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"We have seen His star in the east, and
are come to worship Him." Matt. 2:2.
"We have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him." Matt. 2:2.

"The Stars Shall Fall from Heaven"

A great impetus was given to the study of divine prophecy by the events of the closing years of the eighteenth century. Observers had seen the papal power receive a "deadly wound" in the events and effects of the French Revolution; and it was understood that the world was entering a new era of enlightenment and liberty.

Bible students began to see more clearly the lesson of the great outlines of historic prophecy, and hearts were stirred with the evidences that the coming of the Lord was drawing near. In Europe and America, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, there was the beginning of a revival of the study and preaching of the advent idea.

Another Sign in the Heavens

Just here appeared another great sign in the heavens, foretold by the word of prophecy. Of the sign that was to follow the darkening of the sun and moon, Christ's prophecy says:

"The stars shall fall from heaven." Matt. 24:29.

The prophet John beheld the spectacle in a vision of the last days, and described it in these words:

"The stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind." Rev. 6:13.

On Nov. 13, 1833, came the wondrous celestial exhibition of falling stars, which is listed as one of the most remarkable phenomena of the astronomical story.

Meteoric displays, swarms of shooting stars, have been observed at various times all through the ages; but this phenomenon, coming in the order given by the prophecy, that is, following the darkening of the sun, constituted the sublime display answering to the pen-picture of the Apocalypse,—as if all the stars of heaven were falling to the earth.

The essential thing about a sign is that it shall be seen, that the circumstances of its appearance shall fasten attention. Not in America alone, but equally in all the civilized world, as a topic of study, this sign in the heavens commanded the attention of men.

An English scientist, Rev. Thomas Milner, F.R.G.S., wrote:

"The attention of astronomers in Europe, and all over the world, was, as may be imagined, strongly roused by intelligence of this celestial display on the Western continent."—"The Gallery of Nature" (London, 1852), p. 141.

This writer called it "by far the most splendid display on record."—Id., p. 139.

Another English astronomical writer of more recent date says:

"Once for all, then, as the result of the star fall of 1833, the study of luminous meteors became an integral part of astronomy."—Clerke, "History of Astronomy in the Nineteenth Century," p. 329.

This same work describes the extent of the display as follows:

"On the night of Nov. 12-13, 1833, a tempest of falling stars broke over the earth. North America bore the brunt of its pelting. From the Gulf of Mexico to Halifax, until daylight with some difficulty put an end to the display, the sky was scored in every direction with shining tracks and illuminated with majestic fireballs."—Page 328.

The Spectacle Described

The closest scientific observations were made by Prof. Denison Olmsted, professor of astronomy at Yale, who wrote in the American Journal of Science:

"The morning of Nov. 13, 1833, was rendered memorable by an exhibition of the phenomenon called shooting stars, which was probably more extensive and magnificent than any similar one hitherto recorded.... Probably no celestial phenomenon has ever occurred in this country, since its first settlement, which was viewed with so much admiration and delight by one class of spectators, or with so much astonishment and fear by another class. For some time after the occurrence, the 'meteoric phenomenon' was the principal topic of conversation in every circle."—Volume XXV (1834), pp. 363, 364.

Prof. Simon Newcomb, the astronomer, declares this phenomenal exhibition of falling stars "the most remarkable one ever observed." (See "Astronomy for Everybody," p. 280.)

This was not merely a display of an unusual number of falling stars, such as Humboldt observed in South America in 1799, or such as we find recorded of other times before and since. It was a "shower" of falling stars, just such a spectacle as one must picture from the words of the prophecy, "And the stars of heaven fell."

The French astronomer Flammarion says of the density of the shower:

"The Boston observer, Olmsted, compared them, at the moment of maximum, to half the number of flakes which we perceive in the air during an ordinary shower of snow."—"Popular Astronomy," p. 536.

This affords us a better idea of the scene than the estimate of 34,640 stars an hour, which was made by Professor Olmsted after the rain of the stars had greatly abated, so that he was able to make an attempt at counting.

Dr. Humphreys, president of St. John's College, Annapolis, said of the appearance at the Maryland capital:

"In the words of most, they fell like flakes of snow."—American Journal of Science, Vol. XXV (1834), p. 372.

Nothing less than this could have presented the counterpart of the prophetic picture.

Thoughtful hearts were solemnized by the unwonted spectacle. Prof. Alexander Twining, civil engineer, "late tutor in Yale College," giving his views as to the nature of the flaming visitants from space, wrote:

"Had they held on their course unabated for three seconds longer, half a continent must, to all appearance, have been involved in unheard-of calamity. But that almighty Being who made the world, and knew its dangers, gave it also its armature—endowing the atmospheric medium around it with protecting, no less than with life-sustaining, properties....

"Considered as one of the rare and wonderful displays of the Creator's preserving care, as well as the terrible magnitude and power of His agencies, it is not meet that such occurrences as those of November 13 should leave no more solid and permanent effect upon the human mind than the impression of a splendid scene."—American Journal of Science, Vol. XXVI (1834), p. 351.

