You’ve heard the story a hundred times…
“And it came about that while they were there [in Bethlehem] the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7, NASB)
You’ve even seen paintings of Mary and Joseph in a stable or cave … with cattle and other animals looking on … and baby Jesus lying in a wooden feeding trough filled with hay. But have you ever wondered whether there is any Biblical corroboration for these images and Christian traditions?
And have you ever wondered:
- Where did the strips of cloth come from?
- How did the shepherds know which manger to go to? How did they know where it was located?
You’re about to find out…
You see, the area around the village of Bethlehem was where the lambs were birthed and raised to be sacrificed in Jerusalem as part of the temple worship. Two male lambs “without blemish” were sacrificed every day in the temple courtyard: one in the morning … the other at twilight. This required over 700 male lambs to be sacrificed every year.
Here are 5 little-known facts about the birth of Jesus you’ve probably never heard before:
1. The manger wasn’t “a” manger; it was a specific manger. In the Greek New Testament, the definite article “the” is used in Luke 2:7, 2:12, and 2:16. It is mistranslated as the indefinite article in our English Bibles. Why is this important? Keep reading…
2. To ensure that male lambs were born “without spot or blemish,” priestly shepherds would watch the birthing process, inspect the lambs immediately after they were born, and protect them from becoming injured or blemished after birth. How did they do this?
3. They built watchtowers called Migdal-Eder – “tower of the flock” so they could observe a flock of sheep from a high position … and bring sheep that were about to give birth into the base of the tower where there was – guess what – a manger!
Micah 5:2 is the well-known Old Testament verse prophesying that the Jewish Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But Micah 4:8 is also an important Messianic prophecy that is usually overlooked: “As for you, tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you it will come – even the former dominion will come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”
4. The feeding troughs of that day weren’t made of wood. They would have rotted over time from moisture. Instead, they were carved out of a large stone. When a sheep was about to give birth, a shepherd would bring the sheep into the tower of the flock so that the birth could take place in a controlled environment. If the newborn lamb was male – and was determined to be without spot or blemish – it was wrapped in “swaddling clothes” to prevent it from thrashing around and becoming blemished … and was placed in the stone feeding trough until it could be transported to the temple for sacrifice.
5. What were the “strips of cloths” or “swaddling clothes” made of? They consisted of old priestly undergarments. The unblemished lambs would remain constrained by the priestly undergarments until they were sacrificed in the temple courtyard in Jerusalem.
So, when the angels announced, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths [priestly undergarments], and laying in the manger,” they knew exactly where to go…
They went to the tower of the flock … which was probably a very short distance across the Bethlehem hillside from where they were watching over the flock.
What’s so amazing about these little-known details about the birth of Jesus is that God was communicating to the shepherds – and to the world through the original Biblical text – that this Baby was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world!
No wonder John the Baptist – who no doubt heard the story of the birth of Jesus directly from those same shepherds – declared Him to be the Lamb of God in John 1:29.
And now … as news commentator Paul Harvey used to say … you know “the rest of the story.”
What do you think? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.