In last week’s post I noted that there are four places in the opening chapters of the Gospel of Matthew that speak about the birth and infancy of Jesus in which Matthew tells us that something happened to fulfill a prophecy in the Old Testament, but it is not always clear how they referred to or pointed forward to the Messiah. We looked at Isaiah 7 last week — this week we will look at the reference to Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15.
The Passage in the Christmas Story
Matthew briefly mentions Jesus’s birth in Matthew 1:25 and then spends a number of verses looking at the fact that Jesus is visited (and worshipped) by the magi (traditionally known as“wise men”) from the East (Matthew 2:1-12). The magi first went to see Herod in Jerusalem to ask where the child was born. After reading from the prophet Micah in the Old Testament that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, they went to visit him and bring gifts. Herod instructed them to come back and tell him where this child, who was born king of the Jews, could be found so he could worship the child (however, he actually wanted to find the child to kill him). The magi are warned about Herod’s intentions in a dream and don’t go back to see him after visiting the child. Joseph also had a dream (like he did in the opening chapter) and is told to take his wife and child to Egypt because Herod is seeking to kill Jesus. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus then move to Egypt until Herod’s death, and this is said ”to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’’’(Hosea 11:1).
The Passage in the Prophet
The Old Testament Book of Hosea is best known for its opening chapters in which God calls Hosea to marry a prostitute as a picture of God’s relationship with Israel, as God cares for Israel even though Israel continues to “cheat” on him with other gods. Hosea gives a picture of how God will send Israel away for a time (in exile) but will bring her back. While that may be the most memorable word picture in the book of the key prophetic themes of judgment and restoration, it is not the only image that God uses to describe His relationship with Israel.
One of the other metaphors is that of a father and son, with God calling His people Israel “his son” in Hosea 11. In this chapter God looks back to His relationship with the people of Israel and notes how He brought them out of Egypt and “taught them to walk” (11:3) but how His child turned away from Him. This will lead to the people once again being brought into slavery, this time in Assyria (11:5), but because of His great love for His people, God promises to bring them back (see 11:8-11); just as God brought them out of Egypt, so He will bring His people out of slavery and judgment again.
This passage does not describe the Messiah per se, but speaks about the future hope that would occur when the Messiah would come, and is based on what God has done in the past; it looks back to the relationship of God with His people and how He will once again rescue them and take care of them.
So why does Matthew quote Hosea here? In this quote he is showing how Jesus functions as the representative of all of God’s people, so the story of Jesus is their story. This is what is often called typology — seeing a connection between an Old Testament event and what happens in the New Testament, as the Old Testament event foreshadows what God would do in the New Testament. These events are not just coincidences, but part of God’s providential plan.
At the time of Jesus, Jews would often base their future hope on what God did in bringing His people out of Egypt; they looked forward to a “New Exodus” in which God would deliver His people once and for all. You see this idea and typology found in Hosea 11 as it looks back on the fact that God brought His people out of Egypt and then uses this to base the hope that God would bring His people out of Assyria.
Matthew’s quotation shows that Jesus’s life models the experience of Israel — the nation that God had called “his son” and whom God had placed in the world to bring blessings to all nations, to show all the world who God was. We see Jesus go to Egypt and then come out, just like the people of Israel. While Hosea 11 highlights that they come out of Egypt and then turn to idols, we do not see this happen to Jesus. After Jesus is baptized, he is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days and nights (Matthew 4). What is the significance of 40? Because of the experience of the people of Israel, while they would wander for 40 years in the wilderness because of their sin, Jesus does not sin. The connection between Jesus and the nation of Israel is also seen as the devil tempts him by saying, “If you are the son of God” — the same term used to describe Israel. Jesus refutes the three temptations of Satan with passages from the Book of Deuteronomy, a book connected with the people of Israel and at the end of their wandering. Jesus does what the people of Israel should have done, and because of that, he is able to die for the sins of His people, for Israel, and for all the nations. In doing so, he brings about the hope that the people were looking forward to; in rewriting the story of Israel, Jesus is ushering in the messianic age.
There are other connections between Jesus and the story of Israel that you see when you look more closely. For example, have you ever wondered why there were 12 disciples (not 5, 10, 15, or 20)? That goes back to the 12 tribes of Israel. We also see a number of these connections in the Gospel of Matthew, as Jesus’s early life is very similar to that of Moses (i.e. he was in Egypt, people tried to kill him as a child), and we also see connections between David and Jesus (with David’s life looking forward to Jesus’s life as the perfect king). Once you are familiar with the concept of typology, you start to see it over and over again in Scripture.
What This Means for Us
While this technical explanation of the passagest might intrigue Bible geeks, it may confuse others, so I wanted to boil it down to two important takeaways. First, this quotation reminds us that we should not just read bits and pieces of the passage, but its whole context. Read not only the verse, but the whole chapter, as the quotation of the verse would also recall the themes found in the context.
Second, this is a reminder that Advent has a similar feel of typology. In this season, we remember the fact that Christ came to earth 2,000 years ago to save us from our sins and we look forward to the fact that He will come again, this time to eliminate all the sin and suffering that we see in this world. Jesus fulfilled the hope of God’s people in bringing a new exodus, in delivering us from our sins. May we look forward to His coming again and live our lives in faithfulness, in worship to the one who came to make us know Him and do what we could never do ourselves.
Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. You can also request to receive weekly emails with our blog posts by filling out the information on the right side.