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Sometimes folklore and traditions take on a life of their own, and over time we begin to think of them as factual. Such is the case of the postcard setting of the manger scene. We tend to think that if there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the inn, then they were offered a backyard barn or cave in which to stay, as historians like to believe.
One thing I have learned over the years as I have grown in my Bible knowledge and understanding is that there is significance and meaning behind everything. From Genesis to Revelation, every word, phrase, prophecy, event and the account of every biblical character is woven together to tell a greater story. It’s like following a ribbon throughout the Bible, starting from the beginning to the end. Each truth builds and adds meaning. There are no random or meaningless words, events or details.
Take for instance the word “tower.” In the KJV, “tower” or “towers” is used a total of 65 times, and the majority of its uses refers to a tall structure constructed for the purpose of armies or watchmen protecting their cities and towns. Enemies could be seen approaching, and sentries would have a fortified place in which to defend the city. It represented a place of safety.
That’s probably why David chose that term to refer to God as his high tower (2 Samuel 22:3, Psalm 18:2, 61:3, 144:2), his protector from his enemies. In David’s Song of Deliverance recorded in 2 Samuel 22, David calls God the tower of Salvation (vs. 51).
In Judges 9, Abimelech went up against Thebez, and in verse 51 we read that all the residents of that city fled into the tower for protection.
There are, of course, other uses of the word “tower.” The most famous is the tower we know as the Towel of Babel mentioned in Genesis 11:4. It was constructed as a means for the citizens to reach heaven and make a name for themselves.
Evidently, towers were significant enough in statue and importance that they became a means of identifying geographical locations. For instance, throughout the Old Testament, we read references about numerous towers, such as the tower of Shechem (Judges 9:49), the tower of Hammeah (Nehemiah 3:1), the tower of Hananel (Nehemiah 12:39), etc. Obviously, by just mentioning a tower by name, people would know its exact location.
In 2 Chronicles 26:9-10, we’re told that Uzziah built towers both for fortifying Jerusalem, as well as out in the desert, along with wells, for the caring of cattle.
That introduces us to another type of tower in the Old Testament, the tower of the flocks. While it’s likely that over time abandoned guard towers could have become flock towers, we know from the reference in 2 Chronicles that some towers were constructed specifically for the purpose of overseeing flocks.
We first read of the tower of Edar in Genesis 35:20-21. Jacob, now known as Israel, had just buried Rachel, “in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem” (vs. 20). “Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar” (vs. 21). From those verses we learn the location of this tower, which is near Bethlehem.
The tower of the flock is also mentioned in Micah 4:8. A few verses later in Micah 5:2, reference is made to Bethlehem Ephrathah, out of which the Messiah would come. Understanding that the verses all go together in context, it seems logical to assume that the tower of Edar referred to in Genesis and located near Bethlehem is the same tower of the flock referred to in Micah, and therefore, the prophetical location at which Jesus would be born. In Hebrew, this tower’s name was Migdal Edar.
According to custom, flock towers had a lower and upper level. The upper level would allow shepherds an aerial view for watching over the flocks, particularly watching for thieves or preying animals.
Ewes about to give birth would be bedded down in the lower, ground level of the tower and kept there until the lambs were born. At the time of their birth, lambs would be wrapped in swaddling cloth and kept there until their legs became steady.
Since this tower of the flock, Migdal Edar, was located near Bethlehem, it would be a strategic site as the birthing place for the lambs that would ultimately become sacrifices for the sins of the children of Israel. A special group of (priestly) shepherds, who understood the laws and requirements for animal sacrifice, would raise and protect the lambs for the sole purpose of becoming temple sacrifices. As Jews traveled to Jerusalem to offer up sin offerings or observe Passover, they could easily acquire an acceptable sacrifice on their way.
With this understanding, it’s logical that the manger of Migdal Edar would be the location at which the perfect, Passover lamb would be born and take his first breath on earth. Thus, this becomes another connecting “ribbon” of where the Lamb of God “who would take away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) would be born.
The idea of Jesus’ birth occurring in a random, dirty barn or cave has no background or “ribbon” connecting either of those locations to Scripture or prophecy. But to be born in a “tower of the flock” fits in with the traditions and practices of shepherds throughout the Old and New Testament.
Consider this when you read of Christ’s birth in Luke 2. It reads: “There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” The narrative goes on to say the angel informed the shepherds where they would find the babe: In the City of David (which is Bethlehem), wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
If the baby Jesus was in the manger of the flock tower, and if these priestly shepherds were familiar with the prophecies of Micah, it would make sense that the shepherds would have known the exact location of the birth of this “Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
It wouldn’t have been in one of a dozen possibilities of a random barn or cave to which they would have had to hunt and search. Instead, Luke 2:16 says the shepherds “came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” Most likely, that manger was located in Migdal Edar, the tower of the flock.