Multitudes felt that the great Creator had spoken to men in this notable wonder of His heavens. Again and again in the records and reminiscences of that time, testimony is borne to the fact that observers were impressed with the likeness of the scene to that described in the divine prophecy as one of the signs of the end of the world.

The Prophetic Picture Reproduced

The New York Journal of Commerce emphasized the exactness of detail with which the prophecy described the scene as it appeared in 1833. This is the apocalyptic picture, as the ancient prophet saw it in vision:

"The stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind." Rev. 6:13.

A correspondent of the Journal of Commerce draws the picture as it was seen nearly eighteen centuries later, the likeness to the prophetic description being emphasized in every line:

"No philosopher or scholar has told or recorded an event like that of yesterday morning. A prophet eighteen hundred years ago foretold it exactly, if we will be at the trouble of understanding stars falling to mean falling stars."—New York Journal of Commerce, Nov. 14, 1833.

In this connection was noted by the same writer the special appropriateness of the prophet's figure of the fig tree casting the green figs in a mighty wind:

"Here is the exactness of the prophet. The falling stars did not come as if from several trees shaken, but from one. Those which appeared in the east fell toward the east: those which appeared in the north fell toward the north; those which appeared in the west fell toward the west; and those which appeared in the south (for I went out of my residence into the park) fell toward the south; and they fell not as ripe fruit falls; far from it; but they flew, they were cast, like the unripe fig, which at first refuses to leave the branch; and when it does break its hold, flies swiftly, straight off, descending; and in the multitude falling, some cross the track of others, as they are thrown with more or less force."

Professor Olmsted's long and carefully elaborated account in the American Journal of Science, gave a report from a correspondent in Bowling Green, Mo., as follows:

"Though there was no moon, when we first observed them; their brilliancy was so great that we could, at times, read common-sized print without much difficulty, and the light which they afforded was much whiter than that of the moon, in the clearest and coldest night, when the ground is covered with snow. The air itself, the face of the earth as far as we could behold it, all the surrounding objects, and the very countenances of men, wore the aspect and hue of death, occasioned by the continued, pallid glare of these countless meteors, which in all their grandeur flamed 'lawless through the sky.'

"There was a grand and indescribable gloom on all around, an awe-inspiring sublimity on all above; while—

"'The sanguine flood
Rolled a broad slaughter o'er the plains of heaven,
And nature's self did seem to totter on the brink of time!'

" ... There was scarcely a space in the firmament which was not filled at every instant with these falling stars, nor on it could you in general perceive any particular difference in appearance; still at times they seemed to shower down in groups—calling to mind the fig tree, casting her untimely figs when shaken by a mighty wind."—Volume XXV (1834), p. 382.


"As this sign of fire in the watchtower was a signal to God's
people anciently to flee from the coming danger (see Jer.
6:1), so the signs appearing now in the heavens and in the
earth are God's signals of warning to the people of our day."
"As this sign of fire in the watchtower was a signal to God's people anciently to flee from the coming danger (see Jer. 6:1), so the signs appearing now in the heavens and in the earth are God's signals of warning to the people of our day."

A Sign to All the World

It was not in North America alone, but in all the civilized world, that the attention of men was called to the prophetic word by the discussions of this event. Thus the English scientific writer, Thomas Milner, writing for the British public, spoke as follows of the profound impression made:

"In many districts, the mass of the population were terror-struck, and the more enlightened were awed at contemplating so vivid a picture of the apocalyptic image—that of the stars of heaven falling to the earth, even as a fig tree casting her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind."—"The Gallery of Nature" (London, 1852), p. 140.

So the sign in the heavens made its solemn appeal to all the world. It brought to the multitudes who saw it, thoughts of God and the last great day. An observer living at the time in Georgia, wrote, "Everybody felt that it was the judgment, and that the end of the world had come." Another, in Kentucky, wrote, "In every direction I could hear men, women, and children screaming, 'The judgment day is come!'"

Rather, it was a signal that the hour of God's judgment was drawing near. The signs so long foretold were appearing, one by one, to register their enduring mark on the record of fulfilling prophecy.

Immediately following these times, there began an awakening concerning the vital Bible doctrine of the second coming of Christ, which has grown into the definite advent movement that is carrying the gospel message of preparation for the coming of the Lord to every nation and tongue and people.

The Sign of 1833 Emphasized by Other Displays

We have mentioned the fact that Humboldt had observed an extraordinary fall of meteorites in South America, thirty-three years, before, in 1799. And he reported at the time that the oldest inhabitants there had a recollection of a similar display in 1766.

From these reports, scientists deduced the theory that these showers were to be expected every thirty-three years. Hence in 1866 they were watching for a repetition of the 1833 display.

That there was a measure of truth in the deduction was made evident by an unusual fall of meteorites Nov. 14, 1866. This time Europe was the scene of the display. But the event was not to be compared with that of 1833. This appears plain from the account of observations made by Sir Robert Ball and Lord Rosse, the British astronomers.

