14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
Matthew 2:14-15 (NRSV)
In Matthewtown, you can’t pull out of your driveway without running into an Old Testament reference.
As always, it behooves us to look at the quote’s original meaning so we can get a handle on why Matthew uses it, here. Presumably, he has more going on that just the bare fact that, in both cases, someone came out of Egypt.
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.
Hosea 11:1-2 (NRSV)
Hosea 10 is about God’s sad decision to bring down the kingdom of Israel because of her persistent breaking of the covenant, alliances with other nations, and worship of their gods (who did not bring Israel out of Egypt). God wanted her to be the New Creation, but instead, she has become Old Creation – no difference between her and the other nations. In Hosea 11, almost like a parent, God sadly remembers how much He loved Israel and brought her out of Egypt, how He raised her like a father, but also how He was betrayed. Even in the midst of God’s anguish very evident in this heartbreaking passage, we do see glimpses of hope, especially for the future of Judah who will carry on the tradition of faithful Israel.
The situation surely fits Matthew’s story. Long after Hosea’s day, even the salt of Judah had lost its saltiness, and God had brought them under the Roman Empire just like He had with Assyria so many years prior. I would say that the backdrops are similar.
The part Matthew quotes is the part about God calling His son out of Egypt, and he clearly wants to underscore this piece of it for Jesus’ story because Jesus, well, actually comes out of Egypt. In Hosea, this is also a reference back to the past – God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt.
In Egypt, Israel was under the oppression of a foreign empire, but God delivered them out of Egypt, united them, married them with an eternal pledge, gave them His law, and vowed to fulfill in them the promise He had made to Abraham so long ago. This people would be the reboot. He calls them out of Egypt into a new kingdom and a new identity as led by a new leader – Moses.
I have to give Andrew Perriman credit for pointing this out, that to really appreciate why Matthew will apply these things to Jesus, we have to get back to the starting point, and when we do, we will notice that Matthew is paving the way to tell us a new Exodus story with a new Moses and a new Israel.
This story will have a baptism, a temptation in the wilderness, a law given from a mountaintop, raging seas calmed, bread from heaven, followers who leave everything behind, skirmishes with the surrounding nations, and a sphere of the kingdom around Jesus Christ in which the world Israel was supposed to be working for becomes real – a world of healing, forgiveness, faithful obedience, love, justice, care for the weak, provision for the needy, and even little children have nothing to fear. In fact, the original Moses actually shows up to talk to Jesus about it in Matthew 17.
Only this time, as Matthew has Jesus re-walking the path of Moses and Israel, Jesus will not break his covenant. Jesus will stay obedient despite temptation. He will never be assimilated into the world’s power structure. He will retain His unique obedience, mission, and faithfulness through suffering and into death itself – the Sea of Reeds that destroys his enemies, but parts to allow him safely through – the faithful people that God will save.
This Exodus has already been walked. There is no great Empire looming over most of our heads, and even if there were, there’s no particular reason to think our story would play out in the same way. We do not live in an age of contingency where our faithfulness to the end will move God to deliver His people. That was something Jesus did, and that part of God’s great story has been completed.
No, we live on this side of that Exodus, where the Spirit has been poured out and resurrection has been won, not just for Jesus, but for those who faithfully followed him into death.
Even so, Jews and Gentiles have been brought together and given the Spirit so that we might continue a very ancient task of bringing renewal and restoration to the world around us. And we got here because of Jesus’ Exodus. That story is the prologue to our story. That New Creation Bubble that surrounded Jesus surrounds each of us, and what are we doing with it? Does it look like New Creation in our area, or does it look like everywhere else? Are we going to leave Egypt, or are we going to become Egyptians?
(No offense to the modern nation of Egypt or her people. This is the problem with symbolism based in ancient Near-Eastern history.)
- I mentioned some events in the Gospel of Matthew that had parallels in the Exodus. What others come to your mind? What meaning is added for you to those events knowing that they have a connection to the Exodus?
- Unlike Israel, the people of God do not have a specific nation, and the few times that has happened in history have not gone well. What does it mean to be the continuation of God’s people in the world under our present circumstances?