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Christmas Eve 2023: The Shepherds, the Tower, the Sign, and the Gospel

God’s prophecy of the woman’s Seed (Gen. 3:15) is fulfilled in the Baby born to the virgin!

Luke records what the angel said to the shepherds, “and this will be the sign unto you” that they would find the newborn babe, God-man, Jesus Christ, “wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger.”

We first learned of the Tower of the Flock from a lecture by Dr. Mark Bailey, of Dallas Theological Seminary, at a conference many years ago. We had not heard this part of the Nativity story before and have included it in every Christmas Eve post since.

In the Hebrew language, the name is “Migdal Eder.” Migdal means “tower” and Eder means “flock”. The phrase is only used twice in the Bible – Genesis 35:21 and Micah 4:8.

In the Genesis passage, Migdal Eder (also spelled Edar) is referring to the location where Jacob pitched his tent after he buried his wife Rachel who had died in childbirth. Migdal Eder is on the road between Bethlehem, where Rachel was buried, and the city of Jerusalem, which is less than 5 miles away.

The other mention of Migdal Eder or “tower of the flock” in Micah 4:8 is a prophecy. It was prophesied that Messiah, “the Bread sent down from heaven to feed the souls of mankind,” (John 6:58) would be a descendant of King David. He would also be born in the same city where David, the shepherd-king of Israel, was born: Bet (‘house’) Lekhem (‘bread’)! Jesus, the Bread of life, was born in the ‘house of bread’!

“I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. “The days are coming… when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” Jeremiah 23:4-5

But, why does Luke state that a baby swaddled up would be a sign? Even back in that time, newborn babies were usually wrapped up in ‘clothes’. The connection to the sign (the meaning) is in a place in the shepherds’ fields called the “Tower of the Flock.” This outlying area of Bethlehem is where the ‘angelic announcement’ took place. To this day there are numerous documented towers in the hills around Bethlehem.

These 2-story watchtowers of the flock (Migdal Eder) were agricultural “forts” where the shepherds would watch over their flock from the second story and where they birthed the newborn lambs in the lower portion of the towers in the fields of Bethlehem.

Every perfect, firstborn male lamb from the fields around Bethlehem was considered holy, specifically set aside for Temple sacrifice in Jerusalem. They were born to die for the sins of the people. These sacred sheep had to be without blemish and unspotted in order to qualify to be used as a sin offering. Bethlehem shepherds’ fields were the holding pens for the hundreds of sacrificial lambs.

The bottom floor of the tower was for the birthing of these lambs. The shepherds were trained in the requirements for an animal that would be sacrificed. These Levirate (priestly) shepherds would strictly maintain a ceremonially clean birthing place. When the lamb was ready to be born, the shepherd would pull the lamb out of the mother and place it in the hewn depression of a limestone rock known as “the manger” and wrap the lamb in swaddling cloths, preventing it from thrashing about and harming itself until it had calmed down, so it could be inspected for the quality of being “without spot or blemish”. The perfect male babies were to be used for sin offerings, the females for peace offerings.

They knew this procedure and, when told it would be a sign, that He would be wrapped in the same cloths as the sacrificial sheep and even more precisely that He would be born in a manger, they recalled Micah 4:8 and with haste (Luke 2:16), ran to see the newborn Jesus, the Son of God. They would have immediately understood the significance of the “sign.” There may have been other human babies swaddled up in cloths that night, but only One would be in a manger!

“Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.”  Luke 2:17-20

Jesus was not placed in an animal stable as a last resort, but in a manger (a feeding trough) at the tower of the flock (for sacrificial lambs) to fulfill prophecy (Micah 5:2). Jesus was born in Bethlehem, at the birthing place for the sacrificial lambs that were offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, which Micah 4:8 calls the tower of the flock. Jesus was born in the very birthplace where tens of thousands of lambs had been previously birthed to foreshadow Him. Jesus is not only the “Son of God” (John 1:34) but also the “Lamb of God” (John 1:36)!

The Firstborn Lamb of God would sacrifice His life to atone for the sins of all – a one-time perfect sacrifice, offered by the Father God Himself.

Jesus is the only human to choose His family, His exact time, and His exact place to be born. At a precise time, chosen before the foundation of the world, Jesus would be born. His ancestors were selected. His parents were chosen and Bethlehem was appointed to be the birthplace.

Here is Jimmy DeYoung teaching on Migdal Eder:

The sure and perfect word of Bible prophecy is assurance that unfulfilled prophecies will also be fulfilled … perfectly.

Just as the shepherds made known to others as it had been told them, will you make it known to others as it has been told to you?