The Messiah Would be Called Out of Egypt
As he often does in his first few chapters, Matthew applies Scriptures that speak of an event in the history of Israel to an event in the life of Jesus. (See also commentary on Jeremiah 31:15.) In those cases, Matthew is not presenting the Old Testament passage as a prediction, but as a pattern: what Israel went through, Jesus goes through. But why would Matthew do that? Commentator Craig Keener explains:
Matthew may have borrowed this Israel/Messiah interpretive analogy from Isaiah; Isaiah 42-53 narrows down the mission of Israel as a whole to the one who can ultimately fulfill that mission and suffer on behalf of the whole people – the one whom Christians would later understand to be Jesus.1
Similarly, Grant Osborne says that:
Though not a direct messianic passage, this still constitutes fulfillment because Jesus as Messiah is corporately identified with Israel throughout its history (cf. the king and high priest, corporately identified with the nation at their time of office) and so fulfills its experiences.2
In other words, Jesus is the ultimate Israelite who carries forward the mission of Israel to be a light to the world. Therefore, Matthew presents Jesus’ life as parallel to that of the nation. This is not something new: the Old Testament itself portrayed the final redemption as the ultimate Exodus, or the Messiah as the ultimate King David. The final redemption and the coming of the Messiah, according to the Old Testament, would follow on the same pattern of the first Exodus and of the first King David. Similarly, Matthew wants to show that Jesus is the ultimate Israelite, following the same pattern that the nation as a whole went through.
This is what we see in this passage of Matthew:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
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.”
Herod had already plotted to murder all the boys in Bethlehem two years of age and under. (This actually likely amounted to about twenty children; see commentary on Jeremiah 31:15.) Warned by an angel, Joseph, Mary and Jesus flee to Egypt. This was not a random location. Egypt had a sizable and thriving Jewish community – Philo says it was one million strong. It was friendly towards Jews, and the closest Jewish community outside Israel.
And so Joseph and his family leave “by night,” most likely to avoid any detection, and they live there until Herod dies and the threat has passed. They would not have had long to wait, since Herod died in 4 B.C.
And then Matthew says that this fulfills Hosea 11:1: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son,” though Matthew only cites the second half. In the entire verse, though, we see parallels to Jesus:
- Jesus is at this point a child.
- In Matthew 3:17, God had called him “my beloved Son” (also in Matthew 17:5 and seven other times in the New Testament).
- After Herod dies, Joseph takes his family back to Israel, that is, out of Egypt.
“Called” expresses God’s initiative; it was God who orchestrated the Exodus from Egypt, while God’s call on Jesus is often expressed in the New Testament by such phrases as “I came” (for example, Matthew 9:13, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”).
And so as Israel was, so was its greatest exemplar and representative, Jesus.
1. Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), see under Matthew 2:15.
2. Grant R. Osborne, Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) Kindle location 2572-2575.