We return to the matter of hermeneutics, and this week, we dare consider one of the most famous examples of a New Testament author citing an Old Testament author. The big question mark with the use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15 is the meaning of Hosea 11:1. It reads, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Despite Hosea’s reference here to the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt, Matthew’s application of this passage seems to be towards Jesus:
And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matt. 2:14-15)
Is not Matthew’s usage of the text changing the meaning of Hosea 11:1?
Once again, we must recognize that Matthew is using the context of Hosea 11:1 to make an argument that Jesus is the promised Messiah. I want to offer you a quick picture of the structure of Hosea 11:
1. Israel’s Historical Exodus from Egypt (Hos. 11:1-4)
2. Israel’s Current Exile into the Nations (Hos. 11:5-7)
3. Israel’s Future Restoration Back to Yahweh (Hos. 11:8-11)
The entire chapter of Hosea 11 is sort of like a chronological walk-through of Israel’s history. The first two events, we know from history, are physical, real occurrences. The nation of Israel physically left Egypt under Moses. They were physically taken captive by Assyria (and later, Judah was taken captive by Babylon). Logically, then, Hosea 11 is anticipating a very physical restoration of the people of national Israel back to the promised land. Yahweh has promised them this land (see, for example, the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12:1), and He declares, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim?” (Hos. 11:8a). God cannot do away with His people, even though they’ve rebelled against Him! God says that He Himself “will return them to their homes, declares the LORD,” (Hos. 11:11b).
Earlier in Hosea, we find context for this restoration hope. Hosea 1:10-11 anticipates when Israel will be “gathered together” and when they will “appoint for themselves one head,” (Hos. 1:11). Hosea 3:5 informs us that this one head is “David their king,” after whom Israel will seek in “the latter days.” The hope of Hosea is a Davidic Head whom Israel will seek as Yahweh restores them back to the promised land.
Now. How does this relate at all to Matthew?
As we have already mentioned, Matthew is concerned with demonstrating Jesus is the promised Messiah. He has noted that Jesus is Yahweh incarnate (Matt. 1:21-23) — indeed, he may be indicating that this Jesus is Yahweh who will restore His people as prophesied in Hosea 11:10-11. As the imagery from Micah and Matthew 1:1 highlight, He is also the Davidic Shepherd-Ruler — perhaps this factors into Jesus being the one head and Davidic king described in Hosea 1:10-11 and 3:5. Matthew’s arguments for the Messiahship of Jesus come to a head in Hosea.
What’s more, Matthew strategically points to Jesus’ entrance into and exodus out of Egypt as evidence for His Messianic identity. It seems as though Jesus is re-experiencing what Israel went through back in the time of Moses. It also seems Jesus is presented as a New Moses (for example, both Moses and Jesus are almost killed as infants, spend 40 years/days in the wilderness, and give the Law from a mountain). Thus, we have Jesus offered as one who can identify with His people, Israel, as their New Moses. Part of Moses’ job in the Old Testament was to lead Israel out of Egypt. Part of the role of Yahweh in Hosea 11:10-11 is to lead Israel out of exile and back to the promised land. Perhaps we can put some pieces together now.
The final puzzle piece left on the table is the relationship of Numbers 23-24 to Matthew 2. This will help us decipher the Hosea 11 citation. Numbers 23:22 describes God bringing them out of Egypt; yet Numbers 24:8 describes God bringing Him out of Egypt. As Matthew has already connected us to Numbers 24 via the star imagery and the imagery of Micah 5, it is natural for him to incorporate the argument of Numbers 24 into his own argument. Just as God brings Him (Jesus, the Head) out of Egypt, so will He bring them (Israel, the people) out of Egypt. The point is, because the Head comes out of Egypt, so will the people come out of Egypt. This is a principle of hermeneutics called “corporate solidarity.”
Thus, here is how the argument comes together in Matthew. Jesus is presented as the promised Seed of Genesis. He is Yahweh incarnate come to save His people and the Messianic Ruler anticipated from the Old Testament. As the New Moses, He will shepherd His people and will lead the restoration of a remnant back to God and the promised land in a still future second exodus event. Matthew affirms Jesus is the one to do this because He, too, has gone into and come out of Egypt. Matthew, then, through these Old Testament prophecies and the nativity narrative, presents Jesus as the Messiah who will restore Israel back to God and back to her land! What amazing theology is packed into the opening chapters of Matthew!
Here, as we read this narrative and study Matthew’s use of the Old Testament, we must stand in awe at the faithful hesed love of our God. This God, who would not give up Ephraim, is our God as well. This God, who sent His own Son as the New Moses, is our God as well. He who has led Israel in a first exodus, and will lead Israel in a second exodus, is He who has led us out of darkness and into marvelous light. How sure can we be, not only of our spiritual redemption from sin, but also the physical redemption of our bodies yet to come! Let us give glory to our faithful, loving God as we study His work in redemptive history!
God willing, we will continue our study through Matthew 2 next article as we consider the slaughter of the innocents and Jeremiah 31.