The Sign Given to the Shepherds

This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12-14)

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes. This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone went to his own town to be registered.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David. He went to be registered with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him, and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1–7). 

Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,  like a woman in labor,  for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country (Micah 4:10 a ESV)

During a census, Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem; however, finding no place to stay (11), they went out from the city of Bethlehem to the open country or fields surrounding it, and that is where the infant Jesus was born. Where precisely in the open field around the city of Bethlehem did these events take place? I am glad you asked!

As for you, watchtower for the flock, fortress of Daughter Zion— your former dominion will be restored, the sovereignty that belongs to Daughter Jerusalem. (Micah 4:8)

This verse from Micah 4:8 contains a prophecy that the former dominion of the nation of Israel from Jerusalem (i.e., the fortress of Daughter Zion) would be restored by the Sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Son of Man, the King of the Jews, the long-awaited Messiah! Furthermore, the shepherds would be first to hear the revelation of His arrival, and this would occur near the watchtower for the flock. So, where is the watchtower for the flock (i.e., Migdal Eder) located? I am so glad you asked!

Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. (Genesis 35:19–21)

“There was near Bethlehem, on the road to Jerusalem, a tower known as Migdal Eder, or the watch-tower of the flock. Here was the station where shepherds watched the flocks destined for sacrifice in the temple. Animals straying from Jerusalem on any side, as far as from Jerusalem to Migdal Eder, were offered in sacrifice. It was a settled conviction among the Jews that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, and equally that he was to be revealed from Migdal Eder.” (2)

“This “tower of the flock” must, therefore, be looked for between Bethlehem and Hebron. Jerome (5) says it was 1 Roman mi (1.5 km, 0.9 mi) from Bethlehem. It was probably not a town but simply a tower for guarding flocks against robbers (cf. “watchtower,” 2 Kings 18:8).” (3)

Similar towers were built for the protection of the flocks by the shepherd, in the enclosures in which the animals were placed for the night (comp. the term “tower of the flock,” Gen. 35:21; Micah 4:8), and it is expressly stated that Uzziah built such structures in the desert for his enormous herds (2 Chron. 26:10). (12)

Stone Shepherd’s Tower

Migdal Eder, the Tower of the Flockwas constructed on the side of a hill in the fields outside of Bethlehem, which was home to hundreds of lambs. These were not just any flock and herd of sheep but rather those used in ritual worship in the Temple. Two lambs were sacrificed daily with one in the morning (9:00 AM) and one in the afternoon (3:00 PM) (Numbers 28:3,4).

The Tower of the Flock is where shepherds brought all flocks that were destined for sacrifice in the Temple at Jerusalem. This included flocks as far north as Jerusalem, and within the area of Bethlehem on every side, the males were offered as burnt-offerings, the females as peace-offerings (8). 

The Tower of the Flock was a circular tower with a second floor from which the shepherds watched over the sheep for protection and to detect when a ewe was about to give birth. The first floor had only one unique purpose; it was ceremonially cleansed and sanctified by the Levitical priests as an inspection chamber for the lambs of sacrifice. In addition, I believe the first floor provided access to a cave in the side of the hill. This cave is where the ewes that were ready to deliver were placed. During the birthing process, the cave would become ceremonially unclean due to the birthing fluids which included blood.

As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, seemingly insignificant among the clans of Judah— from you a king will emerge who will rule over Israel on my behalf, one whose origins are in the distant past. (Micah 5:2). 

“That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, was a settled conviction. Equally so was the belief, that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, ‘the tower of the flock.’ This Migdal Eder was not the watch-tower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheep-ground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices, and, accordingly, that the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism, on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible. The same Mishnic passage also leads us to infer, that these flocks lay out all the year round, since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before the Passover—that is, in the month of February, when in Palestine the average rainfall is nearly greatest. Thus, Jewish tradition in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from that Migdal Eder, where shepherds watched the Temple-flocks all the year round.” (4)

Understand that it will not be ordinary shepherds, but rather priest shepherds that will be the subject of the angelic announcement. These priest shepherds of the Temple had the duty of keeping watch over the flock. The priest shepherds who kept them were men who were specifically trained for this royal task. Being themselves under special rabbinical care, these priest shepherds would strictly maintain the first floor of the tower as a ceremonially clean inspection chamber. They were educated in the requirements for an animal that was to be sacrificed, and they were responsible for making sure that none of the animals were hurt, damaged, or blemished. According to scripture, only a spotless lamb can temporarily cover sins (Exodus 12:5) or cleanse from all sin for all time (1 Peter 1:19. Hebrews 9:14).

When a ewe was about to give birth in the field, she was brought into the cave and attended by a priest shepherd.  Once the lamb is born, it was removed from the now ceremonially unclean cave, wrapped or bound in swaddling clothes or bands that were torn from priests’ old garments and placed in the ceremonially clean limestone manger that was situated within the ceremonially clean first floor. This binding by wrapping with swaddling bands prevented them from thrashing about and harming themselves until they had calmed down sufficiently to facilitate inspection for the quality of being without spot or blemish.

Furthermore, this activity was in accordance with the law of binding of sacrifices (Genesis, 22:9, Psalm 118:27). (9) The law of binding sacrifices called to remembrance the binding (Aqedah or Akedah) (10), and near-sacrifice of Isaac by his and our father Abraham (Genesis 22:9. Romans 4:11,12). The scripture records that it was then that God, our Father, gave a promise to Abraham that He will provide a sacrificial lamb for our sin (Gen 22:7,8). This promise was later announced fulfilled by John the Baptist (John 1:29,36) and attested by the Apostle Paul (Romans 8:32) and the Apostle John (Revelation 5:1-14).

Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion! Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem! Shout, don’t be afraid! Say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” (Isaiah 40:9)
Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8–11)

What marvelous news the shepherds heard from the Angel of the Lord! After 400 years of not hearing from God, the God who is for us, He is now speaking to man again. Furthermore, while in times past He spoke through the prophets now He has come in the flesh as the Son of God, the Son of Man, our Lord Jesus the Messiah (aka, Christ) to speak in person (Hebrews 1:1,2). He is God with us (1), Immanuel! He is the Word that became flesh to become the mobile tabernacle of the glory of God, full of grace and truth! (John 1:1,14)

The message from the angel of the Lord was given in the traditional angelic form of reassurance, the informational message, and then the sign to confirm it. The Angel of the Lord stated that Jesus (the bread of life John 6:35;6:48-51 ) was recently born in the city of David (i.e., Bethlehem, which means House of Bread), so they knew to head away from the fields in that general direction. However, focus on the sign, as that is what enabled the shepherds to locate the Savior who is Christ the Lord!

This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12–14).
Limestone Manger

The sign for them would be finding a newborn baby wrapped and bound in strips of cloth (aka, swaddling clothes) and lying in a stone manger. The significance of this sign would not be lost on these priest shepherds. It could mean only one thing, Jesus was born in the cave at Migdal Eder and placed in the ceremonially clean manager within its ceremonially clean first-floor inspection chamber!

These priest shepherds become the first to receive the message of Jesus’ birth and from an Angel of the Lord. Why them? Again, so glad you asked! Recall, they are the ones that determined if a lamb was without spot or blemish and ready to be presented to the temple priests for sacrifice. Therefore, it was in keeping with the law for them to inspect the spotless Lamb of God that came to take away the sin of all the world! (John 1:29,36) In the plan of salvation, you will note that God keeps all of His scriptural laws!

Realize, infant Jesus is wrapped and bound with cloth from priestly garments as the Lamb of God that will take away the sin of the world (John 1:29,36) and our Great High Priest (1) who will mediate the New Covenant sealed in His blood. Furthermore, the binding provided notification to the priest shepherds that God’s sacrificial lamb had arrived.

Seh Ha’Elohim – God’s Lamb (Isaiah 53:6,7. John 1:29. Revelation 5:13) (13)

Once the Lamb of God is sacrificed at Calvary starting at 9:00 AM and then dying at 3:00 PM (i.e., the same times for the morning and evening temple sacrifices), there would be no more need for sacrificial lambs. Hallelujah!

Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:12–14).

I believe that the angels were saying the following:

Glory to God [the Father] in the highest and
[Glory to God the Son] on Earth!
Peace among people with whom he is pleased! (6) 

God is pleased because now the human sacrifice for our sins, our mediator, Savior of the World, Good Shepherd, Bread of Life, Light of the World, our Great High Priest was on Earth; consequently, peace has been declared between God and humanity. Realize, from the God Eye view, the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus are as good as done! Hallelujah!

“The song of the heavenly host was a sign of the new creation, the restoration of the covenant that meant the renewal of the earth. Whenever the angels or the heavens sing in the Old Testament, it is a sign of the new creation. At the beginning of creation, ‘the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy’ (Job 38:7). When the Lord called the Servant and announced a new beginning, there was a new song, or possibly a ‘renewing’ song (Isa. 42:10). Praise renewed the earth. When Isaiah heard the angels singing ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts’, he knew that the whole earth was full of his Glory (Isa. 6:3)”. (7)

When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us.” So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15,16)

The priest shepherds hurried off, not following a star or angels, but instead, they knew the prophecies of the Messiah and the angelic message of their fulfillment. Again, they hurried off because they knew exactly where the birth had taken place ! He was born in the cave and then was placed in the ceremonially clean manager located within the ceremonially clean first-floor inspection chamber of Migdal Eder!

When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said. But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean. So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told. (Luke 2:17–20).

