Swaddling Clothes

[The Bible is an “Eastern” book.  It was written many years ago in the “East” which today we refer to as “The Middle East.”  As such, there are many customs and idioms that are not familiar to the “Western” mind.]

nativ-travelThis time of year, many Christians all over the world remember the birth of Jesus Christ.  The story is re told in a variety of ways.  There are nativity scenes, plays, sermons, etc.  There is an element of the story that has been a bit misunderstood by some, and that is the “swaddling clothes.”

Most people are familiar with the verse, “…and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”  If you are familiar with the account, then you know that Bethlehem was rather crowded that evening and all the “hotels” were full.

It is not within the scope of this article to examine exactly what the manger may have looked like and where it was located.  it is significant to note, however,  that the savior of the world, the most important human being ever born, had some very humble beginnings. The king of kings was laid in a manger.

They Weren’t Rags!

There are some who assume that because he was laid in a lowly manger, nativ-mangerinstead of a big fancy hotel fit for a king, that the swaddling clothes must have been some type of rags, or at best, some cheap clothes to keep him warm.  Once again, an understanding of the customs of the East brings great insight to this great event.

The material itself was long strips of cloth, usually linen, perhaps two inches wide. Had Jesus been born in the best lodging available in Bethlehem, he would have still been wrapped in swaddling clothes. They were not rags, and certainly not used by poor people to wrap their babies because they couldn’t afford anything else.

I remember hearing someone teach that Joseph and Mary were so poor that they could only wrap Jesus in rags to keep him warm.  Joseph and Mary couldn’t stay in an inn because they were poor, but because there was no room.  And God, who handpicked them, would have certainly not picked the poorest people of Israel to raise His Son.

Salted And Swaddled

In the Eastern culture, whenever the son of a king or of a prince was born, they were always both salted and swaddled.  I have read that there are still places today in the East where sons of kings or princes are both salted and swaddled. The salting of a newborn is in reference to the salt covenant.

The newborn baby would be washed with water that contained a small amount of salt.  The salt represented truth and honesty.  It was symbolic that the child would be raised so that he would grow up and have his words “salted,” that is, that he would say what he meant and mean what he said.  He would speak truthful words.

While the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus only mentions the swaddling clothes, it is understood to the Eastern mind that he was both salted and swaddled.  In the East, a child born to nobility or royalty would always be salted and swaddled, never just one and not the other.  In fact, there is a verse in the Bible, an insult actually, concerning not being salted and swaddled.

Ezekiel 16:4:
And as for your nativity, in the day you were born thy navel was not cut, neither were you washed in water to supple you; you were not salted at all, nor swaddled at all.

Right after washing the newborn in water containing salt, the baby would then be swaddled.  They would take the strips of cloth, in most cases linen, and wrap the baby from head to foot, leaving his face uncovered so that he could breathe. Because he was wrapped in this manner, the baby’s arms and legs would be held very straight.

The custom of swaddling represented that the child would be raised to be “straight” before the Lord, meaning that his life would be free from “crookedness.”  You can probably now understand the great insult in Ezekiel 16:4.  To say that a person of nobility was not salted and swaddled was to say that they were dishonest, crooked and had no integrity.

For How Long?

Swaddling clothes were only left on the baby for a short amount of time.  It nativ-all-threewould be anywhere from fifteen minutes to two hours.  During that time, the parents would pray and offer their vows to God concerning the child that God had blessed them with.  At the end of that time, the swaddling clothes were removed and the normal baby attire would be put on the child.

You can certainly understand now why the Bible says that the shepherds went in haste to see the savior.  The angel had told them that Christ had been born in Bethlehem.  They were also told that they would find the babe lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes.  They knew that they needed to get to the city quickly if they were to find and see the savior of the world.

The Announcement

It is absolutely amazing to think that the birth of God’s only begotten Son, the Messiah, the Christ, the savior of all of mankind, the king of kings and lord of lords, was laid in a manger at his birth.  God chose to reveal this wonderful occasion not to people of great stature and importance, not to the high priest in Jerusalem or to any religious or political leaders.

He sent an angel to announce the birth of His Son to some humble shepherds. They were just living their lives, doing their jobs, and doing the best that they knew how to do.  The Bible is true when it says that God is no respecter of persons.

One might have thought that the savior of the world, the long awaited Messiah, would have been born in Jerusalem instead of some little town south of the main city. One would have thought that it would have been a very momentous occasion celebrated by the entire nation.  One would have thought that everyone would be aware of this great and wonderful event.

That’s what the Magi thought when they arrived in Jerusalem.  In the next Eastern Eye, we’ll take a closer look at who the Magi were.

