Luke 2:12-14: And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
The first verse above is an interesting one. 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.”
Author and I first learned of the Tower of the Flock from a lecture by Mark Bailey, of Dallas Theological Seminary, at a conference several 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. Based on that prophecy, Jewish writers in the Midrash concluded that from all of the places in Israel, it would be the Migdal Eder where the arrival of the Messiah would be declared first.
But, why does Luke state that a baby swaddled up be a sign? Even back in that time, newborn babies were usually wrapped up in ‘cloths’. The connection to the sign is in a place in the shepherds’ fields called the “Tower of the Flock.”
The towers in the shepherds’ fields of Bethlehem were usually two-story stone watchtowers. On the top story, a ‘priestly shepherd’ would stand watching over the flock to make certain that the sheep were not being harmed, vigilant to protect them from their natural enemies, the robber, the wolf, the bear and the lion.
The sheep raised in the shepherds’ fields of Bethlehem were specifically destined for Temple sacrifice. These sheep had to be without blemish and unspotted in order to qualify to be used for Temple sacrifice. Bethlehem’s 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. When the lamb was ready to be born, the “priestly” shepherd would pull the lamb out of the mother, and carefully wrap it in swaddling cloths to keep it from harming its limbs. After wrapping the baby lamb, the shepherd would lay it in a manger until the newborn had calmed down.
These priestly shepherds knew this procedure and, when told it would be a sign, 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 Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) to see the newborn Jesus, the Son of God. There may have been other human babies swaddled up in cloths, but only One would be in a manger.
The sure and perfect word of Bible prophecy is assurance that unfulfilled prophecies will also be fulfilled … perfectly.
Thank You, O God, for what You have done for us!