Micah 4:8 (ESV) And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you it shall come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.
Preparations for the holiday season are upon us. Ask me if this is so, because I just realized I haven’t posted a blog in several weeks! I am often guilty of allowing my ‘to do’ list rule my days with ‘urgent’ things instead of slowing down and enjoying this time of year and everything it means. This year is no different. Although we say the season is about Jesus…the slogan continually rings ‘Jesus is the reason for the season!’, I’m afraid if we truly stood back and looked objectively at our lives, we might find we spend much more time on holiday preparations than we do spending quality time with the One they are truly about. I want to change that. So, today our study will be a different twist on the birth of Jesus you may or may not have considered before.
The book of Micah is a prophetic book, both about the judgment of wicked nations and the restoration of God’s people. Tucked between all of these verses are references to the coming Messiah and the place He would be born. Micah 5:2 specifically mentions the town of Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. However, Micah 4:8 contains an often overlooked reference to another place that is likely just as significant as the town in which the Savior would make His appearance on earth.
The tower of the flock (Hebrew ‘Migdal Edar’) was a watch tower located on the road at Bethlehem. One of the main roads in Israel at that time was often called ‘the kings’ highway’. It was a road that followed the top of the mountains, and for good reason. If you were traveling that road, you would have the advantage of knowing where an enemy was located, because they would be below you. It was a much more advantageous position than being in the valley, trying to see above. Watch towers were located along that road…at times used for the safety of country, but also used to watch over large flocks of sheep.
Migdal Edar (the tower of the flock) is mentioned earlier in the Bible. We see in Genesis 35:19 that Rachel gives birth to Benjamin, dies, and is buried ‘in the way to Ephrath’. Ephrath, also translated ‘Ephratah’, is an ancient name used for the town later called Bethlehem. Genesis 35:21 relates that Israel (Jacob) makes his camp beyond the tower of Edar. This is the watch tower of Migdal Edar.
This tower was used by shepherds to keep watch and protect their flocks. The flocks in Bethlehem were raised for very special purposes. The shepherds that cared for these flocks would have been specially trained for their job, because their task was enormous. You see, the sheep that were born here were destined to become sacrifices to the LORD. Bethlehem was the birthplace of these lambs, and since their final destination was being offered to the LORD in the temple at Jerusalem, special care had to be taken that they were not blemished. Only a perfect lamb would be acceptable.
Temple ritual would have required the birthing place for these lambs be ceremonially clean, so a lamb used for sacrifice would likely not be born in a dirty environment as we would think of a stable in our Western mindset. According to historic writings, underneath the watch tower itself was a cave-like lower portion. This is where the ewes would be taken to be protected and cared for while they delivered their newborn lambs. When the new babies arrived, they were wrapped in swaddling clothes (described historically as strips of cloth) to keep them from injuring or otherwise blemishing themselves. Then at some point they would be examined by a priest to ensure they were fit for use as a sacrifice.
Luke 2:7-18 tells us explicitly about the shepherds and what happened when they heard the announcement of the birth of Christ. Verse 8 says they were ‘in the same country’. This doesn’t mean they happened to also be in Israel. It literally means the rural area surrounding a town, or a tract of land. So, according to this, they would have already been nearby when they received the glorious announcement. Verse 12 alerts us to the sign by which the shepherds would know him…“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” A sign is defined as something by which a thing or person is known. So the angel told them they would know the Messiah because they would find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes.
No where in this passage of scripture does it tell us that the shepherds needed directions on where to find Him. I believe they knew exactly where He was! Since they would have been familiar with the process of caring for sacrificial lambs, and they would have also likely been aware of the prophecies about the birth of Christ, it would have made perfect sense to them that the newborn Jesus would be born in the birthplace of lambs destined to be sacrificed for the sin of man. He, the ultimate sacrificial lamb, fits perfectly one translation of Migdal Edar, given in an historic document…”The Anointed One of the flock of Israel”!
God’s accuracy is stunning! May we all slow down enough this season to contemplate what a gift we have received. May God bless you abundantly!