Luke 2:7-18
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Mike Verdicchio

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Related Posts:
The Salt Covenant

(For more “Eastern Eye” articles, Click Here, or click The Eastern Eye tab above.)

There are a number of books that you can read to get insight on customs, manners, idioms and meanings from the Eastern culture in which the Bible was written.  The best I know of were written by by Bishop K. C. Pillai.  I have had the pleasure of listening to recorded teaching by him.

He wrote three books, and they are hard to find, and are usually over priced.  But, if you want to you can check this link to see what Amazon has to offer. Light Through an Eastern Window

Another great resource that I have used for years is a book called, “Manners and Customs of the Bible,” by James Freeman. Mine was printed in 1972 and I know they have newer additions. For the newest edition, just click the link and it will take you to Amazon. The New Manners and Customs of the Bible (Pure Gold Classics)

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19 thoughts on “Swaddling Clothes

    • Absolutely, Maria.
      You may also want to go to the tab, Mike’s Stuff, for some additional material about healing.
      May God bless your work.

  1. Hello Mike…I am doing a deep study on the shepherds and wise men. I’ve learned the the Shepherds in the field were no ordinary shepherds. They were assigned to prepare the baby lambs for sacrifice. They would raise the temple sheep that were used for sacrifice. They would used a swaddling cloth to dry the lambs that were born and check for any blemish to make sure they were fit for sacrifice. I learned that the sign for shepherds was not that they find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloth but that they find a baby fit for sacrifice for the sins of the word. The shepherds presence at the manger was prophetic…any thoughts. GBU

    • GBU – I had not heard that before. I know the scriptures say that the shepherds were in the fields, keeping watch over the flocks by night. They had sheep in the fields after the harvest, in the fall to fertilize the ground.

  2. every baby that was born was wrapped in swaddling clothes just as we in the western world wrap our babie in a reciever it was the culture why do u have to make it seem as if mary and Joseph were rich they were not God does not need any of us to justify anything he does because he knows why he,s doing it that way and it was indeed a sign to see a baby lying in a manger in a stable wrapped in swaddling clothes becaue banies wernt born in stables among animals no matter if u were rich or poor,and thats exactly how GOD wanted it

  3. Hey, Mike!

    Thanks for the great article.

    I’m researching how long the swaddling cloths were left on the baby. I’ve found articles that say as little as 15 minutes (your article) to as long as the child’s first year. Could you share the source for the time frame you mention (15 minutes to two hours)?


  4. Hi Mike,

    Loved reading your insight and wisdom into the significance of the Swaddling Cloth at Jesus birth.
    In preparing a Kids Easter Program with Jesus Body being wrapped prior to the Tomb placement, I wondered if there was any link between His Wrapping at birth and death?


    • Elizabeth, that’s an interesting question. I do not know of any connection. Perhaps someone else does.
      Thanks for the comment and God bless you.

  5. I just started studying this subject and find it very interesting. One thing I heard in Jerusalem was that the sacrificial lambs were wrapped in swaddling cloths to keep them pure for sacrifice. The sheperd would find the baby lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloths as a sign He is the pure sacrificial lamb.

    • Dan, thanks for the comment.
      Hadn’t heard that before about sacrificial lambs.
      Isn’t it realy cool the angel told them where to find the babe?
      Have a great New Year,

  6. i heard the other day that kings sons were swaddled in cloths made from recycled robes of the priests. that Mary actually received these expensive remnants from her cousin Elizabeth, whose husband Zechariah was a priest. the kingly son in the lowly manger was what was special about the ‘sign’. could this be true?

    • Thanks for the comment, Spence.
      Zechariah was indeed a priest. I had not heard about sons swaddled in cloths made from recycled robes of priests. Interesting if it is true.
      Have a great New Year,

  7. I have always learned that Swaddling cloths were cloths kept in stables and used to wipe animals and cows tests. Which makes sense. Where in the Bible does it say otherwise. All customs have to start somewhere. This could have been the start of this one, which also makes sense. Being born in a stable and wrapped in these cloths was to signify
    lowliness, not poverty.

    • Betty, thanks for leaving a comment. As I mentioned in the article, there are many customs in the Bible easily understood in that culture, but unfamiliar to us in our day and time. I also included the reference from Ezekiel 16:4. Understanding the manners, customs and idioms from that culture helps us understand the Scriptures. Bishop K. C. Pillai spent a good portion of his life teaching those customs and idioms in Europe and the United States, as he was born in India and converted to Christianity. I have had the pleasure of studying his teachings, both written and audio. The insight he shared he often referred to as “orientalisms.” Jesus did have a very humble beginning there in a stable, but he was not wrapped in animal rags.