December 9, 2018

Swaddling Bands and a Manger

On the night of the Savior's birth, an angel of the Lord proclaimed to the shepherds that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. The angel then told the shepherds to go and find the babe, and that they would recognize him because he would be "wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12). This phrase, at least in part, is repeated three times in the Nativity story (Luke 2:7, 12, 16), so what is the significance of swaddling bands and a manger and why would this be a sign unto the shepherds?

Swaddling an infant in ancient times was a common practice, showing a child was properly cared for. Ezekiel 16 symbolically describes the birth of Israel, and how because of her wickedness was not properly cared for, or swaddled. It reads: "And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all" (Ezekiel 16:4).

From this verse we learn several things about birth in ancient times. First, the umbilical cord was cut, then the infant would be washed with water. This washing was to cleanse the child of the amniotic fluid and blood present during birth. The baby was then rubbed with a small amount of salt, combined likely with olive oil, [1] to help clean and disinfect the child. Salt was also added to every offering at the altar of sacrifice in the Tabernacle and at the temple, and it is likely that Israelite mothers saw the salting of their infant as a way to symbolically offer their child to the service of the Lord.

After being washed and salted, the infant was then wrapped with long strips of linen or cotton swaddling bands. These bands helped to provide comfort to the child, the tight bands replicating the feeling of the womb. "It [also] is possible that swaddling bands were, at least on some occasions, marked in some way … in order to identify whose baby it was." [2] Some writers, because of later Jewish traditions, have also suggested that these bands were embroidered with symbols of the infant's ancestry, such as a lion, or a branch or stem, for those of the lineage of David. [3]

The second part of the sign unto the shepherds is that the infant would be found lying in a manger. Since most cared for infants would be swaddled, this actual sign would help the shepherds recognize the baby, as he would be lying in a manger. Despite what we have seen in almost every Nativity scene, mangers in ancient Israel were actually built of stone instead of wood. Because of the abundance of stone in Israel, most construction used stonework, reserving the scarcer resource of wood for items such as roof timbers and doors. These mangers were of various sizes and generally were about six to eight inches deep. The scriptures tell us that once the shepherds found the infant lying in a manger, they knew, because of the uniqueness of the situation, that they had found the promised Messiah.

It is remarkable that water, salt, oil, and linen were all likely present at the birth of Christ. Each of these items point to ancient sacrifice and temple worship. Water was used both for the purification of the priests and for washing the sacrifices. Salt, as mentioned, was added to all sacrifices, symbolizing "the lasting nature of the covenant." [4] Olive oil was used in some sacrificial offerings such as for the grain offering, for the anointing of priests, and for lighting the menorah in the temple. White linen was used to clothe and dress the priests. In addition, the Savior laying in a feeding manger may have been a type and shadow for how we each must symbolically partake of His sacrificed flesh and blood. How appropriate that the true lamb of God, the infinite and eternal sacrifice, was salted, anointed, wrapped in cloth, and laid in a manger symbolically pointing to his sacrifice, of which if we partake, we will have eternal life!

[1] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia pg. 670
[2] What on Earth are Swaddling Clothes? by John W. Welch
[3] Beloved Bridegroom by Donna B. Nielsen pgs. 35-36
[4] CES Law of Moses slideshow


  1. This is so informative! Thank you very much!!!

  2. I love to watch your all videos. It is easy to understand.


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