Btw, I quite like this word, “swaddling” i’ve been repeating it over and over, kinda just rolls off your tongue doesn’t it?
σπαργανόω = sparganoō
Outline of Biblical Usage:
- to wrap in swaddling cloths
of an infant just born
σπαργανόω sparganóō, pronounced: spar-gan-o’-o; from σπάργανον spárganon (a strip; from a derivative of the base of G4682 meaning to strap or wrap with strips); to swathe (an infant after the Oriental custom):—wrap in swaddling clothes.
Okay, back to english now, but bear with me and you’ll see why this is important in a sec.
The method of “swaddling” is as follows:
Salt was pulverized by the midwife until it was in the form of a fine powder. When the baby was born, the midwife washes the baby in water, then a piece of cloth about a square yard in size, was laid out and the baby placed on it in a diagonal position.
Swaddled infants did not have the free movement of their arms and legs. The legs were placed closely together and then the baby’s arms were placed at its sides and the piece of swaddled cloth was folded over the baby’s feet and arms.
The baby’s body was sprinkled and gently rubbed with the finely powdered salt mixed with fine olive oil and then wrapped in the swaddling bands all around their body: ankles, over their head and under their chin and in the end they somewhat resemble a “mummy-like“ figure.
(Yeah, I mean an Egyptian mummy not our mothers at home).
It is not certain from the Bible whether Mary did this herself but the modern idea behind swaddling is that it helps the baby transition from the womb (a very snug place) to the outside world. Swaddling has been proved to help infants sleep well and to prevent them from scratching themselves so this really shows us that Mary was of course an attentive and loving mother.
Back in those times however, swaddling was actually a very special ceremony. During Mary & Joseph’s betrothal Mary would have made the swaddle band out of fine linen and embroidered it with emblems of her tribe, the tribe of Judah. After the betrothal period and during the wedding, the band would be tied around the bride and groom’s hands as part of the ritual. (that’s where we get the famous phrase “tied the knot.”) After the ceremony the band would be rolled up and kept in a special place to be used when their first child was born.
After Jesus was salted and swaddled in the band, Mary and Joseph would pray for a short time that the child would grow to be upright and righteous and never walk in crooked paths, but would serve God.
There is a lot of debate about the reason swaddling was done, but according to the law of Moses most sacrifices were accompanied by salt and olive oil and therefore these are a symbol of covenants. Therefore, it is likely that the baby was salted and swaddled to dedicate the child as a covenant child of the House of Israel.
A swaddled baby is also a metaphor for a child that is loved and properly cared for, hence why Ezekiel chastises the israelites when they swayed from the covenant by saying:
“As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.”
— Ezekiel 16:4 (NKJV)
More importantly, the swaddling ceremony was to be done for all legitimate babies. Mary and Joseph knew the significance of this child and the circumstances concerning His conception. They knew there would be rumor mongers and shade/sub throwers so by swaddling Him they were essentially proclaiming to the entire world that this baby is indeed God’s legitimate Son. This is the reason why “swaddling” was an important sign given by the Angel to the shepherds.
Coming back to the Greek translation of swaddling, it has been suggested that the significance of swaddling is to represent a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and burial clothes but the new testament words referring to the burial clothes for Jesus were “a linen cloth” which in no way has anything to do with the word: sparganóō.
Gosh, even the greek version of swaddling is so sweet to pronounce! The Magi’s gift of Myrrh is actually a better representation of the death/burial of Jesus (and we’ll discuss more about this next week!).
Some catholics (using books that are not in the pentecostal bible like “Wisdom of Solomon, 7”) suggest that the essence of swaddling was to show Jesus’ humble birth and is a sign of His direct link as the “Son of David” because King Solomon records an account of being “swaddled at birth” and so Jesus somehow represents the nature of King Solomon before he fell away and gave in to pagan temptations.
However, it is best not to rely on this speculation because we know Jesus is the “Son of David” through prophecies in the Old Testament and by His genealogy, which is also something very interesting that we will be looking at next week!