Was Jesus Really Born in a Manger?
For centuries, the Jews awaited their Savior. The prophet, Isaiah, spoke of the coming Messiah
In his Old Testament book. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Matthew 1:23 adds, “(which means, God with us.)”
Somewhere amid all that waiting, the Israelites expected a Savior who would remove the oppressive Roman yoke. They expected a warrior to arrive arrayed in battle armor, not a helpless babe in a manger.
What is a Manger?
According to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, a manger is defined as “a trough or box in which fodder is laid for cattle or the place in which horses and cattle are fed.” The word itself comes from the Latin word for chew or eat.
In New Testament times, a manger would be found in a stable, where the cows and horses were kept and fed. Mangers were constructed from clay blended with straw, or from stones set with mud. At times, mangers were shaped out of natural rock outcroppings. Whatever material was used for its construction, a manger was most often low to the ground, which makes sense, for that is where a cow or horse would place its mouth to eat.
Did Mary Lay Jesus in a Manger after He Was Born?
As recorded in Scripture, the first time the word manger is referenced to Christ is in Luke 2:7, which reads, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” So, yes, Mary placed her newborn son, Jesus, in a feeding trough.
When we see what a manger looks like, its form looks “tailor-made” to hold a baby, with a rounded base and sloped sides. When in swaddling cloths (narrow bands of fabric used to envelop a baby to restrict its movement and keep it safe), the perceived discomfort of a feeding trough is softened by the fabric’s bulk.
Joseph and Mary were not a wealthy family. Luke 2:22-24 tells us they gave “two turtledoves or two pigeons.” According to the Levitical law found in Leviticus 12:7-8, this gift could be offered if a couple was so poor, they could not afford a lamb.
It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that, while Joseph and Mary were too poor to offer a lamb, they—through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35)—indeed brought the “Lamb of God” into the world—the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29, 36).
What Is Significant about Where Jesus Was Born?
Over three hundred prophecies about our Lord Jesus are found throughout the Old Testament, and Jesus fulfilled every one. One prophecy refers to where the Messiah would be born: Micah 5:2, which says, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One who is to be Ruler in Israel, Whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days.”
When the wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, they asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2). King Herod was troubled by that report and, “assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born” (Matthew 2:3-4). The wise men replied, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet, ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel’” (Matthew 2:6).
If Mary’s baby had been born anywhere else, he would not have been the Messiah. His birth in Bethlehem is prophecy fulfilled, and, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” His birth in Bethlehem helps point all men to Himself.
What Is the Nativity Story and Its Importance for Us?
While the Nativity Story is well-known by Christians and non-believers alike, few fully grasp the weight of how God orchestrated the events which led to the birth of the Lord Jesus as a man—a God-man. Immanuel. God with us.
The word, nativity, means “birth; the coming into life or the world” (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary). In the Bible, Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-7 give the nativity (birth) accounts of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew begins with Mary and Joseph’s betrothal and that “she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” Joseph is described as a just man (a righteous man who followed God’s laws) who did not want to publicly shame Mary. But an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream and revealed her child was of the Holy Spirit. The angel also revealed she would bear a Son, “and you [Joseph] shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Joseph, aroused from his sleep, “took to him his wife and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.”
Luke’s gospel account of the nativity proceeds from the decree “that went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” in their own birth city (A census). Joseph, from Bethlehem, set out with his pregnant wife from Nazareth (in Galilee) to the city of David (in Judea), which was called Bethlehem. Joseph was of the house and lineage of David and, “So it was, that while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” And she gave birth to Jesus.
At Christmastime, when we each place our nativity sets on a place of notice, it’s good to remember these lessons from the story of the birth of Jesus:
1. Jesus came as a lowly baby, and He grew strong in spirit and in the grace of God (Luke 1:80).
We come into this world in the same way as Jesus—weak and frail in humanity. By His grace, we become children of God, co-heirs (Titus 3:7). As He grew, so we can grow more and more like Him and one day we will behold Him with unveiled faces (1 John 3:2).
2. Joseph and Mary were obedient to the Lord’s call, no matter the hardship. Mary, just about to give birth, trekked many miles in subjection to her husband, and Joseph led her in compliance to the Lord’s will in their lives. In our lives, “…this light and momentary affliction [whatever we bear at any given moment] is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
3. Joseph displayed a great love for Mary. He strove to follow the Law and wanted to “divorce her quietly” to keep shame from them, but because of what God said to him through the angel’s message and his love for her, he stayed and became Jesus’ earthly father. No matter what the world dictates as normal, God’s supernatural “normal” eclipses anything the world tries to define. As our beloved God leads you through many trials, trust Him. (John 16:33)
4. The world expects one thing while the Lord delivers something else. The Jews wanted a Messiah to save them from Roman oppression; God sent a Savior wrapped in swaddling cloths. God is our God of the (worldly) unexpected. When you look at your nativity set or read the account in the Bible, praise God we will always be awed by Him. God’s Word is a wonder to behold, and it is worthy of all the precious time it takes to study it and to get to know God through it.
Because He came meek and lowly (Matthew 11:29), and as a baby who lay in a manger, the Jews completely missed Jesus’ first advent. The scribes knew the prophecies but chose their own human will over that which God ordained. Their long-awaited Messiah will not let them (or anyone) miss His second coming. As Scripture states, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed upon Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/kevron2001
Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.
This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ!