The Sign

16 Jun
Swaddling Clothes - 1

Swaddling Clothes (from Google Images)

In Luke 2:12 the angel gave the shepherds a sign: Jesus would be “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” I can see how lying in a manger might be a sign. After all, how many mothers would use a manger for her newborn’s crib? However, how could swaddling clothes be a sign, if just about every newborn Jewish babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes, until it was about a year old? I believe the manger was a near sign to the shepherds, but swaddling clothes was a deeper sign to folks with a deeper Scriptural understanding.

Reference is made to swaddling clothes only twice in the Old Testament. The term is used once in Ezekiel 16:4 as a rebuke to Jerusalem for her corruption, saying she was never swaddled, and the term is used once again in Job pointing to the creation of the great bodies of water or the oceans.

Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddling band for it, And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors, And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed? (Job 38:8-11 KJV)

The first two verses above, Job 38:8-9, describes the birth of the oceans on the first day of creation. In Genesis 1:2 the oceans already cover the earth, but the Scripture in Job mention that the oceans came out from within the earth, as though they burst forth from


Manger (from Google Images)

a womb and covered the entire globe. The cloud or mist was its swaddling clothes, but its manger[1] wasn’t formed until the third day (Genesis 1:9). At that time deep crevices were made in the earth (Job 38:10), so that the waters flowed off from what would be called the continents into the basins surrounding the dry lands, where the oceans found their permanent place.

The point is that Jesus is put in contrast with the great and powerful oceans that threaten to overflow the continents. The waters had always been used in Scripture to express God’s judgment (Psalm 42:7). God had always restrained the wrath of men, typified by the great waters, so that his people were never destroyed (Psalm 76:10). Similarly, God restrains the oceans, typifying his powerful judgments, from covering the continents and destroying mankind and all life dependent upon the land (Jeremiah 5:22).

Jesus, according to the ministry of John the Baptist, had come as our Judge (Luke 3:16-17). The judgment of God had finally come, and it must begin with God’s own people (1Peter 4:17). Nevertheless, Luke paints a picture of mercy by showing us that the judgment of God is contained in flesh. The sign given to the shepherds is one that points to the powerful oceans that God placed in the deep caverns that he dug out for them in the earth, lest they overflow the continents and destroy mankind. If the oceans, which are often used in Scripture to express God’s judgment upon his people, were contained so life on the dry lands would be preserved, then it follows that the judgment of God in the Person of Jesus would also be restrained in order to preserve the life of God’s people, though his judgment must come even to them.

The phrase fear not (Luke 2:10) is used eleven times in the Gospel narratives to calm God’s people, lest they feel overwhelmed or be in terror of what they had seen. Although Jesus has come as our Judge, he is also come as our Savior, our Lord and our Messiah. He cannot be a Savior, if he destroys those whom he judges. He cannot be Lord of anyone, if no one survives his judgment to submit to him. He cannot be Messiah, the Anointed of the LORD, under whose shadow we live among the heathen (Lamentations 4:20), if our judgment is so sore that we are unable to stand.[2] God has come to us, wrapped in swaddling clothes (flesh), and his power was placed in a the manger, carved out of limestone to hold the babe, showing he had not come to destroy us, but to feed and nourish us (cf. John 6:31-32, 48-51). Instead of bringing death, God’s power and judgment is harnessed in his life-giving Word.


[1] Archeology shows that many 1st century mangers found in Palestine were cut out of limestone. Many were cut 3 feet long, 2 feet deep and about 18 inches wide, a very comfortable fit for a babe.

[2] See my earlier study: Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

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Posted by on June 16, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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