For the most part, when the words swaddling clothes are mentioned, people think back to the birth of Jesus.
~ Luke 2:7 KJV
7 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.
But, how much do you really know about swaddling clothes?
Most people know that swaddling clothes are strips of cloth, but why did Mary use them? Was this a custom in bible times? What else were they used for and by whom?
Let’s look at these questions individually.
Question 1: Why did Mary use swaddling clothes to wrap baby Jesus?
When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem to be counted, the whole town was crowded and there was no room in the inn. People were probably sleeping in the streets and in nearby fields.
The bible tells us that Mary wrapped baby Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Was there hay in the manger? We don’t know. Was the manger made of wood or carved from stone? We don’t know. But we do know that it was a manger and he was wrapped in strips of cloth. But why?
In Luke 2:12 KJV, an angel is talking to the shepherds and the verse says this…
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
God tells us why. The manger and the swaddling clothes were a sign for the shepherds. This is how they knew when they had found the Messiah!
Question 2: Was swaddling clothes a custom in bible times?
According to the Nelson KJV Study Bible and the Holman Bible Dictionary, swaddling clothes were long strips of cloth often 4 inches wide and around 15 to 20 feet long. It was custom to wrap the baby tightly in strips of cloth from the shoulders to their feet covering everything but their head.
This act was done to ensure the babies arms and legs would grow straight. The swaddling process wasn’t done for a long period of time, but just after birth for a short time. If a baby was born and the parents didn’t wrap him in swaddling clothes, it was said to be a form of abuse, thus ‘bad parenting’.
Question 3: What else were swaddling clothes used for?
These strips of cloth were also used for bandaging wounds and wrapping the dead for burial. Think about this – when Jesus was born, he was wrapped in strips of cloth. When he died on the cross, his body was taken down and wrapped in strips of cloth.
~ John 19:40 KJV
40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
~ John 20:5-7 KJV
5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.
6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulcher, and seeth the linen clothes lie,
7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
Praise God he didn’t stay dead. After three days, he arose from the dead and stayed on earth 40 days before ascending to Heaven where he lives today.
~ Luke 24:6 KJV
6 He is not here, but is risen:
Question 4: Who else used swaddling clothes for their babies?
Digging deeper, we find that royal families not only wrapped their babies in swaddling clothes, but also washed their babies in salt water. Sometimes called ‘salted’ and ‘swaddled’ (copiosa.org).
If a child was born and was the son of a king or a prince, the bathing in salt water and wrapping in swaddling clothes had to be done for the people to regard him as honest, reliable, full of integrity, and truthful.
There is one scripture passage in the bible that talks about a child that was not salted or swaddled. (Ezekiel 16:4 KJV)
When studying the bible, there are so many things you can learn from the small details the bible gives us. To learn more about the scriptures and to dig deepre into God’s word, visit our ‘In the Bible‘ page.