Sometimes in the Bible ‘stars’ are simply just that: literal stars, ‘fixed luminous point[s] in the night sky which [are] large, remote incandescent [bodies] like the sun’.1 For example:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Psa. 8:3-4)
Sometimes, however, ‘stars’ can be used symbolically, representing something else. An example of this is in Isa. 14:12:
How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!
This famous verse talks about a star, but it is not a literal star: v4 tells us that this is a ‘taunt against the king of Babylon’. So in Isa. 14:12 the ‘Day star’ (or Lucifer in the KJV; morning star, NIV) refers to a human (Isa.14:16-17), the king of Babylon (Isa. 14:4). (For more on this, see ‘Where did the name “Lucifer” come from?‘.)
Other places where ‘stars’ are used symbolically are in:
- Joseph’s dream (Gen. 37:9): here the stars represented Joseph’s brothers (Gen. 37:10).
- a prophecy against Egypt (Ezek. 32:2,7): here the fall of the stars (much like in Isa. 14:12) represents the fall of a nation, especially its political powers.
- another prophecy against Babylon (Isa. 13:1,9-10): as above.
There are other examples throughout the Bible, including the Lord Jesus’ words in the “Olivet Prophecy” (Mat.24:29; Mark 13:24-25; Luke 12:23-26), where he quotes from passages like Isa. 13:10.
So, sometimes ‘stars’ in the Bible refer to literal stars, and sometimes they are used symbolically to refer to other things (often, political powers).
J. Burke, Understanding Bible Symbols: Sun, Moon, and Stars
- ‘star’ entry, AskOxford.com: http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/star?view=uk (accessed 1/05/10)