in Matthew 24:35 we read: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”
Jesus does not change subjects when He assures the disciples that “heaven and earth shall pass away“. He merely affirms His prior predictions that recorded in Matthew 24:29-31. Keep in mind that the central focus of the Olivet Discourse is the desolation of the “house” and “world“ of apostate Israel (Mat 23:36). The old world of Judaism, represented by the earthly temple in Jerusalem, is taken apart stone by stone (Mat 24:2). The New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant with a new priesthood, a new sacrifice, a new tabernacle (John 1:14) and a new temple (John 2:19, 1 Cor. 3:16, Eph 2:21). In essence, a new heaven and earth.
The passing away of heavens and earth is the passing away of old covenant Judaism!
The darkening of the sun, moon and the falling stars, coupled with the shaking of the heavens (Mat 24:29) are descriptive ways of saying the “heavens and earth shall pass away.” In other contexts, when stars fall, they fall to the earth, a sure sign of judgment (Isa. 14:12, Dan. 8:10, Rev. 6:13; 9:1 12:4). So then, the passing away of heavens and earth is the passing away of old covenant Judaism. Led and upheld by those who “crucified the Lord of glory“ (1 Cor. 2:8).
Likewise in 2 Peter chapter 3 the “heavens and earth“ being “reserved unto fire against the day of judgment“ refers not to the last and final judgment of the world. Rather to the utter desolation and destruction made against the corrupt Jewish temple system and government. Here’s the scripture:
2 Peter 3:5-7 (KJV) – “For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”
2 Peter 3:5-7 is a reference to the great flood of Noah’s day. It states that the world perished. While the great flood did destroy all the cities of the earth, the world or earth itself did not perish. And certainly the heavens did not perish. What did perish was the old order of the world. The old world of sin was washed away in the flood water. Likewise, the heavens and earth passing away by fire, if taken literally, represents the destruction of the universe. The period, when that is to take place, is called the “end of the world.” Those familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament Scriptures know that the dissolution of the Mosaic/Judaic religious system, and the establishment of the Christian religious system, is often spoken of as the removing the old heavens and earth and the creation of a new heavens and earth!
Now let’s look at another scripture that mentions the heavens passing “away with a great noise“ and the “elements melting with fervent heat.”
2 Peter 3:10 (KJV) – “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”
Now this scripture is a little more of a challenge to understand due to the use of the word “elements“. What does that word “elements“ really mean? Most people are naturally prone to accept, without question the teaching of a person or organization they hold in high regard. They never consider they could be teaching something based on an assumption or a preconceived notion. It may be that many of us have come to understand these verses based on prior traditional assumptions.
It’s Greek to Me
We need to examine the meaning of this word “elements“, which is the same word used several other times in the New Testament. The Greek word for “elements“ is “stoicheion“ and means “something orderly in arrangement – element, principle, rudiment.” Some believe, and I was among them, that the word “elements“ in 2 Peter 3:10 refers to the fundamental elements of material creation. Is this the only interpretation of this verse? Does this word “elements“ refer to the scientific idea of the elements of matter, all the “atoms“ of the universe? Or the periodic table of elements? Were there other “elements“ of another “heaven and earth” that were predicted to pass in Peter’s near future? We will first look at seven passages with the word “elements“ or in Greek “stoicheia“ or “stoikion“.
Galatians 4:3 (KJV) – Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements [stoikion]of the world:
Galatians 4:9 (KJV) – But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, [stoikion] whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
Colossians 2:8 (KJV) – Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments [stoikion]of the world, and not after Christ.
Colossians 2:20-22 (KJV) – Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments [stoikion] of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
Hebrews 5:12 (KJV) – For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles [stoikion] of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
2 Peter 3:10 (KJV) – But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements [stoikion] shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
2 Peter 3:12-13 (KJV) – Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements [stoikion] shall melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
In context “stoikion“ never refers to the physical world or the elements on the periodic table, but always denotes the elementary principles of the Old Covenant. The Greek word for “elements” in 2 Peter 3:7-13 refers to the elements, principles or customs of the Law of Moses in every other instance in which it is used in the New Testament. The Bible is a covenantal book from Genesis to Revelation and 2 Peter 3 is also covenantal. It is using symbolic apocalyptic language to describe the transition from the Old to the New Covenant in 70 A.D.
The scriptures were written in an apocalyptic style when describing the destruction of the heavens and earth. Apocalyptic literature is poetry. It is not a strictly literal description of events as one might find in a newspaper. Therefore, it is not surprising that the sky and earth did not literally pass away after the Jewish War. In the same manner, the stars in the sky were not literally “dissolved and the heavens rolled up” at the fall of Edom in the sixth century B.C. as prophesied in Isaiah 34:4-5.
The Bible does not contradict itself. My understanding of these scriptures is in line with other Bible verses that declare that the physical heavens and earth will NOT be destroyed. However, a casual reading of Scripture, such as in Matthew chapters 13 and 24 would lead one to believe in the “end of the world“. While other scriptures declare that will world will be without end and will abide for ever. Look at the following two scriptures:
Ephesians 3:21 (KJV) – Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Ecclesiastes 1:4 (KJV) – One-generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
Matthew 13:39 (KJV) – The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
Matthew 13:49 (KJV) – So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,
Matthew 24:3 (KJV) – And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
End of the World or End of an Age?
Please, notice in the three (3) verses of Matthew above, the Greek word for “world” is “aion.” Strong’s Concordance gives the definition of “aion“ as “an age” or “cycle of time“. Often when we see the word “world” we tend to think of the entire earth or creation instead of a period of time. If I took you into my home and said “Welcome to my world“ you wouldn’t think I was referring to the entire world or universe. It’s important to note that this Greek word is properly translated as “age“. It’s interesting to note that many Bible translations use the English word “age“ instead of “world”:
Montgomery New Testament – “the end of the age.”
English Standard Version – “the end of the age.”
Holman Standard Christian Bible – “end of the age.”
Weymouth New Testament – “the close of the age.”
Young’s Literal Translation – “the full end of the age.”
What we see in all of the above examples in scripture is not a dispute over God’s ability to cause the sun and moon to go dark or the stars to fall from the heavens. Rather, we see the consistent use of symbolic language to describe events that befell nations and peoples. However, it is not necessary to be fully conversant in Hebrew or Greek to become aware of some of the features, or keys, of the language. Once we recognize these keys, we are on the way to a greater appreciation of the Hebraic imagery and, for this reason, a better understanding of the scriptures.
The writers of the Hebrew Old Testament employed all the arts of their language. Hebrew prophets prophesied in a special symbolic manner. The recorders penned their chronicles using picturesque idioms, and the poets wrote heartfelt phrases in their special types of balanced parallelism.
For instance, everyone who knows and loves the twenty-third Psalm knows that the Lord is not an actual shepherd, and we are not sheep. But we recognize what the Psalmist meant by the green pastures, the still waters, the rod and staff, and the overflowing cup.
Let scripture interpret scripture!
In the final analysis, we must let “scripture interpret scripture“. Remember all of the New Testament writers were intimately familiar with the Old Testament and the use of symbolic language to describe places, peoples, and events. Taking a scripture out of context and making a doctrine out of it is simply not “rightly dividing“ the Word. Symbolic language, when used in the Old Testament, does not suddenly change its meaning when we see it in the New Testament.