My interpretation of this is that it was the same luminiscence that led the Israelites in the exodus, described in Hebrew as a "pillar of fire", and sometimes called the "shekina".
Ne 9:12 (NIV) By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.I am surprised this is not a more common interpretation, as it seems rather obvious to me. Not only have such "lights" shown up before in God's dealings with man, specifically they manifested to lead people. Right?
Ex 13:21-22 (NIV) By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.Robertson: "Went before them (proęgen autous). Imperfect tense, kept on in front of them."
Mat 2:9 (NIV) After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star [aster] they had seen in the east [anatole] went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
How could a "star", as we have it in English, lead someone directly to a city or house, even if one did rise as a "sign" during the same period of time? There might well have been an interesting confirmation in the sky that heavenly portents were occurring, but this can't be the star mentioned in Mat that led certain people to a particular place. Right? How could a cosmic distant star lead someone to a specific place in the plain-sense narrative we are given in Matthew? Yet, the word as-tare (star) might be also used for a glowing apparition, just like the one that led the Israelites of old: physically, nearby, and with clear direction.
Anatole is also interesting in it etymology:
792: asterh aster, as-tare'; a star (as strown over the sky), literally or figuratively:--star.While metaphorically anatole is used of stars and heavenly bodies as referring to the east--where they come from--the principal meaning is to "rise" or "spring" up. Thus, our wise men followed the "light in the sky" that "sprung up". If we let scripture interpret scripture, then there is no need to wring our hands over what this was, for this happened before, no? 395. anatolh anatole, an-at-ol-ay' from 393; a rising of light, i.e. dawn (figuratively); by implication, the east (also in plural):--dayspring, east, rising. 393. anatellw anatello, an-at-el'-lo from 303 and the base of 5056; to (cause to) arise:--(a-, make to) rise, at the rising of, spring (up), be up.
Ex 13:21 (NAS) The Lord was going before them in a pillar [ammuwd] of cloud [anan]by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire [esh]...Notice the similarity to the word translated "fire" from the original Hebrew and the word translated "star" from the original Greek."asterh" or "esterh" in Greek, and "esh" in Hebrew. So, besides the physical description and utility being the same, the words are slightly similar as well. Translated "fire" and "star" in English, they seem a world apart; but not so in the original languages.
0784. va 'esh, aysh, a primitive word; fire (literally or figuratively):-- burning, fiery, flaming.
Of further interest, the atmospheric apparition that led the Israelites was also called an "angel" in Ex 14:19, Ex 23:20-23, Ps 99:7, and Is 63:9, among other places.
In case you are not familiar with the extensive descriptions of this so-called "shekina" light that led the Jews in the Exodus, here are a few:
Ex 40:34-38 (NIV) Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out-- until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.Thus, a "star" "arising" to lead people somewhere, even if depicted in another language in a slightly different way, should be obvious in its meaning.
Nu 9:15-23 (NIV) On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord's command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord's order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord's command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord's command they encamped, and at the Lord's command they set out. They obeyed the Lord's order, in accordance with his command through Moses.
De 1:33 (NIV) who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.
Ne 9:12,29 (NIV) By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.... Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take.
Ps 78:14 (NIV) He guided them with the cloud by day and with light from the fire all night.
Mat 2:9-10 (Wey) They went to Bethlehem, while, strange to say, the star they had seen in the east led them on until it came and stood over the place where the babe was. When they saw the star, the sight filled them with intense joy.