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Psalm 147:4 (ESV)

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.

Are the stars referenced above to be understood in the astronomical sense, or as a reference to angels/divine beings, similar to say, [Job 38:7] and the many apparent references in Revelation?

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When reading a Bible passage, the reader must remain aware of the type of literature being read such as:

  • narrative - tells a story of historical events using literal language. Much of the Bible is written in this style.
  • poetry - usually expresses felt emotion (of the author) about something using a mixture of metaphor, hyperbole and poetic license. This includes most of Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and about half of the writings of the prophets.
  • prophetic - tells of some future situation and how divine providence will alter events. This includes numerous little nuggets scattered throughout the Bible.
  • apocalyptic - couches prophecy in highly symbolic language using often bizarre imagery. This includes the books of Daniel, Zechariah, Revelation, etc.

Ps 147 is indisputably poetic, but this does not prevent it from being literal. By contrast, the book of Revelation is clearly apocalyptic literature. Thus we can conclude the following:

  • "morning star" is a metaphor/title of Jesus used in the Bible (see appendix below)
  • "stars" in Rev 1:16, 20, 2:1, 28, 3:1, 6:13, 8:10, 11, 12, 9:1, 12:1, 4, 22:16. Rev 1:20 states that stars are a symbol of angels (the Greek for messengers) and is applied consistently with the arguable exception of 6:13 (as suggested by the modifying phrase “in the sky”), they represent messengers to the seven churches (1:16, 20, 2:1, 3:1), Satan who originally was an angel in heaven (8:10, 12, 9:1, compare 9:11, Isa 14:12-14), Satan’s angels (12:4 compare 12:9), the angels at the twelve gates of the new Jerusalem (12:1 compare 21:9, 12) and Jesus Himself (22:16). The stars of 12:1 presumably also represents angels or messengers as symbolized in Dan 12:3 & Phil 2:15, 16 – the wise who lead others to righteousness, ie, apostles or missionaries who are true messengers of righteousness.
  • In Ps 147, "Stars" should be understood as literal. Recall that less than 3000 individual stars are visible to the naked eye but both the ancients and moderns understood that many more existed. (See Heb 11:12, Gen 22:17, 26:4, Ex 32:13, Deut 1:10, 10:22, 28:62, 1 Chron 27:33, Neh 9:23, Nah 3:16, etc.) We now understand that the number of stars exceeds a septillion; and if God calls them all by name, He is truly, as Ps 147:5 says:

Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit.

APPENDIX - Jesus metaphors

We need to be sensitive to symbols vs metaphors. For example, see the metaphors for Jesus and His followers in the table below (from How does Revelation 2:28 relate to Revelation 22:16 and 2 Peter 1:19 )

Singular Plural
THE Morning Star, Rev 2:28, 22:16, 2 Peter 1:19, ie, Jesus morning stars, Job 38:7, ie, some undefined other life-forms (angels or heavenly beings??)
THE Son of God, Matt 26:63, Mark 1:1, Luke 1:32, Eph 4:13, 1 John 3:8, 5:10, 20, Rev 2:18, etc, ie, Jesus children of God, John 1:13, 11:52, 1 John 3:10, Phil 2:15, ie, saved sinners
THE Son of Man, Dan 7:13, Matt 19:28, 24:30, 26:24, Mark 14:21, Luke 17: 22, John 12:34, etc, ie, Jesus sons of man, Mark 3:28, Eph 3:5, etc, ie, ordinary humans
THE Word of God, John 1:1, 14, Rev 19:13, ie, Jesus words of God, John 8:47, 3:34, 1 Peter 4:11, ie, messages from God about Jesus and His revealed will.

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