Sir Robert Ball says that when the meteorites began to fall, he and Lord Rosse went out upon the wall of the observatory housing Lord Rosse's great reflecting telescope:

"There, for the next two or three hours, we witnessed a spectacle which can never fade from my memory. The shooting stars gradually increased in number until sometimes several were seen at once."—"Story of the Heavens," p. 380.

Grand as the spectacle was, it was but a reminder, apparently, of the star shower of 1833, when not "several" meteorites fell at a time, nor many, merely, but, as it appeared, "the stars of heaven fell unto the earth."

However, the spectacle of 1866, which was observed over a great part of the Old World,[D] served to direct renewed attention to the incomparable event of 1833, as well as to the prophetic descriptions of the "wonders in the heavens" (Joel 2:30) which were to appear as the end drew near.


"I will come again, and receive you
unto Myself." John 14:3.
"I will come again, and receive you unto Myself." John 14:3.

Textbooks and astronomical works thereupon began to count it as fully established that every thirty-three years the displays would be repeated. It was confidently predicted that 1899 would witness a repetition, possibly on the scale of 1833.

Professor Langley's "New Astronomy" (published in 1888) said:

"The great November shower, which is coming once more in this century, and which every reader may hope to see toward 1899, is of particular interest to us as the first whose movements were subject to analysis."

Chambers's Astronomy, published in 1889, said:

"The meteors of November 13 may be expected to reappear with great brilliancy in 1899."—-Volume I, p. 635.

But the November date passed in 1899, and the years have passed; and the wondrous scene of 1833 has not been repeated. Clerke's "History of Astronomy in the Nineteenth Century" says:

"We can no longer count upon the Leonids [as the meteorites of 1833 were called, because they seemed to fall from a point in the constellation of Leo]. Their glory, for scenic purposes, is departed."—Page 338.

The Lord's Signal to Watch

Thus the wisest astronomical predictions made shortly before 1899, based upon the apparently recurrent regularity of the phenomenon, failed; but the predictions of the sure word of prophecy, set down on the sacred record eighteen centuries before, were fulfilled to the letter.

At the close of the days of the predicted tribulation of the church, the signs began to appear—the sun was darkened, the moon withheld its light, and the stars of heaven fell.

The series began at the time specified, the signs came in the order given in Christ's prophecy. The record of history bears witness that the prophecy was fulfilled.

It may be that on a yet more awful and universal scale these phenomena will be seen again in that last shaking of the powers of heaven which is to attend the rolling back of the heavens as a scroll, the immediate prelude to Christ's glorious appearing. But Christ's prophecy, at this point, was not giving a description of events at the very end of the world, but signs by which it might be known when the end was drawing near.

As the signs should be recognized, the Saviour intended that those who loved His appearing should be quickened with hope, and inspired to hasten to the world with the gospel message preparing the way of the Lord. The Lord's word for His children was,

"When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." Luke 21:28.

Long ago these signs began to come to pass. Now may the Lord's believing children well look up and rejoice, knowing that the day of eternal redemption is indeed nigh at hand.

He Will Come for His Own

In the glad time of the harvest,
In the grand millennial year,
When the King shall take His scepter,
And to judge the world appear,
Earth and sea shall yield their treasure,
All shall stand before the throne;
Just awards will then be given,
When the King shall claim His own.
O the rapture of His people!
Long they've dwelt on earth's low sod,
With their hearts e'er turning homeward,
Rich in faith and love to God.
They will share the life immortal,
They will know as they are known,
They will pass the pearly portal,
When the King shall claim His own.
Long they've toiled within the harvest,
Sown the precious seed with tears;
Soon they'll drop their heavy burdens
In the glad millennial years;
They will share the bliss of heaven,
Nevermore to sigh or moan;
Starry crowns will then be given,
When the King shall claim His own.
We shall greet the loved and loving,
Who have left us lonely here;
Every heartache will be banished
When the Saviour shall appear;
Never grieved with sin or sorrow,
Never weary or alone;
O, we long for that glad morrow
When the King shall claim His own!
L.D. Santee.

"Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for
your miseries that shall come upon you."
James 5:1.
"Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you." James 5:1.


[D] The display was most brilliant, apparently, in Western Asia. The veteran missionary, Dr. H.H. Jessup, of the Presbyterian Missionary College, of Beirut, describes the scene in his "Fifty-Three Years in Syria:" "On the morning of the fourteenth [November], at three o'clock, I was roused from a deep sleep by the voice of one of the young men calling, 'The stars are all coming down.' ... The meteors poured down like a rain of fire. Many of them were large and varicolored, and left behind them a long train of fire. One immense green meteor came down over Lebanon, seeming as large as the moon, and exploded with a large noise, leaving a green pillar of light in its train. It was vain to attempt to count them, and the display continued until dawn, when their light was obscured by the king of day.... The Mohammedans gave the call to prayer from the minarets, and the common people were in terror."—Volume I, pp. 316, 317.