The shepherds’ actions indicated that they understood the significance of the circumstances. That Jesus was born of a virgin, a descendant of King David, born within the city limits of Bethlehem, God in the flesh, and the long-promised Messiah. God entrusted shepherds with the wonderful announcement that the prophecies concerning the Messiah’s birth had been fulfilled. The Messiah was born in the very location pinpointed by the prophet Micah. The priest shepherds spread this message to everyone they encountered! Hallelujah!

What about you? Do you know the lamb of God, Jesus, the Messiah?

You can know Him as Savior and Lord today. For all, that call upon the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved (1). (Romans 10:13)

Topical Index of Hal’s Blogs (1)

(1) Select the link to open another article in a new tab with additional information.

(2) Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 1, p. 269). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

(3) Masterman E. W. G. and Prewitt J. F. (1979–1988). Eder, Tower of. In G. W. Bromiley (Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Vol. 2, p. 18). Wm. B. Eerdmans.

(4) Edersheim, A. (1896). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Vol. 1, pp. 186–188). New York: Longmans, Green, and Co.

(5) Translator of the Vulgate, a Latin translation of the Bible based on Hebrew texts of the OT and the oldest Greek texts of the NT available at the time. It was the standard Bible for Western Christendom. Commissioned by Pope Damasus I, Jerome labored upon this, his most important translation project, from 391–406 c.e. Born Eusebius Hieronymus (ca. 347/48) into a wealthy Christian family, Jerome received a classical education at Rome and was baptized at age 19 or 20. He embraced the monastic life until his death on 30 September 419/420, but he was active in the theological debates of his day. He defended the perpetual virginity of Mary and monastic celibacy, attacked Pelagianism and Origenism, and translated the homilies of Origen and works of Eusebius. He also published commentaries on the OT prophets and Ecclesiastes and a biography of Paul the Hermit.  Gregg, D. L. (2000). Jerome. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers, & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (p. 693). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

(6) Realize punctuation was added to the Koine Greek text during translation, as in its original form, it had no punctuation. Inaccurate punctuation can change the initially intended emphasis.

(7) Barker, M. (2008). Christmas: The Original Story (pp. 81–82). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

(8) Mishnah, Shekalim 7:4. (1) 

(9) Bullinger, E. W. (2018). The Companion Bible: Being the Authorized Version of 1611 with the Structures and Notes, Critical, Explanatory and Suggestive and with 198 Appendixes (Vol. 2, p. 23). Bellingham, WA: Faithlife.

(10) Aqedah. A rabbinic term referring to the story and the interpretations of Abraham “sacrificing” Isaac as told in Genesis 22 (˓aqȇdȃ means “binding” [of Isaac]). Patzia, A. G., & Petrotta, A. J. (2002). In Pocket dictionary of biblical studies (p. 15). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

(11) If Mary were to give birth in the common living area of an Inn, she would defile others lodging there and make it necessary for them to be ceremonially purified by both a ritual immersion and a sacrifice. Consequently, it was probably not the lack of available space for the couple at the Inn even though it was crowded due to the census. Instead, it was more likely the lack of a private room for her to give birth; that was the reason for leaving the Inn.

Then she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him tightly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:7 CSB)

Realize, according to the Old Testament, when a woman had an issue of blood for any reason, she was ritually unclean for that time and seven days after that (Leviticus 15:19-23). While she was ritually unclean, she had to live separately from the rest of the family so as not to defile the people in the household by her presence, rendering them ceremonially unclean. During those times, the woman would leave and stay in a nearby area where she would not defile the home. During childbirth and with the issue of blood loss, the same rules applied (Leviticus 12:2-4). Consequently, women would leave home and give birth elsewhere. After the cessation of blood and the required time of waiting for purification, the woman and child would perform the necessary rituals of purification to be ceremonially clean and return to the household with the rest of the family.

(12)  Singer, I. (Ed.). (1901–1906). In The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, 12 Volumes (Vol. 12, p. 214). New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls.

 (13) Vander Meulen, E. L., & Malda, B. D. (2005). His names are wonderful: getting to know God through his hebrew names (p. 46). Baltimore, MD: Messianic Jewish Publishers.

Hal Warren

Hal has been teaching the Bible for over three decades. Through an interdenominational ministry dedicated to helping the local church build men for Jesus, Hal trained men, the leaders of men’s ministries, and provided pulpit supply. Before that, he was a Men’s Ministry Leader and an Adult Bible Fellowship teacher of a seventy-five-member class at a denominational megachurch. Presently, Hal desires to honor Jesus Christ through this Internet teaching ministry, thereby glorifying the Heavenly Father, in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Hal and his wife have five adult children, several grandchildren, and with more grandchildren on the way! He believes, second to cultivating his relationship with God, that raising his family unto the Lord is the most significant task for him while on Earth. Furthermore, Hal believes that being a successful leader in the church or workplace is no substitute for failing to be a successful leader at home. 

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